Craig Smith - Christmas Eve (The Promise of Peace)
Well, hey. Welcome to Mission Hills and Merry Christmas. So good to have you with us today. This is a special day in a lot of different ways. One of the ways that we’re really excited today is that we have thousands of people who’ll be gathering as a Mission Hills family, not only here at the South Littleton Campus but in two other campuses, Mission Hill en Espanol and our new North Littleton Campus launching today at 4:00 o’clock. Super exciting. And we also know there are thousands of people joining us from around the world. And our prayer is that no matter how you’re joining us that you would have an opportunity today with your time together to experience just a little bit of something that was promised to a group of shepherds almost 2,000 years ago.
As one historian puts it, while Jesus was being born in Bethlehem, there were some shepherds out in the field watching over their flocks and he says, “Suddenly, a great company of the heavenly host appeared with an angel praising God and saying glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” And our prayer is that somehow today you would experience a little bit of God’s promise of peace. And I don’t know about you but I think of all the things that have been in short supply recently. Peace seems like it’s at the top of the list. Yeah? And whether it’s things going on in your personal life or just things going on in the world, it just doesn’t feel like peaceful as how we would describe life over the last year or so, right? Yeah. And yet I believe and I think you believe or at least you want to believe and that’s why you’re here today that God’s promise to the shepherds is actually God’s promise to us and it’s possible to experience peace because of the birth of Jesus. And so, what I wanna do today is I just wanna read a portion of the Christmas story and look at it through the lens of what it teaches us about taking hold of this promise of peace that God’s given us. If you wanna follow along, I’m gonna be in Matthew starting in chapter 1, verse 18, maybe a familiar story.
This is how the birth of Jesus, the Messiah came about. His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Now because Joseph, her husband, was faithful to the law and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son and you are to give him the name Jesus because he will save his people from their sins.” And all this took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet, “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and they will call him Emmanuel which means God with us.”
I’m gonna pause there for a second because I think in that name…well, we’re given two names for Jesus there, right. First, Jesus which means God saves because Jesus ultimately came to live and to die for our sins and to save us from them but he’s also called Emmanuel which is Hebrew for God with us. And this is a really important thing to understand about God’s promise of peace. It’s that the foundation of God’s promise is God’s presence. Let me say that again. The foundation of God’s promise of peace is actually his presence. This isn’t a peace that God gives at a distance. It’s a peace that comes because God is with us. See, because of our sin, we ran from God but in the person of Jesus, God came running after us. He came running to find us and to be with us and that’s the foundation of his promise of being able to give us peace. It’s his presence.
I had an opportunity a couple of years ago to try out one of those FlowRiders. Anybody know what I’m talking about? It’s one of those artificial surfing simulators. Always wanted to try it, never really had the nerve and then there weren’t many people in line. I was like, “This is perfect for me. Nobody’s gonna be watching.” I don’t really like to do things in front of people which I know sounds strange for me to be saying right now but it’s really true. And so, there weren’t many people and so I got behind a couple of people and then a bunch of people showed up. I was like, “Oh, I don’t want…okay, I’m gonna go ahead and go for a ride.” And so, I got my opportunity. I got up at the top and I got my little boogieboard and I got my knees on and I slid down the slide and the water comes at you really fast, kinda simulating a wave. And I’ll be honest. I was doing pretty good. I was doing it. I was able to keep my balance. I was able to actually even move back and forth a little bit and I was feeling pretty good but I didn’t really wanna just, like, kneel on it. I really wanted to stand up. That’s what all the cool guys were doing. I wanted to be a cool guy.
So, I started… and every time I started to even think about standing up, like, it would dip and the water would stop coming over the lip and I was like, “This is just really hard. I don’t know how I can do this.” And there was a lifeguard kinda standing not too far away and he could tell what I was trying to do and so he leans over and he goes, “Hey, do you wanna hold my hand?” And I was like, “No. I am a guy, I am a man. I’m not going to hold your hand, no.” I was like, “I got this.” So, I went to stand up. As soon as I did that, the board dipped. The wave took it out from under me. I washed out, washed up flying at the back of this thing. And of course, everybody watching laughed. I knew they were going to.
