Welcome to Summit Church on this blustery winter weekend in the Triangle. In just, what, 10 days, Wednesday week after next, we are going to be together at the Durham Performing Arts Center, doing something we've done now for several years called Christmas at DPAC. It is one of the best things, maybe the best thing we do all year long. And I know that you want to plan to be there and to bring somebody with you. Let me tell you real quickly, just remind you while we do these kinds of things, these special events, we realize that we don't always get to be together as a church, we're in nine different campuses. And so this brings us together, even though we have different services, it's people from every campus that are able to see and reconnect each other.
So we try to do it a couple times. The other reason we do it is because we know events like these can provide a catalyst for you inviting somebody that may not receive your invitation just to come to church with you on the weekend. We still believe that the weekend service is probably the best thing for you to invite somebody to, but studies show that there are two times a year that people who don't go to church, the majority of them say they would receive an invitation from a friend to go to a Christian event. And one of those is Christmas.
The other one, of course, is Easter. And so we provide these as a way of giving you something that you can use to invite neighbors and friends who may not come with you on a normal weekend. And so I hope you'll take advantage of that. You do need tickets to get there. The tickets are free, but you can get them online.
You need one to get in. You'll notice that some services are already sold out. And so if the tickets for the service that you want to go to are sold out, you can do one of two things. You can keep checking back at SummitRDU.com because we always are having people that take too many or they have to cancel for some reason, and so they turn their tickets back in.
Especially as we get closer to the dates, you'll see a lot of tickets that come available. And the second thing you can do is just show up. You can show up. You have to have a ticket to get in, but every year we have people that come to the service and say, man, the people just couldn't come, and so I need to turn these back in. We've done this for four years now, and we have yet to ever turn away a single person at a service. So you can probably just show up, and chances are there'll be something there. Now, having said that, let me just use this as a time to friendly remind you.
I love and admire your faith. You're like, I'm going to invite my whole zip code, 27613. We're all coming, and I'm going to take a whole service. Don't do that. Be realistic because realize that when you take a ticket, you're actually keeping it from somebody else who might use it.
So, yes, we want you to invite people, but we also want you to be realistic and don't mess it up for everybody else, all right? So that's the way that works. Last weekend, we did what we kicked off our multiply with our first big give weekend, and I told you the goal was that we wanted to have the single largest offering we've ever had at the Summit Church, and I am very pleased to tell you that you did that by a long shot. Last weekend, $2.23 million was given to the Summit Church, which is more than double any other weekend we've ever had. So, in fact, amen.
Put your hands together. That's awesome. In reporting that, I do want to remind you that our financial goals are only secondary here. Our primary goal, as we have said, is that every member of the Summit Church would say yes to the Lord Jesus Christ and what He is leading them to do, and that we would all, every one of us that is a part of this church, would learn what it means to honor Jesus in all areas of our life, including our finances. And so this multiply season has helped really move us along in pursuit of that goal, but the goal remains the same, is that every single person who identifies themselves with this church would honor Jesus and follow Him in this way.
Well, last weekend, Pastor Rodell kicked off a series that we are doing called Carol's Sermons You Can Sing, and he got up with his big old majestic Spanish voice, and he, joy to the world. And I have had so many of you that came up to me after this. I'm like dozens of you and said, well, you're going to kick off your sermon next week with singing. If I had a nickel for every person that said that to me, we wouldn't need to do another multiply. I can't be. So, I mean, seriously, I heard about it.
I mean, it probably was like 100 times, so you asked for it. Here we go. Brandon, hit it.
You ready? Go. Hold on.
It's early. You got to start that again. Do it one more time. I get it this time.
Ready? All right. Here we go. Go tell it on the mountain.
Over the hills and everywhere. Go tell it on the mountain that Jesus Christ is born. All right.
All right. Pastor Riddell, I will see you one Christmas carol and raise you one. We do not know exactly who wrote go tell it on the mountain or who just sang it there. But we do know that it was a slave song, most likely composed in the south sometime between 1840 and 1860, right before the United States civil war.
The text of the song goes like this. While shepherds kept their watching over silent flocks by night, behold throughout the heavens there shone a holy light. The shepherds feared and trembled when low above the earth, rang out the angel chorus that hailed our savior's birth. Down in a lonely manger, the humble Christ was born. And God sent us salvation that blessed Christmas morn. He made me a watchman upon the city wall.
And if I am a Christian, I am the least of all. Go tell it on the mountain. Over the hills and everywhere, go tell it on the mountain that Jesus Christ is born.
