Jack Graham - A Christmas Story
So much of the Christmas season is wrapped up in stories and I enjoy the stories about Christmas, around Christmas. And some of these stories have taken have been filmed. Hollywood has recorded these stories for us. I mean, great movies like "The Christmas Carol", and "Miracle on 34th Street", I really like that one. There is a movie that's pretty funny called "A Christmas Story" and we watch that one, and and a number of others. One of our favorites as a family, we got together last evening and this new Christmas... Of course, "A Wonderful Life"! How could you forget "A Wonderful Life"! But this brand new Christmas classic. I mean it's just right up there at the top of all the Christmas stories it's "Elf".
You know, so, we got together with our grandchildren last evening and we watched "Elf" and so that's fun. I enjoy the fun of Christmas and the stories about this season of the year. But, of course, none of it would take place were it not for the real story of Christmas. And if you were beginning a series in in the Gospel of Luke, particularly on Christmas and the season of Christmas, you, no doubt, would turn to Luke chapter 2 because that's the Nativity story, that's the story of the birth of Jesus, the announcement of His coming to the Virgin Mary and the birth of Jesus, and when God came down and heaven exploded and angels sang, and shepherds worshiped and light has come and life is given! This is the incredible story, the amazing story of Christmas!
Do you remember where you were on July 29, 1969? July 29, 1969. Well, I do. O. S. Hawkins and I were actually on a double date. I had to get him a date. He couldn't get one for himself, so my friend's friend came along with us and were in a backyard looking up into the heavens and were being told by transistor radio at that time, no, cell phones, that Neil Armstrong has walked on the moon! You remember that? You remember that? Then you're old, okay! He walked on the moon! And President Richard Nixon stated regarding this tremendous feat, "The greatest event in human history occurred when man first put his feet on the moon".
Later Jim Irwin, also an American astronaut would reflect upon Nixon's statement and the whole walking on the moon scene, and the Jim Irwin, the astronaut, responded by saying, "The most significant achievement of our age is not that man stood on the moon, but rather that God in Christ stood on the earth"! The greatest experience in human history is when God came down in the person of Jesus Christ and firmly planted His feet on this planet, on a search and rescue mission for each one of us. And the story of Christmas is that story of God coming to seek and to save the lost! In fact, you don't have to wonder why Jesus came, why all of this. Because in Luke 19, verse 6 He said, "I've come to seek and to save that which is lost"! To seek and to save that which is lost. And this is the story of Christmas.
All the religions of the world, all the philosophers have anguished as to how man can know God, how man can experience God, how man can believe in God, how man can get to God! In all religious, all philosophy ultimately is man's search for meaning, man's search for God! But the Christian faith is not man's search for God, but God's search for man! That God became a Man, that He lived along us in order that He might reconcile us to God, redeem us as His own. Jesus made God knowable. Jesus made God touchable. When you look into the face of a baby born in Bethlehem, you see the face of God! So you would presume that a Christmas series would cover Luke 2. But in fact Luke 15 beautifully illustrates this great theme, this great truth about Christ, about Christmas, that once I was lost, but now I'm found. Once I was blind but now I see. And so in the fifteenth chapter of Luke we're going to cover all three stories over the next 4 weeks at Christmas tide, at the Advent season. All four of these stories regarding why Jesus came, the real story of Christmas. Verse one of chapter 15 of the Gospel of Luke:
"Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to him to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, 'This man receives sinners and eats with them.' So he told them this parable: 'What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, "Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost".' Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.' Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents".
Jesus would move on to the more famous story of the Prodigal Son or the Prodigal Sons, because there were two sons estranged from their father, and that's the story of Christmas as well. The story of lost sheep, the story of a lost coin, and the story of lost sons. It's all about Christmas. Lost and found. And why these three stories? Because Jesus came loving us, because every person matters to God! Every person is treasured and cherished and loved by God. Just like one sheep that'd gone astray, just like one coin that was lost in the house, just like sons who had rebelled against their father, yet all precious to God. Now let me give you a little background on this story. The Pharisees are lurking here as Jesus is enjoying a meal with His friend, tax collectors, and sinners. Tax collectors were typically extortioners and liars and thieves, despised.
Sinners here is a general word but these were the outsiders. These were sinful people, these are the bad people. These were the people excluded from the religious system, from the religion of its day. And while Jesus is enjoying the company and associated with these sinful people, these outsiders, the Pharisees - the insiders, the religious crowd, they're grumbling. These guys are the original Grinches that tried to steal Christmas because they're grumbling, they're grouching, they're grinching and complaining. And they hurl a very strong accusation at Jesus. And what was intended to be a strong criticism ends up being one of the most beautiful things you could ever say about our Lord. They said, "This man eats with sinners and He is a friend of sinners"! Hallelujah! It's a good thing that Jesus ate with sinners, or He would have eaten alone every meal. because whether religious or irreligious, every human being on the face of this earth is a sinner, separated from God, and Jesus is the Friend of Sinners, and welcomed these sinners.
