Infiltration (Hebrews 10:5-7)

Earlier this year, I came across a website called www.Infiltration.org. It's all about urban exploration - a euphemism for going where you're not allowed to go. It's about sneaking around buildings like the Royal York Hotel and the Toronto City Hall. It's about exploring subway tunnels and the drainage system. And it's about not getting caught.

Now, I'm not recommending that you do this, but I can understand why people are tempted. I love to go behind the scenes. I'm one of these people who loves to figure out what's happening when the curtain on the stage is closed.

Tonight I want to take you behind the scenes. It's common at Christmas to go to Bethlehem and observe what was happening there. But have you ever wished you could go behind the scenes to discover what was happening in heaven that night? Wish no more.

In a passage that's not too well known, the writer of the book of Hebrews takes us to heaven just before Jesus came to earth. It's a startling scene. If you want to follow along, it's found in Hebrews 10 (page 1353 of your pew Bible). It reads:

That is why Christ, when he came into the world, said,
"You did not want animal sacrifices and grain offerings.
But you have given me a body so that I may obey you.
No, you were not pleased with animals burned on the altar
or with other offerings for sin.
Then I said, ‘Look, I have come to do your will, O God—
just as it is written about me in the Scriptures.'"

God had instituted a system of sacrifices it the Old Testament. The people gathered on the Day of Atonement to offer animal sacrifices for their sins. The system was very effective in accomplishing two things. It created an awareness of sin before a Holy God. People became aware of how far they had fallen from what God intended.

The system of sacrifices was also effective in reminding the people of another fact: that there had to be a sacrifice of the innocent on the part of the guilty. Sin just couldn't be wiped clean. Somebody had to bear the responsibility for the sin.

But the Old Testament system of sacrifices wasn't enough. Hebrews 10:1 says:

The old system in the law of Moses was only a shadow of the things to come, not the reality of the good things Christ has done for us. The sacrifices under the old system were repeated again and again, year after year, but they were never able to provide perfect cleansing for those who came to worship. If they could have provided perfect cleansing, the sacrifices would have stopped, for the worshipers would have been purified once for all time, and their feelings of guilt would have disappeared.

But just the opposite happened. Those yearly sacrifices reminded them of their sins year after year. For it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

I don't know if you've ever imagined the Old Testament system of sacrifices. But it was bloody and messy. It was necessary year after year. It required perfect animals. It was a perpetual reminder of your failure. It was the greatest day of the year for Israel, and yet it was the day that you were reminded of your sins. That's the old way. And it's what Jesus came to earth to abolish.

In Hebrews 10, we get a glimpse of what was going on in heaven before Jesus was born. When Jesus spoke these words, he was the transcendent, eternal second person of the Trinity. If we had been there, we would have had to cover our eyes like the angels from his glory. We couldn't have grasped his greatness or his power.

But then he turns to his Father and says, "All of history has pointed to the need for a supreme sacrifice. I'm ready to go. I'll obey you."

And one millisecond later, that same holy God was reduced to a microscopic cell in a woman's womb. He was entombed in darkness for nine months. And he was born as a baby in a dirty cave, surrounded by animals. Why? So he could be our sacrifice. So he could abolish the Old Testament system of sacrifices and be our perfect sacrifice instead. He who was irreducible in his grandeur and glory was reduced to a babe. And every year we come back to the babe and worship him.

If we don't get that, we don't get Christmas. That's who Jesus was. That's why he came.

So in a sense, we've infiltrated heaven. We've heard the last words that Jesus said before he came to the earth. And we've seen the reason why Jesus has infiltrated the earth.

The temptation of Christmas is to reduce who Jesus is. It's easy to think that Jesus was just any baby lying in a manger. It's easy to reduce it to a nice little story and forget who Jesus was. Jesus was God. One minute the angels couldn't look on his glory. The next minute, he came to earth. Never forget who Jesus is.

Revelation describes the scene in heaven after Jesus returned from earth:

Then I looked again, and I heard the singing of thousands and millions of angels around the throne and the living beings and the elders. And they sang in a mighty chorus:

"The Lamb is worthy—the Lamb who was killed.
He is worthy to receive power and riches
and wisdom and strength
and honor and glory and blessing."

And then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea. They also sang:

"Blessing and honor and glory and power
belong to the one sitting on the throne
and to the Lamb forever and ever."

