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OUR CONTINUAL CHRISTIAN WITNESS OF THE JOY OF CHRISTMAS and DANIEL, GOD'S MAN IN THE FILED (PART XXII)
A SERMON ORIGINALLY DELIVERED AT
THE HIGH HILL UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
THE FEDERATED CHURCH OF ATHENS
17 DECEMBER 1989
By Frank L. Hoffman, Pastor
Preparation Verse: (Matthew 25:21)
"His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things, enter into the joy of your master.' "
Joy is a peculiar state of being. We can have our joy when we are happy or when we are sad. Happiness comes and goes like the rain or the snow. Joy should always be present, just as the Lord our God is always present.
True joy only comes when we have established a personal relationship with the
Lord Jesus Christ, and have the assurance that our sins have been forgiven and
that we shall always be with the Lord.
It is this hope, this assurance, and this joy that will carry us through all of the hard times when happiness has deserted us.
Such was probably the case with Joseph. He was a hard working carpenter, and he was happy because he was soon to be married.
Then something happened that removed his happiness and left him very, very sorrowful. His beloved wife-to-be was found to be pregnant, and he hadn't been with her.
However, above all, Joseph loved and trusted in God; thus he still had his joy, and that joy allowed him to still love and have compassion for Mary, no matter what the circumstances.
Let's refresh our memory of what happened by reading Matthew 1:18-21 –
18. Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows. When His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit.
19. And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her, desired to put her away secretly.
20. But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for that which has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.
21. "And she will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins."
According to the Law, Mary was to be brought out before her parents and the whole town, and stoned to death.
But since Joseph was truly filled with the joy of the Lord, his love and compassion could not bring him to do this to Mary; thus he was open to receive what the Lord had to say to him, and then to do it.
Joseph could have very easily given up on everything, but he didn’t. Joseph hung on and trusted in the Lord; and because he did, his joy would increase even more, just as our preparation Bible verse for today, Matthew 25:21, says:
21. "His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful slave; you were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things, enter into the joy of your master.'
We so often make the mistake of thinking that all we have to do is believe in Jesus Christ and that is all that is required. And as we have been told before, this is wrong; for even demons believe that God is one and Jesus is Lord. (James 2:19).
Some people wonder why things don't work right in their lives; and they give up, or fall further into despair, and lose their joy.
Neither Joseph nor this slave/servant did that; thus their joy increased.
This is not some abstract message. This message is for all of us and for those near and dear to us.
Our life style, and our true attitude toward God, holds the key to our receiving and holding onto this true Christmas joy.
If we deliberately cause harm to any other living being, or take pleasure in it, as in the acts of hunting or fishing, or in the eating of an animal's flesh, we have hardened our hearts so that we no longer feel their pain and suffering; and in the process we lose our true joy.
If we do not have joy, we are most likely living out of God’s will, which in
itself is a sin like any other sin; and as long as we remain this way, we are
also unrepentant and perhaps actually defiant before God.
Let's take a look at a very basic concept of salvation, as expressed in Ephesians 2:8-10 –
8. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;
9. not as a result of works, that no one should boast.
10. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
We can't work our way into heaven; but once we believe in Jesus Christ and accept the free gift of salvation, we are to do the will of our Father who set it all in motion, so that we would desire to be part of His heavenly abode and do our fair share of the work. And in so doing, we receive abundant joy.
We have been doing a lot of studying about Daniel, and Daniel is a good example for us; for even when gripped with fear, he responded to God’s call.
Note what we are told in Daniel 10:15-19 –
15. And when he had spoken to me according to these words, I turned my face toward the ground and became speechless.
16. And behold, one who resembled a human being was touching my lips; then I opened my mouth and spoke, and said to him who was standing before me, "O my lord, as a result of the vision anguish has come upon me, and I have retained no strength.
17. "For how can such a servant of my lord talk with such as my lord? As for me, there remains just now no strength in me, nor has any breath been left in me."
18. Then this one with human appearance touched me again and strengthened me.
19. And he said, "O man of high esteem, do not be afraid. Peace be with you; take courage and be courageous!" Now as soon as he spoke to me, I received strength and said, "May my lord speak, for you have strengthened me."
Daniel had been praying to God, confessing his sins and those of his people, and seeking God's forgiveness.
As God responds to Daniel's petition, Daniel becomes frightened and weak because he recognizes the seriousness of the sins he is repenting for; and he also sees the holiness of the heavenly beings and knows that he is not worthy to even live in their presence.
But God sees the intent of Daniel’s heart, and that he is seriously trying to rid himself and his people, Israel, from the sins in their past, so that they might truly live for God.
Thus God strengthens Daniel.
When sin grips our lives, we become weakened, things in our lives just don't
seem to go right, and we wonder why everything seems to be going wrong.
If we want true joy in our lives, we must also realize that we are responsible to God, and we stand before God in all our actions; and when we realize this, and conform to His desires for us, He takes away the burdens and leaves us the joy.
Kay and I were talking the other night about this very subject, and she was relating to us how often she would work out a person's budget for them and show them how they were able to pay all of their expenses, but they would spend the money on other things and not have enough to live on.
I have heard about similar experiences, and I have found most of the time that the difference between having a surplus and being in debt is less than what is spent on cigarettes, alcohol, or gambling; not all three, but usually just one of them.