Now if you know that you're a sinner (say, Amen) then good news! Jesus came to save sinful people. In fact, Matthew 1:21 "His name is Jesus for He will save His people from their sins"! Even though we deserve the wrath of a holy God because of our sinful rebellion, even though we have broken God's commandments and are separated from Him, He welcomes sinners, He receives us to Himself, He is the Friend of sinners. And the very thing that these Pharisees condemn, today we celebrate! That He included us, sinful people and we are welcomed at His table. The story that we will be sharing at this Christmas season, like Christmas itself, is to celebrate that truth, to celebrate a God who loves us and gave Himself for us to redeem us, to reconcile us. Religion resists and puts people out, but Jesus invites us in; Jesus brings us
The problem in these stories is that people are lost. That' old school, isn't it? It may even sound antiquated to say people are lost. We would prefer they are outsiders, or they are seekers, or they are directionally challenged. Have you ever been lost lately? I mean, physically lost? I got lost this week, coming from the airport. You know, I had my Christmas music going, I was excited to get home, and I had my phone out, I was on the phone. It was actually an important call, and I got distracted, and I missed my turn, and if you miss one of those turns out there by the airport right now, you're hosed, alright, because I ended up looking around, I had no clue as to where I was or where I'd been! And when that happens, don't you just feel so dumb? I mean, you just feel so disoriented and "Where am I?" and "What's wrong?" And thank goodness, I had my phone, so I talked to Siri. I said "Siri, I need directions to Prestonwood Baptist Church!", and Siri came through for me!
But you can get lost! Come on! I mean, coming out of the Mall, have you ever lost your car in the parking lot at the Mall? Sure you have! Thank goodness for those clickers now that will honk the horn of your car. I mean, you know, and I think, you know, getting a little older you start getting, you know, you start wandering off a little bit! You know? Losing things! I'm always looking for something I've lost! My keys or, you know, the other day I was looking for my sunglasses. And I was looking everywhere! And, of course, when things get lost around our house, I take it like a man, I blame it on my wife! "Deb, where are my sunglasses"? And she looked at me and said, "They're on your head"! And they were right on my head! But, you know, we're losing things! We find ourselves lost! And to be lost is a bad experience!
So Jesus talks about what it means to be lost and He uses an illustration of one sheep that wanders away and in the wilderness is separated from the shepherd. Now it is no compliment to call a human being a sheep because sheep are among the dumbest animals on planet earth. Talk about directionally challenged! They'll just follow their nose anywhere. A clump of grass here, a clump of grass over there, and before you know it, they're separated from the rest of the sheep. They've left the shepherd behind and they're on their own and they're facing predators and dangers and they can't find their way back. And unfortunately, sometimes sheep will follow other dumb sheep. Does this sound familiar?
You know, like one sheep is just going toward the cliff and the sheep looks over the cliff and says "Come on, gang! Follow me"! And the sheep jumps over the cliff and said, "Come, follow me! It's not so baaaaaaaaaaaad", you know as they go down! And sheep are like that! Sheep are dumb animals! And then you know sheep are defenseless. I mean, they're weak animals. You never heard of a football team known as the Fighting Sheep! Maybe Rams, okay. But I doubt your mascot. You know, you're hometown mascot is something like a lion or a tiger or a wampus cat or something like that! But not a sheep because sheep are weak and defenseless; they're dirty and they get lost and it's dangerous out there alone. Jesus said, "That's what it's like to be lost".
In fact, in Isaiah 53 and verse 6, Isaiah 53 is the Gospel according to Isaiah and it's the Christmas story found in Isaiah chapter 53. Verse 6 tells us: "All we like sheep have gone astray". We've all turned to our own ways, but the Lord laid on Him the iniquity of us all. Sheep get lost. They're weak, they're defenseless and they can't find their way home. Then Jesus gave this other story about a woman who had ten coins, probably a necklace. And one of the coins was lost. You know, if the sheep were lost naturally, because that's what sheep do, they just wander off. The lady lost the coin and the coin was lost carelessly. She just lost it. She neglected it, she lost it, she dropped it. And it was lost right in the house. It was right under her feet but she couldn't find it. So Jesus says she turns the house upside down searching for this one coin.
