Craig Smith - The Power of Clarity
Welcome to Mission Hills. So glad you’re with us. We recognize how busy this time of year is, and honestly you got services starting tomorrow and the next day. So the fact that you’re here at all either means you’re remarkably spiritual, or you’re related to somebody who’s remarkably spiritual, and they have some kind of power. However, you got it, we’re really glad that you’re here. We’re in a series, as I said, called All Is Bright.
And what we’re doing in the series is we’re pushing into something that Jesus said about his followers and a command that he gave to them. This is what he said, this is Matthew chapter five, verse fourteen. This is the statement he made about his followers. So this is about you. If you’re a follower of Jesus, if you’ve said yes to a relationship with Jesus by faith, this is true of you. He says this, he says, “You are the light of the world.” It’s not our light, it’s his light in us. But he says, “If my light’s in you, you are the light of the world.”
But, he says, “A town built on a hill cannot be hidden, and neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it up on its stand and it gives light to everyone in the house.” So, in the same way, and here’s the command, let your light shine before others that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” So what we’re doing in this series, we’re looking into what it means to shine, to step into darkness and to push it back with light. Now, we know good news, and the good news is light is more powerful than darkness.
Every time that light and dark go at it, light wins every single time. That the bad news, of course, is that we have an enemy that knows that. We have an enemy that has been engaged for very long time in a strategy of feeding us lies in order to keep us from shining. One of the lies that we’ve talked about in this series is the lie of, “I’m not enough.” It’s a lie that so many of us believe, we go, “I can’t make a difference. I can’t push back darkness. I can’t make things brighter because I’m not smart enough. I’m not mature enough. I’m not extroverted enough. I’m not wise enough. I don’t know the Bible well enough. I don’t have enough resources. I’m not old or…” Whatever it is we go, “I don’t have enough.” And what we’ve seen is that the the lie of I’m not enough is destroyed by the Law of Contrast, which we said is this, it’s that when everything is dark, a little light makes a, say it with me, big difference.
So the lie that you’re not enough, if Christ is in you, it is absolutely categorically false. You are enough. We’ve also talked about the lie of fear or the lies that fear teaches us. And we saw as we look to the story of Elizabeth and Mary that courage is what allows us to give fear a voice but never the final vote. It’s okay to give fear a voice because God gave us fear to keep us from being stupid. He did. It’s an early warning sign against our stupidity. But the problem is that sin gets a hold of fear and it turns into something it was never intended to be. So it’s okay to give fear a voice but we should never give it the final vote, only faith gets the final vote. And courage is what allows us to do that.
Today what we’re gonna do is we’re gonna tackle the lie of confusion, the lie of confusion. See what happens is, if our enemy cannot convince you that you don’t have enough, that Christ in you is not enough to shine, and if he can’t scare you into not shining, then his next tactic is to confuse you about where to shine, and how to shine, and what it looks like to shine. And we can get caught in this lie of confusion. I think most of us have experienced at one time or another, let me just ask this question, how many of us have ever had to make a decision where it wasn’t entirely clear what the right decision was? How many of you have ever been confused about a decision you had to make? And that’s almost everybody.
So why don’t you just look at the person next to you and go, “I’m confused too.” Right? We all have these moments of confusion. I know I feel like in this job here, as the pastor at Mission Hills, I spend an awful lot of time confused and seeking for clarity. It comes up in so many different ways. One of the ways that it’s really clear to me and that I experience it every years is it would come budget time, when we start have to make the budget for the next year that it’s so confusing. God has been so gracious and you have been so generous that the issue hasn’t been typically that we’re not gonna make budget that year. And the issue is in like how do we allocate resources so that we’re doing what we’re supposed to do next year?
I mean, like, for instance, our Counseling Ministry is just doing amazing things. They’ve seen over 500 people this year. There’s a waiting list for the Counseling Ministry, and they’re helping people become like Jesus, joining them on mission, and that’s awesome. So maybe we should hire more counselors, but our Online Ministry is killing it too. The online team’s doing an amazing job. We actually have as many people engaged on a weekly basis through online platforms like the Online Campus, or Facebook channels, or the Mission Hills App, or podcast. We have as many people engaged online as we do on our physical campuses. So maybe we should put some resources there.
