Craig Groeschel - God With Us Always
A merry Christmas to you all. I can just tell that there are some people a little bit excited to worship our God, to celebrate that a savior has been born. It's amazing to have you with us at all 27 Life.Church locations, our open network churches, we love you guys. And on the other side of computer screens all over the world at Church Online, we love you. You're a part of our family no matter what country you are from. Welcome and merry Christmas to you. Perhaps you're just joining us so you're new. We've been in the middle of a message series called God With Us. And today is a message that is very, very, very personal to me, and I pray it will be very personal to you as well. What I want to do is talk about something that is a cornerstone belief for those of us who are Jesus followers.
Now, I recognize that a lot of you would say you're not religious people. Some of you might say i come from a different faith background. No matter what your beliefs or background, you are absolutely and completely welcome here. And what I want to do is be as clear as I can to explain this very important principle in a way that will minister to those of you who are Jesus followers, and who knows, it might draw some interest from others in a very special way. And I want to talk about what theologians call the incarnation. The incarnation. What do we believe when we talk about the incarnation? What I would love if you would do at all of our different churches, would you mind, to show honor to the reading of God's word, would you mind just standing to your feet at every location? And I want to read to you from Matthew chapter one some very powerful verses of scripture that will introduce the idea of the incarnation.
Matthew chapter one verse 18, "This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph, but before the marriage took place while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. Joseph, to whom she was engaged, was a righteous man did not want to disgrace her publicly. So he decided to break the engagement quietly. As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. Joseph, son of David, the angel said, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife for the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord's message through the prophet. Look, the virgin will conceive a child. She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means," let's say it aloud at all of our different churches, "They will call him Immanuel, which means God with us". God with us.
Today I want to talk to you about the presence of God through the birth of the son Jesus Christ, Immanuel. God is with you. He will never leave you, He will never forsake you. Why don't you meet some friends today? Show some love, find about five people around you, high five them and say God is with you, God is with you. Make some friends around the church, high five a few people before you're seated, and say God is with you, God is with you. God is with you. Go and have a seat, if you will. I'll give you a little background to this message. Occasionally, people will say, "How long does it take you to write a message? How long does it take you to write a sermon"? And what I always tell them is, "The answer is always as long as it takes". Sometimes it might be 10 hours, 12 hours, 15 hours. Sometimes 22 hours, 25 hours. How long does it take? As long as it takes. Kind of like giving birth. How long does it take to give birth to a kid? As long as it takes.
Amy had six kids. There were sometimes it seemed like days. One time she sneezed, literally, the doctor didn't even make it to one. I delivered Anna, sort of, meaning I was the nearest human being when Anna came out. How long does it take? And I probably should not compare writing a sermon to giving birth for a number of reasons. So forgive me, forgive me, bless me, forgive me, and we'll just move on. This particular message though was really special because I sat down at my computer, and what normally takes me about a day to outline the message took me literally about 45 minutes. It was as if I was watching someone else type the words. And I got emotional. There were times when I would kind of laugh, and there were other times when I was fighting back the tears. It was because of the special way this came about that I have great faith that it will speak to you today. The incarnation.
What is the incarnation? In order to clearly define this in a way that everybody would understand, I went to the source of all wisdom and all knowledge. I went to Wikipedia to determine what is exactly the incarnation? what I want to do is I want to go and read this to you, and this will clarify this big theological idea, what is the incarnation? Wikipedia defines it this way. In Christian theology, the doctrine of the incarnation holds that Jesus, the preexistent divine logos and the second hypostasis of the Trinity, God, the Son, and the Son of the Father, taking on human body and human nature, was made flesh, conceived in the womb of Mary the Theotokos. The doctrine of the incarnation then entails that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully human, two natures joined in hypostatic union. Now that we understand the incarnation, I'd like to move to weightier theological terms, so we can all grow in our faith. Now just in case you are wondering, I actually have what's called a master's of divinity. It took me four years to get this degree, and I don't understand 1/3 of what was in Wikipedia. I want to make it as simple as I can because this is a cornerstone belief for those of us who are followers of Christ. What is the incarnation? As simply as I can put it, the incarnation is when God became flesh in the person of His son, Jesus.