So much wonderful imagery in this song. The song appears to be based on two primary passages of scripture. First, obviously the story of the shepherds in Luke chapter two. And second, maybe less obviously, Isaiah 52 seven, if you have a Bible, I'd invite you to open it to Isaiah 52 seven, because that's where we will be for the rest of the morning. Isaiah 52 seven where the prophet Isaiah foretells a day when the good news of the Messiah will be announced throughout the whole earth. Isaiah wrote these words nearly 750 years before Jesus Christ was born.
And after he talked about the death of Jesus Christ and how the Messiah would die for our sins, Isaiah says this in chapter 52 verse seven. How beautiful upon the mountains, go tell it on the mountain or the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, your God reigns. So the writer of this carol, this slave says, go to the mountains and tell this good news about Jesus being born.
I'll explain the importance of the mountain imagery in a moment, but first know that the apostle Paul is going to use this exact same text in Isaiah as his primary text for establishing the Christian mission, which is what Christians now call the great commission. In Romans 10 14, Paul explains the urgency of the gospel, how Jesus Christ has died to make a way for every people of every time to be able to come to God and that people need to accept the gospel and they need to receive it for themselves if they're going to be saved. And then Paul concludes that explanation of the urgency of the gospel with these words, Romans 10 14 and 15.
How then will they call on him and whom they have not believed and how are they to believe in him and whom they have not heard and how are they to hear without somebody preaching and how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, Isaiah 52 seven, how beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news. So what this song does in picking up on Isaiah 52 seven, it does what the apostle Paul did is it takes this verse and it connects the Christmas story to the great commission and it highlights and so doing it highlights three very important and I would say rather surprising things about the good news, about the good news of Christmas and they are these three. Number one, to whom the good news comes. Number two, what the good news brings. And then number three, where the good news sends.
We'll deal with those one at a time. Number one, to whom the good news comes. This song notes in the first three verses of the song that the message came first to the shepherds. Now that the slave who wrote this song felt drawn to the story of the shepherds is not surprising since shepherds were considered to be the lowest class of people in Jewish society at the time, much like the slaves would have been considered the lowest class in their time. We have this romanticized version of the nativity. I often tell you this where shepherds are these good looking strapping young men in cool outfits with sashes and bandanas, which we assume were cool in a first century kind of way. Their faces are reverent, clean shaven.
They're sitting there humbly pondering the mysteries of the Christ child. That is not at all the picture that you get if you understand the culture of the Bible. Shepherds were basically homeless people. They were always dirty. I mean they stayed outside with animals for weeks at a time.
They were the kind of people that you could smell before you saw them. Shepherding was the least desirable job in Israel. It was for them the ultimate unskilled labor.
Here's how I can prove that to you. They gave that job to children. You've heard shepherd boy, right? Shepherd boy, I mean the reason you know that is because it's a job you got when you were in middle school. It's what seventh graders did is they watched the sheep. In other words, when you were a grown man and you were still a shepherd, that meant a total life fail. When you were asked at a party, what does your son do? You never wanted to answer, he's a shepherd. The next question will be, what went wrong? Why, what happened?
He had so much promise. It's like saying, my son plays video games in the basement all the time and he blogs. It's just not the kind of thing you wanna say. And they weren't considered respectable citizens either since they had to work seven days a week. So they couldn't take the Sabbath off. They never went to temple. Shepherds were so low in Jewish society that rabbinic tradition tells us their testimony was not even accepted in court.
You could have 10 shepherds that all saw you do something and they would all tend to say the same thing and it would not be accepted in court because they were shepherds. That's how lowly esteemed they were in Jewish society. So needless to say, they're not the typical candidates to receive the first announcement about the birth of the King of Kings. I have a friend who is a CEO of a really successful startup company here in the Triangle.
In 2008, then presidential candidate Barack Obama asked if he could launch his campaign in North Carolina from the steps of this guy's office building in the Research Triangle Park. It's not hard to see why. His company was very successful, it was young, it was innovative, it represented the future, and so that campaign wanted to identify itself with that kind of young, aspiring, successful leader. That's not hard at all to understand. What is hard to understand is why the angels would choose to inaugurate Jesus' beginning of his kingdom with a group of people most despised in Jewish society. Why did they do it that way?
The answer is very simple. It was to demonstrate from its inception on earth the very nature of the gospel itself. You see, in coming to the shepherds, God reached down to those that everybody considered to be on the bottom, showing that there was no one too broken, no one too poor, no one too insignificant for Jesus' kingdom. In fact, you're gonna find out in the ministry of Jesus that he prefers the poor and the broken.
