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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Levi Lusko » Levi Lusko - The Taste of Christmas

Levi Lusko - The Taste of Christmas

Levi Lusko - The Taste of Christmas
TOPICS: Christmas

I want to give to you a message that I'm calling the taste of Christmas. Every holiday has a unique flavor profile. And you can sort of eat your way through the year really. I mean, when you have candy corn in your mouth, you know it's Halloween. The chalkiness of the conversation hearts tells you it's Valentine's Day. And, of course, Thanksgiving comes with a whole thing. I mean, whoever thought about putting marshmallows on top of potatoes, I mean that person needs to be given a bonus. But Christmas, I mean, Christmas, goodness gracious.

The things on our tables at Christmastime, the sugared cranberries and the chestnuts and the candy canes and the peppermint bark and the gingerbread men, which is like sort of a casual nod to cannibalism. It's lovely. You have chocolate oranges and ribbon candy, a mulled wine, and then a frosty cup of eggnog. I know this is a hot take. I think eggnog is delicious. Anybody else with me on that one? Not everybody gets down that way. But there's a lot of things that we eat at Christmastime and not any of the rest of the time.

And it's an appropriate connection point for us to enter into the Christmas story in our telling of the gospel because food and Christmas have everything to do with each other. In fact, the entire story arc of the scriptures from Genesis to Revelation can really be understood in between meals. And so what I want to do with you today is give you sort of a theological tasting menu to understand the Bible and give us greater context for the power and the magnitude of the Christmas story as we understand the story of Jesus coming into this world through the lens of eating and drinking, two of his favorite words, in fact, words that can characterize his entire ministry. The son of man, he said, came eating and drinking.

In the very beginning of the Bible, the book of Genesis, the book where we find our origin story, so to speak, we find before there was ever sin in the world, before there was ever death in the world, which is what Jesus in his own words said he came to destroy, he came to destroy death and bring life and immortality to life through the gospels. Is anybody thankful that he did that? Is anybody thankful that there is such a thing as Christmas that Jesus came to turn off the darkness of death by turning on the light of his resurrected life?

But before there was sin and before there was death, before it was normal for us to sing long lay the world and sin and error pining, you had mankind living in a state of innocence and a state of perfection. And we honored God every single day by the way we ate. God said you can eat from any tree of the garden you wish, but there's this one tree. I would prefer if you did not eat from this tree. The day you eat of it, you shall surely die. So before there was sin, there was eating. And we honored God in the way that we ate. It was a part of our worship. It was how we every day, every single day, they said God thy will be done, not my will be done simply by refusing to partake of this meal. And when we did bring suffering into the world, make no mistake about it.

We like to go, God, why is there suffering in the World We should be asking ourselves the question, why is there suffering in the world? Because God said I don't want you to experience death. I don't want you to experience disease. I don't want you to experience pain. There shouldn't be a curse in this world, but we chose to sin. And every time we sin, we choose to suffer. We bring about our own difficulty. We're complicit in our own pain. And when we did bring sin into the world, it was through a meal. It was one bite at a time that we brought sin into this world. But, God, thank you, God. In his mercy, he said I'm not going to leave you in that state, though you should remain there because I warned you, and now you've done it.

He could have just stood back and gone, well, you made your bed, now you need to sleep in it. You cooked this meal, and now I'm going to watch you eat it. But he instead said I'm going to send a savior to be a pinch hitter, a substitute dire for you. For the wages of sin is death, both physically, emotionally, relationally, and spiritually. But God in his mercy said I'll send Jesus. And he's going to be a substitute, like when your teacher can't show up at school, so they send in a substitute for him to stand in their place. The whole message of the cross is Jesus being a willing substitute for you and for me. As he hung on the cross, it wasn't for his own sins. It was for our sins. He was a willing substitute.

Like in the Hunger Games books and movies, he volunteered as tribute to stand in our place. That was the promise given. The first mention of Christmas is in the book of Genesis, the third chapter when God said I'm going to send forth a Savior. So the whole Old Testament, we're waiting to find out more information, more details, when is he coming. The whole Testament was when is he coming. And God, of course, at strategic moments reiterated that promise, most notably through words he spoke to those who end up in the Mount Rushmore of scripture, people like Abraham and people like Moses. And interestingly enough, both of those two had significant meals.

