The Christmas story is full of hope, and it is the hope from that very story that can sustain us through some of the toughest times.
CHILDREN’S MINISTRY TRANSITION
Morning. David Sorn. Lead Pastor of Renovation Church.
Great news for you this morning before we get started.
In the time span since we started as a church, little over a year ago, God has been doing great things here.
And one of those things is growth. Spiritual growth, numerical growth, and even financial growth.
And one of the coolest things that has happened is in our Children’s Ministry, and you might not know this because if you don’t have kids, you don’t see it, our Children’s ministry has doubled since we started it
So, because of that, we have hired a part-time Children’s pastor.
And, we are actually doing something kind of unique.
Rachel Puro who is currently our Youth Pastor will now be serving as our Children’s and Youth Pastor.
And it is a part-time position.
And we are SO excited about our growing Children’s Ministry and to be able to put more time, energy, and focus into growing a bigger and even better Children’s ministry for your own kids AND for your FRIENDS to one day bring their kids to our incredible Children’s Ministry as well.
At this time, I’d like to invite Rachel and also Kimberly Pound to come on stage.
Kimberly up to this point has served as a volunteer coordinator of Renovation Kids and helped build this ministry from scratch despite being a busy and successful business woman with a husband and 2 kids.
And we really want to honor her and thank her for all the time she put into it.
So, if I may, I just want to pray. To pray and thank God for what Kimberly has done and ask Him to put a blessing on Rachel for the future as well.
We are continuing in our Believe Again series this morning. Which has been a Christmas series on Faith, Hope, and today, we are talking about …Love
Which is always the best example of how limited the English language is.
Think about how different these things are:
I love my wife.
I love Culver’s.
I love my mom.
I love Daylight’s Savings Time.
By the way, you ever think about what a terrible month December would be if Christmas didn’t exist?
It would be like January, but darker.
So, when I say we are going to talk about Love, you really have no idea what we’re going to talk about today.
Even if I say, we’re going to talk about LOVE in the Christmas story.
Well, like what? Like, Mary and Joseph loved each other?
They loved the little Lord Jesus?
The magi loved following the star?
The shepherds loved telling people about Jesus?
And I suppose we could talk about all of those things. Love (just like Faith and Hope) really is everywhere in the Christmas story.
But I want to talk about something even different.
And I want to look at a passage that is usually just skipped over when we read the Christmas story.
It’s a part of the Christmas story that takes place 40 days after Jesus is born
(Luke 2:22-24) – NIV
22 When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), 24 and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”
It seems like a pretty nondescript passage, but really there’s a lot more to it if we look at the history of the Bible.
THE TENTH PLAGUE
But before we do take a look back, let me first take you somewhere else.
I often say to people that I don’t think the level of depravity ever changes in human history.
We just get better at some things and worse at others.
And one amazing example of the inability of humans to find perfection and salvation on their own is our inability to eradicate slavery.
Think about this: It doesn’t take a genius to figure out how wrong slavery is.
Yet, it has dominated our the landscape of our world’s history
Ancient times were notorious for slavery
And even in our modern times, slavery ran rampant.
When we hit April 12th this year, it will be the 150th year anniversary of the start of the Civil war.
And you might think, oh 150 years ago is a long time. But when you look at the span of human history and you think, “Are you kidding me, after thousands and thousands of years, we still couldn’t figure that this is a bad thing????”
And even today, it’s still not over. Most experts estimate that there are around 25 million people still in slavery today (in places like Sudan, Pakistan, India, and even some in the United States)
Today, we call it trafficking. Human trafficking. People are taken from their homelands and forced into being sex slaves or slaves in the cane fields or whatever.
It’s a horrible thing to enslave another human being, and it’s in that context that God’s people Israel were once caught in.
Their ancestor Joseph (you might know him from such things as Joseph and the amazing Technicolor dreamcoat) once saved all of Egypt and his descendants (the Israelites…named after his dad whose nickname was Israel) settled in Egypt.
However, a time passed (hundreds of years), and the Egyptians no longer remembered how Joseph saved their land and people, and they enslaved the Israelites (we’re talking millions of people at this time)
God, as you can imagine, HATES slavery. And He is not happy about this. So he picks Moses to deliver his people. (You can find this story in Exodus if you want to read it)
Moses confronts the evil Pharaoh about enslaving his people, and says, “Let my people go!” But the Pharaoh says no. And thus God starts warning Pharaoh with plagues.
And you might be like, oh the plagues are mean. Well, yeah, so is killing, beating, raping, and enslaving millions of people.
And God is a God who is interested in rescuing his people. So the plagues begin.
God just sent them some easy warnings at first. He didn’t even hurt them. He just damaged their crops. Their food supply. Turned the Nile to Blood. Sent some frogs. Sent some gnats. Some flies.