Got back in line. Get back up. Slid down. Got it. And the guy reached out again. He goes, “You sure you don’t wanna hold my hand?” I was like, “Fine.” I grabbed his forearm because I felt like that at least I’m able to keep a little bit of the man card in that moment. And I have to say it was kinda weird. Just that touch changed things. His presence changed my experience, actually. I was able…while I was holding his arm, I was actually able to get to my feet. I was able to stand up and I was like, “Oh, I’m doing this.” It’s remarkable how his presence changed my experience. He wasn’t actually doing it for me. He hadn’t taken over but his presence completely changed the experience and at a certain point, I was like, “I got this.” And I looked at him and said, “I got this.” And he goes, “Huh?” I was like, “No, I got it.” I let go. Immediately faceplanted. Came that close to losing my swimsuit as I was washed up at the back of this thing.
And I hadn’t thought about that for a long time until I was looking at this passage just this week and going, “Jesus is Emmanuel, he’s God with us.” And God saying, you know, “The peace that I’m promising, it doesn’t come from the end of all the conflict. It doesn’t come from the end of all the chaos. It comes from my presence. My presence will change your experience. My presence will allow you to have peace even in the midst of chaos and conflict.” Kinda like riding that thing. Touching his hand didn’t change the force of the water coming. It didn’t change the chaos and the turbulence of the water. It just changed my experience of it. And that is who Jesus is. He’s God with us and you can have peace in the midst of chaos. But what do you have to do? You gotta take his hand. I’ve had this image today of God standing next to us going, “I gotcha. If you’ll just reach out and grab my hand.” So, I wonder today if you find that you’re not experiencing the peace that God promises, because you’re still saying to God in one way or another, “I got this.” And listen, we’ve tried that and we don’t got this. But he’s got us if we will just reach out.
And when Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and he took Mary home as his wife but he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son and he gave him the name Jesus. Now after Jesus is born in Bethlehem in Judea during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem. And we’ll stop there for just a moment because there’s another incredibly important truth about God’s promise of peace there. And here’s the way I would say it. I’d say you’re never too far from God to find peace with God. You’re never too far from God to find peace with God. And I think that’s important to understand because I know that there are some people listening to this message today. You came with somebody because it’s what you do at Christmas and you wanted to make them happy but honestly, you’re here and you’re uncomfortable or you’re watching online and you’re uncomfortable because you feel like everything we’re talking about doesn’t apply to you. Because you feel like you’ve gone too far, you’ve done too much for God to ever give you peace, for there ever to be peace between you and God.
And I want you to hear this today. You’re never too far from God to find peace with God. And you go, “Well, okay. That sounds great but why do you say that? How can you know that?” And I can say it because of these Magi. It’s so interesting. The Magi were far from God, you know that? The Magi, almost by definition, were people who were far from God. First off, they were far from God physically. They were far from Jesus physically. I mean, they didn’t come from Israel. They weren’t from there in Jerusalem or Bethlehem or anywhere in the nation of Israel. Probably they were from what we think of as Babylon or Persia. They’d come a long way. They were physically far and they weren’t part of God’s people. In fact, traditionally, the Babylonians had been the enemies of God’s people. They were very far from God. And then on top of that, they were Magi. And I know we don’t think of the word Magi as necessarily kind of equaling somebody who’s far from God but the reality is we just…we’ve sanitized it. We’ve cleaned them up. When they show up in our little nativity scenes, you know, they’re the three wise men or they’re the three kings but that’s not how Matthew describes it. He calls them Magi. And the word Magi is a Persian word that means magicians. And to be really clear on this. We’re not talking like David Blaine or Zach King kinda magicians. More Voldemort than anything else, okay.
What I mean is they were practitioners of dark arts. These are the people who…they cast spells and they summon spirits and they tried to read the future by looking at the entrails of animals that had been spilled out. It’s interesting. All those things are explicitly forbidden by the Old Testament Scriptures. Explicitly forbidden by the Jewish Scriptures. In fact, the punishment was death. And so, this is a group of people who made their living by serious sin. They were as far from God as you can get and yet, what do we see? We see them seeking and ultimately finding God here. God led them. Well, that’s not quite right. Actually, God didn’t just lead them. He led them every single step of the way. He began to call them and then every moment, every step along the way he said, “No, turn here, turn here, go here.” Until they found him. Listen, if that’s true of the Magi, I promise you it’s true of you. No matter what you’ve done, no matter how far you think you are from God, you are never too far from God to find peace with God. And some of you, you’re here today because you just needed to hear that. God’s peace is a possibility for you.
