Advent 2016 - The One Who Redeems message by Young Adults/Teaching Pastor Luis Menjivar. For more information, visit cornerstone-sf.org
We are diving into this idea of celebrating the One who came. This is an interesting weekend. We are three days removed from celebrating our national day of being able to give thanks and exercise the practice of gratitude. We are now in the holiday season. Definitely, shopping has increased dramatically. It takes a pretty steep spike on the day after. Of being grateful, we want more. But we see the lights going up. We see the trees. We hear the songs, the Christmas carols. As a culture, we are starting to set our gaze towards Christmas. We feel the chill of winter upon us and the warm chocolate, hot cocoa we like to have. However, whatever speaks to us of Christmas, we start to see that emerge in our culture. I’d like us to consider this weekend as something of a foundation. As we move into this season together, I’d like to suggest that what we’re doing and preparing for this Christmas season is celebrating the One who came to redeem. What does that mean? That means that Jesus was born. In plain simple terms, Jesus was born to purchase our freedom.
He was born to purchase our freedom and increase the dimensions of freedom in our lives. That is the Biblical definition of redemption. Jesus was born to buy something for us; we call it freedom. He came to do that for us. Redemption or the idea of a Redeemer comes from the Older Testament. It has this idea behind it that there is somebody who will set us free. It literally describes someone who enters the house of slavery, pays the price for a slave, exits the house of slavery, and sets them free. When the scriptures speak of redemption, that’s the picture that is used. It’s important for us to recognize that Jesus came for that very purpose; to do just that for any who’d receive Him. It’s not a one-time thing where we step out and everything is from that marking point where there’s no need to revisit this. No, this is an ongoing walk of life where in the increasing dimensions of our lives, we start to experience real freedom.
The reality of Christmas is that Jesus came to do this. Yet He came as one who made Himself vulnerable to our choice. He didn’t come with an enormous amount of force, power, or demands. He came as one swaddled in a manger, as a child, vulnerable. Which tells us something. Jesus came this way because I think God allows us to make the choice. He allows us to make our own choice. This is a choice we make, not just one time, we make it through the ups and downs of our lives. The idea is choosing to receive what He offers us. It’s an incredibly important idea for us to recognize because it hits at the heart of the human struggle. We, as a people, don’t have to be religious to know we love the redemptive story. We love it. We love to see it. We’ll pay to see it. We’ll pay sometimes $10, maybe $12 or $15 if it has really good sound and glasses that make things three-dimensional.
We’ll go because we want to see it. We love that story. We love it. We love the story of the person who overcomes insurmountable odds to climb up to the summit and stand there at the climax celebrating victory. Oh, sweet victory. There is something in our soul that wants to applaud that. Something inside of us is so inspired by that story. We love to see it in sports. We love to see it in sports so much so that some of us don’t even care about sports, but then all of a sudden, there’s a team that’s coming out of nowhere. They’re going to do something historic that hasn’t happened in over a hundred years. All of a sudden we’re on. We’re on. We’re there. Those of you who may be on the other side of the field, I apologize. I’m sorry. Maybe it’s too soon, but we love the story of relationships redeemed. We love the story of a person overcoming incredible odds.
We revere this story. We celebrate that story. Someone turning things around. We get to that place because we want that story. There’s not a person here that wouldn’t desire that at our core. I want that. I want that for myself. The reality of our human condition and the struggle we’re in can lead us to this place of mistakenly thinking that redemption, that story, is accomplished when we decide to redeem ourselves. We can make the mistake. We can start thinking, “Well, this is up to me. This is up to me to turn this around. This is up to me to overcome. This is up to me to persevere and break free. This is on me.” We can make that mistake. I was reminded of this reality last night when I was making my way to church. I’m usually on a motorcycle. I love my bike. I really do. If you’re concerned, I appreciate your prayers. I received them, but I love my bike. It just feels free for me. There’s something about it. But last night it was raining and I thought, “You know what? Maybe don’t take the risk.” So, I took an Uber.