You know it's possible to wander away from God and go into the distance without Him. Some of you have had that experience of abandoning your God, and abandoning your faith and wandering away from the Shepherd and finding yourself alone and alienated and lost and disconnected from God. Others get lost right in the house. You're in church, the church house every week but your heart is far from God. You can be lost at church. You can go to church and practice religion every week and be lost. I don't believe too much in victim mentalities. We have to take responsibility for our own lives. But the fact is that some are lost carelessly. You weren't born in a Christian home. You were dropped right in your house and you didn't have the advantage that Jack Graham had in having a Christian home and a Christian family and parents who raised me. Maybe you were abused or maybe you were lost at the house, or maybe you were dropped through the crevices of life in some way. Doesn't matter, you're lost!
And to be lost is a word that actually means in the Bible, it means to be wasted. It's used in the most famous verse of the Bible, John 3:16, "For God so loved the world He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him will not perish". It's the same word for lost. To perish without God. But the story of Christmas is that God has made the connection by seeking after us, searching for us. He left heaven! Imagine that! The God of glory who was worshiped by angels every day, who's high and lifted up, the glorious God of the universe stepped out of heaven on a search mission. Not a search and destroy mission but a search and give life mission. And He went after sinful people, lost sheep, lost coins, people who are lost, alone and alienated. He goes after us to bring us back, to bring us home to Him. That's the picture, of course, of the shepherd.
Now there are many shepherds in the Bible. When we go to Israel to this day, you can meet shepherds practicing their trade, as it was 3000 years ago. I've been in Bedouin tents in the Judea wilderness and it's like stepping back in time. They're still herding their sheep and living like Abraham and the patriarchs, and shepherds like the patriarchs. Abraham, and of course, David was the shepherd boy. We honored the shepherd king, the great man David. And of course, those shepherds that came to worship Jesus at the heralding of the angels when Jesus was born. Those shepherds were the first there. But to be a shepherd at the time of Jesus that was a lowly humble profession. Most shepherds were irreligious and outside the main stream of Jewish culture.
I mean, think about it, I mean, if you're a shepherd, first of all you live with sheep so you're not going to smell very good, right? And you talk to sheep; that's weird. You're hanging out with sheep and so not a lot of people wanted to do it. It was a lonely and lowly job to be a shepherd at the time of Christ. So when the Bible tells us that Jesus is the Good Shepherd, when Jesus said I am the Good Shepherd who gives my life for the sheep, it just demonstrates just how far our great God has come from the highest of the highest to the lowest of the low to be a shepherd for us, to shepherd our souls to bring us to God.
In this beautiful little story that Jesus tells of this shepherd who leaves the flock, the ninety-nine, and he goes at personal risk to find this one lost little lamb, this one lost sheep. Jesus said, when he found him, he put him on his shoulders. I just love this picture of the strong back of our God. And he carried a bleating, bleeding, hurting, broken sheep back to the flock. And it says when he picked him up, he rejoiced! A smile breaks out on his face. He starts singing all the way back. And when he gets back to his neighborhood, he calls his friends and his neighbors in and they have a party, and the party is to celebrate the one lost one who had come back home. And Jesus said when one lost person comes back, cherished by God, then all of heaven celebrates. Heaven starts a party.
What's common between the one sheep and the one coin that was lost? Both were valuable. The coin maybe a valuable necklace, maybe a part of the wedding dowry of this woman. The one coin was precious. The sheep belonged to the shepherd. Treasured! Cherished! Valued! You belong to God! You were made to know Him! And He refuses to let you go! You may have wandered a long way from God, you may have been out there a long time doing your own thing, living your own life apart from God, lost! Some people get lost trying to find themselves. You may have been carelessly dropped through the crevices of life, but you're lost. But God in Christ came looking for you! He'll pick you up and He'll carry you home because Jesus is the friend of sinners like you and me. He said what you need to do is to repent, because when one sinner repents there's joy in heaven over those who refuse to repent. Just when one sinner repents, when one person like you and me, repents.
Now what is repentance? Repentance means I was going one way away from God, I was wandering far away from God, but when I repent, I turn around. It's a change in direction. I have a brand new direction, and now I start going in a brand new way. Repentance means, it is confession of my sin, it is conversion of my life. I have a new direction! My life is transformed! I am not the same. I'm a brand new person. 2 Corinthians 5:17 "If anyone be in Christ, he is a new creation. Old things pass away, everything becomes new". That's repentance. It means to change your mind so I have a new direction, I have a new disposition. He changes my attitude, he changes my actions. I have a new dynamic. Now Christ is living in me, the power to live the life as God planned for me and I have a new destiny! I was on my way to hell, unrepentant, but Jesus turned me around and now I'm on my way to Him. On my way to heaven. Repentant and full of faith.