The Magi came and they asked, “Where is the one who has been born the king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and we have come to worship him.” A really important statement there about peace. Notice what it is they said they came to do. They came to what? To worship. They came to worship him. And an interesting thing about worship, in the modern world, we hear the word worship and we immediately think, like, church services. We think songs, right? But in the ancient world, worship wasn’t necessarily a religious word because the word that’s being used there literally meant to kneel down. It was used to describe an action of kneeling down in front of somebody, somebody who had authority. And so, the action of kneeling was really…it was an attitude of saying, “I get it. I recognize your authority and I respect it. And more importantly, I submit to it.” That’s what the Magi came to do. They said, “We came to worship him. We came to respect him. We came to submit to him because we recognize his authority.”
And that’s so foundational because here’s the reality. Submission opens the door to peace. Submission opens the door to peace. We can’t have peace from God if we’re unwilling to submit to God. It just doesn’t work. And it’s not because God, you know, refuses. It’s that we’re not in the place that we can actually experience it until we’re willing to submit to God. When I was a freshman in college, I remember one morning I got out of bed in my dorm room and I went to go to my first class and I went to open the door and it just wouldn’t open. And I remember you could move the handle. The handle works find. I could hear the lock disengaging but when I went to pull, it just stayed where it was, and in fact, the harder that I pulled, the less that it moved. And I’ll be honest, I was ticked. I immediately got mad. And I figured somebody was pranking me. Somebody in the dorm, one of my friends in the dorm had come and they’d done something and I couldn’t figure out what it was and the door opened inwards so I couldn’t even figure out how they pulled that off from the outside. But I could not open it. And I was that close to calling maintenance and I decided to try one last thing before I called maintenance and that is I knelt down and I looked at the bottom of the door. And it was interesting. From this position I had a different perspective and I saw something that I hadn’t perceived before. I saw a little wedge of wood. It’s a little triangle of wood that had gotten under the door and it was kinda positioned just in such a way that the more I pulled the door, the more it dug into the carpet and kept the door from going anywhere.
And then I remembered I did that. Not on purpose. But my roommate was an architect major, he was constantly making things with little wooden things and I had stepped on one of them on my way into bed and the pain was incredible. I mean, not LEGO level pain. And if you ever stepped on a LEGO, like, you know, I’m not quite that level but right below that. And so, what did I do? I kicked it. I kicked it and it went under the door and I was like, “Perfect.” Well, it wasn’t perfect. It actually was exactly the thing that was keeping me in place. And the reality is I didn’t see what the problem was until I knelt. My position changed my perspective. My perspective opened up the door to doing what needed to be done so that I could actually get free. And that’s what’s going on here with the Magi. They came to worship. They came to recognize the authority of Jesus and to submit themselves to it. And I believe it is because of that that they ultimately came to experience the peace that God promised them. Same is true for us. Until we’re willing to submit to God, we’ll never have the peace that flows from him. Submission opens the door to peace.
Peace or submission is not an easy thing, though, right. Recognizing someone’s authority, respecting it, submitting to it. It’s not an easy thing and not everybody in the Christmas story was able to do that. Matthew tells us that when King Herod heard this, he was disturbed and all Jerusalem with him. The Bible wasn’t written in English. It was originally written…the New Testament was written in Greek and the Greek word for disturbed…there’s really interesting…it’s an unusual word. It’s a very powerful word. It means something like highly agitated. It’s basically the opposite of peace. It’s to be in turmoil. And some of us know what that feels like, right? How many of us at some point in our lives have dealt with a series of situations and what we felt inside was just turmoil. How many of us have ever felt like that? Yeah. That’s what Herod was feeling. And the question you guys wanna ask is why? What was wrong? What was going on that caused him to have such an intense feeling of a loss of peace? And the answer is that he understood that Jesus was a threat to his power. And you need to understand this about Herod. Herod loved his power. Herod’s entire life was a fight to get and keep power. So much so that Herod actually, he murdered three of his own sons and his favorite wife because he thought they were a threat to his power. That’s how committed he was to fighting for power.