Our Kids Ministry is growing, so maybe we need to hire somebody there. Or the student ministries is taking off, we need to do some things there. Or it’s just everywhere I look, there’s like, “Well, that could be, aaaah.” And I get really jealous of Moses. You know what I’m talking about? Some of you do. Is that moment when Moses didn’t even have a confusing situation, he’s just walking through the desert. All he had to do is take care of sheep, right? That’s not complicated. Like don’t let them die, that’s it. He’s walking them through the desert and suddenly a bush catches fire and a voice speaks out of the woods and it says, “Hey, go here, do this.” That’s clarity. I wish I had that kind of clarity.
I’m constantly in this situation of, “God.” “There’s a rhododendron right there. Go ahead and set it on fire. I’m listening.” “No, okay, there’s an aspen tree. What do you think? Could we do the as…no? Okay.” And so there’s this constant search for clarity in the midst of confusion. I think most of us experience that and maybe you’re dealing with that today. Maybe you’re here today and you’re trying to decide about a job opportunity that’s been given to you and you’re like, “Do I take it? Do I not take it?” It could be good, it might not be good, I’m not sure. Or maybe you’re looking for a job, and it’s not materializing, you’re thinking, “Well, maybe I need to look elsewhere. Maybe I need to look at another career field, or maybe I need to look out of state and think about going somewhere else. Or maybe I need to go back to school and retrain. Maybe I should do that.”
Or maybe you’re graduating high school and you’re thinking, “Well, do I go to college right away? Do I take a gap year? Do I get a job and work so that I don’t have as much debt when I get out? Or maybe I should go ahead and get through college so that I have a job that pays me enough that I can maybe pay off the debt that I had to take on so that I could get the job which took…” Maybe you’re struggling through something from a health perspective and you’re like, “Do I go to another specialist? Or do I try this new drug that they’re offering?” Or maybe somebody’s asked you out, “Do I say yes. Do I not say yes?” Confusion can leave us kind of paralyzed and unable to move forward.
And here’s the reality. Every time that we have limited resources and multiple options, we have confusion, right? That’s the formula, right? Limited resources, whether that’s time, or money, or energy, or any number of things, we always have limited resources. Limited resources plus multiple options equals confusion. So how do we find clarity? What I wanna share with you today, something that I’ve come to understand about clarity and where it ultimately comes from. So I’d love to have you join me.
We’re gonna be in Matthew chapter two, starting in verse one, a story that for some of you will be familiar, some of you may not know the story, but you might recognize the characters in the story. This is some familiar Christmas characters. “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem, and they asked, “Where’s the one who’s been born, the King of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and we have come to worship him.”” Now, there’s some clarity, right? Got a group of guys, Magi, you might know them as the wise men. Matthew says they’re Magi, that they have some clarity.
They know that a child has been born. They know the child is a king and they know that he’s supposed to be the king of Israel, right? So they have some really stark clarity. What’s not so clear is how they came by that clarity, right? I mean, all we’re told is they saw a star from the east, and so they said, “Oh, now we know. Now we know he’s been born. He’s the King of the Jews.” They knew where to go. So how did they know that? And that’s not quite as obvious.
Here’s what we know. We know that they came from the east. We also know that the word Magi is a Persian word, it means magician. It means enchanter. They practice all kinds of occult arts, fortune telling and, you know, they would read tea leaves, they would read, I’m just gonna have to say it, they would often toss the entrails of animals out onto these plates and depending on how they fell, and you’re like, this is a great Christmas message already, right? This is awesome, right? And they would read them for signs, and the idea was they were in touch with the gods and the spirits and they knew the ancient scrolls. And so, they were advisors to Kings, and they practiced, of course, astrology which may be connected here, seeing something in the sky and understanding its significance. Magi is a Persian word, and Persia is from the east. There’s a very good chance that that’s where they came from. It’s interesting, there’s only one other place in the Bible where we actually find the word Magi, and that’s all the way in the Old Testament Book of Daniel. If you’re not familiar with Daniel, I’ll catch you up. Daniel is a story of a young Jewish man named Daniel, of course, and a few of his friends that were captured by the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar, and he captured them and he brought them back to Babylon, which eventually became Persia, so it’s that part of the world, and Nebuchadnezzar made Daniel and his friends a part of his sort of Advisory Council. They were part of a group of people, which included a group of people known as the Magi.