I haven’t done that in a while. It’s been about a year now, a long time. I remember making my way into the car. It picked me up in front of my house and I made my way into it. I sat in the back seat, and the driver started talking. This inevitably happens to me more often than not. “Where are you headed?” I said, “I’m going to work.” He said, “Work?” I said, “Yeah.” He said, he was trying to encourage me, “That’s not bad. That’s good.” I said, “No, I love my work. I’m looking forward to it.” He said, “Oh, wow. That’s great.” We kept talking and then he did something that hasn’t happened to me before. He said, “Sir?” That line, somehow I crossed that line. I’m now a sir. It’s like, “What just happened? Why didn’t somebody warn me?” He said, “Sir?” I said, “Yes?” He said, “Do you mind me asking, what do you do for a living?” He asked it that way. Other people ask it a different way. I said, “Well, I’m a pastor.”
Some people react differently. Some think “Whoa, there’s nothing scarier.” It’s like there is a cannibal in my car. Others are intrigued, “Wow, I didn’t know those existed still.” But this guy said, “Hey, wow, that’s amazing. What church do you go to?” I said, “You’re driving me to it. It’s called Cornerstone.” He said, “Man, I used to go to this Catholic church.” He starts sharing his story. As he’s sharing his story, I start to discover a couple of things about him. He’s a 22-year-old man who has a 15-month-old daughter. He and his girlfriend are trying to figure things out. He is working extremely hard to make ends meet, figure out what his future’s going to look like, and how he’s going to provide for the daughter he loves. Clearly, I saw it on his face. Oh, he loved her and loved her mother.
He’s sharing and talking with me. We may have these moments, where we don’t talk about things. But once we start talking, we start to realize, “Whoa, I haven’t really shared this.” We start to discover emotions we didn’t know were there. This is what was happening in the car on the way to church. He comes to this moment where he says, “This is all overwhelming me.” He had come to the realization when he said, “You know what? Actually, now that I’m talking about it, I’m realizing the reason I stopped going to church is that I’m now so busy trying to take care of my responsibilities, I don’t have time anymore, and I’m just trying to figure this out.” Then he said it. “This is all overwhelming. I’m just trying really hard not to be crushed by how hard this is.” I thought, “Man, this guy.” Because what I heard him saying was, “I’m trying to do this on my own, and I’m afraid it’s starting to defeat me.”
I think this Uber driver was speaking for the vast majority of us. I think he was expressing the very cry of the human heart, “I want that story, and I’m trying hard. I just don’t know if I could do this on my own.” Perhaps that’s the truth because that is what the human struggle is like. I most appreciate this season we’re about to enter because Jesus steps right into the reality of this struggle we are in. He does so in a way that does not hide Him. Nor is He one who sweeps things under the rug. He is not naive to the reality and grittiness of our condition. Yet at the same time, He is able to give us an offer of hope that no struggle can overshadow. This is Christmas. This is the gift. The beauty of what we are about to celebrate together. He came as one who had held both intentions, the real human pain and the real life-giving hope that only God can give. He came as a child, grabbing both, hiding from neither.
It was an amazing thing to see. In fact, this is not something that was out of a vacuum. This is something that the Israelites foresaw for some time. Isaiah ends up foretelling, some of us may or may not know this, the coming of Jesus about 700 years in advance. He says it to a group of people who had just experienced political upheaval. They had just been conquered. Their treasures had been pillaged. Their situation was devastating. They were a people on the backside of this, trying to figure out how they are going to move forward and survive. He is speaking, in a national sense, about their survival. It was up to them to pick themselves up and move forward. They had come to the conclusion that this had happened because, “Well, if God is aware, He is incapable of doing anything about it. That is if He even is aware.” This is what they were thinking. “Honestly, we’re the last thing on His mind.” Into that environment, Isaiah is given a message that we will, as we read it, see so clearly to who he was pointing to. It was in the context when they are overthrown and conquered in a political system that is corrupt, taking and not giving anything.