These kinds of ungodly indulgences hurt both our health and our finances.
Let me give you a specific example of how ungodly living in a confessed Christian's life can remove his or her joy.
Jerry, as we will refer to him, is almost forty years old. He says that God has been calling him to the ministry for many years.
He began with humble beginnings, but worked hard, became a teacher and earned his master’s degree in special education.
During this time he also desired to become a pastor, sought the approval of his denomination, but was turned down.
He blames the church elders for this, but at the same time he was living with a girlfriend, and living an otherwise worldly life.
Jerry liked rock music, acted as a disk jockey at times, and mostly did substitute teaching. He showed none of the signs of the Christian example that a pastor should have.
Jerry later married his girlfriend and had two children. Soon after, the marriage ended in divorce.
He moved away, still desiring to be a pastor.
And with his move, he also took along his debts.
I didn't mention it, but Jerry also smokes; and his cigarette bill alone would have paid off most of his debts. But he ignored his obligation to pay the debt he owed, and the interest kept accumulating.
His new church said they would consider his candidacy for ministry, if he received a Master of Divinity degree. So he went to seminary.
Jerry has also been living with another girlfriend and her child.
He continues to smoke and drink.
His debts have grown to over $10,000, and he has several judgments against himself.
He still does not have a steady job.
Recently he decided he wants to get married again, so he and his girlfriend, who has a steady job, went house hunting and found just the place they desired.
But Jerry got turned down on his mortgage application because of his poor credit rating.
So Jerry got depressed, stopped going to seminary classes, and failed half a year, losing over $2,000 in the process.
And Jerry, who still considers himself a Christian example, wonders why all the things in his life are going wrong. I tried to tell Jerry what was wrong, but I don’t think he listened.
The same thing happened after the Israelites left their captivity in Babylon. But note what we are told happened in Nehemiah 8:9-12, when the people heard how they were to live:
9. Then Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, "This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep." For all the people were weeping when they heard the words of the law.
10. Then he said to them, "Go, eat of the fat [a rich dish made from an abundant harvest], drink of the sweet, and send portions to him who has nothing prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength."
11. So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, "Be still, for the day is holy; do not be grieved."
12. And all the people went away to eat, to drink, to send portions and to celebrate a great festival, because they understood the words which had been made known to them.
Almost all of these people were like you and me. They came to the worship service just as we have done.
The difference is that when they heard the words of the Lord, the same words
that are printed in our Bibles, they were so convicted of their own lifestyle
and that of their ancestors, that they began weeping before God, because they
were sorry for what they had done and truly desired to be holy.
Thus they were calmed with the assuring words that their repentance was received, that they were forgiven, and that they should no longer weep, for the joy of the Lord would strengthen them; and so it is in this day as well.
Also note that we are not to hoard this joy only for ourselves, but we are to share it with all who are in need. This is true Jewish and Christian living.
When we do this, we all prosper. However, those who have a desire to give to those who have not, but do it without God, fail.
Ezra tells us more about our joy coming from our repentance and doing the will of God. Note what we are told in Ezra 3:10-13 –
10. Now when the builders had laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests stood in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, to praise the Lord according to the directions of King David of Israel.
11. And they sang, praising and giving thanks to the Lord, saying, "For He is good, for His lovingkindness is upon Israel forever." And all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised the Lord because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid.
12. Yet many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers' households, the old men who had seen the first temple, wept with a loud voice when the foundation of the house was laid before their eyes, while many shouted aloud for joy;
13. so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the shout of joy from the sound of the weeping of the people, for the people shouted with a loud shout, and the sound was heard far away.
Repentance leads to joy.
Even the weeping was a repentant shout of joy.
If we don't seem to have any joy, perhaps it's time to turn to the Lord, search our hearts, minds, and souls, and repent with true desire not to repeat the wrongs we have done.
Then our joy will return, and the godly things that have been ruined will be restored.
Each of us can spread the good news of Jesus Christ, as Philip did in Acts 8:4-8 –
4. Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word.
5. And Philip went down to the city of Samaria and began proclaiming Christ to them.
6. And the multitudes with one accord were giving attention to what was said by Philip, as they heard and saw the signs which he was performing.
7. For in the case of many who had unclean spirits, they were coming out of them shouting with a loud voice; and many who had been paralyzed and lame were healed.
8. And there was much rejoicing in that city.
The true joy in our lives comes from the birth of Jesus Christ in our hearts.
And just as the Baby, who was born in that stable two thousand years ago, grew into adulthood, so are we to grow into spiritual adults who can be seen and heard by others and believed by them because of our spiritual maturity.
Jesus was tempted just like you and me, but He didn't give into the sin around Him; and we are to fight against it too.
Just as He died so that our sins might be forgiven, so are we to die to our sins.
And just as Jesus Christ rose from the dead, so are we to rise, sinless, into the image of Christ, so that we may live forever with Him.
The Holy Spirit is here to help us all along the way. And in His strength is the everlasting joy.
Church! It's time that we grow up.
It's time we truly act like a church, both inside this building and outside of it.
It's time we show the whole world the true joy of Christmas: Jesus Christ living in us.
And when each one of us, individually and collectively, commits our self to do this, we will truly have a joyous Christmas.