On January 12, 2010, a disastrous earthquake struck the nation of Haiti. By the time the dust had settled, upwards of 150,000 people had lost their lives and more than a million were displaced. Internally Displaced People camps began springing up all over the capital, Port-au-Prince.
I had the chance to go there myself two weeks later. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The streets were filled with rubble. Tent villages were everywhere. People were bathing in public fountains. Fighting over bags of donated rice. It was hell.[BR1]
I wept a lot on that trip. But the thing that really broke my heart was that, when I returned to Haiti six months later, almost nothing had changed. The tent villages hadn’t budged. People were still desperate. Food was still scarce. Six months after the quake and there was no end in sight.
It might come as a bit of a surprise, then, to learn that it was this trip that taught me the most I’ve ever learned about true hospitality.
On this trip to Haiti I had the privilege to spend a week living with a Haitian family in one of these tent villages. The Dazma family[BR2]. I ate what they ate, slept where they slept, and basically tried my best to understand what life was like for them.
The Dazmas, like most Haitian families, were struggling. Their home had collapsed. The father, Presilma, had no way to make money. They struggled every day to get by.
And yet, when my interpreter, Denis, and I arrived on the first day, the mother, Laneze, immediately prepared giant plates of rice and beans for each of us. They gave out of their very limited supply to treat us like honored guests.
When we gave them some money to help cover the cost of food, we had to insist they not buy a chicken. Their first reaction on receiving unexpected money was to throw a feast for us.
Presilma and Laneze insisted on sleeping under a tarp outside so we could stay dry inside the tent with their kids. They kept bringing me their family’s only stool when they saw me sitting on the ground. I didn’t want any special treatment, but their non-stop hospitality was hard to fight.
And then there was what I call their ‘hospitality of the heart.’ The Dazma’s were willing to welcome me into their lives when they were at their absolute lowest point.
They were remarkably honest and open with me about their lives. They let me enter into the center of their family’s day-to-day existence. They exposed the potentially shameful truth that they did not have enough to get by (an especially significant thing in a culture like that).
They also risked all sorts of unknown consequences by having a white guy stay in their tent. What will their neighbors think? What if some unruly men in the community decide to start making trouble? What if I embarrassed them?
Despite all the potential outcomes, their hearts were open. They welcomed a stranger into their home – one of the purest forms of hospitality I can think of.
As my week with them went on, something pretty profound began to dawn on me. I began hearing echoes of a scripture passage I’d heard a million times before, but never like this.
“I was a stranger and you invited me in.” “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat.” In Matthew 25, Jesus says, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”
Was it possible that in that moment, I was one of the “least of these” to the Dazmas?
Boom. Mind blown.
Of all the places I expected to learn about true hospitality, a refugee camp in Haiti was not one of them. The whole experience threw me for a loop.
I was the one with the money and education and connections. But it was the Dazma Family who showed me what hospitality looks like in the kingdom of God.
After the earthquake, many Haitian families did what you or I might do. They looked out for number one. Did whatever it took to make sure they were safe, fed and comfortable.
The Dazmas gave up all of that, and generously opened their lives to a complete stranger. They traded up, from self-sufficiency to true hospitality. From the kingdom of self to the kingdom of God.
And here’s what I want you to hear: You and I can do the same thing. That’s what we’re going to talk about today. Trading up. From me to mission.
Grab your Bibles and turn to the book of Isaiah, chapter 9 (Isaiah 9:2-7 Page ______). We’ll also be in chapter 53, so keep a finger there.
For the last few weeks, we’ve been in a series called “Trading up: From me to mission.” We’ve been looking at the words of the prophet Isaiah and what they teach us about living out the mission of God in our lives.
We’ve talked about Isaiah’s commissioning (“Here am I, send me.”) and how encountering God leaves us no choice but to live out his mission.
We’ve also talked about our need to be reconciled to God. Because when we’ve fully grasped the power of Christ’s sacrifice, we have no choice but to spread the word.
Last week we talked about God’s heart for this broken world. And how our hearts should break as well. We should be prophets to our communities.
Today we’re going to talk about encountering the person of Jesus, who I call the unexpected Messiah.
So we’re going to look at two different chapters where Isaiah prophecies about the coming messiah. But instead of focusing on how his words would have been understood by their original audience in 700 BC, we’re going to look at what they would have meant to the Israelites alive when Jesus walked the earth.
Before we dive in, I want us to try imagining for a moment what it would have been like to live in first century Israel. The Jews had been exiled by enemy nations twice. They had finally returned to their land, but never regained their former power. They had a new temple, but it didn’t hold a candle to the old one.