Why would he prefer them? Because they're in a better position to receive the good news. They realize they need it. The essence of sin, you see, the core element of sin is pride. And pride is just the idea that we don't really need God, that we're sufficient without him. And whenever you're rich in something, whenever you're successful, whenever you're respectable in some area of your life, it often usually deludes you into thinking you don't really need God in that area of your life. So those who are rich in money feel like they've got enough money to guarantee tomorrow. So they don't think much about needing to stay right with God in order to guarantee their security for the future, because they got enough money to guarantee their future. That's why Jesus said it's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to go to heaven.
Why? Because they don't ever come to a point where they realize just how much they need God. Those who are rich in talent or good looks feel like they have everybody else's approval, so they don't really think that much about God's. If I got everybody else telling me I'm awesome, I'm not that obsessed with whether or not God thinks I'm awesome. Those who are rich in moral goodness, those who are respectable, those who are looked up to assume that if God's gonna accept anybody, well, he's gonna accept them. We all kind of think that God grades on the curve and we're like, if God accepts anybody, I'm definitely respectable and people think that I'm awesome like this, and so he's gonna accept me.
But this sense of self-sufficiency, this sense of respectability is all an illusion. One conversation with a doctor that you weren't expecting after a routine checkup can shatter everything in your life and some of you know that from experience. And all this might that you had, all these prospects you had about the future suddenly changes with one conversation with an oncologist. One conversation, one phone call telling you there's been a wreck, there's been a wreck involving your wife and your children can destroy everything that you cherish most in life.
One unexpected summons into your boss's office on a Friday afternoon could ruin all your financial prospects. And if you think that you're good people, respectable, decent people, it's just because we compare ourselves to the wrong standard. I've told you before that whenever I start feeling good about myself, which happens from time to time, it's always because I'm just comparing myself to somebody else and thinking I'm doing a lot better than they're doing. But see, then I look into God's word and I start to see what Jesus said about those who enter the kingdom of heaven. And he makes statements like this. He said, Matthew 18, that I had to be so surrendered to him if I wanted to go into his kingdom, I had to be so surrendered to him that if he told me to sell everything and give it to the poor, I would do it without a second thought. He told me that if I wanted to enter in the kingdom of heaven, my heart had to be so full of love that when somebody stole my jacket from me, my first impulse, my instinct was to offer them my shirt also. That's the kind of heart that God lets into his kingdom because that's the heart that God has.
He told me that if I wanted to enter his kingdom, Matthew five, my heart had to be so pure that I'd never even thought lustfully about somebody who was not my spouse. I started looking into the right standard and I realized that underneath all this religious makeup, I know that I'm a dark-hearted sinner. And maybe I am better than you, some of you in certain areas. And maybe you're better than me, but the point is once you, this means that we know how to put our makeup on better. Then once you strip the makeup away, you see that you are a dark-hearted sinner just like me throughout my life. Throughout my life, I realized I've been one of the most self-willed, rebellious, deceitful people I've ever known. And maybe that's just because I know what's inside my heart more than I know what's in yours. But see, I always thought that I knew best and I've always wanted to do things my own way.
The person who has lied to and disappointed and broken more promises to me than anybody else is me. I am a dark-hearted sinner and I have no hope of earning God's favor. So the question is no longer how good do you have to be to earn God's favor?
That's a non-starter. The only question when you understand things are do you realize you're so bad that you can never earn God's favor? God's favor has to be received as a gift.
It's the only way it can be received. It cannot be merited or earned and shepherds and slaves are usually in a better position to be able to realize that. That's why Jesus in Luke 18 tells a story that was scandalous.
If you think about it today, it's still scandalous, but it was especially scandalous back then. He says two men go into the temple to pray. One man everybody recognizes. It's the religious leader in the local synagogue. It's the guy everybody looks up to. Don't think religious hypocrite, by the way.
This is not what Jesus was presenting. We're talking about the kind of guy in the summit church that everybody knows. There's your prayer leader. Man, when it's time to pray, that guy's always there and he's praying loud and he's praying hard. He's the guy greeting everybody at the door. He's the guy that does childcare, volunteers when nobody else will volunteer. He's the guy who serves on the deacon team. He's the guy that gave the largest gift in the multiply initiative.
And we're talking somebody that you're like, that guy's awesome. And Jesus says he comes down front to pray because that's where people like to see him. And he goes down front and while he's praying, he's thinking about all the righteous things he's done and how God must sure be happy because all those righteous things that he's done and that kind of guarantees his place with God. Jesus said there's another man who stands in the back. He stands in the back for two reasons.
