Guest Speaker Jeff Louie begins our Advent series, " Faith Like a Child".
I always like to be here at Cornerstone, and around Christmas time, usually here around the summertime. I forgot even when I spoke here last. I think it was in October or something. I don’t know, I think so. But when you get older, it’s hard to remember even my own name sometimes. But it’s really a pleasure to meet old friends. Been here, I don’t know how many years I’ve been here. Okay, I think during the Carter administration or something like that, I was preaching here. But, I always like to update everyone on what I’m doing. Okay, and I’ll tell you, this is Christmas season, okay, and it’s actually a pretty good Christmas season for me. I’m in a nice season of life, a nice sort of section in my life. Now this week, as Pastor Terry said, now I’m a theology professor. So, if you want to give me respect, it’s Dr. Louie. Okay? Dr. Louie for you people. Okay? So, give me some respect here, okay?
My classes are over. This was the last week. I just have some grading. So now, I’m going to coast into the end of the year. So, it’s just a nice relaxing time for me. So, it’s a good season in terms of work. It’s also a good season concerning hobbies of mine. I have like a thousand hobbies, okay? And one of them that I had sort of left, I have come back with a vengeance. Okay. I was a guitar player when I was a teenager, which was a long time ago, during I think was when Abraham Lincoln was born or something like that. And I picked it up again the last two weeks, and I’m playing it every day, and it just feels good to be able to play guitar and things like that.
And then, it’s a good season in terms of family life too. As you know, one of my daughters came back to the Bay Area. They were living in Maryland for two years. Last month was the birth of their third child, so I’m a grandfather three times over. The name is Ian Armando Garcia. Okay. And then, it’s a cute, cute little kid and things like that. And then, to top it off, my youngest daughter, who’s in Los Angeles, we had known that she was expecting, but found out that she’s going to give birth to a baby girl in May of next year. And it’s perfect, two boys, two girls. You can pass down all the clothes amongst the nieces and nephews. Everything’s fine. You don’t have to buy more stuff at Kohl’s, and it’s right there, and it’s just going to be a really happy time. So, it’s good for family.
But I got to tell you, I realize, because I’ve journeyed in life for a long time and been in ministry for a long time, that for me, I embrace the times of joy and thanksgiving, as all of us should embrace the times of joy and thanksgiving that God brings into our lives. But I also realize that life is very, very long, and with those moments of joy, also bring reflections of the downtimes in my life. Take, for instance, work. As Pastor Terry said, I was a pastor. I was a pastor in the west side of San Francisco, this great city for 19 years. I’ve been a pastor for 25 years, and then I abruptly made a transition. It was not an easy transition, I got to tell you, in my psyche. And if you ever transitioned from one job to another or one career to another, you understand, it’s not always as easy as just showing up.
I remember that when I first started teaching, my autoimmune, which is kind of like a lupus type of thing, it just can get me really tired and my hands all gnarly and swollen, can’t really do anything. I would give a lecture, we would have four-hour lectures, and I would literally have to take two days off and sleep because I had no more energy. I was spent. And then Wednesday, I’d come back, and I’d lecture, and then take two more days off just to sleep, lie around in bed. Gave a good reason why to sleep, and because life has its ups and downs. Even my guitar playing, which I picked up the last two weeks again after playing when I was a teenager for six years, I couldn’t press a steel fretted instrument. I lowered myself to play ukulele, whatever. It’s a nice instrument, but it’s not a manly instrument, I just want to tell you that. But that’s all I could play. I mean, it’s little and it’s not a lot of strings. You could play Tiptoe Through the Tulips or whatever song. Somewhere Over the Rainbow, whatever song is a fit. I remember those days.
And then family, my daughter’s back and I got three grandchildren, I got one coming up, and my youngest wants to move back up here in a little while. I got to tell you, I left New York City, I was born and raised in New York City when I was 21 years old. Okay. That was back during the Revolutionary War period for some of you. And I’ve lived in all parts of the country, Texas, Illinois, and now the last 25 years in the great State of California in the Bay Area. For 30 of those years, we had no family around, so I cherish family and I cherish my daughters around me, and my grandchildren. But, I remember times when we were very lonely. Family’s one of these things, when you’re with them too much, you say, I need my space, and then when you’re away, where are they? And it’s sort of like, it’s like you love them, and there’s the thing.
I realize that life is a journey, and there’s ups and downs in life, however you look at it. And I realize that it’s a situational, and I realize it’s a grace of God, but I also realize that in Christ, and as we come to the Christmas season, there’s a type of joy that is one better than situational. Peace and happiness. All of us should relish and treasure the times of joy that come our way. But what I wanted to remind us, and for those who do not know Christ, offer you, through Jesus Christ, a deeper sense and experience of joy that transcends life into the very soul of your being. I’m going to do this first by reading a verse of scripture that’s not in your bulletin actually. In your bulletin is Isaiah 53, versus one to twelve. The verse that’s going to pop up shortly is actually the verse that follows this in the Book of Isaiah, Isaiah 54, verse one, and it’s a very unusual verse.