And each time they refused to listen. So, God, who is determined to rescue his people, ups the ante.
So Moses says this to Pharaoh (This is regards to the upcoming TENTH PLAGUE)
(Exodus 11:4-8) – NIV
4 So Moses said, “This is what the LORD says: ‘About midnight I will go throughout Egypt. 5 Every firstborn son in Egypt will die, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sits on the throne, to the firstborn son of the slave girl, who is at her hand mill, and all the firstborn of the cattle as well. 6 There will be loud wailing throughout Egypt—worse than there has ever been or ever will be again. 7 But among the Israelites not a dog will bark at any man or animal.’ Then you will know that the LORD makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel. 8 All these officials of yours will come to me, bowing down before me and saying, ‘Go, you and all the people who follow you!’ After that I will leave.” Then Moses, hot with anger, left Pharaoh.
Then the Lord instructs Moses how he will save the first-born of the Israelites
(Exodus 12:3-7) - NIV
3 Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb[a] for his family, one for each household. 4 If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor, having taken into account the number of people there are. You are to determine the amount of lamb needed in accordance with what each person will eat. 5 The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats. 6 Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the people of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. 7 Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs.
And then skip down to verse 12
(Exodus 12:12-13) – NIV
12 “On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn—both men and animals—and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the LORD. 13 The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.
THE CONSECRATION PROCESS
So, to summarize: Each of the Israelites is to find a lamb (without defect…that’s important), and then put some of the blood on the sides and tops of the doorframes.
And then when Lord comes through, they will be saved by the blood of the lamb.
But what in the world does this have to do with Christmas?!?!? And LOVE?!?
Well, in our passage of the Christmas story today we saw that Joseph and Mary headed up to the Temple
And one of the reasons they’re going is directly related to what I just read.
Because maybe you were wondering why Mary and Joseph have to go to the Temple and what is the “Purification” they had to do “according to the Law of Moses.”
Well it’s all connected to the Passover story we just talked about
They are really doing two things there: They are doing the “purification” ceremony that they are commanded to do and they are consecrating Jesus as a firstborn some.
Both are commanded by Old Testament law, and Mary and Joseph are pious Jews. Take a look at the commands
(Leviticus 12:1-4) – NIV
1 The LORD said to Moses, 2 “Say to the Israelites: ‘A woman who becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son will be ceremonially unclean for seven days, just as she is unclean during her monthly period. 3 On the eighth day the boy is to be circumcised. 4 Then the woman must wait thirty-three days to be purified from her bleeding. She must not touch anything sacred or go to the sanctuary until the days of her purification are over.
(Leviticus 12:6) – NIV
6 “‘When the days of her purification for a son or daughter are over, she is to bring to the priest at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting a year-old lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or a dove for a sin offering.
However, we see that Mary and Joseph brought a pair of doves or two young pigeons, which was an acceptable substitute in the place of a lamb for those who were poor
Just another note by the author Luke to remind us that Jesus is born to a family of humble origins.
This ceremony was done in conjunction with the consecration of the firstborn…for your firstborn of course.
In Israel, in the Old Testament days, you had to consecrate, that is symbolically set apart your first child to the Lord and say, “It is yours God.”
(Exodus 13:12-13) – NIV
12 you are to give over to the LORD the first offspring of every womb. All the firstborn males of your livestock belong to the LORD. 13 Redeem with a lamb every firstborn donkey, but if you do not redeem it, break its neck. Redeem every firstborn among your sons.
So, a firstborn donkey was to be redeemed with a lamb.
The firstborn of everything was wholly God’s, but you could keep the donkey (which would be much more valuable to them) by redeeming it (buying back) a lamb in sacrifice to God
And for a child, it was the same.
This wasn’t like the pagan religions around them where they were often literally sacrificing their children to the gods.
But it was symbolic.
And think now…What did Mary and Joseph do when they came to the temple? They offered a sacrifice for their firstborn. Something to take its place. Usually it was a lamb. But because they were poor, they could offer 2 pigeons or 2 doves.
But connect this now with the Exodus story and Moses and Pharaoh.
God is constantly connecting this sacrifice and exchange concept w/ his people.
The people were imperfect. Death was warranted. Death was coming. But God told the Israelites this: He would REDEEM them. They were his firstborn son (Ex 4:22). He would buy them back. He would save their lives (REDEEM) their lives. With a lamb.
And the blood of that lamb would keep them alive.
Death would bring life.
And for the next 1500 years up to Jesus’ birth, God’s people have been celebrating this feast of the Passover. Remembering what God did in delivering the Israelites from Pharaoh.
But for 1500 years they have also been consecrating their first-born children.
