Tuesday, January 01, 2013

“SOMETHING BETTER”



Last week we celebrated Christmas, and the coming of the Christ Child, the Savior promised by God to bring hope, joy, love and peace to the world.  Christmas often brings with it thoughts and images of family gatherings around a dinner table with turkey and dressing and sweet potatoes and all sorts of other wonderful food.  All of the children can’t wait to show off their favorite gift that Santa left under the tree.  And all is right with the world, because everyone overflows with genuine love for each other, even love for the nerdy brother-in-law. 

There are many, many people who look forward Christmas as their favorite time of year.  But how many know someone whose tree was a little thin on the gifts this year?  Whose family gathering was tense because of strained relationships?  Whose dinner table had one less chair than previous years?  Or whose reality failed to meet what they expected Christmas ought to be?

The Bible passage of Isaiah 61:1-3 is a prophecy, a promise from God, that He will send someone to give us something better.  The “something better” – better than even the best Christmas you could have – is Jesus Christ, the Messiah.  In fact, the name “Christ” or “Messiah” means “Anointed One.”  At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry on earth he stood up in the synagogue, opened a scroll and read the words from Isaiah, "The Spirit of the Lord is on me. He has anointed me…” 

Anointed?  What’s that?  Well, in short, to be “anointed” means you are set apart and empowered by the Holy Spirit for a particular purpose for God and God’s kingdom. When we ordain and install deacons and elders we lay hands on them, and pray for God’s anointing on them, for His leading and guidance.  I am part of a team that organizes retreats and Christian camps in Southern California.  At our retreats when a speaker comes forward to deliver a message, the leaders also come forward to lay hands on him or her and ask for God’s anointing on the speaker and the message.  When God’s anointing is on the speaker, God gives him or her, the words to deeply touch the hearts of the people who are listening.   When we are aware of God’s anointing, the Holy Spirit takes what we’re doing and brings it to a higher level.  There is no gift better than Jesus' anointing our lives; our ministry; our church; our anointed calling in life.

Jesus Christ had the anointing of the Spirit of the Lord upon him like no one before, and like no one since  Let’s take a closer look at how the work that Jesus was anointed for, gives us something better in our lives: 

I. Jesus was Anointed for proclaiming the good news  A long-time friend of mine wrote a play about a character from the Old West.  After a couple of years of research and writing, he was finally able to publish it on Amazon a couple of months ago.  Great news, right?  I thought so too, when I heard it later from a mutual friend.  But as good as the news of this achievement was, it would have meant so much more to hear it from the author himself, wouldn’t you agree?
During the days of Isaiah when the prophecy was given, God’s people were living in exile, in a pattern of sin.  They had turned their backs on God, worshipping and placing their trust in false gods.  Their actions put a separation between them  and the God that brought them out of slavery in Egypt and into their own land.  Even in this separation, God still loved them and wanted to be in a relationship with His people, but not in their sinful state.  Who better to send than Jesus – God in the flesh – to give us the good news that through believing in him, and asking for and receiving forgiveness for our sins, we can have a life in fellowship with the God who loves us!  We do not have Jesus physically here on earth with us, but we have the next-best thing:  the Bible, God’s love letter to us.

II. Jesus was Anointed for helping the brokenhearted  Part of our nature as humans is to love and hope and dream. To do these things is to share our heart, and that takes trust – trust that your heart will be kept safe.  But we live in a broken world.  Relationships fail.  Hopes shatter.  Dreams lead to disappointment.  When that happens the result is a broken heart.  I don’t know about you, but when I’ve dealt with my own heartbreak, all I wanted to do was hide in a cave and not come out, because I don’t know who or what to trust any more.

As children bring their broken toys
With tears for us to mend,
I brought my broken dreams to God
Because He was my friend.
But then instead of leaving Him
In peace to work alone,
I hung around and tried to help
With ways that were my own.
At last I snatched them back and cried,
“How could you be so slow”
“My child,” He said, “What could I do?
You never did let go.”

Jesus wants to heal our hearts.  He tells us, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me.”  Trust involves letting go of our hurts, so we can receive the “something better” that God wants to give us.

III. Jesus was Anointed for helping those held captive become free  Captivity can come in many forms.  There are those who are held in prison, some for many years or even a life sentence.  Or captivity can be extended illness, restricting your ability to get out of your home.  Or it may be a metaphorical prison, such as living with guilt or shame.  One of the worst forms of captivity is because of circumstances you have absolutely no control over.