And the four living beings said, "Amen!" And the twenty-four elders fell down and worshiped God and the Lamb.

Do you ever marvel that the one who is worshiped by millions of angels came down and lived among us? That the one who lay in a manger was the one who created everything that we see around? Never reduce who Jesus is. That's the greatest temptation of Christmas.

Some of you are going to walk out of here tonight and forget about Jesus. It's almost like he's something you bring out once a year and then put away. But you can't reduce Jesus to that level. He's more than a baby. He's God.

The other temptation of Christmas is to forget why he came. Some people think that he came to be a good man - a good example. Others think that he came to teach us. Or that he came to do good things - to perform miracles. But that's not why he came. He came to do God's will. He came to be our sacrifice.

Tomorrow as you open your gifts, remember why Jesus came. Remember that he came to be the ultimate gift. He came to take away the guilt for all sins you've committed. Sins are not only the bad things that you've done, but the condition you're in. Sin is more the illness than the symptoms. Jesus came to heal you of that condition. He came to be your sacrifice.

Somebody has called Christmas "the day God got personally involved." It's the day that he infiltrated earth. And now we know why.

Let's pray.

There might be someone here who has never realized why Jesus came. You might have thought that he came to be a good man. You might have thought that he came to be your example, or a healer. Tonight you've discovered that there's more.

Jesus came to be your sacrifice. Under the old system, you'd have to offer a perfect animal to take away your guilt, but you'd still feel terrible. Under the new system, Jesus took away all your sins forever. All you have to do is to come to him and follow him. You can do that tonight. You can pray, "Jesus, I accept you as the greatest Christmas gift ever. From this point on, I pledge to follow you. Forgive me for my sinfulness. I accept your sacrifice. And I pledge to follow you from this point on. Amen."

Jesus, thank you for coming to earth. The Lamb is worthy—the Lamb who was killed. He is worthy to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing." Forever and ever, Amen.

What Difference Does Christmas Make? (John 1:1-13)

Are you ready for Christmas? All the children say, "Yes!" All the adults say, "No!" You may still have some shopping, wrapping, and cooking left to do. Some of you may not even have started your shopping yet. But the kids are all ready.

That reminds me of a little boy who had been asking for a watch. Finally his dad said, "If you mention it one more time, you're not getting it!" Last night around the dinner table, his dad said, "Let's all share our favorite Scripture." When it came to the little boy, he said, "My favorite verse is Mark 13:37 `I'll say to you what I've said already, `Watch.'"

Are you ready for Christmas yet? This week, the entire country shuts down. The roads will be empty. The offices will be closed. The whole world will focus on a single event.

What's the big deal? How could a baby born two thousand years ago stop traffic today?

Well, because that baby was no ordinary baby. The Bible says that two thousand years ago, God came to earth. Imagine heaven two thousand years ago. On that day two thousand years ago, it's as if God descended the stairs of heaven, came to earth, and placed his Son in a manger in a little cave in Bethlehem. Of all the ways for God to enter earth, why come as a baby? So he wouldn't scare us. Nobody's afraid of a baby.

I still remember the first time we let Christina sleep over at someone else's house. We stood at the front door of our house watching her drive away. Jesus and God enjoyed perfect communion with each other through eternity. Imagine the scene in heaven as Jesus prepared to leave. Imagine how the angels watched. Imagine the heart of God as he sent his Son to live and to die among us.

The Bible says, God came to earth. That's bigger news than when man landed on the moon. God invaded earth. He split history into A.D. and B.C. Every time you write a check, what's your reference point? Jesus Christ. Two thousand years - from what? From Jesus Christ.

What difference does Christmas make today? Christmas means that God brings us five things:

ONE: GOD BRINGS US A MESSAGE FOR OUR HEARTS

Have you ever had someone give you the silent treatment? It troubles me to be ignored. It can be very disturbing to have someone shut you out. You feel like you don't matter enough for them even to talk to you.

You don't even expect some people to talk to you. If you've ever met a famous person, you might have been surprised at how normal they are. You never expected them to talk to you, and yet they did.

When John introduces Jesus Christ to us in John 1:1, he uses an interesting word. The word he used was logos or literally Word. This was a term borrowed from the Old Testament. It describes Jesus as the divine revealer. He comes with a message. The word logos meant more than spoken communication. It referred to the meaning conveyed, not just the sound. Jesus is the expression of God to human beings. He is the divine revelation.