Here it goes, “‘Sing barren woman. You who never bore a child, burst into song. Shout for joy, you who were never in labor, because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband,’ says the Lord.” Now, this is a very interesting verse, and in one sense, has a cultural context to it where one’s identity and one’s value in life and whether one measure succeeded was based upon family and marriage and children. There was no, oh, you could be in God as a single person, that’s really a New Testament concept. It is not an Old Testament concept. And what’s so unusual about this verse in Isaiah, it’s talking about someone, and it’s more than just a woman, it could be a man, someone who has not experienced any sense of what we think are the standard measures of achievement and happiness in life, whatever that looks like to you and you can be in great joy. And for a human being, someone in California, we measure success and we measure achievement by the physical achievements and tangible measures of success we see before us.
So, how do you get that? How can you be joyous if you have not? See, that’s the question, you see? That’s the question. And if you see this and you see the sort of contradiction that is in this verse, 54, verse one, then the chapter that precedes it, or the 12 verses that precede this, begin to solve the dilemma here. Because it is the answer, it is the vehicle, it is the means to that. And during this Christmas season, this famous chapter in Isaiah 53, Isaiah was a prophet who lived 600 years before Jesus Christ, approximately, and he foretold something that Jesus would do that would bring us that. Okay? So, that’s where we’re going.
Let’s look at the passage now. I’m going to read you the first few verses. “Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? He grew up before him like a tender shoot and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” Well, let’s just stop there. It’s very interesting how Isaiah begins this famous prediction of Jesus Christ. He begins with his looks. You know why? Because that’s how we measure people, at the beginning anyway. And I’ll tell you what Isaiah says about Jesus to come, he’s not going to be that attractive looking. You won’t be impressed by his looks. He’s the son of God, full majesty of God, but he’s not going to show it. And as you look at him, from human standards, he’s going to be kind of average looking.
I think of handsome people in this world, I could dream. It’s too late for me to be handsome. I love sports. I love sports. I think of a good-looking football player, Tom Brady, everything, even the messy sweaters are just right. That little cap is just right. Everything’s just right. His wife is pretty good, is okay, a little above average as well. Tall too, athletic. I think he lives in a castle with a moat or something. I think he does. I don’t think I’m joking. Fairytale, think of movie stars. You always got people of every age. You got your Brad Pitt, you got your Ben Affleck, though he’s getting a bad rap these days, and then you got your George Clooneys, your older, mature man, you got your George Clooneys. All very good-looking actors. Okay?
Jesus does not even look near those people. It’s very, very important because the measure we give to someone who has the advantage in life, which first comes from the visual gate, and Jesus has none of it. We always measure people beginning by it. More attractive, you’ll get the better job, even though we never say so. Always, it’s kind of like that. Not only does Jesus not have the visuals, and he will look average, if he walked in this room, you wouldn’t even notice him. Okay? Nothing special about him. Not only is there nothing special about his looks, you look at verse three, “He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces, he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.”
I kind of have a general point that’s going to come up soon, a thought. Not only is Jesus not really good looking, something that you’d [inaudible], that’s a good looking Messiah. You might feel sorry for him. Okay? You would look at his life and say … There’d be some documentary on people who suffer and Jesus would be there. He’d be the type of person, if you saw him, you might give him a dollar, get yourself a meal, because you wouldn’t be like him. According to this text, you might even turn your face from him. His life is just too violent. I don’t like this type, it’s too much gore. I’m just going to flip the channel. Oh, yeah. This cartoon, I like that. SpongeBob, I could take that.
You might feel sorry. You would feel sorry for him. Average guy whose life at the end is all messed up and during it, he’s burdened, always helping people. It’s messed up. And Isaiah begins this way because that is how human beings measure people who are competent, successful, and attractive in this world. And it doesn’t matter what nationality or ethnicity you come from or what country you were born.
When my latest grandson, Ian Armando Garcia was born, we have the first questions, name, rank, serial number, basic size, weight, all that stuff like that. And then we have the question, who does he look like? Okay, does he look cute? It’s very, very important that when you see the new grandson, that they look cute. Okay. Then there’s finally question, does he sleep well in the night? Okay, because you don’t want no colicky baby. You want a baby, when you see him, okay, that is like, oh wow, it looks like me with extra cuteness in it, whoa. Because you don’t want no plain looking baby, you don’t want to say, you know what? Better luck next time on the look’s genes, okay?