Isaiah 9 says, “For to us a child is born, to us, a son is given.” That word, son, in the Older Testament, was referring to the idea of a king “and the government shall be upon His shoulder.” It’s an interesting usage of words. There’s a political system that will be on His shoulder, “and His name shall be called…” look at these majestic names, “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and of peace, there will be no end, on the throne of David and over His kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal, the passion of the Lord of hosts will do this.”
Isaiah’s saying to them, “You who think you’re forgotten by God, no, I want you to understand you are not, you are far from it. In fact, He sees exactly the situation you’re in, and He is going to send you a leader.” It is the leader we all crave. This, in our heart of hearts, is who we measure every leader by. It is the leader we crave. It is why no matter what person is in what position, we will inevitably be disappointed because this is who we crave. The one who is a Wonderful Counselor, the one who is known as a Mighty God, powerful and able, an Everlasting Father. Not one who abandons, not one who leaves, but one who loves. He is a Prince of Peace. This is Isaiah’s way of telling them. You have no idea the good thing God is going to bring about in your midst. God is well aware and He is going to send somebody to give you the very thing you most desire.
It’s an amazing promise. This is the promise of the child who would be born. Who would set up a different type of kingdom that would begin in humble ways and would extend without any end. It is odd to say this when we are living in the most powerful and wealthy nation, but the scriptures are clear, every other kingdom will rise and fall, except one, the one who comes to redeem. He says this promise is not completely fulfilled. It’s still in our future. If it was in their future, 700 years in advance, the coming of Jesus was the beginning of this fulfillment, but it is yet to come. It is something, even this promise given to all of us.
It may be in a time of year, such as this, where there’s so much tension in the air, it is good to be reminded. There is this promise to come. It’s not meant to be irrelevant to the present day. In fact, if this was going to be fulfilled, Isaiah holds this amazing hope for us while holding onto the reality of the human condition. Look at Isaiah 53. This is what this child would have to walk through. If He was going to give us this, which He will, He needs to walk through the excruciating reality of the human condition. Verse one, “Who has believed what he has heard from us?” It’s poetic. “To whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? For he,” the child, “grew up before him like a young plant,” and look at the environment, “like a root out of dry ground.” It’s a hostile environment. It’s not really ready to nourish, but he grew there. “He had no form or majesty that we should look at Him and no beauty that we should desire Him.” Isaiah is basically saying this leader, this amazing, beautiful person won’t have the outward beauty we are accustomed to associating with great people.
He came as one who was ordinary. He was despised and rejected by men. “A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, and as one from whom men hid their faces, He was despised, and we esteemed Him not,” Isaiah says. Isaiah is saying, “This child who is going to be the Prince of Peace will not be shielded from the realities of the brokenness, injustice, and pain of what it’s like to live this life.” He continues, “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. We esteemed Him stricken, and smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities. Upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His wounds, we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray. We have turned, everyone, to his own way, and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”
Isaiah, in a sense, is describing what we would now understand to be the picture of the cross. It’s difficult for us. It’s difficult for us to fully appreciate the significance of the One who came as a child. If we, at the same time, separate Him from what He came to do on Easter. Christmas beauty has to be seen on the backdrop of what is done on Easter, on Good Friday. Everything Isaiah is essentially saying, “He came as an ordinary man, not venerated for His beauty or His majestic appearance. In fact, He was well acquainted with what it’s like to be rejected. He was a man of grief and sorrow, but it wasn’t His own that He was carrying. He was carrying the sorrow of humanity on His own life. The pain of what it’s like, He carried it.” Isaiah says, “Now, we have wandered. We have gone our own way. God didn’t lay on us this payment. He laid it on Him.”