Hebrews 1:1 says:

1Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. 2But now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son.

God has spoken to humans in many ways. He's used visions. He's appeared in dreams. He appeared to Moses and Abraham personally. He's revealed himself through the Scriptures. But the culmination of the way that God has revealed himself was through the Word - the message. He is the clearest communication of who God is and what God has to say. If you want to know God, just look at Jesus.

This past week, my daughter told me, "I know what Jesus looks like, but I don't know what God looks like." If you know what Jesus looks like, then you know God. Jesus is the revelation of the Father.

But it gets even better than that. John writes:

1In the beginning the Word already existed. He was with God, and he was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3He created everything there is. Nothing exists that he didn't make.

Not only is Jesus the message from God, but he is also the creator. There are about 500 billion stars in our neighborhood, the Milky Way galaxy. And there are 200 billion galaxies beyond ours, some of them holding more than a trillion stars. Jesus created all of them. Do you remember how he did this? He spoke. All he had to do was open his mouth. "Then God said, ‘Let there be light,' and there was light" (Genesis 1:3). The one who created the world with his words has come now to speak to us. When God speaks, he speaks with power.

Think about it. The God who created billions of stars became a microscopic cell in a woman's womb. He entered the world as a baby in a smelly stable. Researches think he wasn't even born in a wooden stable, as people think, but in a cave used to house animals. Why did God do this? Because he wanted to communicate to you and to me.

A Hindu could not bring himself to believe that God could become man. One day he examined an anthill. Every time he came close, the ants scurried away. His shadow was too big. Then he realize that the only way he could communicate with an ant without scaring them was to become an ant himself. And at that moment, he began to believe that God could become a man. Why? To be God's message to your heart.

Jesus communicated to many types of people. In a day when it men did not talk to women in public, and in which certain racial groups were looked down upon, Jesus talked to a woman who not only belonged to that racial group, but lived an immoral lifestyle. Jesus spoke words of grace to people who had made messes of their lives. John 1 reads:

14So the Word became human and lived here on earth among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness...16We have all benefited from the rich blessings he brought to us—one gracious blessing after another. 17For the law was given through Moses; God's unfailing love and faithfulness came through Jesus Christ.

God has a message for your heart. He sent his Son to reveal himself to you. He came to bring you unfailing love and faithfulness. That's the difference that Christmas makes.

What other differences does Christmas make?

TWO: GOD BRINGS US POWER FOR OUR LIVES

The Jews of John's day would have recognized the logos or Word as a Jewish concept. But the Greeks who read John's book would have seen a completely different meaning. John was writing with both in mind. For the Greeks, logos was different.

In the 6th century BC the Greek Philosopher Heraclitus used this word logos in describing the design and order he saw in the universe. He wanted to find the stabilizing, directing principle of the universe. Later the Greek Stoics developed this concept of logos as a force or principle that originated and permeated and governed all things. John chose logos because people's lives were in spiritual chaos and many were searching for order. The apostle John's gospel began with Christ the logos, in whom alone the order and purpose we long for is found.

Without Jesus Christ life doesn't make sense. John gave them great news that this logos, the source of order and meaning, was God himself. This logos has come into the world of chaotic spiritual darkness. The very sustainer of the world became one of us.

Colossians 1 tells us:

16Christ is the one through whom God created everything in heaven and earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can't see—kings, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities. Everything has been created through him and for him. 17He existed before everything else began, and he holds all creation together.

Jesus created everything from nothing. He is the power that holds the universe together. When we send a space probe to Mars, it costs millions of dollars. If something goes wrong, there's nothing we can do. We can't send a repair technician. We don't have the power. But Jesus holds the universe together. And he came to earth. We never have to feel that our lives are too complex for him. His power is bigger than anything we face.

When I was a boy, I went to the park where my big brother was a lifeguard. I figured I was safe with my big brother around, so I really wasn't too careful about what I said to other big kids. I went up to one and said something pretty insulting to him. I knew that big brother would bail me out. But when the older boy beat me up for what I said, my brother just watched from a distance. He had the power to get me out of the mess I was in, but he figured he wasn't going to rescue me from a problem that I created. I was on my own.

God's not like that. God has the power, but he could have told us that we're on our own. But when the Creator of the universe came to earth, he was telling us that not only did he have the power to rescue us from the mess we had created, but he was willing to use that power. What difference does Christmas make? It makes all the difference in the world, because God has power for our lives - no matter what we face.