No, you want uber cute. You want, this is a good looking baby, looks like me plus extra cuteness. God really blessed you. And then, you don’t want no colicky baby. You want a baby that when you walk in, smile comes on, goo-goo, goo-goo. And then, when you walk away, ooh, I need you, I need you. Then you come back, ooh yeah, goo-goo, goo-goo. Then you want a baby that, when they’re hungry, you put the bottle in and then after feeding, they’re asleep straight for four hours. Only the press ring the bell for the next feeding, only to go to sleep for another four hours.
Okay. Self diaper changing would be a benefit, but you can’t have everything. Man, if you got some plain-looking kid that’s colicky, okay, you got it. Okay? Not going to be my grandson or granddaughter, okay, because that’s how we measure things. We measure them by their looks. We measure them by the joy, the lack of turmoil and pain in their life, and that’s how we do it. And I’m not saying we’re wrong because we do that, that’s what we are. Okay? If we had a choice, that’s what we’d choose.
But on this Christmas season, Jesus comes, plain wrapping, with an end game that’s going to be painful as you can’t imagine, okay? That’s the setting. But within this setting, this Jesus will do something extraordinary for us because it is not in the visual effects or the life joy meter. It’s going to be in what he does for us. Because we judge people by the externals and we judge people by their achievements, but God looks within and he will deal with us from the inside out. And unless you understand this and see this, next week’s Christmas service, that won’t mean anything to you. It’s going to be a little, cute kid in the manger singing Christmas carols. Unless you see something magnificent happening within us that is much deeper than you can ever imagine, you could celebrate Christmas and not understand the full impact and end game that God intended for Christmas. Because the birth of Christ is only the beginning, it is the 30 plus years that he will live and what he will do in the plain wrapping and the life of sorrow. What will he do? Well, let’s continue verse four.
Now, before we get into verse four, I want to go back to verse three. The first line of verse three, “He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering and familiar with pain, acquainted with pain.” Now, I want you to sort of keep a little mental check on this suffering and pain because those two words will reappear in verse four. In verse three, we look at him and say, oh man, that’s a painful guy. Oh boy, that’s a lot of suffering there. Ooh. Verse four, it’s different. The words come back, but it’s in a whole different context. For in verse four, surely he took up our pain. Instead of a man we see as enduring pain, he takes up our pain. And instead of seeing a person who is suffering and we turn our faces, it reads, “And he bore our suffering.” It’s a strange play on words in the Hebrew text that is actually reproduced in this translation, in most English translations. They understand this play on words and this turning from our visual to, it’s really us.
It goes from the experiential into the very deep-seated experiences we have in the soul. Surely, he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by Him. We think this guy got a raw deal when really, the whole thing, and I have to say this correctly because it’s not sacrilegious, the joke’s on us. Because he’s not the suffering one, we are, and you might not even know it. The grief’s not on him and his experience, the grief’s on us, the grief’s in me. And I tell you in life, what we’re going to have is we’re going to have a … It’s going to go deeper and deeper with every verse.
We first deal with grief and sorrow. I have to tell you, I’ve been a Christian for a long time since I was seven. Okay? That’s a long time. And I’ve seen the ups and downs in life, and the situational times of joy and thanksgiving, and the pain, physical, emotional, whatever, you got it. We all experience it in some way. Sometimes as a Christian, and I’m speaking to you people who have been a Christian for a good period of time, you forget that Jesus came to bear your grief. And we wallow in our grief because we get blindsided every 10 years by something we never expected and it floors us. And I would say, as a group this size, that there are dozens of people who need your sorrow carried by Jesus, even as a believer in Jesus Christ. Let him do this.
Only then will you understand Isaiah 54, verse one, where the situation doesn’t change, but the shout of joy and the peace that flows within realizes something even greater that we possess than the experiences we endure. Some of you, this is your first sermon, and you’re wondering, what is this God thing about? What’s this coming to church, singing songs? What’s this listening to a sermon? Often as someone who’s exploring Jesus, you look at things as an outsider. I want to tell you this whole thing at the center of who Jesus is, is not the visual you see here. It’s a desire of God to bare your soul in a way that you can never understand fully.
It is an incredible thing, because every so often, I wallow, to be reminded of the goodness of God. And it changes my perception of God to this sovereign, providential being who throws logs in my way so I trip into one, in which it is the Lord’s purpose to bear my soul, not to mess with me. You got to change the image of God from a great being who’s there to mess with you, to someone who is there to deliver you in the inner person. What is that worth? And that is what Jesus is going to do, and the day of his birth is going to usher in this life for this end game.