And here’s an important thing. You can’t fight for power and find peace. It just doesn’t work that way. You cannot both fight for power and find peace. The pursuit of power and the pursuit of peace are fundamentally opposite pursuits. You can’t fight for power in your relationships and experience peace in those relationships. You can’t fight for power in your relationship with your kids and find peace in those relationships. You can’t fight for power in your relationship with your parents and find peace in that relationship. You can’t fight for power in your community or in the world and experience peace in the world. It just doesn’t work that way. The reason Herod couldn’t have peace is because he was so intent on fighting for power.
Now I didn’t say you can’t have power and have peace. It’s one of the paradoxes of Christianity. It’s actually possible to have power and have peace. We know that because Jesus had all the power. He was God’s son. He was God in the flesh. We see him have all the power. I mean, he told demons to leave and they left. He told storms to chill and they chilled. He told dead people to come out of graves and they came out of graves. That’s all the power. But Jesus didn’t fight for the power. In fact, my favorite description of Jesus is found in the book of Philippians and it basically says this, that though he was in the very form of God by the very nature of who he was, he was God. But he did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, something to be held onto, something to be fought for. But he emptied himself. Thinking on the nature of a servant, to serve us. So, Jesus had all the power but he wasn’t constantly fighting for it. So yeah, you can have power and have peace but you can’t fight for power and have peace. And many of us failing to experience peace even though God’s promise is simply because in so many of our relationships we’re engaged in a fight for power.
And when he’d called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. Well, in Bethlehem in Judea, they replied for that is what the prophet has said…has written. But you Bethlehem and the land of Judah are by no means least among the rulers of Judah for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people, Israel. And then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and he said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon you find him, report to me so that I too may go and worship him.” And after they heard the king, they went on their way and the start that they had seen when it rose went ahead of them and it stopped over the place where the child was. And when they saw the star, they were overjoyed.
By the way, I’ve always loved that description. When they saw the child, they were overjoyed. They saw Jesus, they were overjoyed. I love the description in part because in the original Greek what it literally says is they had mega joy which is, like, the coolest thing ever. How many of us want mega joy, right? That would be awesome. Why so much joy? And the answer is…well, partly it’s because they found what they were looking for but I think it’s also because of how they found what they were looking for. It’s because God led them. They didn’t spend a lot of time looking, right? God led them directly to Jesus and how did he do that? Well, first he sent them the star, right? That’s what started the journey moving. We don’t know what the star was. I mean, people have hypothesized that it was a comet. It might’ve been a constellation of planets. It might’ve been a supernova. Might’ve been supernatural. We don’t really know what it was. We just know it was a sign. And that sign got them moving. It got them heading in the right direction.
And it’s interesting. I really do believe that God gives every one of us a sign or many signs to get us moving in the right direction. Many of you have a relationship with Jesus. If you look back on how that happened, there was probably a sign that got you moving. It might’ve been somebody that got brought into your life, it might’ve been an event or an experience in your life, it might’ve been something just began to stir in your heart but there were these signs that God was calling you, that God was inviting you and then you began to move towards him. But it’s interesting. The sign the Magi had wasn’t enough. They needed more specific information than the star, right? The star led them and they went where they thought they should look. They went to the palace but that’s where a king should be and they didn’t find him there. But they found the specifics they needed, right? They got information from the Scriptures. The religious scholars of his day opened up the Word of God and they said, “Well, here is where it’s supposed to happen.” And they now knew exactly where to go which is incredible news because it meant that they didn’t have to go wandering around Israel going, “Hey, you got a Messiah in there? No? Okay, have a nice day.” No, I mean, they were able to go exactly where they needed to be because they had both the sign but they also had the specific directions. And God gives us those too. Whatever signs might begin us moving towards God, it’s in God’s Word that we find that God loves us. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. That’s specific information we need. It’s not a generic God. It’s a very specific Messiah.
And so, in Scripture we find that there’s no other name under heaven by which we may be saved but the name of Jesus. It’s in Scripture that we find this incredibly important statement that if you declare with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and you believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, that you will be saved. It’s in Scripture that we find those specific details. And between the signs and the specific details, God is inviting us. He’s inviting us into a relationship with him and he’s inviting you to experience peace with him. But like any invitation, it has to be accepted, right? His directions have to be followed. And the reality is that God leads us to peace but we have to follow his directions. The Magi did. And they found Jesus and they found peace. Herod didn’t. The Magi followed his directions. Herod kept his distance and because of that, he never experienced the peace. But the Magi had a completely different experience. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary and they bowed down and they worshiped him.