One, everybody hates him. He's a tax collector. And tax collectors in their day were the lowest of the low, morally speaking, because they were traitors. They extorted money from Jewish people to give it to the Roman oppressors.
And so we're talking bottom of the barrel for them. They were thieves and they were crooked. So he's standing back there because he's hated, but he's also standing back there because he knows that he is so wicked that he doesn't have any place in God's kingdom. And he stands back there and all he does, he doesn't pray and think about his righteousness.
He lays on his face and he beats his chest. He beats his chest and Jesus says, he says over and over again, God be merciful to me a sinner. And then Jesus says the most scandalous thing. He says one of those men went home justified. One of those men went home right with God.
And it's not the one that the Jewish people, not the one that many of us would think. It wasn't the man that everybody looked up to. It was the tax collector because this man came in, this good man came in with his righteousness, which was no righteousness at all in God's sight. And he left with that righteousness, but that tax collector came in with only the knowledge of his guilt. And he left with the gift righteousness of Jesus Christ and the gift righteousness of Jesus Christ is righteousness indeed.
And because he was in a place where he knew he needed it, then he was more liable to receive it than those who were morally respectable. You see shepherds and slaves and tax collectors are usually in a better place to receive the gospel than those of us who are not any of those three things because when you're flat on your back, you're usually looking the right direction. You don't have to be a shepherd.
You don't have to be a slave. You don't have to be a tax collector to be saved, but you have to have the heart of one to be saved. You have to become like a child, a slave, a tax collector and a shepherd because you have to know your need. In Christianity, all you need is need, but you need need.
And if you don't have need, then you won't have Jesus. Number two, what the good news brings. To whom the good news comes, number two, what the good news brings. Like many Negro spirituals, this song focuses on God's promise of relief from suffering. You see as slaves, the world they lived in was a terrible world full of injustice and pain, but they knew that the birth of Jesus Christ was bringing about a new world in which sin and suffering and slave masters would no longer reign over them. So again, Isaiah 52, seven, that the writer of this carol is thinking about how beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness and publishes salvation, who says to Zion, your God reigns. Last week, Pastor Rodell showed us that the most famous Christmas carol in the world, Joy to the World, was written by a man, Isaac Watts, in the midst of intense suffering. And joy to the world was a declaration that sin and suffering and injustice did not reign.
They would not have the last word, that God reigns. In fact, that's the way he phrased it in the song. Joy to the earth, the savior reigns. And in one of the most, my favorite phrases from that Christmas carol, he says this, he comes to make his blessings flow far as the curse is found. Everywhere the curse is found, everywhere the curse has touched, everywhere the curse is broken, that's where the savior is gonna reverse the curse.
He's going to heal what is broken. This slave that wrote this song had felt the sting of the curse in just about every area of his life. The curse was felt in the shame of his subjugation. The curse was felt in the injustice and abuse that he had endured at the hands of others. It was felt in the thankless toil that he endured at the oppression of others. It was felt in the broken family that he was probably a part of.
We've all heard the horror stories of families in slave culture when the kids get old, the slave master takes the kids and sells them and separates these families, separates husbands and wives and fathers and sons and mothers and daughters so that they never see each other again. This man had felt the curse in every area of his life and the good news that he is declaring. He said all of this is temporary and that Jesus one day will reverse all of that in establishing a new world. You all, in my opinion, we don't talk about this aspect of the gospel enough. We talk about salvation as God's forgiveness of our sins, about him wiping the slate clean, about him removing our guilt before God, and that the gospel certainly is, but the gospel is also healing. Jesus didn't just die to take away the guilt of our sin. He resurrected to reverse the pain of our sin.
And his resurrection is a reversal of the curse. You see, many people envision heaven as this bodiless, colorless existence where we float around on clouds and play harps all day and sing in the choir and go to church. A recent study I looked at showed that two-thirds of evangelical believers, which just means people in churches like this one, don't think we'll have a body in heaven. They don't think we'll have a body and we're just kind of up there and we're just sort of in the presence of God and we're floating around and we're playing harps and, you know, some and that kind of stuff, but that's not what heaven is. In fact, the Bible's name for heaven is, listen, the new heavens and the new earth. New heavens and new earth means it is like the old heavens and old earth, just newer and better and awesomer.