And then there were the foreign rulers. First the Greeks, then the Romans. Ungodly leaders ruling with an iron fist from the other side of the world. They set up hedonistic puppet kings in Israel who paid little more than lip service to the faith of their ancestors.
Poverty, exploitation, and corruption were rampant. The glory days of Israel had crumbled and the nation was fading into obscurity. Things were pretty bleak.
But the people hadn’t given up hope just yet. They carried with them the words of the prophets, who spoke about a renewal in Israel. Fresh power. A new king. Expanding borders.
The words of Isaiah are humming with these messianic expectations, and it’s not hard to imagine first century Jews holding tightly to these prophecies. Read with me:
2The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.
3You have enlarged the nation
and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice
when dividing the plunder.
4For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,
you have shattered
the yokethat burdens them,
the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor.
5Every warrior’s boot used in battle
and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,
will be fuel for the fire.
6For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the governmentwill be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor,Mighty God,
EverlastingFather,Prince of Peace.
7Of the greatness of his governmentand peace
there will be no end.
He will reignon David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justiceand righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zealof theLordAlmightywill accomplish this.
Ah, can you imagine? As in the day of Midian’s defeat! When Gideon’s 300 soldiers took out an army of thousands. A new king. He will reign on David’s throne forever. Things are bad now, guys, but the kingdom of God is coming… Down with the Romans! There’s a new superpower in town.
Of course, all these great expectations came with a pretty simple problem. Just when would this promised messiah arrive? Well that was the million shekel question.
Everybody had different theories and ideas about this. By the first century, several sects and groups had sprung up with their own claim to the truth.
The Pharisees were all about purity and strict adherence to the law. They believed, essentially, “If we just purify this nation and follow God’s commandments to the letter, the messiah will finally come.” They became the quintessential nitpickers. Creating rules upon rules upon rules for how to live just so. They avoided all contact with the “unclean” and “sinners” who might taint their perfection.
The Sadducees were bootlicking yes-men. They kissed up to the foreign rulers, took bribes and basically lived the good life. Their attitude was essentially, “Sure, these guys aren’t exactly godly, but come on… If we dot our I’s and cross our T’s, they’ll let us do what we want!”
Then there were the Essenes. Pretty much like monks. They saw how corrupt and evil the world was and said, “Well there’s your problem right there. You can’t be pure if you live amongst impurity. We’re out of here.” They moved out to the wilderness so they could avoid the sin of the world altogether.
Finally, there were the Zealots. They were the rebels. The insurrectionists. They looked with disgust at the lack of action around them and decided to take things into their own hands. They assassinated foreign rulers and collaborators, and worked hard to create a rebellion so this military-leader messiah would rise up out of the ranks and lead Israel to global domination.
Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, and Zealots.
Now, I realize I may be oversimplifying a bit. I doubt 1st century Israel was quite so cut and dry. But you get the picture. Everybody wanted a messiah. Everybody expected a messiah. Everybody thought they knew what would bring that messiah. But nobody saw Jesus coming.
He was the unexpected messiah.
You can see it all throughout the gospels. Jesus took everyone’s expectations and turned them on their heads.
His disciples were not the best and the brightest. They were uneducated commoners.
Instead of kicking back as the most important person in the room, he wrapped a towel around his waist and washed his disciples’ feet.
In a world of imprecatory psalms (“May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow.” Psalm 109), Jesus preached about loving your enemies and praying for those who persecute you.
Jesus spoke of salvation for the gentiles.
And then there was communion.
Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the fleshof the Son of Manand drink his blood,you have no life in you.
This idea, of consuming the body and blood of the Incarnate God, even symbolically with bread and wine, was scandalous and disturbing.
Jesus didn’t seem to meet anyone’s expectations and many walked away.
Look back at the book of Isaiah. Chapter 53. Another of Isaiah’s prophecies about Jesus. This rejection was foretold.
Who has believed our message
and to whom has the armof theLordbeen revealed?
He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a rootout of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearancethat we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering,and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hidetheir faces
he was despised,and we held him in low esteem.
The Pharisees wanted purity and strict adherence to the law. Instead, they got a messiah of grace, who looked past people’s brokenness and offered forgiveness regardless of the things they had done.
The Sadducees wanted to maintain the status quo. Instead, they got a rabble-rousing messiah of action who loved shaking things up and calling people out.
The Essenes wanted to escape the corruption of the world. Instead, they got a messiah who waded into the broken places, hung out with “sinners,” and got his hands dirty every day.
And then there were the Zealots. They wanted to overthrow the Romans. Instead, they got a “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s” non-violence-preaching messiah whose kingdom belonged to children and the meek.
He will not shout or cry out,
Or raise his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
And a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
Not exactly the description of a nation-conquering warrior.