Not only does God bring us a message for our heart and a power for our lives...

THREE: GOD BRINGS US LIGHT FOR OUR DARKNESS

I think the thing that I dislike the most about this time of year is the long nights. My favorite time of year is that time when the days are longest. Give me sunlight at eight or nine o'clock at night. But darkness can be very oppressive when it descends on us at five o'clock every night.

There are four essentials for human life: light, air, water, and food. Jesus is all of these! In John 1:4-5, we read:

4Life itself was in him, and this life gives light to everyone. 5The light shines through the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.

What is light like?

Light is pure. Light is so pure that evil cannot stain it; impurity cannot defile it. Light can pass through a poisonous atmosphere without becoming tainted. It can enter into the dirtiest environment and yet carry no germs. Jesus is like that. Hebrews 4:15 says, "This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same temptations we do, yet he did not sin." When Jesus died, after 33 years of close contact with men and women, he was as pure as when he was born of a pure virgin. Light is pure. That's what Jesus brought to earth.

Light is pervasive. It hits the golden roof of the palace. It passes by the prison bars. Light doesn't discriminate. John 1:9 says, "The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was going to come into the world."

Light is revealing. If you drive a highway at night and drive it again in the morning, you'd never know you had passed the same way. Light reveals. Jesus as the light of the world reveals. He reveals us. Nothing is hidden from his sight. And yet he also reveals God to us. That's what light does.

Isaiah 9:2 says:

2The people who walk in darkness will see a great light—a light that will shine on all who live in the land where death casts its shadow.

In a time of great darkness, God sent a light who would shine on everyone living in the shadow of death. Jesus came to bring us light to the darkness.

What difference does Christmas make? He brings us a message for our hearts, a power for our lives, a light for our darkness...

FOUR: GOD BRINGS US UNDERSTANDING FOR OUR STRUGGLES

John 1:10 says:

10But although the world was made through him, the world didn't recognize him when he came. 11Even in his own land and among his own people, he was not accepted.

One of the most disturbing thoughts off all the ages is this: the world God created didn't know him or receive him when he came to it. In verse 11, "his own people" refers to his own home and family. There's a Danish adage that goes like this: "'Relatives are the worst friends.' said the fox as the hounds took after him."

What a paradox. There was room for everyone in the world that God had created, but there was no room for him. You've heard of a restraining order. It's an injunction to one party to stay away from another party. They have to stay apart by an established distance. It's almost as if the people Jesus came to save obtained a restraining order to keep Jesus at a safe distance.

Imagine what it would have been like for Jesus. Throughout eternity, he had lived in heaven. I don't know what you think about when you think of heaven, but don't think of fluffy white clouds and harps. Think of perfection. Jesus had lived in perfect community with his Father from eternity. He had known the deepest relationship that will ever exist. And then he came to earth as a baby to a new family. There he experienced rejection and hatred. He became one of us.

Have you ever seen a famous person get cornered about a real-life situation? I remember one celebrity standing in amazement at a grocery store as items were scanned into the cash register. It was the 1990's and he had no idea such technology exists. I remember another celebrity trying his best to guess what a dozen eggs and a loaf of bread cost. He had never bought eggs himself in his life.

You get the impression that some people have no clue about what real life is like. One NBA player said, "Money, money, money. That's all people talk about. All I want to do is drink Pepsi, wear Reeboks, and play basketball." At that point I realized that my life and his life had very little in common.

For thousands of years, people could have told God, "You don't know what it's like down here. You may know as an omniscient God, but you've never experienced what I've experienced." And they would have been right. Then, two thousand years ago, God became one of us. He shrunk to the size of a microscopic cell in a woman's womb. He grew like we did. He was born like we did. He experienced all the things that we have - good and bad. He understands - from experience - what life is really like. Hebrews 4:15-16 says:

15This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same temptations we do, yet he did not sin. 16So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it.

There's nothing that you ever experienced that Jesus doesn't know about. He lived among us. He experienced what we experience. God understands your struggles - from experience.

What difference does Christmas make? He brings us a message for our hearts, a power for our lives, a light for our darkness, understanding for our struggles, and...