It's like a healed version of it. You know, it's kind of like if I told you that, you know, I drove a 1983 Nissan Sentra that had no radio and the air conditioner was broke and the heater ran nonstop and it had 398,000 miles on it, but I got a new car. Come look at it in the parking lot. When you walk out there, you're not expecting to see a horse. You're not expecting to see a helicopter. You're expecting to see a car like the Nissan Sentra, just a lot more awesome, right? That's a new car, right? So new heavens and new earth means old heavens, old earth, not something fundamentally different.
We're talking about something that's like the old one, just not broken down and just a lot better. And you know, I gotta be honest, I love sitting around imagining what that is. What's that like? What is a glorified ribeye tastes like?
I bite into a ribbon. I'm like, if that's the cursed one, what is the healed one tastes like? You know, I don't think we'll eat meat in heaven. Jesus ate fish after he resurrected from the dead.
So boom, and God put that in the Bible for people like me. What's the heavenly Grand Canyon look like? What does the heavenly Hawaii look like?
I'm like, if that's the cursed Hawaii, what does the real Hawaii look like? There's a heavenly Dean dome in heaven where the tar heels win every single game. At the buzzer, it always goes our direction. You're like, well, why you gotta use UNC?
Why don't you use Duke? I'm not trying to be biased, just by definition, there can be no devils in heaven, right? There will be a heavenly Duke, but you're gonna have to change that mascot because God ain't gonna have any devils in heaven winning anything. Where is the curse? Where's the curse touch the earth? Because that's the place that God's gonna reverse it.
He's gonna heal it. Where has it touched you? Is it in your marriage? Is that where the curse touched you? Is it in your physical body? Is it with your children?
Is it in your job? I've been reading Isaiah this week in my own time with God and I came across a verse that I absolutely love and I just forget about that. Then I read it again and I'm like, oh, I love this verse. Isaiah 49, 22, this is what the sovereign Lord says. Listen to this, in that day, I'll give the signal.
What's that signal gonna be like? And then they will carry your little sons back to you in their arms and they will bring your daughters back to you on their shoulders. What does that mean? Well, to the slave, it meant that that family that had been torn apart by injustice would one day be restored, right? It means that that parent who's lost a child, lost a son to an untimely death is gonna see that son brought back, I would assume by the angels in their arms or that lost daughter who died when she was four years old carried back to you on the angels, on the shoulders of the angels.
What a glorious day that will be. And see that's good news for shepherds and that's good news for slaves and that's good news for people who have walked through the valley of the shadow of death and it's good news for people who suffered and it's good news for people that are in pain and it's good news for you and for me. Number three, where are the gospel? Where are the good news sins? To whom it comes?
What it brings? Number three, where are the good news sins? This Christian brother of ours, this slave says you gotta tell this everywhere. You see if the good news really means that there's nobody too lowly for God to pursue, if the good news means that there's no one so insignificant that God would overlook them, if there's no one so guilty that God would forsake them, no one so broken that God wouldn't heal them, no one so lost that God couldn't find them if Jesus really is able to save to the uttermost all who come to God through faith in his finished work then you gotta tell this everywhere because there is no element of society, no people on earth, no brokenness that this message of salvation will not penetrate and heal. Let me now explain the mountain imagery because I think we're in a place where we can understand it. You see in those days most cities in the Middle East were settled between mountains and so in a day before cell phones and before radio communication when a city was awaiting some kind of news, maybe it was a battle that was taking place that threatened their kingdom, the city waiting on this news would look up to the top of the mountains because that's the first place you would see the messenger come carrying the good news. So you had the watchmen on the city walls who are waiting and watching, looking on the crest of the mountain for the messenger to come over the mountain with the flag and there was a certain flag that represented this is good news and then the watchmen would begin to publish the news that the messenger is coming, the battle has been won and we have been saved. That's why the writer of Go Tell It on the Mountain uses that in the fifth verse. The watchmen on the wall, the watchmen upon the city wall, he made me that watchman. I'm the one who has seen salvation. I'm the one who has experienced it and now I get to tell the rest of the city, I get to tell these people that salvation has come.
You see Isaiah 52, Isaiah imagines groups of people scattered all over the world in different cities, different nations, different languages, different situations, different classes of people all waiting, all waiting, overwhelmed and oppressed by the curse, scared of death, without hope. And here comes the messenger to announce the battle is over and the kingdom has been restored. When I read this, it reminded me of that scene from the second book of the Lord of the Rings, Nerd Alert, The Two Towers. Aragorn, Theoden, Theoden and Legolas, who are the good guys, they got this little small remnant army, they're trapped by these huge armies of orcs of Sauron and they're about to be destroyed. Now all hope is gone when Aragorn remembers the promise that Gandalf gave him the last time he saw him. And the promise was at first light on the fifth day, look to the east, look to the mountain of the east and you will see my coming. Gandalf is the good wizard. And so Aragorn walks out and he looks up, there's all these armies of oppression that are about to destroy them and he looks up to the east, right as the sun is coming up and it pops its head over the mountain and there is Gandalf with all the cavalry of the Rohirrim coming over the crest of the hill bringing rescue and salvation.
