Christmas sermon series: God's Missionary Heart
God's missionary heart reflects the glory of God active in persons as they serve Christ. Think for a moment of light penetrating the darkness. Think of a mirror reflecting light into a dark room. Think of a flashlight shining in a dark cave. God's missionary heart involves carrying His light into the dark world. This sermon focuses upon God's heart for personal transformation through His great light. Read the following Scripture passages for added insight: Isaiah 49:1-6; 56:3-8; and 66:18-20, 23.
When I was a young boy our family traveled to the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina to Spruce Pine where my dad grew up. My father, mother, brother, and I arrived in a season of summer joy. We took Jeep rides into the mountains. We toured places like Linville Falls and Mount Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Mississippi River. We fished for trout. And once we rode black rubber inner tubes down the Toe River, ice-cold as it was, to another small mountain town.
On another adventure we drove the dark mountains late into one night looking for the Brown Mountain lights. We were looking for light shooting out of the darkness and reflecting on the mountains. I fell asleep, the winding mountain drive working on me like a baby being rocked in a rocking chair. I never heard if we actually found the mountain lights, but I liked the idea as much as I liked catching fireflies and putting them on the night stand in Mason jars with holes poked in the lids. I wondered about the mountain lights and was mesmerized by the blinking lights of the fireflies at night.
Isaiah preaches in a time of darkness, of evil, and apparent hopelessness. Christmas comes anticipating Christmas lights, decorations, and joy. It also comes to remind us of the light of hope, the glory that overpowers evil, and the aura of Christ that penetrates the gloom of darkness and replaces it with the light of joy. Joy to the world! Isaiah declares Christ's light and hope. Christmas warms the heart.
I. Light overshadows darkness
Isaiah anticipated God's light that would come to the people. He preached in a time of gloom because of false prophets, sin, and a downward spiral morally. Isaiah, the son of Amoz, rebuked God's people, Israel. In a time of darkness, faithlessness, and hopelessness, Isaiah proclaimed the hope of God's light.
Like a mountain wanderer searching for the Brown Mountain lights, people today are searching for God's light. They search for hope amid financial struggle, amid personal despair, and family tragedy. Isaiah delivers that hope in the good news of Jesus Christ. After all, the people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light. Under what circumstances does the light overcome the darkness?
A. World turmoil
Isaiah's message is both universal and timely. Isn't the world in turmoil? From war to corporate battles in business to family squabbles at home, the world is filled with chaos and turmoil.
B. National unrest
Isaiah's day swirled with national unrest. Not only were nations at war against one another, were filled with internal unrest. This caused sleepless nights for leaders, uncertain feelings in those who lived in the nations, and a longing for peace.
C. Personal sin
Isaiah's day also found people living in the darkness of sin. Sin stays in the corners, the dark places, and hurts the missionary and loving heart of God.
Isaiah proclaimed the good news: To those who dwell in the shadow of death, a light will come! Christ's missionary heart overpowers the darkness in the world, among nations, and even in the human heart! Joy to the world!
II. Gladness overtakes sorrow
In Isaiah 9:1 he mentions two words: gloom and oppression. Isaiah's simple word is this: Gloom and oppression do not have to stay. God comes in splendor and simplicity in the person of Jesus Christ to take away the sorrow of gloom and the injustice of oppression. Isaiah speaks of a gladness that the apostle Paul in Philippians describes as pure joy. This gladness does two things.
A. Brightens a dim spirit
The Christ of Christmas warms the heart to a new spirit. He connects us with God's missionary heart that cares for and loves all kinds of people. God's missionary heart gives us a burden for those in gloom and oppression. God takes away our gloom, replaces it with gladness, then he sends us into the world, to the nations and to people in sin to shine his light. It is as exciting as the childhood wonder I experienced with wide eyed wonder while watching those fireflies at night.
B. Creates a spirit of jubilee
Isaiah 9:3-4 speak of a harvest and jubilee, also known as a celebration when God's people were freed from bondage. I once pastored in a peanut farming community. The peanut harvest was a time of hard work, relief when it was over, and celebration. The harvest and jubilee of which Isaiah speaks reflects a light that restores a weary spirit, a light that brings relief, and a light, Christ's, which enacts a celebration. Joy to the world!
God's missionary heart inspires joy and gladness that overtakes sorrow. Such joy cheers the attitudes and spirits of person. It also pushes aside the darkness and the sorrow surrenders to the gladness of Christ's joy. Christ's light increases the joy!
III. Victory overwhelms defeat
Isaiah's light and hope provide a recipe for transformation and victory. Isaiah longed for God's people to step out of the shadows of despair and gloom. He yearned for God's people to return wholeheartedly to him. He wished in the depths of his soul for victory as they lived their daily lives. Do you have that victory? Do you share that victory with others? Do you shine God's light? What does the light of God's victory do for the nations and people who serve Christ?
A. Burdens are lifted
Through the years as a pastor I have watched Christ-transformed persons change as the burdens of their dark lives were lifted. I have observed the relief in their faces. I have been thrilled to see God's work as their gloomy spirits changed to raised eyebrows and smiles of victory. Tears of joy have streamed down cheeks in rivers of hope as Christ lifted the burden.
B. Oppression is removed
I have also observed the bondage of sin, pain, and even the past removed by Christ. Christ supplies freedom from oppression so that people could move forward with their lives and fly like an eagle (Isaiah 40:28-31). The people learned to live and soar in the victory that came through the light of Jesus Christ.
Hope springs eternal. Viktor Frankl, in Man's Search for Meaning, tells of his days in a World War II death camp and prison. He writes, "The person who lost his faith in the future - his future was doomed" (p. 74). He mentions further that those who had hope increased their chances for survival - the hope of seeing a loved one again or the hope of a dream they possessed. Isaiah speaks to the core of God's missionary heart: "Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined." Christ's light secures the future by faith. His light penetrates darkness, shoving aside gloom and despair. His light supplies hope, today and tomorrow. His light brings joy. The joy is Christ! Joy to the world!
One summer on our vacation to those same mountains of North Carolina, we took a Jeep ride up the mountain. We stopped, climbed into a hole, discovered the cave beneath and followed our guide who held the flashlight. At one point he turned the light off: darkness, pitch black in a sea of confined space. He then turned the light on. I followed the light and found my way out of the dark cave.
God's missionary heart shines His light to invite you to keep your eyes on Jesus, to follow his heart, and to pull you out of the darkness. Joy to the world!