FIVE: GOD BRINGS US THE GIFT OF OUR LIVES

John 1:12-13 says:

12But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. 13They are reborn! This is not a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan - this rebirth comes from God.

If you welcome Jesus Christ into your life, you receive a free gift - the gift of eternal life. You become God's child, and nobody can ever take that away from you.

Most of us have heard of orphans in perpetual foster-care. Sometimes they are abused and exploited. What better gift to give an exploited orphan than the gift of adoption into a good family?

Ever since evil entered the human race, we've been exploited by the devil. Jesus called the devil a murderer from the beginning and the father of all lies. Jesus came to set us free from his tyranny.

At Christmas, we're amazed at the miracle of God becoming man. But we shouldn't stop there. We need to ask why he came. He came to give us eternal life to all who believe. All have suffered the fatal contamination caused by evil. What we need is new life - life in the family of God.

A little boy jumped on the lap of Santa and handed him a long list of things that he wanted for Christmas - all the latest computer games and sports equipment. Santa looked down at the list, and then said to the little boy, "I'll have to check up and see what kind of a boy you've been this year. Only a very, very good boy gets all these presents."

The boy began to squirm and suggested, "Well, maybe you should forget the check-up and just give me the skates."

When I think about the gift that God gives us - the gift of being called his child - I also want to squirm. I don't deserve it. But it's a gift. It's not something we earn. It has nothing to do with how good we've been.

The gift you receive from Jesus Christ is different from any other gift you will receive. It is a personal gift. It comes in the form of person - Jesus Christ. It is a practical gift. It's just what you need. It's the solution to your greatest problem, whether you know it or not. It's a priceless gift. It cost Christ his life. It cost God His Son. That shows the worth of you. When you receive a gift that expensive you realize somebody really values you. God says, "You are valuable." It's a permanent gift. I've received a lot of gifts that didn't last until New Year's. This gift keeps giving and giving and giving, for all of eternity.


Two questions: have you received this gift? There's a man in the States who hasn't opened a Christmas gift he received for over 49 years. That's a little strange. If I gave you a gift and you never opened it, I'd wonder about you. And yet some people celebrate Christmas year after year, and never open the gift that Jesus Christ gave...the gift of becoming a child of God.

A father gave his daughter some plastic pearls. She wore them for years. When she turned 13, he said, "I want you to give me those plastic pearls you're wearing." "Why?" "Just trust me, just give them to me." As he took them back with one hand, he pulled from his pocket a string a real pearls.

God is saying to you, "Give Me the cheap plastic thrills, give Me the things you think satisfy but really don't, and I'll give you something genuine. I'll give you something real, something that lasts if you'll trust Me."

Last question: how can you receive this gift? You receive by believing him and accepting him. John 1:12 says, "But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God." It means believing in what Jesus says about you, to believe that you can't earn eternal life. It means trading in your cheap plastic thrills for a new life that lasts for eternity.

As we close, would you pray this in your heart, "Dear God, I don't understand it all, but I believe that you love me. Sometimes I have a hard time believing that, but I believe you love me. Thank you for sending Jesus Christ at Christmas. This Christmas I want to receive Christ, your Christmas gift to me. Jesus Christ, as much as I know how, I ask you to make yourself real to me. Come into my life. Please forgive my past. Thank You. In Jesus' name. Amen."

How God Turns Nobodies into Somebodies (Judges 6-7)

We're concluding a series this morning called What God Can Do Through Ordinary You. This morning we're going to look at how God can turn nobodies into somebodies.

You've heard of Gideon. Some of you know him as the man who wrote the Bible in motel rooms. In reality, he's more than that. He's the classic example of a person God uses. He's a farm boy who became a national hero. Against incredible odds, he saved his nation.

At the time, Israel was at its lowest point as a nation. It has spiraled into a dark period. When we discover Gideon in Judges 6, Israel had fallen to a foreign nation called the Midianites for seven years. In Judges 6, we read:

The Holy Bible, New Living Translation
Judges 6:2 through Judges 6:6

2The Midianites were so cruel that the Israelites fled to the mountains, where they made hiding places for themselves in caves and dens. 3Whenever the Israelites planted their crops, marauders from Midian, Amalek, and the people of the east would attack Israel, 4camping in the land and destroying crops as far away as Gaza. They left the Israelites with nothing to eat, taking all the sheep, oxen, and donkeys. 5These enemy hordes, coming with their cattle and tents as thick as locusts, arrived on droves of camels too numerous to count. And they stayed until the land was stripped bare. 6So Israel was reduced to starvation by the Midianites. Then the Israelites cried out to the LORD for help.