John's gospel in John one and 14 says this, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God, and the Word became flesh". The incarnation is when God the Spirit entered into our world in the person, in the flesh of Jesus Christ who was Jesus. Jesus was all man and all God all at the same time. He is God incarnate. He is God in the flesh. This may still be a little bit foggy. This is actually the year that Amy and I became grandparents. I am pops and she is Gigi. I imagine what it would be like to explain this idea, the incarnation to our first grandson, little Cole. What I did is I wrote, like I said, in a very short period of time what I believe was mostly breathed from the Spirit of God, this little imaginary story about what would happen if God the Father had a conversation with Jesus, His son, before Jesus came to Earth. The love of the Father was explaining to His son what going to Earth and fulfilling the mission would actually cost him. To be really, really clear, this conversation didn't happen, but what I'm gonna talk about is consistent with what the Bible says happened. I'm only gonna add a little bit of creative flair to it.
Imagine what it would be like if God the Father said, "Jesus, here is what is gonna cost you," and the loving Father explained to Jesus what this mission would actually entail. How would the conversation go? It would go something like this. "Jesus, Son. This is your mission should you choose to accept it. I'm gonna send you to Earth to fulfill my perfect will, to be a sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins".
"How is it gonna start"?
"Jesus, I've chosen for you the woman who will be your mother. You're going to love her. She's a teenage girl who is completely devoted to our will. Her name is Mary. She loves us so much. She is pure in every way, not like a lot of the other girls who play spin the bottle and truth or dare all the time. She is pure, she is a virgin, and she is gonna be an amazing mom. I've also chosen for you your earthly dad. I am your heavenly Father but you have an earthly father. His name is Joseph, and he is a good man, but to be real honest, Mary is gonna get a lot more play. In other words, she's a Mary. Joseph, he'll be lucky to get mentioned, but he's a good guy, and he's gonna be your stepdad. Now, Jesus, when you go to Earth, you have to remember, if you're gonna born of a virgin, you're gonna have to be born of a virgin. In other words, you're gonna spend nine months in Mary's womb before she pushes you out into the cruel, cold world".
Jesus speaks up perhaps for the first time and says, "Nine months? Could we consider a stork"?
And God laughs. Jesus is joking. He says, "You can't do this. Just to be real clear why, you have to be born of a virgin because you're not going to have an earthly father who helps you be conceived, therefore, you will not inherit the sin nature of an earthly father but you're still born of a woman, therefore, you are all man but because I am your real father, you're also all divine. You're human and you're divine. You're man and you are god. That's why it has to be done this way".
Jesus says, "Of course, I understand".
"Now when you're born, you need to understand this, you're gonna be born in a very common place. Most people would expect you to be born in a palace because you are the Son of God, but I've selected a very nice cave for you next to some farm animals".
Jesus smiles and he says, "I get it. We're gonna let everybody know that I haven't come just for the rich and the powerful but I've come for the common and the ordinary".
God says, "Exactly, Jesus. Now when you're born, Jesus, from day number one, you need to realize that every demon in hell is going to hate you, and for your whole life, be coming after you to try to destroy you. The first time you're going to see this is when even before you're even walking, King Herod is going to issue a command that all the little boys under the age of two would be murdered because he's trying to find you. Your family is gonna have to go on the run. You're gonna have to try to escape to Egypt, and if you don't get out of there, your life is in danger".
Maybe Jesus is taking notes. He writes down. Note: remember to secure fast donkey.
God goes on to him and says this, "Jesus, you're gonna have supernatural power. All the power in heaven, you're gonna have on Earth. You're gonna have more power than Eleven on Stranger Things. You're gonna have supernatural power. Whenever your mom and dad try to give you a bath, if you don't want to take the bath, you have the power to part the bath water, and sit on dry tub. Jesus, just take the bath. If dad feeds you broccoli, and you want to change it into cake, you could change it into chocolate cake. Jesus, just eat the broccoli. When you go to school, you will have perfect attendance. You will make straight A's. The teachers will love you. The students, they'll be jealous of you. When you grow up, I've chosen for you to be a carpenter just like your earthly dad. You're not gonna make a lot of money but you're gonna find fulfillment in helping people. You will be good at it but people will not respect you in your hometown. They will not show you honor. But you will work with your hands creating because that's what we are. We are creative. And they have no idea that the very wood from which you form tables will be the same wood they use one day to form the cross on which you'll die. Jesus, use your power wisely. You will be able to speak and change things. Your first miracle, I've chosen for you. You're gonna change water into wine at a wedding".