If He came to give us freedom, Isaiah is saying that the purchase price of our freedom is the very blood of the One who came as a tender child. It’s the very blood of Jesus. That’s the price. He comes into the house. He says, “Here’s the price. I want all of them.” “All of them?” “Yes, for God so loved the world, I want all of them.” Then He leaves us the choice. Will we walk out with Him or not? That is the beauty of Christmas. This idea, I think, could impress a couple of things upon us now. In the remaining minutes we have here, I’d like us to consider just three thoughts that I think are worthy for us to think about.
Firstly, our freedom. Our freedom is contingent on our willingness to embrace His price for us. Our freedom is contingent on our willingness to embrace the price He paid. This is where the rubber meets the road. This is where the story of redemption takes a turn. It takes a turn because we love the montage of the person who says, “I can’t do it.” They go to the gym, exercise, train, sweat it out, and end up performing something at the end. Maybe it’s a skill, a musical talent, an instrument, a craft, or an athletic feat. What do they do? They come to that, and what happens at the end? They do something amazing. That’s what happens. Yet, Isaiah is telling us, “Not so fast.” Before that can happen, there’s a preliminary step. We have to acknowledge. This is why the rubber meets the road for us. He came to give us freedom, yes. But in order to receive this freedom, it has to mean that we concede a couple of things. That concession, for some of us, might feel like a slight death of sorts. It means we can’t purchase our own freedom. I wish I could say we can, but it means we have to concede. We can’t break free from our own struggles, points of addiction, or weaknesses by ourselves.
Some of us might be in a season where that’s where we are. “Yeah, I’m with you all the way.” Others of us, “We are doing so well in life, that concession is just too hard to make.” That’s where it gets difficult. The irony is the minute we say, “I cannot,” God says, “Don’t worry, I can.” That’s the irony. That is where things kind of rub us. The minute we declare our need, the minute we declare, “I will be first honest with myself, and then I will be honest with you, God. I am trying.” You know, the man in the Uber car was verbalizing what Jesus invites us into. It is in that place, when we admit our lack, that we find our strength. There, in that place, we find that Jesus offers us a beautiful gift because He receives us just as we are. He approaches us right where we are. He doesn’t pretend we’re better than we are. He doesn’t shame who we are.
He says, “I give myself for who you are.” That is what He does. He joyfully extends a gracious embrace. It is a remarkable thing. If it’s the case where we would discover that the first place is to acknowledge, “I can’t buy what you came to purchase for me. I can’t set myself free in areas of my life. I can’t fix this by myself. I can’t overcome this by myself. I can’t figure this out without you.” That place ends up unlocking something for us. It is a pathway to discover that this freedom increases as we rely on His grace to persevere in light of our weaknesses. It increases the more we acknowledge our need for Him. In Hebrews 4:15-16, it says, “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses. No, we have one who in every respect has been tempted as we are.” Now, let’s think about this. We have one who has been tempted in every way as we have been. Do you know what this means? There is not one point in which we could say, “God, you simply don’t understand.” Because what we’re being told is that the One who came as a child was fully human, and He experienced every single level of what it’s like. Yet what made Him remarkable? He was yet without sin. He was the only one who could ever say He didn’t cross the line.
None of us could ever say that. I hope none of us think we can say that. Because all of us know what it’s like. We don’t want to, but we do. He doesn’t ridicule us for it. The Psalmist says, “God, you know the frame that I am made, but by dust.” Where the picture of the scriptures represents God is a kind, gentle God. “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” It is Jesus who comes, and He will not abandon us. It is Jesus who will not be shocked by our weaknesses or our propensity to fall back into things. He won’t be shocked by our degree of struggle or our internal battle to not quit.
He will not be surprised. He will not be put off by the areas that we would rather nobody else know about. Those things do not simply push Him away. In fact, He says they don’t push me away. I stepped right into them. I stepped right into the mess, and I’m right here. This grace that is available, He is the one who meets us right where we are. When we call out to Him, He is the one who empowers us to move forward. He is the one who picks us up. He is the one who whispers life-giving hope into our souls. He is the one who helps us walk through the real struggle of figuring this life out. Being able to overcome, we start to see that the more we rely on His grace, the more we discover and get to sing the beautiful song. I am not who I want to be. Oh, but thank you. I am not who I once was.