It’s no surprise that the people of first century Israel didn’t think much of Jesus. He didn’t fit anywhere in the religion they had created for themselves. He took their tightly held beliefs and turned them upside down.
He proclaimed a kingdom that looked nothing like their expectations. His message of grace was offensive.
7He was oppressedand afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lambto the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
8By oppression and judgmenthe was taken away.
Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgressionof my people he was punished.
9He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the richin his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth.
The Israelites of Jesus’ day all had good intentions. Most of them were plenty religious. But at the end of the day, his message was too offensive. His mission was too costly.
The unexpected messiah became the crucified messiah. And God’s Plan A for the restoration of this world, the Church, started not as a nation-wide transformation, but as a tiny upstart insurgency.
2000 years later, here we are. Grace Church. Central Indiana. We live in a country where 3 out of 4 people call themselves Christians. Where “Jesus is my co-pilot” bumper stickers are a thing. Where many politicians can’t get elected unless they quote scripture.
We know hindsight is 20/20, but we still shake our heads at these dumb Israelites who didn’t see the messiah standing right in front of them. I mean, come on guys, did you read the book of Isaiah?
Jesus’ message of the kingdom isn’t so unexpected anymore.
Or is it?
I wonder… The first century Israelites had the Old Testament. They had prophecy after prophecy painting the picture of the coming messiah. And yet, they completely missed it when Jesus came onto the scene.
They were so confident in the religion they had built, that a messiah who didn’t fit needed to be crucified.
Is it possible that we have fallen into the same trap? Is it possible that in our attempt to have our faith make sense, we’ve started living out a religion of our own design? That we’ve rejected the messiah we claim to follow?
What if we weren’t so different from the first-century Israelites after all?
If you were to design your own religion based on what you know of the world, what would it look like? Take the Bible out of the picture for a second and start with a clean slate. What religion would you create?
Well, I can take a guess. It might go something like this: Things aren’t great in my life. I’m sick, in pain, lonely, whatever… I don’t have enough money. Why is that the case? Well, it must be something I did. Or something I’m not doing. Maybe God is angry at me. If I do the right things, my troubles should go away.
So I need to create a list. Checkboxes. Do this. Do this. Don’t do this. Definitely don’t do this. Do this. And boom. I’ll get what I want. Prosperity, health, money. Happiness in this life. Heaven in the next.
This is humanity’s default. This is how our human brains make sense of the world around us. We want to be in control. That’s why every man-made religion in the world falls into this same exact pattern. Do this and do this and then you can receive a reward.
In Hinduism, if you live perfectly into your caste in this life, you can reincarnate into a higher one in the next life. In Islam, if you live a godly life and obey the commands of Allah, you can go to Paradise when you die. In Buddhism, insight, virtue and mindfulness can lead you to attain Nirvana.
In the religion of Christianity, if your good deeds outweigh your sin, if you go to church regularly, if you live a good life and ask God to forgive you for your sins, you can go to heaven when you die. Check the right boxes and you get eternal life. Not to mention wealth, health and prosperity. (Does anyone remember the Prayer of Jabez fad?)
But friends, all of these religions have it wrong. Yes, even the “religion” of Christianity. No amount of hard work or good intentions or rule-following will reconcile us to God. Checkbox spirituality is nothing but empty ritual.
This is why Jesus was rejected by the people of his day. His kingdom of grace – one where the last are first, the weak are strong, the poor are blessed – it is utterly incompatible with the values of man-made religion.
And when we fall back into our religion of works, we’re no different than the Israelites 2000 years ago.
In Mark 10, a rich young ruler approaches Jesus. He’s followed the law to the letter. As religious as you can get. And yet when Jesus asks him to sell his possessions and follow him, the man walks away sad. He checked all the boxes, but he didn’t have faith.
Following Christ is not a matter of hard work and willpower. It’s a matter of surrender and trust. Surrender to the God who sacrificed his son, and trust that the price has already been paid.
Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was piercedfor our transgressions,
he was crushedfor our iniquities;
the punishmentthat brought us peacewas on him,
and by his woundswe are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and theLordhas laid on him
the iniquityof us all.
Do you see the tense of those verbs? He was pierced. He was crushed. This has been accomplished. The price has been paid. Why would we labor and strive to achieve something that’s already been done? By his wounds we are healed.
Yet again we are faced with a messiah we never could have imagined on our own - the God of the universe becoming one of us and then paying the price himself for our brokenness. What?!?
Who in their right mind would have invented that as a religion? And yet, in God’s kingdom, the standard equation has been reversed. It’s not do this and do this to earn life. It’s this has been done, so now live differently!
We have a choice in front of us, friends. An invitation.