That is exactly the kind of scene, in fact J.R.R. Tolkien may have been thinking about that when he wrote that but that's the scene that Isaiah pictures is that there's a group of people that are surrounded by hopelessness and oppression and over the mountain comes salvation but it's a messenger whose feet are beautiful. Feet are not a beautiful part of the body.
They are not, right? You don't want to see my feet, I don't want to see your feet but when your feet carry good news of salvation then their feet themselves become beautiful. And Isaiah says there's no group anywhere. There's no matter how broken or lost, shepherds or slaves or homeless, who are surrounded by whatever mountains of oppression for whom Jesus has not won the victory. So you got to scale those mountains.
You got to go everywhere to all groups of all peoples and all places at all times and all situations and tell them the battle has been won. I know of a pastor up in Newark, New Jersey who a couple of Christmases ago was preaching and he actually was using Go Tell It on the Mountain and he said he wanted to get out of this cute little nativity scene mindset that everybody kind of has and he wanted to find a way to make this real. So he just asked the question. He said who would Jesus come to today if he came? 2,000 years ago he came to the shepherds.
Who would the equivalent of the shepherds be today? And he figured the closest equivalent to the shepherds in our day would be the homeless. So he decided that week in preparation for his sermon rather than just pouring through commentaries he decided he would live on the street for a couple of days as a homeless man.
Here's how he shares it with his congregation that Sunday. He told them on Wednesday of this week I decided to be homeless and to live on the streets for a couple of days. He went down to Penn Station in downtown Newark, New Jersey because that's where he said he most often encountered homeless people and he said the first thing I noticed was that the homeless were kind of a mixture of different kinds of people. A lot of them were old. Some of them were mentally disabled. Some of them were drug addicts.
Many of them had good jobs at one point but some kind of tragedy set them on a tailspin and they tried to medicate it through alcohol and drugs and so eventually it destroyed their lives. He said that the next thing I noticed about the homeless is that they always seem to be seeking rest. He says in Penn Station they were always trying to get close to the benches and the public restrooms so they could lay down and sleep for a while but every 10 or 15 minutes the police would come along with a little baton and they would smack the bench or smack their legs and make them get up and walk around. At 3 p.m. he said the homeless shelters in Newark closed their doors. He said sir if you're not in by 3 p.m. then you're gonna be on the streets for the night. He said at 11 p.m. they closed Penn Station and so we all got kicked out and I walked out with a homeless woman whose name was Milagro and I asked her what I was supposed to do next and she graciously told me about a bridge that she slept under that had a few extra spots and invited me to come and be close to them for the evening. He says as we walked along the streets I then learned that the first spots to go in the city streets are the benches. Benches are like VIP seating for homeless people.
If you can find a spot next to a storm drain where hot air was blowing out then that was awesome too. She taught me how to sleep on the streets. She said you put down your cardboard box and then you spread your blanket on it and you lay on it. He said I was pretty uncomfortable so she showed me how to sleep with my back against the wall or against the stairs.
That way she said nobody can attack you from behind. At 1 a.m. I finally fell asleep. He says I was woken up just a few minutes later by somebody kicking my boots.
It was the guy who goes around cleaning up cigarette butts on the streets and all he said was out, out, out. At 2.30 I saw my first drug deal, 2.30 in the morning. All these teenage kids showed up under this bridge with cash so that they could buy a hit. So some of them came over and actually offered it to me and I said nah, I mean I gotta preach in three days so probably wouldn't be good. So the police drove by multiple times that evening and they paid no attention to us.
It was just a normal night in Newark. I went over to a woman I saw on the ground to offer her a pair of socks. She freaked out and recoiled.
She thought I was going to rape her or attack her. And he said this, listen, the homeless, it turns out they never really rest. The next morning I decided to ask passers by for a buck for coffee. He said it was like I was invisible. It was like the Red Sea parting around me and then I realized at that moment that I'm normally on the other side of this equation. I'm the one coming out of the concerts, the games.
I'm the one coming out of the coffee shop telling the kids not to pay any mind to these people. It was devastating to be on this side, to be invisible. Imagine taking this day after day, month after month, maybe even year after year. What's it like to live this way for years and not be able to go home after two days to my family and my warmth and my comfort?