I am no longer who I once was. I’m not there yet. Some of us might think, “Well, I’m close, I’m close.” That’s okay. Some of you think it’s a long way to go. I’m right there with you. But we start to be redefined. This is a redemption story. Weakness doesn’t dominate or define. Struggle doesn’t dominate or define. Failure doesn’t dominate or define. The beautiful grace of God that ends up healing our soul, giving us strength, power, and courage, can break us out of certain habits. God’s grace can help us establish new ways of living, and over the long arc of life, we can see. It wasn’t by my strength alone, that I made progress. Oh, but progress has been made. Progress has been made. If the trajectory of this continues, this is going to have a great, great, great destination.
It will be a beautiful ending. One we celebrate together because He not only does this for us alone. He also invites us to freedom. It allows us to build a hope-filled future. At the end of the day, it is an ongoing work that He longs to do with a hope-filled future. Isaiah began with the child who would establish something that is permanent and will never go away. He says, “This is the end result. Human history is on this trajectory, and it’s going to be good.” We get to be a part of building that future. We, any who call on His name. We who receive His freedom. We who rely on His grace. We get to then become cracked vessels, broken instruments, things out of tune, things that are flawed, or imperfect things. Yes, all of that is true, but then we get to become the ones who get to build a hope-filled future, not just for ourselves, but for others all around us. In a season like this, Christmas has a unique way of softening people’s hearts and making them open.
The Uber driver and I made our way down Dearborn. I invited him to our gathering at 7:00 or maybe tomorrow at 9:00, 10:30, or 12:00. I said, “If you do, please come say hi.” He said, “Yeah, I think I will.” He pull off the side and said, “Hey, can you, um?” I knew what he was asking. So, I said, “Yeah, definitely.” He was asking, “Can you pray for me?” I said, “Absolutely.” Now, I love to do that. So, I saw that opening and I jumped right in, but he said, “Can you do it right now?” I said, “Sure.” You know, he’s sitting there, what am I going to pray for this man? What would you pray for this man? Ah, so I was thinking, “Hmm, God, would you remind him that you are fully aware of his situation, that you are God, he doesn’t have to be? Would you also remind him that you love him? You have a good plan for him, that you’re able to empower him and give him the courage to make the decisions he needs to make. I pray for your blessing over him, his daughters, his girlfriend, his family. I pray that you would redeem his life. Give him a beautiful future, in Jesus’ name.”
That privileged place, that sacred ground, He wants all of us to occupy that place, all of us. In our relationships, He wants us to be those messengers. In our working relationships, He wants us to be that person, that relationship, that messenger. In our struggles, He wants us to be reminded, “God has not forgotten you. He’s so well aware of you. He can empower you and give you courage. He can set you free, increasingly so. This need not define you. You can get back up.” In our relationships, He’s the one who wants us to be the one who extends forgiveness, grace, patience, and kindness because that is exactly what we receive from Him. He’s the one, He’s the one who longs to redeem every aspect of our lives, our neighborhoods, our families, our communities, every aspect, He’s the one.
In a moment, we’re going to have our time of giving and closing song. We’re going to end our service a little differently. We’re ending it a little bit more raw. Because of the nature of what we’re talking about, we’re going to have this song a little differently. It’s meant to be received as a prayer for us, as footprints for us to be able to step into and say, “Yes, I want that Word for myself.”I’m going to pray, ask for God’s blessing, and then we’ll move into the remainder of our time together. Lord, I thank you that you are the hero of our lives. You invite us, God, to call upon you, to receive your grace in our lives. I thank you that you came as one longing to do what no one else could do for us. To do what we could never do for ourselves. You long to give us freedom in our soul. You long to increase your grace and your joy in our lives. I thank you, God, you choose to use us as your messengers. Oh, would your message ring loud? Would your message ring true through our lives this Christmas season? We pray for this in Jesus’ name. Amen.