We can continue working and striving and slogging and toiling to earn the approval of God, or we can believe that the price has been paid and trade up to something far better than checkbox spirituality.
Because it’s not about us getting “saved.” As important as that is, it isn’t the end goal. The end goal is us living transformed lives and being God’s instruments in this broken world. Spreading the gospel, caring for the poor and marginalized, healing the sick…
Trusting Jesus with our lives and surrendering our wills to his is not a box to check. It’s not one more requirement we need to fulfill. It’s the first step of a journey that will transform the rest of our lives and impact the lives of many others.
Following Christ, living out the kingdom of God in this world, surrendering ourselves to the messiah is not a religion. It’s a complete life transformation.
I got to see this idea lived out firsthand last month, when I was visiting a Guatemalan village. While I was down there, I got to spend time in the home of a man named Cesar.
Cesar, who was once a farmer, has a rare degenerative condition causing his bones to slowly fuse together. He has been confined to his bed for the last 9 years[BR3] and today can only move his right hand and mouth. He can’t turn his head. He can’t sit up. He’s in pain almost all the time. It’s a horrible thing.
But when we sat down to talk to him, Cesar was nothing like I expected. I thought I’d find a sad, depressed man with a “woe is me” attitude towards life. Shoot. That’s how I’d be.
But instead of bemoaning his circumstances, Cesar spoke at length about how grateful he was to God. Yeah. Grateful.
He’s grateful that God gave him such a wonderful wife who has stuck with him all these years. He’s grateful that God has provided an education for his children, despite the fact that he can’t work.
He’s grateful that he now he has a platform to share the gospel with his neighbors. He told us, “I used to have to pound down their doors to talk about Jesus. Now they come to visit me and I can talk about him all I want!”
Cesar knows the Bible like the back of his hand and quoted passage after passage to us. At one point he looked me straight in the eyes and quoted 1 Thessalonians 5:18. He said, “Be grateful in everything. Be grateful in everything.”
That moment changed my life. I will never think about gratitude the same way again.
But I don’t want to be the only one touched by Cesar’s testimony. I want you to be influenced by it as well. Thankfully, I was able to record Cesar speaking with my phone, and I’m going to play you a bit of it. My friend Lauren did the translating. The man sitting next to him is Rudi, a local pastor. Take a listen.
In Isaiah 40:29-31, and His Word says, “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not faint.” And so, my brothers, I want to share this with you because this is so real, and sometimes when I feel like I cannot do this anymore, when I feel like my strength is completely gone, God and His love give me new strength. But the love of God goes even beyond that, because when He sees that our strength is truly gone, He goes and He multiplies our strength. And isn’t it beautiful to wait upon Him, because those that wait upon Him, we will rise up on wings as eagles? He will give us the strength. We will run and not grow weary. We will walk and we will not faint.[BR4]
Think about what just happened. Cesar, a paralyzed Guatemalan farmer lying in a bed 1,774 miles away just ministered to hundreds of Americans. A man with no reason to be thankful just taught the world about gratitude. Why? Because he said, “Here am I, send me.”
Cesar was laid low by the brokenness of his body. He had every right to become a self-focused victim. But he made a choice to trade up to a missional life. To follow the unexpected messiah and be used by God as an instrument in the healing of this broken world.
When Jesus came to this earth, he was rejected by the people of his day. They wanted religion. He wanted mission. And although his name has become commonplace, his upside down kingdom is no less unexpected today than it was back then.
The kingdom of God is so unexpected, a homeless Haitian family can demonstrate the power of hospitality. The kingdom of God is so unexpected, a paralyzed Guatemalan farmer can teach us the meaning of gratitude. The kingdom of God is so unexpected, a broken, imperfect person like you can change the world.
Yes, you. You with your mess. You with your sin. You with your lack of skills. With your weakness. With your fear. With your unclean lips.
Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coalin his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips;your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”
Then I heard the voiceof the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send?And who will go for us?”
And I said, “Here am I.Send me!”
Isaiah was not the man for the job. He had no reason to be a prophet of God. Cesar had no reason for gratitude. The Dazmas had no reason to be hospitable. And you have no reason to be used as an instrument of the kingdom. But God delights in the unexpected and he has chosen you.
So what’s it going to be, friends?
· Playing it safe? Or risking it all?
· Checkbox spirituality? Or unexpected grace?
· A cookie-cutter life? Or a one-of-a-kind mission?
Many of you in this room have felt the presence of God. Your life has been transformed by Christ. Your fist has clenched at the brokenness of the world. And you have heard the Holy Spirit whispering in your ear, inviting you to live out your destiny.
“Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”
“Here am I. Send me.”
Scroll Photos 01, 02, 03
Audio clip. Please have photo 05 on the screens again during the clip.