We go with verse five, it goes from the grief into something deeper for verse five, “But he was pierced for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities. The punishment that brought us peace was on him. And by his wounds, we are healed.” Now, this is talking about, it’s not just he bears our grief, he bears our crimes. Because the terms transgression, you don’t use transgressions that much, sounds very legal. Transgression, it sounds very King James or something. And we don’t use the word iniquity. What is that? Well, they both talk about faults we have before God. One is more like a crime word, transgression. The iniquity word is more of a guilt. It reflects more like guilt to the crime.
They’re kind of synonyms, but it’s kind of an overlapping thing. The crime and the guilt. He not only bears our crime, but according to this text, he bears our punishment. “For he is pierced through for our transgressions,” and you got to understand, this is a prediction of a Roman soldier throwing a spear at the body of Jesus while he’s hanging on the cross. You got to understand, this is 600 years early, you see? We think, oh, thank God we’re not like that guy, I’m relatively happy. When really, the joke’s on us. Many of us bear grief that people don’t even know, and the worst people that bear grief are the people that have to put on the smile and fool everyone, thinking that they’re the happiest people on earth.
If you have that DNA, you bear an extra burden. And every one of us is a criminal, not that we’ve been convicted of a felony, have a misdemeanor, but we all have shortcomings. We all have things that we’ve said that we’ve regretted. We all have made mistakes. We have all had things that we cannot take back. We have, all, things that go on and say, I wish I wasn’t this way, but it causes me to trip all the time. We all hurt people. We have all been hurt by people. We all have a little stupid gene in us. We all have a tendency to never admit we are wrong in an argument. We have a tendency wanting the other person to say sorry to me because you’re never going to get I’m sorry to you ever. The pompousness and the pride that comes with that is a crime before God, even though you cannot be convicted of anything in a court of law. Government cannot force you to say, forgive me, but you know relationally that is as much a crime as anything else in relationally, it cuts very deep.
He bears our crimes, he bears our punishment, and he will be innocent. Where it says in verse nine, “He was assigned a grave with the wicked and with the rich men in his death,” this is prophetic. “Though he had done no violence, nor was there any deceit in his mouth.” What a pitiful soul, average-looking, very sorrowful end game, and he’s totally innocent. Wow. I don’t want to be him. That’s what makes the beauty of Christmas. None of us want to be him, but he is who he is for me, to forgive me, to bare my soul, to bear your grief, to bear your crime, to bear your punishment. None of us would want to be him if we had a choice, anything but Jesus. This is the majesty and this is the greatness and this is the graciousness of our God, and this is the reason for Christmas because this is the goal, this is the end game. Because it’s not the external, it is the theological spiritual purpose of why this child would be born in Bethlehem so many years ago.
A final thought, “He will make us right before God so that we can commune with him.” Verse 11, “And he has suffered. He will see the light of life and be satisfied. And by his knowledge, my righteous servant will justify many. He will make us right and he will bear our iniquities. He will bear our guilt.” It’s when you understand the plainness, this transformed into a majestic deliverance for us, for the joke is on me. I’m the one in pain, I’m the one in grief, and I need a joy that is transcendent in this world that only Jesus can bring.
I’m going to close in prayer in a few seconds now. And after I pray, there’s going to be the receiving of the offering and a final song. But I’m going to pray for you, and I’m going to pray for two different categories. And if you fit in one of these categories, then join me in the prayer, give me the honor of praying for you.
Heavenly Father, I pray for these, my friends at Cornerstone Church. I pray that during this Christmas season, there would be sense of situational joy in our lives because that’s always the preferred experience in life. But regardless of whether we have situational joy or we are mired in a grief, that we all have a transcending understanding that you have come to bear our souls and the negative aspects of that soul, be it from the emotional to the criminal aspects and the fault coming aspects. I pray if there’s anyone who is mired in grief and in suffering at this time, that would use the words of prophet Isaiah in chapter 53 to lift us up, that we allow you to bear our souls and to look into the future in eternity and to understand what you have procured for us. Make us people of hope, even though the situations are very dire and perhaps hopeless. Give us peace that only comes through your bearing of our soul and our grief.
For others who goes beyond the emotional into the action, there’s a group of people who need to fess up, because they can never ask for forgiveness of anybody because you’re always right. Allow us to see who we are and admit to the people around us and who we love our sense of imperfection, that I could say, sorry, man. Sorry that I kept blaming you, but it was really me. If that is you, I pray that the story of the Christmas season would allow the spirit, you to say these things.
For others who bear the guilt of the entire world, and our issue is not that we deny, is that we accept blame of everything, that the guilt has been born by Jesus, and that you would be freed. There is something for everyone, but I give thanks for the Lord, Jesus Christ. And I give thanks of his humble birth and his humble looks and the fact his life would not look very glorious in the eyes of a San Franciscan in 2015. But the joke’s on me, for I need you. In Jesus, we pray. Amen.