You get the picture. You have 135,000 alien invaders, and then you have Israel hiding in the caves. There appears to be little hope.

When you come across Gideon for the first time, you find him threshing wheat at the bottom of a winepress. To thresh wheat effectively, you need to be above ground so that the wind can separate the chaff. He was so terrified of the Midianites that he was hiding out, trying to get even a little bit of food for his family!

Not only did God find Gideon hiding at the bottom of a winepress, do you know where God found him? A place called Oprah - a name which means dustiness. It doesn't exactly sound like a place where you'd go looking for great leaders.

As we'll discover, when God wants to use somebody, he often turns to the nobodies. That's what the story of Gideon is about. God takes ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary things. It happened in Gideon's life, and it can happen in your life.

Paul wrote in the New Testament:

The Holy Bible, New Living Translation
1 Corinthians 1:26 through 1 Corinthians 1:29

26Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world's eyes, or powerful, or wealthy when God called you. 27Instead, God deliberately chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose those who are powerless to shame those who are powerful. 28God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important, 29so that no one can ever boast in the presence of God.

This morning, I invite you to look on with me as we watch how God turns nobodies into somebodies. There are three responses we need to take as God turns us into people that can be used by him.

FIRST, BE REAL.

It's comforting to me that when God looks for someone to use, he doesn't often look for someone doing heroic things. He found Moses in the dessert - a fugitive from justice. He found Gideon at the bottom of a winepress. When God wants to turn a nobody into a somebody, he takes the nobody just as they are.

When God first approached Gideon, do you know how he responded?

The Holy Bible, New Living Translation
Judges 6:12 through Judges 6:13

12The angel of the LORD appeared to him and said, "Mighty hero, the LORD is with you!"

13"Sir," Gideon replied, "if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us? And where are all the miracles our ancestors told us about? Didn't they say, ‘the LORD brought us up out of Egypt'? But now the LORD has abandoned us and handed us over to the Midianites."

There's no point in trying to pretend with God. Gideon began with brutal honesty. He responded with words like if, why, where, and but. God had not lived up to Gideon's expectations. But that didn't deter God. God could handle Gideon just the way he was. Look at what the angel said to him next:

The Holy Bible, New Living Translation
Judges 6:14 through Judges 6:15
14Then the LORD turned to him and said, "Go with the strength you have and rescue Israel from the Midianites. I am sending you!"

15"But Lord," Gideon replied, "how can I rescue Israel? My clan is the weakest in the whole tribe of Manasseh, and I am the least in my entire family!"

Gideon says, "You've got the wrong family, God. We're the poorest family in the whole tribe. We don't have any financial backing. We're weak. How can we launch a campaign against 135,000 enemy soldiers?"

And then Gideon says, "Even if you pick my family, you've picked the wrong guy. Why pick me? I'm the youngest in my family. I'm the runt."

Even after all these excuses, Gideon made three requests of God to prove that God meant what he said. Gideon was hardly a man exemplifying leadership potential. He was just honest with God about where he was.

God often uses and chooses the most unlikely person, the youngest guy of the poorest family in the most unknown town at the bottom of a well.

Do you doubt that God could use you? Good. That's just honest. But it doesn't change God's plans for your life. God's response to Gideon is God's response to you: "I am sending you...I will be with you."

When Hudson Taylor first arrived in Shanghai, China in the mid-1800s, other missionaries viewed him as a poor, unconnected nobody. But he became famous for being the courageous missionary pioneer to the inland provinces of China. He founded the China Inland Mission in 1865. Later, when he was back in Britain, a leader of the Church of Scotland said to Taylor; "You must sometimes be tempted to be proud because of the wonderful way God had used you. I doubt if any man living has had greater honor."

Taylor answered, "On the contrary, I often think that God must have been looking for someone small enough and weak enough for him to use, and that he found me."

That was not false humility. He meant it. He was real!

Has God been calling you to do something? Was God looking for someone who had what it takes, and he found you? Perhaps you've even been telling God that he has the wrong person. In Gideon's case, God called a person who was struggling with unanswered questions and who felt woefully inadequate. It seems as if God was just looking for someone who could be real.