Jesus looks a bit confused and says, "Dad, my first miracle is gonna be a party trick"?
And God smiles and says, "Yes".
Jesus says, "Why are we changing water into wine"?
God says, "Son, we're gonna mess with the Baptists. For years, they're gonna debate. Was it real wine or was it nonalcoholic wine? What is it? We're gonna have fun with them, Jesus".
All my Baptist friends, wink wink wink.
"Jesus, you're gonna do some real miracles. You're going to open blind eyes. You're going to heal deaf ears. You're going to raise the dead. And they're still going to hate you. They're gonna call you a liar. They're gonna call you a lunatic. They're gonna call you a crazy person. They're gonna say you're a drunk. They're gonna say that you are My enemy. Just keep on loving them. Jesus, show them who we are, show them My love. What I want you to do is reach out and befriend those who are prostitutes, touch those who are lepers, love those that religion rejects. The more you love, the more they will hate you. Just keep on loving. This is why you're going, remember, to show them who I am, to show them My heart and My love. The devil is gonna attack. At every turn, the devil is going to attack. After you've been seeking me for 40 days, the devil will attack. When he does, I want you to fight back with the living Word of God. Jesus, whenever the devil says hey, turn these stones, you're hungry, turn them into bread. What verse will you use"?
And Jesus says, "I know. I'll tell the devil that it is written, man should not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God".
And God says, "Good, Jesus, good. What if though the devil tells you to throw yourself off a mountain just to test to see if I'll send angels to protect you"?
And Jesus says, "That's easy. I'll tell the devil it's written, thou shall not put the Lord, your God, to test".
And God smiles and says, "That's good, son. That's good. But what if, what if Satan throws a big one at you, and says I'll give you all the riches of the world. All you have to do is worship me for a moment".
Jesus says, "Dad, I'll look at him and say get away from me. It is written, worship the Lord, your God, and serve Him only".
God says, "Well done. That's exactly right. Jesus, just keep on standing strong. You're gonna have friends. In facts, 12 men that you invest in and love, your disciples, and you're gonna give them your best, and they're going to love you back and be loyal to you until they're not. Peter, he'll be one of the boldest, one of the loudest. He's gonna tell you, I'm always gonna be there. If everyone else denies you, I'll never deny you. Then in front of a little eight-year-old girl, he's gonna act like he never knew who you were, Jesus, and he'll do it a second time and a third time because he's too afraid to stand by you. That one is gonna hurt. But when you're serving what will be known as our supper, the Lord's supper, you'll break bread, and you will hand out the wine, and that will represent what will happen to your body, and the blood that will be spilled, and you will share that one of your closest, a man named Judas. Hours after that, that very same man will sell you out for a few pieces of silver, and hand you over to your enemies, and he will betray you with a kiss on the cheek. Just keep loving, Jesus".