What if your primary hope in life is just to get the good bench at night? Mother Teresa says it's the poverty of being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for, which is the greatest poverty of them all. The writer of this carol, the writer Isaiah, knows that these are the ones that Jesus came to first, that that was the mountain he scaled so that he could come to them and publish salvation. And the writer of this Christmas carol says, don't they deserve to know? Shouldn't we be scaling the mountains of homelessness to get the gospel to them? Over Thanksgiving, my oldest two daughters and I took a mission trip to the Dominican Republic when my daughters turned 10 years old. I try to take them on a mission trip. So my oldest daughter's 12, my second daughter is 10, and so we went back to the Dominican Republic with a group called Compassion, which is a mission organization that our church partners very closely with. And the way that Compassion works is you sponsor a child that is in a poverty-stricken country, and so we have one for each of our children, and they sponsor them, and then they write them letters throughout the year and just stay up with their lives. So you go and you take a trip, and me and a few dads here at the Summit Church and our kids went, and the way it works is this, is you go visit some of the projects in the Dominican Republic where, and this is one of the countries they're in, but you visit these projects where they are helping kids get their basic needs met. They are in education, some really impressive education and technical skill training programs, and then spiritually they're teaching them what it means to walk with Jesus.
They always work through a local church there in one of these places. And so you spend time, a couple days with the projects, they do what they call an in-home visit where you visit one of the kids that's just been inducted into Compassion. And the little girl that we visited with had only been in the program about two months, and she, two months before, had been rescued out of the sex trafficking industry in the Dominican Republic at five years old. And now she's here. I mean, the place she lived was, the way one of my daughters described it, was like a tin can.
It was a hovel, but she was safe and she was involved in this program. And you're just seeing, it's just amazing seeing how these kids are being transformed and being changed. Well, we had three translators with our group, all of whom were in their early 20s, Dominican Republic young adults, and just some of the most impressive people I've been around. They were smart, they were articulate, they loved Jesus, it was contagious.
You're just blown away by these, you know, in fact, they were some of the most impressive 20-year-olds I'd ever been around anywhere. And on the last day of your trip, oh, I forgot one thing. On the day before, they bring in all the kids that you sponsor and you hang out with them for an afternoon and you get to meet them and just love them and just get to know them and kind of, well, give them gifts and it's awesome. Well, the last day these three translators reveal that they grew up in the compassion program, that they were ones that had been born either in poverty or been impoverished. One of the girls, one of the translators, her name was Diana, she starts telling us her story on the last day and she says, the little five-year-old girl you visited was a lot like me. She says, my dad abandoned us when I was a kid and it sent us into poverty. And she said, probably the biggest thing was his rejection of me. I took as a rejection of my whole life. I thought that nobody loved me.
I thought that his, he loved me because there was something wrong with me. And she said, I realized it just carried this like a cloud for the next several years. She said, it was my sponsor in the United States, somebody like you that began to write me and began to just tell me over the years that I mattered to God and that I mattered to them and that God had not forgotten about me and that God loved me and that God has sent his son to die for me and it gave me a plan to believe him when I felt like nobody else believed in me. And she said, so I completed this program and now she said, I've got a job, I've got a future ahead of me, but it was because somebody bridged this gap and somebody entered my life and told me about these things. And the question that you are presented with on a trip like that, when it's not out of sight and out of mind, as you say, who scales that mountain to tell those kids that they matter to God?
Amy Carmichael, who was the missionary to India a hundred years ago, started an orphanage over there. She said, does it not stir up our hearts to go forth and help them? Does it not make us long to leave our luxury or exceedingly abundant light to go to them that still sit in darkness if the good news really means that there's nobody too lowly that God would overlook them, there's nobody so guilty that God would forsake them, no one so broken that God would not heal them, how could we not scale that mountain to take the gospel, the good news of liberation to them? It was said that Hudson Taylor, who was one of the early pioneers that carried the gospel to China back in the 1850s, they always said that he could barely stand to be in a church service like this one, where there were a thousand English people, he was from England, he said when we go back, I couldn't stand to be in the service, it's not that I didn't like worship, it's not that I didn't like crowds, he said I just couldn't stand the sound of a thousand people who were just bathing in the light of the gospel knowing that there were millions of Chinese who never even heard Jesus' name, he said so when I would go speak at these churches, I literally could not stay in there for the worship, I'd have to go outside because it was too overwhelming to me, I know that there's this mountain, that mountain for him represented Chinese culture and he had to scale it, but they had to hear, and see most of us are sitting around still talking about, well I don't know if I'm called, waiting on some special Damascus road experience to tell us to get engaged, William Booth who founded the Salvation Army, minister to the homeless and still ministers of the homeless used to say it this way, not called, not called did you say, refused to hear the call I think you should say, just put down your ear to the Bible and hear him bid you go and pull sinners out of the fire of sin, put your ear down to the burdened, agonized heart of humanity and listen to its pitiful wail for help, go stand by the gates of hell and hear the damned entreat you to go back to their father's house and warn their brothers and sisters not to come there, and then look Jesus in the face whose mercy you have professed to obey and tell him you will not join heart and soul and body and circumstance in this march to publish his mercy to the world. It is no longer a question of calling he says, it's a question of obedience, or like we often say at the Summit Church, the question is no longer if you're called, that call was given to you when you began to follow Jesus, follow me and I'll make you a fisher of men, the question is only where and how you are called.