Now, it’s interesting that Daniel and the Magi didn’t get along so well. In fact, the Magi often had it out for Daniel and his friends, and that was the way it was. We see that kind of that conflict throughout the Book of Daniel until kind of an interesting thing happened. One day, King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream. And he had some ability to recognize something about the dream clued in him that that wasn’t just a normal dream, it wasn’t because I had bad pizza last night. There’s something going on spiritual, and so he called in the Magi and he said, “Hey, I had this dream, and I really want you to interpret it for me.” And he said, “Sure. we’d be glad to do that. Tell us the dream.” And he went, “That’s not how we’re going to do it. Here’s how we’re going to do it, you’re gonna tell me the dream.”
And they were like, “Well, no, no. You tell us the dream. And then we interpret.” He said, “No, I want you to tell me the dream” And they said, “We don’t do it that way. You tell us the dream, and we interpret.” And he said, “No, no. You’ve been claiming all these years that you have all these magical powers, that you’re in touch with the gods, you have all these incredible insights. So it would seem to me that knowing the content of the dream should be pretty easy compared to knowing its significance. So how about you just tell me once you get in touch with your gods and your supernatural powers, and you tell me what the dream was, then I can believe your interpretation.” And they went, “We can’t do that.” And he went, “Okay, you die.” And that was basically it. He said, “You’ve been conspiring all these years to tell me you had all this insight and ability, but you don’t, so you all die.”
And the soldiers went out to do that, and they came to Daniel who was considered among the Magi from their perspective, and Daniel went, “Hey, hold up. What’s going on?” And they told him the situation. He asked for time. He prayed for a revelation, and God gave him insight. He told him what the dream was. And so Daniel went back to Nebuchadnezzar, he said, “God has given me the answer.” And he told Nebuchadnezzar his dream and Nebuchadnezzar went, “That’s it? What does it mean?” And then Daniel interpreted it for him.
Now, at that moment, the Magi’s feelings about Daniel changed. Because at that moment, Daniel not only saved himself, he ended up saving all of the king’s advisors, all of the Magi. And so they became a little bit more friendly from that point on. The Magi respected Daniel and they also began to respect Daniel’s God, the God of Israel, the true God. And along with that, they began to respect the Scriptures that Daniel had brought with him from Israel, the Holy Books, God’s Word, as Daniel had it at that moment, which means that, from that moment on, Daniel, and the God of Israel, and his Scriptures were respected among the Magi in Persia.
And so, about 600 years later, as we join the story of Matthew, they were familiar with something that was said in those Scriptures, something that comes from Matthew, or from Numbers 24:17, it says this, “A star will come out of Jacob. A scepter will rise out of Israel.” This is the Old Testament prophecy about the coming of the Messiah, where you have a scepter, which is a symbol for King and a star connected together. When the Magi said, “We saw his star,” what they’re almost certainly doing is they’re going, “Hey, we know about this prophecy from God’s Word. And now we’ve seen it, and we’re looking for him.” In other words, their clarity depended upon their familiarity with the Scriptures.
Now, how it is they know that that particular light in the sky was the star, we don’t know. We’re not really told anything. We don’t even know what the star was honestly. Some people think that it was a conjunction of planets, and some people think that it might have been a supernova. Some people think it might have been a comet. Some people think it might have been a supernatural light. We don’t know. What we know is that they knew that Scripture, they saw that star and they went, “There it is.” And so they had clarity, and so they came looking. Now, it’s interesting, Matthew says that they asked, “Where is he?” But literally in the Hebrew it says, they were asking, it’s a verb that implies that it was going on over and over again. In other words, like, they got into Jerusalem, and they grabbed the first person they saw and they said, “Hey, where is he? We saw the star, we’re really here…You don’t know? All right, well, how about you?”