In Abraham's case, he got to eat with God. No big deal. Just three strange visitors show up one day. Turns out it's two angels and God somehow before Christmas showing up on Earth. And he didn't know who they were, but he offered them hospitality. He treated them as though they were family even though they were strangers. They sat under a tree. They had an amazing meal. And God clarified what the covenant of faith was going to look like to Abraham when he told him the promise as ridiculous as it seemed to be a dude who's 100 years old with no children. And God's like no worries. You're going to have descendants like the stars in the sky one day, like they're sand on the seashore.

So there will be spiritual family related to you. And by the way, ladies and gentlemen, here we sit thousands of years later as the fulfillment of that promise when we were just singing, "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel". We're saying I'm children of Abraham, not related to him by my earthly blood. But we're related to him spiritually speaking as we're connected to God by faith because Abraham, here's the really important text, believed God. And it was a counted unto him as righteousness. He entered into this relationship of faith. Really the high point, though, the climax of the Old Testament is the freeing of the nation of Israel from slavery in Egypt.

And here's what's beautiful about it, again. Here's our tasting menu, another turn in our palate of Christmas. It involved a meal. We know it as Passover when God was bringing these millions of people out to establish them as a nation. He did so by having them first sit at the table, and they were to eat lamb. And some of that lamb's blood, you might know, ended up above the doorway of each home because that night a death angel, a plague was going to pass over the land. And there was going to be death in every single house unless God saw blood. And here's the beauty of it. It's just one more glimpse of the gospel. It's one more glimpse of Christmas. God is too just to just go, yeah, let's just let bygones be bygones. He promised there would be death if there was sin. So he's going to keep his promise. But the generosity of God allows for a substitute. Someone else could die on behalf of the party who deserves to die. So in the lamb's case, you have someone who does not deserve to die dying and their blood function as a partial payment.

Now, in the Old Testament, there was always partial payment. It's really important when you read about sacrifices in the Bible, and it's like pretty grisly sometimes. When you read the Bible, it's like, dude, this is like Silence of the Lambs, in some cases, literally. You're welcome. What do you have? You have basically the credit card interest being paid. Nothing about the principal is touched by the blood of a bull or a goat, Hebrews says, but the sort of interest payment. It keeps the account from going into a state of default. It sort of deferred it for the real payment that was coming. So Jesus and the cross is the principal being paid. But the blood of bulls and goats, until Jesus came, until the promised Messiah finally shows up, you have just interest being covered, just a bare minimum being sent in.

And so that's what happens in Passover. It's just another movement of that story, but it's becoming more clear. It's coming more and more sharply into focus until Christ comes. And so now they're on their way. They are moving through the wilderness. They're headed towards the promised land. This road trip does not go as smoothly as it could have. A journey that should have taken a few weeks ends up taking 40 years. And they did not stop to ask for directions. Clearly, a man was in charge. We're just going to figure it out. And along the way, God miraculously kept them alive, though they should have died in the wilderness. They had no way to sustain themselves. They had no way to grow crops in the wilderness. They should have died in the wilderness. God sustained them. How? One meal at a time. He prepared a table for them and sustained them with manna that miraculously just appeared.

What is this food? That's literally the name of manna. What is it? That's what they call it. The name stuck. So, for 40 years, they ate what is it for breakfast, for lunch, and for dinner. And when they were thirsty, God did amazing things causing water just to show up out of rocks. And this Christmas, I truly do believe that God can and will sustain you in wilderness places. God can cause you to bloom like a rose in a dry place. And if you look around at your life right now and you say I feel like I'm going to drive place right now, good news. The promise of God is for you that he can cause you to thrive. And it doesn't have to make sense.

Look, I shouldn't be doing as well as I am right now. Welcome to peace that passes understanding. Welcome to the life and journey of the Holy Spirit. And that is the power of Christmas. And so they arrive at the edge of the promised land. Moses can't go in. But Joshua, a new generation leader, is going to take them in across the Jordan River into the promised land into a land flowing. How did the land get designated? With? The whole promise of the Bible can be understood through eating and through drinking. This idea of the promised land was a place characterized by fat and by sweet, by that which would sustain, but also that which would enhance and bless life. This is God's desire for you. He has come that your joy might be full. He wants you to abound. He wants you to feel and to sense his pleasure on you to wake up each day with purpose.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is what Christmas tastes like. It's milk, and it's honey. It's eggnog. And it's the cranberry bliss bars at Starbucks. It's amazing. So we have the story continually moving forward. And you guessed it correctly. In all of these things, we're just getting a veiled picture of Jesus. It's the preview of coming attractions. But the long awaited Messiah finally shows up. We sing it every year, "Oh Little Town Of..." "Bethlehem". House of bread is what that means. House of bread is where both King David and King Jesus are born, and Jesus the Messiah shows up. And in John 6:51, he says all that stuff in the Old Testament about the Passover lamb. That's me. He said specifically about the manna. I am the living bread that has come down from heaven. He's saying everything you heard about the Messiah, it's me. I'm here. I'm here to save you from your sins. The substitute has finally shown up.

