2007 December 23
GOOD NEWS OF GREAT JOY
October 1, 1957 — July 22, 2008
David served our congregation as our minister from 1987 until 2008.
On Tuesday, July 22, 2008, David died unexpectedly
of natural causes at his Cleveland home.
David sought to grow closer to the LORD in his own life.
He asked God to help him preach God's Truth.
Each week, David's message helped us to focus on
our purpose for existence both personally and in community.
Practical steps for living the life God has called us
to live were integrated into each sermon.
SERMONS by DAVID KESTER
GOOD NEWS OF GREAT JOY
By David Kester, Minister
Church of Christ, Cleveland, MN, USA
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.
The first words the angel spoke to the shepherds were, “Do not be afraid.” However, this was not the first time God had encouraged His people with those words. Sometimes God spoke directly to a person as He did to Abraham. "Don't be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward." "Jacob, don't be afraid, I am with you." "Moses, do not be afraid of Og, for I have handed him over to you, with his whole army and his land." "Joshua, do not be afraid …. I have given them into your hand…." Other times God spoke through the prophets. God instructed Isaiah to "say to those with fearful hearts, be strong, do not fear; your God will come…." Later He told Isaiah to say, "Do not be afraid; you will not suffer shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated." The Lord declared through the prophet Jeremiah, "Do not be afraid…for I am with you and I will rescue you…." When Jesus' disciples saw Him coming to them, walking on the water, they were terrified but Jesus called out to them, "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid." Among Jesus’ last words to His disciples before His betrayal and crucifixion are these words recorded in John's gospel. Jesus said, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid."
Do not be afraid. That exact phrase is found in scripture 65 times. Kings and princes, shepherds, the young and old, prophets and outcasts were all told, "Do not be afraid." Remember what God said to Isaiah? He told Isaiah, "say to those with fearful hearts, don't be afraid; your God will come." There are some here this morning that have fearful hearts. God would not have kept saying, "Don't be afraid," if we were not afraid so often, but we are.
I am not a very brave person. I have many fears – real and imagined. I am afraid of heights and falling. That was hard when I worked construction. I would have to force myself to go up on the roof when we were shingling. Sometimes I am afraid I will do something stupid and that people will not like me. My mom is afraid of living alone. Some months after my dad died, my mom said, “I am finally getting to the point that I can come into the house without having to check all the rooms and closets to see if anyone is in the house.” Maybe you are afraid of the dark, or snakes, or bugs. Maybe you are afraid of being alone. What if people do not like you? What if you never find anyone to marry? Maybe your marriage is in trouble and you fear it will fail. How will you be able to keep going after someone you loved deeply dies? What if you have to move to a nursing home? What if your faith in God puts you in the minority? That happened to Elijah. He thought he was the only one who remained true to God and he was terrified. It is a frightening thing to be alone. Maybe that scares you more than anything else does.
Maybe you are afraid that you have messed up your life so badly that there is no way out. You know you have not been the husband or wife you should have been. You have failed as a parent. You have sullied your reputation. You have hurt others. You have walked away from God, defied His wishes. You have been unfaithful, promiscuous. In your heart of hearts, you feel like that prodigal son except you cannot see any way to get back home. Your life is sick with sin and you are afraid there is no cure. That is a terrifying thought.
Maybe you are afraid of dying. Your health is failing. Your joints ache. You cannot do what you used to do. You are afraid of what the last years of life might bring. Our lives are full of fears. We are afraid that we are not good enough, that we do not measure up, that we will always be on the outside looking in. Sometimes, we are afraid that not even God wants us. I do not know what you are afraid of but I imagine most everyone here knows what it is to be afraid, troubled, faint-hearted, discouraged.
Fear is devastating. It makes us small. It keeps our attention focused in one direction so that we cannot see God or what He is doing. Fear strips us of hope. It robs us of sleep. Fear diminishes us. It empties us of peace and joy. It imprisons us. Fear consumes us until all that is left is fear.
God knows that we are fearful people. Listen carefully to what God says to the fearful. He says, "Don't be afraid." I have good news of great joy that is for all people, even for you. The good news is that we do not have to be afraid anymore. The good news is that a Savior has been born to us; He is Christ the Lord. A Savior has been born. We are not alone. When it seems like the whole world is arrayed against us, there is one who remains beside us. That one is our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The apostle John said, "Jesus, the Righteous One, is our Advocate.” John uses a legal term to describe Jesus. Jesus is our lawyer, the one who stands up with us and speaks in our defense. Jesus is our protector, our rescuer, our Savior. Jesus is on our side. "And if," as the apostle Paul said, "God is for us, then who can stand against us?"
The prophet Elisha was in trouble with the king of Aram. The king sent horses and chariots to encircle the city where Elisha was. Elisha's servant was terrified the vast horde that had come to take Elisha. He asked Elisha, "Oh, my lord, what shall we do?" Elisha answered, "Don't be afraid. Those who are with us are more than those who are with them." Then he prayed, "O LORD, open his eyes so he may see." Then the LORD opened the servant's eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha." When it feels like you are all alone, open your eyes and see that God is with you. He does not abandon His children. Jesus said, “I will not leave you as orphans.” God promised, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” God will not leave us alone. Earthly friends may fail us. Those we love may die but God will not leave us alone. When God is with us, we have nothing to fear.
The Psalmist said, "The Lord is the stronghold of my life of whom shall I be afraid?" If God is for us, if He is our Stronghold, our Deliverer, if our Savior has come, then we have nothing to fear. No wonder the Psalmist went on to say, "Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then will I be confident." The Psalmist said that not because he was so strong but because God was at his side. God is at our side. Our Savior has come. That is the good news the angels declared to the shepherds. “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” That is good news not only for shepherds. It is good news for us. Jesus has come. He is Immanuel, which means God with us. When God is with us, we can face anything.