And so they asked that person, “How about you?” And she didn’t know, and he didn’t know, and they went around and nobody seemed to know. And people started talking about these guys who were asking this question, which eventually came to Herod’s attention. And so verse three in chapter two of Matthew says this, “Now, when King Herod heard this, he was disturbed and all of Jerusalem with him. And when he had called together all of the people’s chief priests and the teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. In Bethlehem in Judea. They replied, for this is what the prophet has written, “But you Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, or by no means least among the rulers of Judah, for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people, Israel.”” That’s from the Book of Micah, in the Old Testament, Micah 5:2, to be precise. So it’s interesting. Clarity has come, and again, clarity has come from where? It’s come from God’s Word. It’s come from the Scriptures. It’s interesting, none of the people knew where the Messiah was to be born because they didn’t know the Scriptures.
Only the chief priests and the teachers of the Law knew. And you might go, “Well, wait a minute, if the Magi knew about Numbers 24:17, why didn’t they know about Micah?” And the answer is that when Daniel went to Babylon, he didn’t have all of the Old Testament scrolls. At the time that Daniel was captured, the Old Testament wasn’t one big collection. I mean, they had some of them, but some of them were still being written.
And so Daniel carried what he had, but he must not have carried Micah with him, they didn’t have it to take, and so he wasn’t familiar with it, and so the Magi weren’t familiar with it. But as soon as they got there, and they heard about it, they went, “Yep, that’s it.” So now they knew, clarity, again, came from God’s Word because, and this is one important point to understand, God’s Word brings clarity. You hear me Church? God’s Word brings clarity. Why is that? Well, partly, it’s because God himself has clarity. Right? Because God has perfect perspective and he sees everything with absolute perfect clarity. The Book of Hebrews 4:13 describes God this way, it says, “Nothing in all of creation is hidden from God’s sight. He sees it all. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” He sees everything. Not only everything that happens in the world, he sees past, present and future. He sees everything that’s happening in the human heart, and we can hide some of the things that we do and claim that we had good motives, but he gets through all of that. He sees exactly what drives everything we do, good, bad, and ugly, he sees it all. He has absolute perfect clarity.
But he also communicates that clarity in his Word and, in fact, Hebrews 4:12 says this, “For the Word of God,” which includes the Bible, “The Word of God is alive and it’s active.” It’s not just a dead thing. It’s not just information. It’s a living thing that is accomplishing his purposes. He says, “For the Word of God is alive and active. It is sharper than any double-edged sword. It penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It judges the thoughts and the attitudes of the heart.” So it’s not just that God has perfect clarity, but he communicates that clarity. He brings clarity to his people through his Word. And so God’s Word brings clarity.
It was true for the Magi, it’s true for me and it’s true for you. God’s Word brings clarity. And so they’re given clarity again. And Herod knows now, and so, Matthew 2:7 says, “Then Herod called the Magi secretly, and he found out from them the exact time that the star had appeared. And they sent them to Bethlehem, and he said, and by the way, you need to hear what he says here in the most sinister voice you can imagine. So Scar from “The Lion King,” whatever, okay? Because you got to hear just this evil dripping from this, but it’s so false, he says, “Go,” it’s the most sinister that I can summon, “Go and search carefully for the child. And as soon as you find him report to me so that I too may go and worship him.” No, you’re not. That’s a complete lie. And you don’t even need to know the story to go, it doesn’t sound right. There’s something else going on here. “And after they had heard the king, they went on their way and the star that they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.”
Now, by the way, if I had to make a guess as to what the star was, and the Greek word for star just means any light in the sky. If I had to make a guess what this light was that they were seeing, it was probably, I think a supernatural event. I think it was probably a miraculous star. Because if it was a constellation of planets, or a supernova, or a meteor, all those things that are outside the atmosphere, you know, from a distance, and part of the world, you might see them and they might lead you in a direction, but those things can’t stop over a particular place. And when he says the place, he can’t be talking just about Bethlehem, they’ve already got clarity, they know they need to go to Bethlehem, this has stopped over the building where he is. And there’s no way that any of those extra-terrestrial stellar phenomenon. I’m glad I got all this right.
There’s no way that that would have brought that kind of clarity. So if I had to guess, I’d say it was probably a miraculous sign. But in any event, they know now. They have clarity and so there’s. Now, when they saw the star, they were overjoyed. And literally in the Greek it says they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy, which is kind of over the top. In other words, they partied hard, super excited. “And on coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and they worshiped him.” “And coming to the house,” it’s an interesting word. And I’ve had people kind of pick up on that word and go, House? Yeah, that’s why I don’t trust the Bible. It’s not clear. It contradicts itself because everybody knows Jesus wasn’t born in a house. He was born in a manger.