This is Christmas. And so Jesus, he comes. He comes, what did we say, eating and drinking, his entire ministry as the Passover lamb whose blood is to be put over our homes, as the manna that sustains us and keeps us alive, as the one who is the difference between us starving to death and us enjoying milk and honey. He's here. And so it makes sense that his whole ministry gets characterized, really bookended with food. His very last night on Earth before going to the cross, what does he do? He sits at a table with his disciples. He sits at the table, and he holds a bread and says this is my body. He holds up the wine. He says this is my blood given for you to usher in a new covenant, not the covenant Moses was given. There was two stone tablets. And do this or die. This is not what gives us peace and hope to live with that we're basing our standing before God on how we keep and measure up to a law.

In that is death. But Jesus came to say, as he hung on the cross it is finished. Paid in full. I've taken the price. It's not just the credit card interest. I'm taking care of the principle. I am fully wiping out the sins so that you can stand before God as though you had never sinned. Justified. Paid in full. And he handed to the church, not only the gathering in large settings for the singing and the proclamation of the gospel, which has been our rich heritage going back to the temple courts where thousands of people, large groups of people would come together to hear God's word taught and to worship and be encouraged and inspired and sent to go out, but they would also meet from home to home breaking bread together. So it's the large groups, and it's the proclamation. And that's amazing.

Now here we get to sit using Spotify and YouTube and Apple Podcasts and the PandoApp going into penitentiaries all across the United States of America. Why? Because Jesus said go to the whole world, and preach the good news that the living bread of life has come. We don't have to starve to death. We can be spiritually satisfied. And we need it desperately. We need it because of the same temptation that Adam and Eve faced. The enemy came and said God's holding out on you. If you eat this tree, the one tree that he said not to eat from, you'll really be happy. And Jesus too faced a similar test. Did he not? Almost immediately after being baptized, he's in the desert, hearing the devil say the same thing to him, saying turn this rock to bread. And if you do it, you'll really prove that you're the Son of God.

Here's the question. Here's the question. Why would the devil from Eden all the way to this wilderness temptation continue to rely on food and identity, food and identity? Here's why. Because it works. Because it works. And here we sit in the day-to-day. We're on both sides of that extremes of that pendulum. It still works. We have the gluttony side where we should eat and drink and be merry for tomorrow we die. What else is there to do but just eat nice things and have good meals? And there are many people who today are looking to that as the identity piece. So this is going to make me feel fulfilled, like how many Michelin star rated restaurants can I go to. And it's that next meal. It's that next party. It's how much can I... and the comfort eating. It's just, if I eat this, I don't have to feel so bad.

And so I feel terrible about myself, so I find myself compulsively pulling through a drive-through and just shoving things in, to just shove some empty calories into my pain, into my sadness. And it's this substance, and it's this drinking and just going from meal to meal basically to sort of feel alive. But then there's the other side. It's not just that gluttony excess side. It's also the obsessive, controlling my input of food. Why? Because then I can really have a six-pack, and I can be beautiful, and I can wear this dress size. And I can find my identity if I can control my food. It was Kate Moss who at one point said nothing tastes as good as skinny feels. And the devil is continually on both sides of the spectrum trying to get us to base our identity on what we can get or achieve or have based on what we can do.

And food is so successful. And so why would he mix up his strategy? Jesus sat there in the desert being told, if you really are the Son of God, you need to prove it, and you need to do it through this food. And Jesus said that's not going to change anything about who I am. My identity doesn't come from anything on Earth or anyone on Earth. He said My identity comes from this word. He said man is not meant to live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Jesus said, My food is to do the will of my Father. He said it was disciples who, at one point, go aren't you hungry? He goes I have food to eat that you know not of. And they're like, what? Do you got a Cliff bar in your pocket? What do you mean you got secret food?

He said My food, My identity, me living and dying doesn't come from the approval of people. It doesn't come from how I look. I'm not going to feel low and just shove some food or shove some alcohol into that pit because that's, again, that credit card payment. I just feel worse tomorrow. I've got to do it again. I need more the next day. And the same is true of shoving the food of Instagram likes and dollars and cents. And am I enough if I have this job? Am I enough if I have this relationship? Do I matter is the question. And Jesus at the cross was tapping us into true life by becoming the living bread for us so that we can live and know what job I have, how skinny I feel, how much people like me. None of those things changed me because that's not who I am.