God looks at him and says, "Son, I want you to pay careful attention. That's gonna be bad but it's only gonna get worse. In the Garden of Gethsemane, you're going to see ahead what is coming to you. You're going to know. You're gonna be so overwhelmed, you're gonna ask me, Dad, is there any other way? And I'm gonna tell you them what I'm telling you now. You know there is not. You have to go to the cross. And you will look up at me with all the love and obedience in your heart, and you will say okay, God, your will be done, not mine. Because of the pain of what you know is coming, you will literally sweat blood from your brow in agony. They will arrest you, and they are gonna beat you, and you're gonna hurt like no man has hurt before. You will not even be recognizable as a human. They'll whip you again and again and again and again on your bare back, 39 lashes until you are ripped open, and crying out in agony. Then they'll throw you down on an instrument of torture known as a cross, and stretch out your right arm, and drive a stake through your wrist, and you'll scream in agony because you are man, and you will feel that pain. And when you think nothing could hurt anymore, they'll take your other arm, and they'll do the same thing again. And when you aren't sure you can survive the agony, they're gonna take your feet, and drive the stakes through your feet, and they will strip you naked to humiliate you, and hang you on a cross where the very people that you're trying to love will come by and mock you and spit in your face and say hail, hail, king of the Jews, you saved other people, why don't you save yourself? And the very people, Jesus, that we created will mock us, the creator. And because of who you are, you will look up to heaven and say Dad, please have mercy on them, please forgive them because they don't even know what they are doing. Press on, Jesus. And at any moment you could call legions of angels, and I will send them to wipe them all out, but don't do that, keep showing my love. Press on to the finish. And when you do, complete everything that it was prophesied you would do. Declare that you finished it. Say it out loud, it is finished. Then climb up into heaven, and give me your spirits. Every step of the way, I will be with you, I will be with you, I will be with you, I will never leave you until you have to become sin, to take the sins of this world, and die for those sins. Remember, you are the innocent sacrifice. And when you become sin," God says, "I have to look away because I am so holy, I cannot look upon sin. And all the physical pain will pale in comparison to that moment when I withdraw, and you will cry out Dad, Dad, my God, my God, why did you turn away? Why can't you be with me now when I need you the most? And just remember, I cannot look at sin. Cry out and give your life for those who hate you. You'll be buried in a borrowed tomb. Three days later, some women will come to check on the tomb, and the stone won't be in its proper place. And neither will you, Son, because you will be raised from the dead, because we will fulfill the perfect and final sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins because we love them so much. Are you up for that, Son? Are you willing to do that"?
Jesus weighs it all. He's taking it in, counts the cost, gulps, and takes a deep breath, and says, "Yes, I am".
The Holy Spirit speaks up, "Hey, guys. I'm over here".
Jesus says, "Oh. I didn't see you".
And the Holy Spirit says, "I always get left out. It's always God the Father, Jesus the Son. God, Jesus, God. Everybody forgets about me. Jesus, don't forget about me. Tell them I'll be with them".
And Jesus says, "Of course, I will".
This is what Jesus says. He says, "I will look at them, and I will tell them clearly, I will tell them, if you love me and keep my commands, I'll ask the Father, and He'll give you another advocate to help you. He will be with you forever". The spirit of truth, Immanuel, God with us. And then Jesus says, "I know. I need to remind them that even when I go away, the spirit will come and dwell within them. But then when I leave, I'm gonna tell them what to do, and the promise I commit to make. I'll tell them, here is your assignment. And before I send in heaven, I'll say go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And then I will tell them this, Dad. I will tell them this, I am with you always till the very end of the age, because that's who we are. We will be the Word made flesh. I am Immanuel, God with them. We won't leave them. We won't forsake them. Even when they hate us, we'll continue loving them. Even when they turn away, we'll continue to pursue them".
God says, "Jesus, are you up for this"?
"Yes. Yes, I'm up for this".
"What's your mission, Jesus? Let's be really clear".
"My mission is to seek and save the lost. My mission is to rescue those who are dead in their sins. I am going to bring them life, and life more abundantly".
"Good, Jesus. What are you going for to say it? Who are you going for"?
"I'm not going for the righteous, I'm going for the sinners. I'm not going for those who are already healthy, I am going for the sick".
"Why are you going"?
"Because they are sheep without a shepherd. They need a shepherd. I am the good shepherd who will lay down his life for the sheeps. I've got to go. We can't not go. We can't shout our love from heaven. We've got to show our love on Earth. I will go, and show them how good you are. I'll show them how much you love them. I'll show them that love isn't just something that you do but love is who you are. It's your essence. It is your being".
Immanuel, God with us. Matthew one. Again, we started there. Hear it again with this in context, "And she will have a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus for he will save his people from their sins. All this occurred to fulfill the Lord's message through the prophet. Look, the virgin will conceive a child. She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel". What does it mean? "Which means God with us".