A manger is a feeding trough, so he was in the feeding trough which would have been in a stable in a barn. He was born in a barn, he’s not born in a house, and Luke says that, right? Luke says that on the night that he was born, he was in the barn, and here, the Magi come and he’s in a house, so which is it? How can I trust God’s Word when it contradicts itself? Yeah, except it doesn’t. Because here’s the thing, Luke, in his Gospel describes where Jesus was the night that he was born on Christmas Eve.
Mathew is talking about sometime later. It’s been a while. Well, we know that in part because here it asked when the star appeared, and later on, maybe another story, the Magi didn’t go back to Herod, they didn’t tell him where the child was, and he pitched a fit and in his attempt to kill Jesus, he ended up killing all the baby boys in this region who are under the age of two years. And as Matthew says, in accordance with what the Magi had told him about when the star had appeared. In other words, they said, “It was about two years ago, it took us a while to figure out the significance. It took us a while to get here.” In other words, the Magi weren’t there the night Jesus was born. I know. Like, I’m messing with Christmas, right?
It goes against some traditions and listen, I don’t wanna poke too much fun at traditions, but the reality is that tradition doesn’t always tell the truth. But in this particular case, it’s told us something that’s just not true, right? I mean, every nativity scene you’ve ever seen has the Magi there that night, doesn’t it? Can we pop a couple of those up here? Magi, right? On camels, also not mentioned. I’m okay with that, but how about this, ooh Fisher Price, this little kid stuff here, right?
From a really early age, we’re like the Magi were absolutely there. And it was a diverse group too. Magi, right there, right there, Magi. Magi. No faces or noses but Magi. I don’t know what’s going on with that, but there’s Magi. More Magi, right? Magi. Every time you look, there’s Magi. There’s Magi. Pilate, what the Kris Kringle is happening here? Right? Like, is that not the creepiest thing you’ve ever seen? Not only are they all made out a yarn, but they’re all babies. Like, that’s weird. They all show the Magi, but that’s tradition. And here’s the thing, sometimes tradition clouds what God’s Word makes clear. You hear me Church? Tradition is not a bad thing, but it’s no substitute for God’s Word. And we always have to check our tradition against God’s Word, because we’ve all been taught some things by tradition that aren’t necessarily the truth. I was convinced growing up that cleanliness is next to godliness, and that it was in the Bible, and it’s not.
I believe that Adam and Eve ate an apple. There’s no apple mentioned, it’s just fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, which is not an apple tree. But we have these things kind of rattling around in our brains. And then they take on sometimes the veneer of truth, but the reality is that they’re just tradition, and sometimes tradition doesn’t tell the truth. Sometimes tradition clouds what God’s Word makes clear. And so we have to always go back to the Scripture. We have to always go back to God’s Word for truth. And then they open their treasures.
“And they presented him with gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh.” And by the way, tradition alert, tradition says they were how many? Three. It’s not what it says, it says there were three gifts. There might have only been two Magi, there might have been 20. Maybe each one carried one of the gifts, maybe there were three, or maybe a whole bunch of them each carried some of those same gifts or they split them among, we just don’t know. By the way, do we even need to talk about the fact that they weren’t kings? We okay on that?
“We three kings of orient are…” No, you’re not. You’re not kings. You’re advisors to kings. Maybe we do that because we’re so uncomfortable with the idea that they were pagan occultists. So if we’re not gonna call them kings, we down, well, they were wise men, because that’s better than magicians, and astrologers, and enchanters, and intestine readers, right? But sometimes God’s Word comes to, and even speaks through people that we wouldn’t necessarily expect.
And it’s uncomfortable. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. That’s maybe the most interesting line to me. Up to this point, all their clarity has come from their familiarity with God’s Word, right? And it’s come from Scripture. Here, for the first time, their clarity comes from a dream. It’s still God’s Word God speaks to them, but it’s a dream. And my question is, how did they know that it was God? Because, we all have dreams and they’re not all from God, at least I hope they’re not. Right?