I love that. They came to the house. But by the way, this would’ve been a little bit after the night that Jesus was born. By the time the Magi got there, they’d kind of upgraded from a barn to a house. But whatever house they were in, I promise you it was a far cry from the palace that the Magi expected to find the King in. And I think there’s probably an important truth in this. We often go looking for peace where the world tells us to look, right? The world tells us, “You can expect to find peace in possessions or in money and power, in influence, in experiences.” But what the Magi show us here is that we won’t find peace where the world teaches us to seek it. Nothing the world tells you about peace can actually provide you peace. That’s only gonna be found in God.
And then they opened their treasures. And they presented him with gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh which are weird gifts for a baby. I mean, they just really are, right? I mean, I’ve had a couple of kids. Nobody gave me gold. Nobody gave my kids frankincense and frankincense and myrrh, by the way, they both come from a tree. Basically, it’s sap. The frankincense gets hard. You know what a baby would do with a hard piece of tree sap? Choke on it. Myrrh actually is still sticky typically. It’s a sticky, gooey resin. They’re just weird gifts for a baby. And they’re appropriate for a king but they’re weird gifts for a baby. And I try to imagine, like, you know, the Magi showing up and, like, dropping those into the crib.
And I imagine Jesus didn’t really have much interest in them. He didn’t have much interest in them as an adult either, though. He was never looking for the trappings of wealth and power and all that stuff. He never asked people to come to him and bring things that are of value. Well, that’s not true. There’s one valuable thing that Jesus was always hoping people would bring him. Themselves. That’s why Jesus came, to get…he came to get you. He came to get me. That’s the only thing of value and as far as he’s concerned, that is of infinite value.
And ironically, it’s in giving Jesus the only thing that he really is interested in that he really wants that we find the peace that we so desperately want. Peace comes from giving Jesus the only thing he really wants. You. Some of you are here today and you’ve given Jesus the gift of yourself at some point in your life and maybe you’ve had moments where you’ve experienced the peace that comes from that. Maybe you’re still experiencing it in spite of what’s going on around you. You’ve got his hand and his presence is bringing you peace. Or maybe you’ve given him your life and right now you’re not having a lot of peace. You’re struggling. And I promise you Jesus is standing next to you going, “I gotcha. Just reach out. And trust my presence.” And some of you are listening to this and you’ve never had that experience because you haven’t taken that incredibly important first step of saying yes to trusting Jesus, to giving Jesus yourself. Jesus came, he lived, he died, he rose from the dead to pay the price for all the wrong that we’ve done that separates us from him. He is Emmanuel. He’s God with you. He is standing beside you. He’s offering himself to you if you’ll just return the favor and offer yourself to him. Would you pray with me?
Jesus, we thank you so much for coming after us. We thank you for your birth that we celebrate today. We thank you for who you are, that you are God with us. And we thank you that because of your presence, we can have peace. And for those of us who have experienced that, we just thank you so much. In the midst of everything we’ve been through over the last couple of years, we’re just so grateful to have peace with you when nothing in the world is necessarily offering peace. We thank you for being God with us. We love you and we recommit ourselves to you. We reach out, we take hold of your hand. We know…yeah, we don’t got this. But you’ve got us. And we’ve got you and that changes everything. Lord, those of us who’ve experienced that peace, we pray for those that are listening to this that have never experienced it.
And if that’s you, if I just could speak to you for a moment, let me give you the opportunity right now to take hold of his hand. He is standing right beside you. No matter how far you think you are from God, the moment you turn around and look, he is right there. He’s reaching out his arms and he’s offering you peace with him and peace in the midst of the chaos of the world because he’s done everything necessary to make that possible. And if you’ve never taken hold of his hand, if you’d never put your faith in him, you can do it right here, right now. You’re gonna say something like this to him right now. Just do this with me. You can say it in the quietness of your heart. You can say it out loud. It doesn’t matter. He’s gonna hear it either way because he is listening. It’s what he wants to hear more than anything else. Just say something like this with me.
Jesus, I know I’ve sinned. I’ve run hard away from you. I’m sorry. Thank you for coming after me. Thank you for dying on the cross to pay the price of my sin. I believe you rose from the dead. And I’m ready to put my trust in you. Jesus, I’m saying yes to following you from here on out. Jesus, I am yours. Amen.