All of our churches, they will call him Immanuel, which means God with us. He will never leave you. He will never forsake you. He is always with you. His spirit dwells inside of you. When you are lost, he is with you as your guide. When you're alone, he is with you as your companion. When you're hurting, he is with you as your comforter. When you're afraid, he is with you as your peace. When you are sick, he is with you as your healer. When you are weak, he is with you as your strength. And when you are dead, lost in your sins, he is with you as your savior. He is Immanuel who came to save people from their sins. And that's the way I would tell my grandson the story of the good news that God didn't just shout his good news from heaven, but He came to Earth, and was willing to pay the ultimate sacrifice, so we could know just how good He is. Who is he? He is Immanuel. He is God with us.
Father, today I pray that your spirit would draw people close to you as you draw close to them. At all of our churches, as you reflect in prayer today, I know that there are some of you, you may be in a more difficult season right now, you're going through something that's hard, and you recognize you really need the presence of God. I'd love to pray for you for a moment. If that's you today, would you just lift up you hands toward heaven and say, "Yes, I need prayer right now". I'm gonna ask you to put it down. I'm gonna speak to another group, those of you who may not be going through anything right now. But even when I'm not going through anything, guess what? I need the presence of God every moment of every day. Those of you who would say, "I didn't raise my hand the first time but I really do. I need the presence of God. I want to know that He is with me. I want to honor Him in all that I do". Would you lift up your hands right now?
Father, thank you so much for a group of people whether in need or during a season of blessings that we need Your goodness. I pray, God, especially for those who are hurting right now. I ask God that You would be present in a way that only You can, that You would offer a supernatural peace, God, that goes beyond our human ability even to understand or to explain, but you would guard our hearts and our minds and our souls in Christ Jesus. God, I pray that those who are desperate, those who feel alone, those who are afraid, those who are facing financial stress or physical battles in sickness or otherwise, God, that by the power of Your spirit, You would reveal Your presence to us. And God, in Your presence, we find hope, we find healing, we find forgiveness, we find grace, we find truth, we find a heavenly peace beyond what anything in this world offers. God, show us Your goodness. Thank you that you are always with us.
As you keep praying today at all of our churches, some of you, you're gonna recognize that you're not walking and living in the presence of God. You may say, "Yeah, I go to church every now and then". Maybe kinda like I did. As a kid, we went on and off some, and I kinda believed in God but I didn't know him personally. I didn't understand what He did, why Jesus being born the way he was, and what the death or the cross, the resurrection meant. Maybe you've heard it in a way today that is different, and something has drawn you toward God. Now those of you who may be like, "I'm not a religious person at all," or, "I'm even from a different faith background," but there's something right now drawing you toward Jesus. What is it? That is a loving presence of God. That's exactly what it is. And you're not here today by accident.
If you're feeling drawn to God, I want you to pay very careful attention to that because you have an opportunity to say yes to the greatest gift of all time. What is that? It is the gift of God's love through Jesus Christ. Scripture teaches us that all of us, we've all sinned. You know what you've done things wrong. The way that we're made right with God isn't by us being good enough, it's because Jesus was good enough. The only way we're forgiven of our sins, it is a free gift of God experienced by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. At all of our churches, there are those of you, you recognize you need His grace, you need His forgiveness, you need His mercy. Something is drawing you toward Him right now. That is the power of His presence, and you just simply say yes. Yes, Jesus. Forgive me. Yes, save me. Yes, change me. Make me new. When you cry out to Him, He'll hear your prayers. He'll forgive your sins. You don't just become a better person, you become a new person. The old is gone, and everything becomes new, and God will be with you.
All of our churches, those who say yes, I need His grace, I turn from my sins, I turn toward Jesus today, I give my life to Him, lift your hands right now all over the place and say yes, there is my prayer. Right up here. Praise God for you. Others today who say yes, I need Him, lift up your hands. Sweetheart, bless you. Others who say yes, Jesus, I surrender. Right here, sir. God bless you. Other today call on Him, I need His grace, I need His mercy. Church Online, you click right below me. Would you all pray aloud with those around?
You just pray heavenly Father. Today I trust You. To forgive me. Of all my sins. And make me brand new. Jesus, I believe. You died for me. And you rose again. So I could live for you. Fill me with your spirit. So I can follow you. Live for you. And show your love. For the rest of my life. My life is not mine. I give it to you. In Jesus' name, I pray.