Who am I? I am a loved son or daughter of the King of Kings. I have hope. I have a future. I have a purpose. This is real eating. So that was how Jesus' ministry played out. It played out with him constantly bringing up food. What is the most famous story Jesus ever told? Probably the Prodigal Son. Would you agree? It's been called the best short story ever written, so no big deal. But in it, a young man leaves his father's house. Why? Because he thinks there's better eating on the other side of the barrier wall if I can just get out there. And we tend to live as humans like the grass is always greener where we're not at. If my kids would just grow up. If I just had kids. If I just had a wife, get a wife. If I just didn't have a wife. It's like whatever the situation you're not. If I just got out of college. If I just could get that, if I could just make six figures. If I could just... and our happiness just keeps moving.

We just keep pushing it to somewhere else. And we always think everybody who has what we have are happier than we really will be when we get that thing. And so the young man goes to a far off country. And what? It's eating and drinking. And we know later on his brother says it's wasting his father's inheritance with prostitutes and a big party. He makes a bunch of friends because he's constantly buying around for the whole room. Yeah, those are real friends, real true friends there to eat your food and drink your Casamigos. Those are the real friends. And he finds out really quickly when the famine comes, when the music stops, when he has nothing, he had no one. And none of those real friends were there for him when the chips fell and the economy turned. And he's not the coolest guy anymore.

So what happens now? It's the second meal in the story. He ends up eating the food that pigs ate. It was the only job he could get for a Jewish boy to be doing a unkosher job like that. There's no further falling he could possibly do. He has reached 25 levels below rock bottom. Everybody would have gasped when Jesus got to that part of the story. Now we bacon-loving, New Testament Christians are like, what's the problem? Don't forget. We only have that liberty because of Acts 10 because Jesus said some amazing words to Peter. Rise Peter. Kill and eat. Do not call what I have what I have said is clean. Call it unclean. So how did he open that liberty up for us? It was a meal. It was a dream and a vision involving a meal. This is a theological tasting menu of the scriptures.

And so we have the Prodigal Son eating unclean foods, hugging pigs. And what does he say to himself? He fantasizes about a meal. He says, what am I doing here? My father servants have food enough. He pictures his father's employees eating going, man, my father's employees eat better than I do. What am I doing here? So what I'll do is I'll go ask if I can be one of the servants. I know I can't be a son again. There's no possible way. But he runs to his father. And you know how the story goes. The father becomes the substitute of shame. In that day, for the father to run was a disgrace. But the father runs. In that culture, you did not run a few or a wealthy man. You had servants to do that. But the father runs, becoming the substitute for the shame the son deserved. And he's running to a mini safe, so that those who in the city would be rightful, rightfully there to stone the son for being the disgrace that he was, the father runs to be a shield for his son. He stands in his place.

And he... what, then, does he do? He invites the son to a meal. A party with music and rejoicing, and the fatted calf, and a ring on the son's finger, and a robe, an Armani tuxedo on his shoulders. It's shocking. And this is Christmas. This is grace. So how did Jesus's ministry begin? Because we've talked about the ending. We've talked much about the middle. Well it began at a wedding. His first public miracle He ever did was at a meal, a wedding, a feast, a party that lasted for an entire week. And He there performed a miracle, taking something ordinary and bringing something extraordinary out of it. That's what God wants to do through you, by the way. You say, I feel ordinary water. And God says, just you wait. Just you wait till I bring the best wine anyone's ever tasted out of your life.

God loves to do extraordinary things through ordinary people. Praise God for the way he sees the potential inside you. He's never been threatened by a challenge. And he's like, I'm really going to give God a challenge. Trying, working out, just give him a shot. Give me your best shot. It's what the little boy with only five loaves and two fishes found out when he put his ordinary into the extraordinary hands of the Messiah. What did God do? He fed 5,000 men plus women and children, the largest scale miracle Jesus ever performed. Interesting how it again involves a meal with leftovers. Because there was 12 baskets of fragments. The disciples were like, yeah, bro. Food for a month, right? They all gathered up and took with them. And so often throughout Jesus's ministry he sat at table with sinners. He sat with prostitutes. He sat with tax collectors. He sat with Zacchaeus, a notorious scoundrel.