God takes ordinary people and says, "I am sending you...I will be with you." He promises us in Romans 8:31, ""If God be for us, who can be against us?" If God calls you to do something, you can do it. You don't have to be an extraordinary person. You just have to be real.

SECOND, BE OBEDIENT

Gideon wasn't a sterling example of responding to God quickly. He hesitated before answering God's call. He feared that his own limitations would prevent God from working. But he was obedient. Let me give you some examples.

The first assignment that God gave Gideon was the hardest: he had to begin at home. It's much easier to be called somewhere where people don't know us and have us labeled. It's another thing to be called to serve God right where we are. Listen to the first assignment God gave to Gideon:

The Holy Bible, New Living Translation
Judges 6:25 through Judges 6:27

25That night the LORD said to Gideon, "Take the second best bull from your father's herd, the one that is seven years old. Pull down your father's altar to Baal, and cut down the Asherah pole standing beside it. 26Then build an altar to the LORD your God here on this hill, laying the stones carefully. Sacrifice the bull as a burnt offering on the altar, using as fuel the wood of the Asherah pole you cut down." 27So Gideon took ten of his servants and did as the LORD had commanded. But he did it at night because he was afraid of the other members of his father's household and the people of the town. He knew what would happen if they found out who had done it.

God tested his emotions. Did you notice whose altar this was? It was his own father's. By tearing it down, Gideon was saying, "My whole family has been worshiping the wrong god for years." He was risking the disapproval of his own family.

The reality is that we need to prove ourselves faithful at home before God will use us elsewhere. If Gideon had begun by conquering the Midianites, he could have returned home with a lot more credibility. He would have come home a hero. It would have been easy to clear out Baal worship on the strength of his newfound fame. But Gideon had to begin by being obedient - and that started in his own house.

Let me ask you a question. Do you ever find yourself limiting your Christian life because of what other people think? Because family members might become upset? It was his dad's idol and he goes and smashes it. Who's going to pay for it?

There was an emotional test here. Sometimes following God means standing alone if necessary.

God tested his physical safety. In those days, an attack on a god was seen as an attack on the local government supporting that god. Baal was the Canaanite god. Asherah was the Canaanite fertility goddess. Gideon belonged to the weakest family in the tribe. Tearing down the altar wasn't going to win him any popularity contests. In fact, it could cost him his life!

Sure enough, the next morning, a mob formed to kill whoever was responsible. When they discovered it was Gideon, they yelled, "Bring out your son! He must die for destroying the altar of Baal and for cutting down the Asherah pole." Gideon's life was at risk.

The point for us today is this: obeying God isn't going to be the safest route. You can expect fireworks now and then. You might not win many popularity contests. You might upset some traditions. You may even expect a riot or two. But be obedient anyway.

Gideon's dad came to the rescue:

The Holy Bible, New Living Translation
Judges 6:31 through Judges 6:32

31But Joash shouted to the mob, "Why are you defending Baal? Will you argue his case? Whoever pleads his case will be put to death by morning! If Baal truly is a god, let him defend himself and destroy the one who knocked down his altar!" 32From then on Gideon was called Jerubbaal, which means "Let Baal defend himself," because he knocked down Baal's altar.

God honored his obedience, but Gideon had to put it on the line first.

By the way, some people criticize Gideon for destroying the altar at night because he was afraid. But God didn't tell him he had to do it by day. God didn't tell him not to be afraid. Obedience was essential. Heroism was optional.

General Omar Bradley said, "Bravery is the capacity to perform properly even when scared half to death." Gideon was obedient, even if he was scared half to death!

God also tested his faith. Gideon's enemy numbered 135,000. Gideon blew a horn to rally people around - a call to arms. 32,000 people showed up. If it were up to me, I'd say that Gideon needed a few more people to have a fair fight. But God had different ideas.

The Holy Bible, New Living Translation
Judges 7:2 through Judges 7:4

2The LORD said to Gideon, "You have too many warriors with you. If I let all of you fight the Midianites, the Israelites will boast to me that they saved themselves by their own strength. 3Therefore, tell the people, ‘Whoever is timid or afraid may leave and go home.'" Twenty-two thousand of them went home, leaving only ten thousand who were willing to fight.