It is SO ingrained in their culture that you ARE God’s. And you are alive only because a lamb took your place.
We sometimes talk about how odd and confusing their animal sacrifices were, but God put them there, so that when Jesus came, it would be unbelievably clear what was happening.
HISTORY AND THE FUTURE
And now, Jesus is born. And his parents too, take him to the temple as an infant.
And you have to stop and think, of all the things the Gospel writers could have included about Jesus. WHY THESE VERSES which no one ever talks about in a Christmas series?
Didn’t every Jew go to the temple and do this with their firstborn? Why does it matter???
It matters because now Jesus is the lamb.
Mary and Joseph are so poor that they offer pigeons or doves, and it’s not only that they are poor, it’s because their Son is going to be the Lamb this time.
And just like that story from long ago where the blood of the lamb saved the people.
Jesus is that blood of the lamb for us.
In fact, the Bible calls Jesus the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world.
If you grew up Catholic, you’re familiar with that. “This is the lamb of God who takes away…”
Sing: “Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world. Have mercy on us.”
Because when Jesus grew up and bled on the cross and died on the cross, it was his death, his blood, that covers us and allows us to live.
God has now called his right on His firstborn son. The sacrifices are now over and done with, and Jesus is the firstborn Son without blemish who now is the lamb for the whole world.
If we would believe in that. And accept his forgiveness. We would be forgiven.
AND THAT IS LOVE
There was a medieval Christian monk once who famously preached a sermon where he proclaimed that the next Sunday evening he would be speaking on the love of God.
That Sunday, he walked into the dark, unlit cathedral carrying a lighted candle. He carried it to a large crucifix (Jesus on the cross). He illumined the crown of thorns, and then the two wounded hands, the marks of the spear wound, and the wound in his feet. He then blew out the candle and left. There was nothing else to say.
Think about Christmas this way:
God knows absolutely everything. And even though He went through great lengths to redeem his firstborn “nation” Israel, they continued to forsake him.
In fact, they barely made it out of Egypt before they started worshiping a Golden calf.
And history continues.
They get to the promise land only to eventually become like the sinful people around them. They turn back for a little bit.
They demand a King instead of God being their king.
Some are good. Most are bad.
They start worshipping the foreign gods of the people around them. They engage in temple prostitution with fake gods, they burn their children in the fire for fake gods…
They repent.. They come back to Him… Only to do it all over again years later and turn their back on Him once again…and engage in adultery, rape, murder, and the list goes on.
And it’s in that context, that the God of the Universe says, I will send my Son to earth….as a baby…to be their lamb. To take their place. To offer them a chance to put the blood over their lives. The doorframe of their lives.
But here’s where it gets even more remarkable. It’s not just that God knew the past. He knew the future.
He could look ahead to the evil of the crusades, he could see terrible world wars, the holocaust, he could see unfathomable genocides of cultures all over the world.
And still he sent his Son on Christmas day to take our place.
And He could even look at your life.
And see what you would do.
The great things you would do! The people you would make happy and bring love to.
But also your faults. Your sins. The things you wish you would have never done. The things you wish you could do over. And even the darkest secrets that no one knows.
He knew. And he STILL sent his son to be the Lamb to offer you a chance to take your place.
That is LOVE. There is nothing that you could possibly come up with that could remotely compare to that definition of love.
The fact that he could look at wicked people like us and say, I will send my son to be their lamb. That’s love.
That’s the miracle of Christmas. The biggest miracle of Christmas is not that the wisemen followed a star, or even that Jesus was born to the virgin. The biggest miracle of Christmas is that God, seeing all of the wickedness of all of humanity, still came.
And some of you need to let that hit your heart this morning. Not your head. Your heart.
You know Jesus. You’re a follower of Jesus. You have been for a while. STOP pretending like he’s not ridiculously in love with you and hasn’t forgiven you.
Let him forgive you and show you his mercy and grace.
Stop beating yourself up for this stuff. He already knew you’d do it anyway when He decided to send His son for you.
He loves you! Don’t let your shame get in the way of His grace.
And if you don’t know Jesus Christ, and you don’t have a relationship with Him, get one.
Jesus is real. He died on a cross 2,000 years ago to be like that blood over your doorframe.
And the Bible tells us that if we would believe in Him and trust that He forgave our sins, AND make Him the leader of our lives, he would forgive us.
And some of you need to do that today.
In fact, I’m going to pray for that right now. Let’s not delay.
And if you want to give your life to Jesus today, I want you to pray with me silently in your heart right now.
If you made that commitment today, I need you to do something for me. Seriously. I need you to tell someone you know who is a Christian in this church. Or, if you don’t know someone. Talk to me about it. Email me about it. Write on a connection card.
Copyright: David Sorn
Renovation Church in Blaine, MN
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