In fact, New Testament scholar Robert Karris said that "Jesus got himself killed for the way that He ate". For it was Jesus's enemies' number one criticism against him. Read the Gospels. When they object to anything, they say, why would you eat with the people you're eating with? Wow. Their objection wasn't the miracles and the messages. It was who He was willing to let into the party. Come on, we've got to keep up standards here. There's a dress code at this restaurant. Like, why are you letting then and why are you letting them touch you? Why would you eat with them? How dare you do such a thing? And yet, interestingly enough, Jesus is unsarcastic with them. Because if it was me, if I'd have been Jesus, all right, what if one of you was sinners? What do you want me to just always sit at a table for one? Because you're asking that as though you weren't a sinner.

Funny how our sins always look uglier on other people. Really. And we're all blind to our own blind spots and masters of self deception. But I love the magnanimousness of Jesus. For He was willing, also, to go to parties hosted by sinners who struggled with the sin of religion. And make no mistake, religious spirits and religious sins are just, and perhaps even more, damning than the other ones that are more outright. The Prodigal Son, lavishness. We go, that's sinful. But God looks at the sin of pride, which thrives in churches, as being perhaps even more deadly. But Jesus, in his goodness, was willing to go into the home of sinners who were religious people, too.

In fact, Luke 14, where I've had you turn your attention, is just such an occasion. The text tells us, a Pharisee invited Jesus to a feast on the Sabbath day. And Jesus said, I'll be there. Send me a pin. Let me know what time to show up. And Jesus showed up at the house. And all of the Pharisee's cronies were there, his other acolytes and peers. Lawyers and scribes and Pharisees were in attendance, we're told. But they invited one sinner, one sinner who has a disease. Because they said to themselves, I bet you Jesus won't be able to resist the urge to heal this person. And then we'll go, busted! You can't heal on the Sabbath day. That's technically work. And they made work out of following God. They made it all about them, all about what they could do. Remember, they had no lens of what God could do for them. They thought God was lucky to have them on their team.

And they assumed they were in the "in" crowd. They assumed that God was so pleased with them, that tickled pink. And so Jesus, of course, does heal the man. Spoiler alert: He heals the man with a condition called dropsy. And after He does so, He turns the tables, classic Jesus, which Jesus loves turning tables. He turns tables over. He turns tables around. He's all about the tables. Son of Man came eating and drinking, all about meals. And he says to them, you guys are lacking in the Christmas spirit. Your party, He said, your party sucks.

All right, I'm going to let you know, straight up. I've been to some parties, but no ton of them. This is the worst party I've ever been to. He says, for two reasons. He calls them out on it. Two reasons I find this party offensive, OK? And here's two things that we can just take note of that are important to see in our lives. God wants that Christmas spirit of humility and inclusivity to always be in our hearts. Humility, inclusivity, cornerstones of Christmas, can we agree? God's in heaven, Philippians 2, but He humbles himself and comes down, not just to Earth, which already would be like have to hold your nose for, but He gets born in a barn, born in a cave where they kept animals, laid in a manger. Humility, right?

He was always trying to ingrain this in the disciples, humility. At the Last Supper they were fighting about which one of them is the most important. He's like, bro, not the point. Missing the point here. And then the second was inclusivity. You see the Pharisees, again, prided themselves on their unwillingness to touch a sinner. And Jesus said, that's not God's heart. You're putting heavy burdens on other people that you yourselves don't lift a finger to move. And you haven't invited any of the poor, any of the sick. Everybody you invited can do something for you. Everyone sitting at this table, it's the quid pro quo game, they'll be able to return that favor next week. You've done nothing that moves to the heart of God. And what moves to the heart of God? Doing something kind for those who can't do anything for themselves.

That's what moves the heart of heaven. And all of Jesus's ministry was the kingdom of heaven being announced. The kingdom of Heaven being announced. And it was all moving us towards Heaven. Heaven is what God wants for us. Heaven is what God wants in us. Heaven, which Isaiah 25, is characterized by the best wine anyone's ever tasted. Heaven is characterized by aged meat. Heaven is defined by walking around, once again, and having access to the trees of the Garden of Eden, which we no longer have access to the healing waters, and the leaves that bring forth vitality. All of that that is in store for us in heaven, eye hasn't seen, ear hasn't heard. It's going to be like Willy Wonka, baby. I mean, it's going to be truly extraordinary.