The Great Commission is not a special suggestion for a sacred view of us that went to seminary, the Great Commission is a mandate for everybody. Go tell it on the mountain is not a sentimental song we sing at Christmas time, go tell it on the mountain is the marching orders and the mandate for every person who knows the name of Jesus, so the question that I have for you is, who are you telling? What mountain has God called you to go, oh scale, to go across? I know you're not all called to the homeless, I understand that, I know you're not all called to China, not all called to the Dominican Republic or India, but every one of you is called somewhere, every single one of you. That's why Paul takes that verse and he says, how, how, how are they gonna call on somebody they never heard about, how are they gonna hear unless you're sent? Every one of you is sent, that's what it means to be a follower of Jesus. You're not all sent to the same people, but you're sent somewhere, that's why we end every service here at the Summit with that admonition, Summit Church you are sent because that's what your role is. Let me tell you as your pastor what I think about a lot of times for you.
I know that one day you're gonna stand before Jesus and you're gonna answer the call, you're gonna answer as whether or not you went where he told you to go, because I know he's told you to go somewhere, every one of you has told you to go somewhere. We preached about Sodom and Gomorrah a couple weeks ago, a few weeks ago, and we talked about how God destroyed that city. If you ask the average Christian what was the sin that made God destroy Sodom? Every Christian I know would just reflectively say, homosexuality, that's what made God destroy Sodom. And it's true homosexuality was a bad sin and it was certainly part of the wickedness of Sodom. But in Ezekiel 16, 49, when the prophet Ezekiel talks about why God destroyed Sodom, he did not mention any form of sexual impurity.
What he said, Ezekiel 16, 49, was the people of Sodom lived in luxury and ease while the neighbors around them suffered and they didn't do anything to help. I know you're not all called to the same places, but I know you're called to scale something. I know that you're called to scale some mountain to carry the gospel. For some of you it's gonna begin by walking across the street and beginning a relationship with a neighbor that's gonna be out of your comfort zone, but that's the first mountain you're gonna scale. Walking across the office into the cubicle and beginning a relationship where you're gonna share the gospel. For some of you it means a change of career.
For some of you it means a change of where you live. For some of you it's gonna mean going to an unreached people group. For some of you it means getting involved with the homeless, the orphan, the prisoner, the unwed mother, the high school dropout. It means getting involved with ministries here at the church that minister to teenagers or minister to kids. You know, on our website this weekend, summitrdu.com, there's a little place where you can see how our church engages with the ministries of the city and how you can take mission trips and I know you're called to go somewhere, to do something.
I don't mean physically necessarily you move, but you're called. And I want you to be able to stand before Jesus with a clean conscience and say, I know I wasn't called everywhere, but I was called somewhere and I knew where that was and I went, I went. Who were you telling?
Who were you telling? You see what you realize, hopefully is what this slave who wrote this song realized. Listen, is that I was the homeless. Spiritually speaking, I was restless. I sought the solace of a park bench in the city of sin and that was my whole life and that was when Jesus found me. He healed me and he restored me. I was the shepherd. Spiritual condition of me was the same as the physical condition of the homeless and the shepherd. I was the slave when Jesus emancipated me and now having been emancipated, he says, go tell him on the mountain.
Cross that mountain and go to people in valleys like the valley you were in and tell them the savior has been born. That's your commission, that's your calling, it's your mandate. Why don't you bow your heads at all of our campuses. Bow your heads. Let me pray for us. Father, renew this church's commission and its vision to see the gospel, to see the gospel transform our city, our neighbors, our children and nations around the world, we pray in Jesus' name, amen.
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