How many of you have ever had a dream that you’re really hoping was not God speaking to you? Right? Yeah. So how did they know? How did they know that this was God and it wasn’t, you know, bad pizza last night? Here’s what I believe with all my heart, they knew that it was God in this dream because they already knew what he sounded like. They knew what he sounded. They knew the sound of his voice. They knew something about who he was because they were already familiar with his Word. They knew the sound of his voice from their familiarity with his Word. And this is so important to understand. Listen, our ability to recognize God’s voice, it begins with our familiarity with his Word. Because, here’s the thing, and I know this might be a little controversial for some of you, and it’s okay. I believe that God continues to speak in a variety of ways. I do think absolutely he speaks first and foremost through the Word of God through the Bible. But I think God speaks in other ways. I think God speaks through dreams. I’ve never had a dream where I think God was speaking. But I know people who have and I don’t doubt either their sincerity or their sanity. I think God speaks through prophecies. I’m not a prophet, but I know some people who seem to have that gift. And again, I don’t question their sincerity or their sanity.
I think God speaks through words of wisdom and words of knowledge. I think God speaks through advice. I think God speaks through open doors and closed doors and circumstances and the people he brings around us to speak, and I think God speaks in a variety of ways. But of course, we run into that confusion, but how do we know when it’s God? How do we know when it’s a voice we should be listening to? And the answer is this, the answer is that clarity begins with familiarity with God’s Word. That’s where we first learn God’s voice and begin to develop the ability to recognize, in other words, because the reality is, not every dream’s from God. Not every opportunity is an open door that God wants us to go through. Not every closed door is an obstacle he wants us to run away from. Not every piece of advice we receive is godly counsel. Not every circumstance is a sign. So how do we know when God is speaking? And the answer is, we have to know his voice first. And clarity begins with familiarity with God’s Word.
So how do we get familiar with God’s Word? We’re about to go really deep. This is probably more theology than any of you signed up for today. This is gonna blow your minds. Here’s how we get familiar with God’s Word and his voice, we need to read it. Did I lose a bunch of you? Okay, let me slow down, I went pretty quick. If we’re gonna get familiar with God’s voice through familiarity with his Word, we’re gonna need to read it. You’re still on the train? Okay. How many of you own a Bible? Awesome. And hey, by the way, if you don’t own a Bible, the Welcome Center has Bibles for you. We’d love to put one in your hands. They’d be thrilled to. Just go see them after the service. They’re ready to give them to you. But a lot of you said you already own. How about this, how many of you have more than one Bible?
How many of you have a Smartphone? You have all the Bibles. Like, do you understand that we live in an age that’s unprecedented in human history, right? We have unprecedented access to God’s Word. And yet, on some level, I do wonder if in fact we’re actually less familiar with it today than people in the past were even though they had less of it, right? Because in the past, you know, before Gutenberg came along and made the printing press, most people didn’t have a Bible. I mean, the only people who had the Bible were the priests. And so you’d go to church and you you’d hear a story, or you’d hear a passage from Scripture, and that was the only Scripture you had for the week, you didn’t have anything until next week. No access until the next time you went to church, because they were the only ones that had the Bible.
But that’s not true anymore. We have access to it. But you know how the law of economics work, right? If there’s a whole lot of something, it gets less valuable. If there’s a little something, it’s really valuable. And so, back in the past, they had little access, and so they put a lot of value on it, now we have a lot of access, and we actually seem to put little value on it. We just don’t read it. So if you want to get familiar with God’s Word, and so become familiar with his voice, and so find clarity, we got to read it.
Here’s what happens when you read it, three things. Number one, reading the Bible clarifies a lot of things. Just reading the Bible is gonna clarify a lot of questions that we have, questions like, how do I be a good husband? What is the plan? What does it mean to be a good father? What does it mean to love my husband and my kids, be a good mom? What does it mean to be a good parent? What does it mean to be a good kid? What does it mean to be a good employer or a good employee? What does it mean to be careful and wise with my finances? What does it mean to think about myself as a citizen and engage with the politics? I mean, a lot of that is clarified directly by teachings from God’s Word. It clarifies a lot of things, if we’ll only read it. A lot of our questions are answered directly by the Word of God.