If you think, oh, heaven is going to be some downgrade, sitting on a cloud with a chubby baby, naked angel, you have not read the Bible. That's not heaven. Heaven is real life, real joy. In fact, the Bible says that Jesus was anointed with the joy of gladness more than any of his companions. One person said, that could best be translated He was the happiest man who ever lived. And that is what's in store for us, that our joy may be full, walking with Jesus, until one day we walk the streets of gold alongside him. And as He was seeking to move them to heaven, they saw nothing other than like a country club out of their spirituality. And so Jesus says, your party lacks humility. Your party lacks inclusivity. Therefore, your party has nothing in common with heaven.

So, guys, live for heaven. At which point, one of the Pharisees at the table shoots up out of his chair and goes, I love heaven. I can't wait for heaven. Heaven is amazing. How do you like that, Jesus? You like that? Is it cool that I'm excited about heaven? To be clear, Jesus is not excited about lip service where there's no reality. Yeah. So how is He going to treat this? How is He going to deal with this?

Well, He's going to tell a story, a story involving food. And this is where we'll close. Luke 14, "A certain man gave a great supper and invited many. And he sent his servants at supper time to say to those who were invited, 'Come, for all things are now ready.' But they all with one accord began to make", someone say this next word out loud with me, "excuses. The first said to him, 'I bought a piece of ground. I must go and see it.'" Because, you know, the way due diligence works, you always do all your inspections after the close. And in a civilization where there was no streetlights or flashlights, at nighttime during a banquet, of course you got to go walk around the property in the dark and make sure it's good because you already own it. "I ask you to have me excused". Another gave an excuse like this, "I have bought five yoke of oxen".

Having one pair of oxen was like you had to be uber wealthy. To add to what you already owned, five more pairs, this homie just bought a fleet of F-150s. And because I bought these five oxen, "I'm going to go test them". All right, because, again, the test driving usually happens after you buy it. "I ask you to have me excused". Still another said, "I have married a wife. Therefore, I cannot come". Obviously, no women love to eat, and coming to a party and being shown off around town. What woman would like that? Like that doesn't make any sense. Yeah, I get it. You can't come, you're married. Women don't go to weddings.

Verse 21, "So that servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house, being angry, said to his servant, 'Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in here the poor and the maimed and lame and the blind.' And the servant said, 'Master, it is done as you commanded, and still there is room.' The master said to the servant", here's how God always sees his house, "'go out into the highways'" and byways, go to the hedges. Go anywhere. Go everywhere. Go to Waffle House. Get some people. "'Compel them to come in, that my house may be filled. For I say to you that none of those men who were invited shall taste my supper.'"

Now, this text tells us many things. This parable, this story, this illustration tells us many things. But it really leaves us understanding that God desires everyone to experience the taste of Christmas. And you just see that, just urgency. Let's get people in here. I want people to experience what I've done for them. But also is a warning. It's a warning to those who would profess lip service, like, I love Christmas. Like the guy who shouted, yeah, heaven's amazing. But not be living in that way.

Now to understand that, you have to understand something about the mechanics of how parties worked in that day because you're like, this seems kind of harsh, right? But you have to understand, this was the second and final invitation. Let me help you understand. In that day, if you were going to throw a party, you would send servants out with an invitation to people. And if they said, yes, they're coming, then you would say, OK, we'll let you know when it's finally ready. But based on that head count, you would go and butcher the animals. So these were people who had already been told about it well in advance. They had penciled it in on the calendar. They said it's definitely happening. So now, he says it's finally ready, so come now. And now they're all begging off. They're all saying, I can't, I can't, I can't, I can't. I committed to coming.

So I've told God, I love you. I'm moved by the idea of Christmas because who's not. Love me some peppermint bark. Who doesn't want forgiveness? The idea of Christmases to me. That's why we all love Christmas movies. You have to love Jesus love Christmas movies. Because Ecclesiastes 3:11 says eternity has been set into our hearts. So we want, we're pulling for Kevin to reconcile with Uncle Frank. We want Buddy and his dad to sing and hug and dance and then throw snowballs. These themes just pull on our hearts. How could you not want the Grinch's heart to grow? So everybody shoots up out of their chair and goes, Christmas. I love Christmas. So God says, hey, would you come to Christmas? He goes, I'm absolutely there. I'm totally there. What happens then? Earth gets in the way. Not one of these guys were shooting up heroin. Not one of these guys had to quickly do a robbery and a burglary and a B and E. Not one of them were ever kept away from heaven by bad things.