Jesus is our Savior. He is our Rescuer. I remember playing on the playground with my nephew Greg when he was just four or five years old. I must not have been watching him very closely because the next thing I knew, I heard his voice calling, "Save me, save me." I looked up to see that he had climbed to the top of the jungle gym. He was hanging there and he did not know how to get down. So he was doing the only thing he knew how to do. He was calling, "Save me. Save me." He needed a Savior. I rushed to his rescue.
We need a Savior. We have gotten ourselves in trouble. We have done foolish things. We have sinned against God and man. Sometimes, we sin deliberately. Sometimes we sin through weakness. Our lives are a mess. We have thrown away our marriages, ruined our reputations, and squandered the riches that God showered us. We are hanging on for dear life and we are scared to death. We cannot fix things. We would like to start over, have a second chance, but we know we do not deserve one. We are hanging on but our hands are slipping. There is nothing we can do except cry out, "Save me!" Then hope that someone will come and rescue us before we fall. The good news is that God heard our cry and sent His Son Jesus to save us. We have a Savior. Jesus came to earth to seek and save the lost. He came looking for you and me. We do not have to be afraid that our life is beyond redemption. Jesus is willing and able to save us. That is why He came into the world and that is why He went to the cross. We do not have to be afraid. Jesus stands by our side. He speaks on our behalf. He clothes us in His righteousness. He transforms us into His likeness. He makes us new. God offers sinners another chance. In fact, when sinners turn to Him, He runs to meet them. Then He welcomes them home. You do not have to be afraid that there is no hope.
We have hope in this life and in the life to come for Jesus has conquered death. The apostle Paul called death our final enemy. It is a frightening opponent. It tears families apart. It leaves widows and orphans. It stands like a great cavern that seeks to swallow us all. Death always had the upper hand. No one escaped death. You lived and you died. No one escaped death. What lay beyond death was a fearful mystery. That is no longer true. Our Savior came. He faced death head on and He destroyed it. Then Jesus came back and said that we too will conquer death. I am not suggesting that death is a friend to be embraced. It is still an enemy but it is a defeated foe. Some day death will be gone for good. Jesus is the first fruits of the resurrection, but He is not the last. If you have lived in fear of death, you do not have to be afraid anymore. Jesus has shattered death's power.
Now, maybe I have missed the thing you fear most. However, I know that whatever it is that you have feared that you do not have to be afraid anymore. Our Savior has come. Isaiah, the prophet said, "Don't be afraid, your God will come." I say, "Do not be afraid, he has come." That was the angel’s message to the shepherds, “Today…a Savior has been born.” We do not have to wait any longer for His appearing. He has come. He came to us wrapped in human flesh, lying in a manger, in the city Bethlehem. Jesus is Immanuel – God with us. Do not be afraid. I have good news of great joy, a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord. Do not be afraid your Savior has come.
The second verse of the hymn, O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing, says, "Jesus the name that charms our fears that bids our sorrows cease. ‘Tis music in the sinners ears, ‘Tis life and health and peace." Jesus lays our fears to rest once and for all. The apostle John said, "Perfect love casts out fear." God's perfect love is made visible in Jesus. Jesus, God’s love in human flesh conquers fear. When we are free from fear there is room for joy and celebration.
That is why Christmas is a joyous time. It is not the presents, or the decorations, or the carols that bring us joy. Those things are our feeble attempts to express something of the joy that God's presence brings (not His presents with a “t” but His presence – His being with us). God's presence fills us with joy until we cannot contain it. Our hymn writers knew that. They declared, "Joy to the world, the Lord has come!" "How great our joy! Joy, joy joy! Praise we the Lord in heav'n on high!" "O come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant…." "Good Christian men, rejoice…." "Joy to the earth the Savior reigns…." "Joyful, all ye nations, rise, Join the triumph of the skies…." Fear blinds us to the reality of God's presence. When we are aware that God has come to His people, we are filled with a joy that is unbound by cares, worries or ambition, a joy that is freed from fear. God entered the world and nothing will ever be the same again. That is the message the angels to declared to the shepherds. A Savior has been born for you. He is Christ the Lord. The empty will be filled, the sad comforted, the sick healed, the prisoner set free, the sinner washed clean. And the joy of God's presence will fill us to overflowing until we cannot contain the river of gladness that wells up within us. We will laugh, and weep, and sing, and dance for the glory of God's presence cannot be contained.
I do not know what presents you will receive this Christmas. I do not know what worries and fears you face. I do not know what heartaches you bear. I do know your Savior has come and He will not leave you along. I know there is great joy in God’s presence.
Brennan Manning told a story about being iced in at Chicago’s O’Hara airport two weeks before Christmas. The terminal was packed with people. Everyone was tired and irritable except for one woman. While others slouched in their seats and stared past everyone else, she played with her baby and laughed aloud. Her face was filled with joy. Finally, Manning could stand it no longer and asked, “Why are you so happy?” She said, “Christmas is coming, and that baby Jesus, he makes me glad.” Christmas is coming. It is a busy, stress-filled time of year. You may be burdened with fear and worry. You may be tired, wondering how you will find time and money to make Christmas happen. You may be having some Grinch-like thoughts and attitudes. I have good news for you. A Savior has been born for you. He is Christ the Lord. He loves you. He will not leave you. If you come into His presence, He will embrace you and make you glad. He will fill you with joy that is inexpressible and glorious. That is good news.