Second thing that happens is this, reading the Bible familiarizes us with God’s voice. We begin to recognize his voice. Now, I don’t mean obviously the sound of it. But I mean what he sounds like. And we begin to pick that up. I mean, here’s the thing, I can walk into any crowded room with all kinds of conversation happening, and I can find Coletta. I can my wife immediately, and it’s not because she’s louder than everybody else, she’s not. It’s not because she has a weird voice or she says weird things. I just know what she sounds like. Because I spent a lot of time getting familiar with her voice, and so, I can pick that out anywhere in a crowd. And it works that way spiritually. That the more time we spend with God’s Word, the more familiar we become with his voice, and the easier it is to recognize his voice however it is that he chooses to speak to us. Familiarizes with his voice. Third thing happens is this, reading the Bible changes us.
Reading the Bible does something in us. It polishes the lens, it wipes away dirt, it changes from the inside out. I love this, Isaiah wrote this. This is actually God’s speaking, He says, “As for the rain and the snow, as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and they do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish so that it yields seed for the sower and the bread for the eater, so is my Word.” In the same way, he says, “So is my Word that goes out from my mouth. It will not return to me empty. But it will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”
What is it that God desires? Why does he give us his Word to do? It’s to change us, it’s to transform us. Here at Mission Hills, we talk a lot about being here for the sole purpose of helping people become like Jesus and join him on mission, and his Word is one of those powerful tools that we have because God’s Word changes us, and when we engage it, it adjusts who we are, and it tightens the screws and and battens things down and it opens up the shutters and it clarifies the view of things. We begin to become like Jesus, and as we do, we begin to gain some of his perspective. And, of course, he has a perfect perspective, so the more we’re becoming like Jesus, the clearer we are seeing all kinds of things in life. Reading God’s Word changes us. So, the first thing we need to do is we need to read it. Second thing we need to do is we need to seek to understand it. First thing is read it, second thing is seek to understand it.
So important that we seek to understand God’s Word because a lot of its work is done in our lives whether we fully understand it or not. But when we don’t understand God’s Word, we can do some weird things with it. Years ago in seminary I was teaching on biblical interpretation, and one of my students brought me a Christmas card. And on the front, it said, “And they celebrated by giving each other gifts. Merry Christmas. Revelation 13.” I remember thinking, I did not know that the Book of Revelation talked to us about this tradition of giving Christmas gifts. So I went and I looked it up and it turns out, that’s not what it says at all. Revelation 13, it’s describing this time where two of God’s prophets in the future before Jesus comes back, two of his prophets will rise up and evil people will kill them and leave their bodies in the streets. And it says that the people of the town looked at their bodies and they celebrated their death by giving each other gifts. Merry Christmas, right? No, not even close. But that’s what we do when we take God’s Word out of context. That’s what we do when we take God’s Word not in the way that it was intended, and we misunderstand it, and we misuse it, and we abuse it and we say, “But this is what God said.” And God’s like, “No, I didn’t. Why don’t you shut up?”
So it’s imperative. It’s critical that we seek to understand it. How do we do that? Let me just give you a couple quick suggestions. Number one is, it’s really, really helpful to do it in the context of a group of other people that are seeking to understand it. God often works in that, and so, if you’re not part of a group that’s studying the Bible together, our Group Link is coming up in January, join a Life Group or join a Bible study, that’s a really powerful way to begin to seek to understand God’s Word. If you’re new to your faith and you’re new to the Bible, and you’re not even sure where to start. We have an experience called Discovering Faith that will be begin in the beginning of January, so you can take a look at the Next Steps room today or you can sign up online, that will introduce you to the basics of understanding the Bible.
You can put yourself under the teaching of a Bible teacher who’s gifted to explain Scripture and focuses on that. And a lot of you are visiting from other places, and my prayer is that you are part of a church that is doing that regularly in your life. And if not, I would encourage you to find a place that teaches the Bible and helps you to understand it, but we need to seek to understand it. Third thing we need to do is we need to apply it. We read it, we seek to understand it, and then we apply it. That’s the missing ingredient for a lot of people today, I think. We live in a culture, not only where access to the Bible is at an unprecedented level, but our access to good teaching, honestly, is at an unprecedented level.