Good things, land and belongings and a new bride. These are all good things. But good things become bad things when they keep us from the best things. Right. So this story is a story of people who love the pull and the magic of Christmas and the idea of following God, and with their mouths profess that. But then when it comes down to actually living and following Him, I got these Airbnbs I got to flip, and I got these cars I got to get back on the Turo, and this opportunity, and this business, and this new relationship I'm in. It keeps us back from actually following Jesus. So these men make the easiest thing there is in the world to make, an excuse. And like Jesus said in the parable of the sower and the seeds, the love of money, and the desire to be rich, and the cares of this world, the pleasures of this world, these great things, these good things, marriage and investments and land.

God's not against you having a new pair of oxen or a land to inspect. But the problem is, Earth can keep us from heaven. And so it's the case with these men, who all, at the end of the day, are not bad people. But the Devil doesn't quite care. If he can't make you bad, he'll settle for you just being busy and so busy, so consumed with the things of this world, the thing that pulled at their heart, eternity, at the end of the day, they're not in. And what would have been particularly offensive to the Pharisees that Jesus told this story to, because remember the context, why is He telling this story? He's telling the story to a nation full of religious people who by and large He had come to, and they had received Him not. They had been told He's coming, He's coming, He's coming. Yes, we're all about that. Then He finally comes, and they were busy. He came to His own, and His own received Him not.

What would have been offensive to them, though, would have been the phrase, the poor, and the lame, and the maimed are the ones at the end of the day in. And the ones who had it all are out. It ends just like the parable of the prodigal son, where the one who gave his life to sin and to debauchery ends up gratefully in the feast. But the elder brother, who had never been a prodigal on the outside, proved to have been constantly a prodigal on the inside, unwilling to go into the house, complaining about what he deserved and whether God had truly been fair to him and equitable to him like he should have been. The truth is, this parable tells us Heaven is not a potluck. You don't get to come bringing something to the equation. The only way to come to the kingdom of God is to say, nothing in my hand I bring. Simply to Thy cross I cling. And these men hated that.

But who received that? The ones who were poor in spirit, who are blind and saying, I can't see. And Jesus says, I can actually open your eyes up if you're willing to admit that you can't see. The ones who were lame and say, I can't walk. He says, I'll seat you at the table. My grace will cover over it. And so those, at the end of the day, who are going to be in Heaven are not those who say, yeah, I'm with Christ because Jesus said, not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, will actually inherit the kingdom of God. Only those who do my will. So what's my will? Well as you read Luke 14, the rest of it, you see Him tell us to count the cost, to pick up our cross, and to be willing to hate our family and follow Him.

Now, that's like bold words, Jesus. I say, too much. Like, that's off brand for you. He's like, like, dial it down. No, He's saying, He's saying, you have to love me so purely and so totally that your love for anybody else looks like hate when you compare it to mine. Wow. Because like the man with the new bride shows, we can be kept from the kingdom because of someone else. But the best thing you can do for anybody else in your life, just like if you're ever in a plane when those masks fall down, is put your mask on before you're able to actually be situated to help out anybody else. So you have to be willing to say, though none go with me, still I will follow. This is what Christmas tastes like. It's bitter on the outside at times, but sweet on the inside. But what the Devil offers is sweet on the outside. And when you get to the end of it, it actually is death through and through.

I'm going to close with a story involving DL Moody. Now, there's a photo of him on the screen. And we can all admire his tremendous beard. He is one of the greatest evangelists the church has ever seen. Alongside a few others, he's just been raised up and singled out, where when he would preach the Gospel, people would get saved. And it happened all across the country. And it happened even spilling over into England at the end of the 1800s. He died in 1899. But I love how the story begins. There's so much I would say about DL Moody. He was a shoe salesman, a young man, worked at a shoe shop. And he had a Sunday school teacher who just really always wanted him to know Jesus.

And so after DL Moody had been done in his Sunday school class, he hunted him down in the shoe shop and got him on a break and said, can we talk about your soul, and ended up leading DL Moody to know Jesus Christ in the back room of the shoe shop. Shout out Fresh Life kids teachers. Shout out team who every week fights for, those who serve as Fresh Life students. And so everything God did through DL Moody would never have happened had it not been for Edward Kimball. Edward Kimball was the Sunday school teacher who led DL Moody to faith in Jesus. And you can look into it.

The revival meetings that happened through DL Moody's preaching, just absolutely incredible, the Moody Bible Institutes, the Moody Radio Network, all of it came out of this one man's life who said, I'm going dedicate my life to God. Someone had told him, history books have never seen what God could do if one life would just fully say, God, I'm yours. I'll hate my family. I'll pick up my cross. I'll deny myself. I'm going to follow you. God worked through his life in prolific ways. And, of course, God never wanted him to hate his family. He had a great family, really great family. But a family that suffered pain and loss as well.