In 1985 Terry Anderson was the chief Mideast Correspondent, based in Lebanon, for the Associated Press.  On March 16 of that year, after finishing a tennis game, Anderson was kidnapped at gunpoint, placed in the trunk of a car, and taken to a secret location known only to his captors.  He was held hostage for nearly seven years.  For the first twenty-four days he was chained to his cot, blindfolded.  Imagine being kidnapped by – you don’t know who – and held – you don’t know where – chained and blindfolded for over three weeks, with just your thoughts, mostly of your family and whether you will see them again.  I don’t know about you, but I’d go literally crazy from that kind of agony!  Not long before his kidnapping, Terry Anderson was an agnostic who was beginning to seek God.  He pleaded for a Bible, not knowing what his Islamic captors would do. 

In an interview after some time after his release, Anderson says, “The next day, something thudded on my cot.  My chains were loosened; I sat up.  The blindfold was removed, but a blanket was put over my head so I couldn’t see anything but the book on my lap.  It was a Bible, (hold up a pew Bible) the Revised Standard Version, red cover.”  For the next seven years of his captivity, he scoured the Bible, book by book, page by page, reading it probably 50 times.  Each time he found something new to sustain him.  Although he was not physically free, Terry Anderson knew that through Jesus he had a freedom that nothing else could give him.

In John chapter 6 Jesus was giving some teaching that many followers found difficult, and many turned away and deserted him.  At that point, Jesus asked his disciples, “Are you also going to leave?”  Peter recognized Jesus offered something better.  He said, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life.  We believe, and we know you are the Christ – the Anointed One – the Son of God.” 

IV. Anointed for proclaiming God's favor  We all have favorites.  A favorite movie – mine is “Finding Neverland”;  or a favorite time of year – Autumn!  A favorite pair of jeans … and it feels good to be someone’s favorite.  We might have a favorite actor, or pastor, or athlete … or favorite friend.  I actually have a t-shirt that says “Jesus loves you, but I’m his favorite!”

Now, God does not have favorites – he loves everyone the same.  But there are times where it sure feels like you’re the favorite.  I remember when I was looking to change jobs. I was told I was good at what I did, but I was not happy.  I was in a position and a career track where the next step would be a promotion.  In fact at that time I was invited to apply for positions that would be a step up.  After much prayer and input from many people who knew me well, I knew that was not the course God wanted me to take.  I decided to find a position that was a step backward.  It was not an easy decision.  Besides the step down in income, I was also concerned with what people might say about me taking a demotion as “something better.”  But you know what?  I felt like I was really God’s favorite – Opportunities came up at the perfect time, for the perfect job, for the perfect office, and no one questioned why I was taking the step back.  In fact, there were many coworkers who told me they admired me for doing it! 

I believe that a big part of why I felt so favored was because I was seeking the Lord’s guidance every step of the way.  But God’s favor isn’t only for when we make big decisions.  It’s in the everyday stuff as well.  When someone favors you, they do things for you and give you special privileges they don’t give to anyone else.  In Matthew 6, Jesus invites us to look at God’s provision and beauty in the world around us.  “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”  “See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you?”  God favors us so much that he offers us something he does not offer any other beings, including Satan and the angels that rebelled with him.  He offers us salvation through Jesus Christ, even when we turned our backs on him.  For when we were still sinners, Christ died --- for US!  For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life.  For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.  God favors us so much, he wants us to spend eternity with him in heaven!

V. Anointed for comforting those who mourn  
We all remember the terrible shooting at Sandy Hook school in Connecticut just two weeks ago.   To the town of Newtown this was their 9-11.  As a nation our hearts broke for the victims and their families, and for the innocence lost.  As we struggle to make sense of it all, some might ask, “Where is God?” 

When Lazarus died and Jesus arrived days later, Lazarus’ sister Mary fell at his feet, weeping. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 

Jesus was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.  Jesus wept too. 

In times of loss, we do often question “why.”  Just as important – probably even more important – than answers is just having someone who will come beside you, put their arm around you, and allow you to simply grieve.  Did you know that God keeps track of our sorrows? That our very tears are so important to God that he keeps them in a bottle in heaven?  Psalm 34 tells us, “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”  God is right here, right with us, in the midst.  When our heart breaks, God’s heart breaks just as much, or even more. 

But death is not the end.  Jesus told Martha and Mary, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; 26 and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.  Do you believe this?”

Do you believe?  There are two possible answers.  Yes, or No.  A “no” answer leaves a sense of lostness, helplessness, hopelessness.  Their beloved is gone – and there are no words to comfort the ones left behind.

Yet, for those who do believe, for those who have accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior, there is cause for much gladness and joy. Because of Christ we have the hope – no, the promise! – that we will see our cherished ones again.   He will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and there will be no more death, sadness, crying, or pain, because all the old ways are gone.  It doesn’t get any better than that!

Jesus gives us something better.  A better life as we speak of His good news.  A better life as we help the brokenhearted.  A better life to help those who are captive become free.  A better life to experience God's favor and share it with others.  A better life as we comfort those who mourn. Christ anoints us to do all this!!

Amen.

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