4But the LORD told Gideon, "There are still too many! Bring them down to the spring, and I will sort out who will go with you and who will not." 5When Gideon took his warriors down to the water, the LORD told him, "Divide the men into two groups. In one group put all those who cup water in their hands and lap it up with their tongues like dogs. In the other group put all those who kneel down and drink with their mouths in the stream." 6Only three hundred of the men drank from their hands. All the others got down on their knees and drank with their mouths in the stream. 7The LORD told Gideon, "With these three hundred men I will rescue you and give you victory over the Midianites. Send all the others home."

Slowly and deliberately, God made almost 32,000 people go home. He got the numbers down to 300. Three hundred men against 135,000; that's odds of about 450 to one. Those aren't very good odds.

God doesn't rely on size or numbers. God always uses us in spite of ourselves - not because of what we have or who we are. God is pleased when we realize just how powerless you are, and when you are ready to rely on his power. That's when you can do something for God's glory.

God may test you. He may test your emotions; he may test your physical safety; he may test your faith. But God can use you when you're ready to trust him in spite of your shortcomings. He's looking for obedience.

THREE, GET OUT OF GOD'S WAY

When God takes a nobody and turns them into somebody, that nobody has to learn how to get out of God's way. They have to be real and they have to be obedient, but there comes a time where that individual needs to almost step aside and let God work through them.

There's an insightful comment made in Judges 6:34. "Then the Spirit of the LORD took possession of Gideon." In Hebrew it means, "The Spirit clothed himself with Gideon." I like that. It's like saying, "Gideon, I'm going to take over your body." All of a sudden it wasn't Gideon working; it was God working through him.

And when God begins working in an individual, watch out! God took these three hundred men, gave them non-standard military equipment - horns and clay pots. In the middle of the night, Gideon takes his little band of 300 men and circle around the valley and spread out into a complete circle. Each man with his torch lit but the clay pot over it so that the light would not shine out. God says to Gideon, "When I say `Go!' you tell the men to blow the trumpets, to shout `For the Lord and for Gideon!' and to break the clay pots. (That will make a noise which the enemy won't know what it is; it will scare them.) The light will shine out and just a few men will look like thousands. In their panic the enemy will begin to fight each other."

That is exactly what happened. Gideon gave the shout, they cried out, they blew the trumpets, they made the statements, they broke the pots, the light shone out and the Midianites woke up, began running around in their tents with their pajamas on, pulling out their swords and began to fight each other. In those days it was often that rivals would break out within a nation and so they figured one tribe had broken out against another so everybody got out their sword and started fighting each other.

The Bible says that over a hundred thousand soldiers were killed that day while the Israelites stood there and watched! They were just sound and light technicians for the dramatic spectacle of God's power at work in the Midianite camp.

That same power that is at work in Gideon is available today. God delights in using weak people. As the apostle Paul wrot e:

The Holy Bible, New Living Translation
2 Corinthians 12:9 through 2 Corinthians 12:10

9Each time he said, "My gracious favor is all you need. My power works best in your weakness." So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may work through me. 10Since I know it is all for Christ's good, I am quite content with my weaknesses and with insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Do you think your service to God depends on your performance? No. Your realness. Your obedience. Your willingness to let God use you while you step out of the way.

If you go in your own strength, you'll get in God's way. God won't use you unless you go in weakness and dependence on the Holy Spirit.

If you haven't begun following Jesus Christ yet, you don't know how exciting it is to live the adventure of being used by God! You can't imagine how meaningful life becomes as you let God use you. He can give you a higher purpose for living. He can use your life in ways that you haven't even imagined. Not only will you receive forgiveness for your sins, you will receive eternal life and a purpose for living. You can come to Christ this morning, give your life to him, and pledge to follow him for the rest of your life.

But if you've already begun to follow him, you know that he has a purpose for your life. Never think that it depends on your strength. He wants to use you in spite of yourself. Come to him this morning. Be real. Be obedient. And then watch God work as you step aside and let him take control.

Let's pray.

Heavenly Father, I thank You for the life of Gideon, for the example that he is and how you can take somebody who never in a million years could have imagined that he could become a hero and yet you used him in a great way. Lord, change our lives. Make us useable. Prepare us for service in ways that we've never seen before. Lord, I know that if You could just get a handful of people at Richview who are totally, 100% sold out to You, that You would find a band of people that You could use in such a significant way that it would cause a spiritual explosion in our city. The nation even would be benefited by it. Lord this week, let us be available to be used by You. In Jesus' name, Amen.