The last year of DL Moody's life, his family grieved the loss of two grandchildren, his four-year-old granddaughter and his one-year-old grandson. Apparently, his four-year-old granddaughter was his best friend. They were constantly together, just thick as thieves. And it was really hard on him, that grief. And some people say it contributed to just his emotional health. And he preached his last sermon November of 1899. And he chose as his text Luke 14, the final message he ever preached. He was having to hold himself up in the pulpit. I always used to joke that I want to die preaching. There's only one other thing on Earth I can think of that I would like to die doing, and Jennie's there for that also. And so he's holding himself up preaching. And he says, Luke 14, he says there are so many excuses.

The title of his sermon was "Excuses". And he says, let nothing be an excuse that keeps you from the kingdom of God. And within a month he was dead. On his deathbed, his final words, the final words he ever spoke, are extraordinary. He said, his family heard him and wrote it down, "Earth recedes. Heaven opens before me. It is beautiful. If this is death, it is sweet. God is calling me, and I must go". He was quiet for a moment. Then he spoke again and said, "Dwight. Irene". Those were the names of his two grandchildren who had just died that year. "I see the children's faces". Then he said "This is my coronation day. It is glorious". And with that, he soon breathed his last.

Friends, this is what Christmas tastes like. Let nothing keep you back from a life of purpose, hope, and joy. Let nothing keep you back from the good death that God wants for you. Let nothing keep you back from the knowledge that you have a seat at the banquet in Paradise that Jesus has prepared and made ready for you, so that when you come to that moment of leaving this world for the next, you have no clinging to this life. You have no, I wish I... no, I have things to do. There's only a sense of I'm excited for what God has next for me. Let's pray together.

Father, thank you for Christmas. Thank you for Jesus. And thank you for these moments in your presence.

I just feel led by the Spirit to just, before we go any further, just give space for anybody who is harboring any kind of a regret of any sort. And God says to you, it's a mistake to put off to tomorrow what I'm calling you to do right now. And maybe for some, there's a phone call we need to make, a conversation we need to have. If there's some action, some action step, maybe you've known for a long time you were meant to make some sort of a change at work or at home. Maybe there's an apology you need to make for something you've done at some point. You need to face the music in that regard. I was talking to a friend recently, and he felt like he just had to tell his wife something he had never told her. And he was asking for prayer. And I encouraged him, walking through it. And I was so excited to hear, just days later, just he said, there's such health now. It's hard, but so glad I did that.

I'm so glad we can build again on a right foundation now. I don't know what it is for you. But if there's something in your life God's just nudging you towards today, could you just respond in his presence by raising a hand up? Church online family, raising a hand up, just saying, there's some action step I need to take from this talk. I'm not going to make excuses. Praise God, praise God, praise God. Anybody else? Just raise your hand if you're saying, I'm just going to tell someone I'm sorry. It could be as simple as that. Thank you, Jesus. You can put your hands down. And I want to now invite anybody who's not made a decision to follow Jesus to do so.

For you to say, "I'm going to trust Christ. I'm going to trust Him and what He did on the cross for me". If that's you I'm describing, and you would say, I want to become a Christian. And I'm scared about what that means. "And I don't fully understand all the implications, but I'm saying, I've heard enough. I've heard Heaven speak to me today. I want that blood painted over my house, so that when death passes over, I will be alive because of Jesus. Putting my life in his hands".

If that's you I'm describing, I'm going to say a quick prayer. And I want you to mean it in your heart. But I want you to say it out loud to God after me. And our church family is going to say it with you to show that we're so proud of you. We're so excited to have you into the table, to have a seat with us. We've seen God do this countless, thousands upon thousands of times in the life of our church. But it's new and exciting every single time. And so, pray with me if you're dedicating or rededicating your life to God. You're that Prodigal Son coming home to the party. Or you're that older brother, uncrossing your arms and coming into the house to eat. Say this:

Dear God, I know I'm a sinner. I believe Jesus died for me and rose from the dead. I invite you to come into my life, to be my Lord and my Savior. Thank you for loving me. Thank you for giving me an identity. That's not based in anything I've done, but simply in your love for me. Help me to stand on your word every day. And when my last day comes, and I take my final breath here, I look forward to my first breath in Heaven. Thank you. In Jesus' name.

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