We can go to a church, we can listen to a podcast, we can go online to preachers and teachers all over the world to hear amazing teaching, gifted teaching, but sometimes we’re so, honestly, we’re so obsessed with consuming content that we never do anything with it. And listen, consumption is not the same thing as transformation. Learning is not the same thing as changing. And to change, we have to go, “Okay, Lord, I understand this. Now I need to do something with it. I need to put this into practice in my life. I need to apply it.” I think it’s interesting I read this verse in Hebrews, it says, “For the Word of God is alive and active. It is sharper than any double-edged sword.”
Most translations say that way, but it’s interesting, the Greek word for sword is also the Greek word for scalpel. It’s also the the word that’s used for a double-edged blade that was used in surgery. And it’s interesting what’s being described there sounds a little bit like surgery does, and it says, “The Word of God is alive and active, sharper than any double-edged blade. It penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit.” That’s intricate work. “Dividing joints and marrow,” that sounds a little bit like surgery, doesn’t it? The interesting thing to me is, you know, a sword does its work whether you’re submitting to it or not, right?
I mean, somebody just divides your head from your shoulders, and you don’t have a lot to say about that with a sword. But surgery, you have to agree to, right? Surgery, you submit to. Surgery, you invite into your life. And I wonder if maybe that’s actually what’s being said, the Word of God is powerful to do all these things, but we have to submit to it. One of the most important ways we do that is by applying it, by going, “God, I understand this truth, now help me to live it out.” Clarity begins with familiarity with God’s Word. Whatever confusion you’re facing, I believe God wants to speak clarity into your life. I believe God is speaking clarity into your life. You may not be able to recognize it yet because you don’t quite know what he sounds like. Clarity begins with familiarity with God’s Word I just have one question for you. What am I gonna do to get more familiar with God’s Word? What step are you gonna take? Would you pray with me?
God, we live in a confusing world. We do have limited resources, we have multiple options. Sometimes the options are confusing themselves, we don’t know what’s good and what’s bad. Sometimes we can recognize there are multiple good options, but we can’t tell what’s best. We don’t have your perspective and so things are confusing. So we thank you for your Word. We thank you that you have given us clarity on so many things. Thank you that your Word does more than simply communicate abstract truths and principles, but it’s living and active in our lives. And it not only changes us but it also attunes us to your voice. We long to know your voice because we know it’s only from your voice, from your Word that we get clarity. So we long to know your voice and we thank you for the Scriptures, for the Bible that allow us to become familiar with you and for your Word and your voice. We ask for your forgiveness for the ways that we have taken so lightly such an invaluable resource. Change our hearts. Bring us clarity.
If you’re a follower of Jesus, would you do something for me? Would just spend some time now just praying. Praying for the people who are joining us right now that don’t know Jesus. They don’t have a relationship with him like we do. Pray for those who will come over the next few days for Christmas Eve that don’t know him. And pray that God would give them clarity. By the way, if you’re one of those people, if you don’t have a relationship with God through faith in Jesus, a lot of what I said today probably doesn’t mean much to you. That’s okay. Here’s the one thing you need to be clear about.
Here’s the one reason that you’re with us today. Here’s the one thing that God wants to make sure you do not miss. Here it is. He loves you. God loves you. God himself said, for he so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life. That’s the thing you need to be clear on, God loves you. He loves you so much he sent his Son Jesus, lived the perfect life and then voluntarily went to the cross to pay in his blood with his death, the price of every wrong thing you’ve ever done. All those things that separates you from God. He’s paid for them all. Three days later he rose from the dead. And he’s offering you forgiveness. He’s offering you freedom, and he’s offering you a relationship with this God who loves you. That’s what you need to be clear about. And if that’s hitting home, if that’s ringing clear, if there’s something in you today that says, “I need that in my life.” You can have it. God is offering it to you. Wherever you are, this is what you do, just have this conversation with him in your heart. Say:
God, I’ve done wrong. I’ve sinned, and I know that’s separated us. I’m sorry. Jesus, thank you for dying for me. I believe you rose from the dead, and I understand you’re offering me forgiveness and freedom and a new relationship with a God who loves me. I’m ready to accept that like any gift needs to be accepted. I’m ready to accept it. Jesus I’m saying yes to faith in you. I’m putting my trust in you, come into my life. I’m yours now and forever, Amen.