O Holy Night - Radical
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O Holy Night

We don’t normally associate the birth of Christ with concepts like justice, poverty, and oppression. But this is one of the reasons Jesus came—to put an end to injustice and to change the way his people relate to the poor, the vulnerable, and the oppressed. In this message, David Platt considers how the words of “O Holy Night” relate to Luke 4:16–21. Christ came to save us from our sins and to free us so that we might give ourselves to serve those in need. In his name, all oppression will one day cease.

If you have a Bible—and I hope you or somebody around you does that you can look on with—let me invite you to open with me to Luke 4. As you’re turning, I want to welcome those of you in person as well as online who can’t be with us in person. It’s really good to be all together around God’s Word. 

I want to especially welcome you if you’re visiting with us. We are really, really glad you’re here. We’re in the final week of a series leading up to Christmas called “The Sound of Hope.” We’re thinking together about the biblical foundations of familiar Christmas songs. Our plan is to do one today, then another on Christmas Eve. You can go to mcleanbible.org/Christmas to download recordings of these songs. You can also see there the times for our gatherings on Christmas Eve. 

Our teams are working really hard to make these gatherings really special. I want to encourage you not to just come to one of these, but to bring somebody with you—whether family or friends, coworkers or neighbors—particularly those people in your sphere of influence who may not know Jesus. Or maybe even between now and Friday, you might come across someone at a restaurant or a store that you can invite to come with you. Don’t come alone on Christmas Eve. Invite somebody to come with you.

This morning we’re looking at one of my favorite Christmas songs and I don’t think I’m alone in that choice. The song is “O Holy Night.” What I love is listening to somebody else with an awesome voice sing this song, then turn it up loud enough to think my voice sounds like their voice. 

As many times as I’ve sung this song, I’ve never known the history behind it, which is fascinating and actually caused this song to be banned in the church for a while. Four people played a major part in this song’s history. The first was a guy named Placide Cappeau. How did you like my French? A couple people who speak French thought, “Oh, that was horrible.” I really don’t know how to say his name, but we’re going to go with that. He was a commissioner of wines in a small town in southern France in 1847. He was not involved in the church, but he was known for his ability to write poetry. The priest of the church in his town came to him and asked him to write a poem for their Christmas Mass. So Cappeau agreed. 

On a dusty coach ride to the French capital, he opened up the Gospel of Luke and tried to imagine what the birth of Jesus was like on that night in Bethlehem. He then wrote “Cantique de Noël” by the time he arrived in Paris. Soon after he wrote the poem, he thought, “I need to put this to music.” So he enlisted the second guy in this song’s history, Adolphe Charles Adams, a friend of Cappeau’s who was Jewish. Adams did not believe Jesus was the Messiah, but he agreed to write the music for this hymn about Jesus’ birth. Adams finished the arrangement, then three weeks later in Cappeau’s hometown, they sang the song on Christmas Eve.

People loved it. It’s popularity grew fast, until it was discovered that it was basically written and composed by two non-Christians. The church decided to, shall we say, cancel the song. The church officially said, “It lacked musical taste and demonstrated a total absence of the spirit of religion.” 

Years later though, it found its way into the hands of a third guy on this side of the ocean, an American named John Sullivan Dwight, who was working as an abolitionist in the United States in 1855. Dwight was specifically drawn to the connection between the coming of Christ, freedom from oppression and the slave becoming our brother. So he translated the song into English, published it in his magazine and it became popular, particularly in the North, over the coming years and especially during the Civil War. We’ll come back to that in a minute.

Fast forward from there to 1906. Our fourth man, Reginald Fessenden—a 33-year-old university professor and former chief chemist for Thomas Edison—came across this song. On Christmas Eve, 1906, Fessenden did something that up until that time people thought was impossible. Using a new type of generator, Fessenden spoke into a microphone and for the first time in history, a person’s voice was broadcast over the airwaves. Radio operators from newspapers and ships were shocked, as their normal coded impulses were all of a sudden interrupted by a person’s voice. It almost seemed like a miracle, like an angel speaking through the radio. 

Do you know what Fessenden said? He said, “It came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus.” Fessenden then read the story of Jesus’ birth from the book of Luke. Wherever a radio was, people found themselves rushing to listen to this voice. Fessenden finished reading from Luke, then picked up a violin and played a song. “O Holy Night” became the first song ever sent through the air via radio airwaves. What a historic song, on so many different levels! It’s fascinating, isn’t it? And for good reason, when you think about the history during which this song was written and when it began to spread.

One more historical note. Tradition has it that on Christmas Eve, 1871, in the middle of fighting between France and Germany in the Franco-Prussian War, soldiers started singing this song across the ranks, leading to a 24-hour cease fire between the two armies. What a scene! Here in the United States, as slaves and people were fighting against slavery in a civil war, they were celebrating the birth of Christ and sang, “Truly He taught us to love one another. His law is love, and His gospel is peace. Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother, and in His name all oppression shall cease.” Those were potent lyrics to sing in those days. 

I would submit these are potent lyrics to sing today. In light of this song’s history, I think it’s only appropriate to hone in particularly here. There are biblical foundations everywhere in the lyrics of this song, but I want us to specifically see the biblical foundations for a stanza like this. This is what made this song so popular, at least in our country when it was first sung here. I want us to think about how this holy Christmas night is good news, generally for all people and specifically how this holy night is good news for the poor, oppressed and enslaved. I want us to think about how the coming of Christ is specifically good news, then I want to bring it into this gathering right here, for sisters and brothers in this church who have experienced oppression, either personally, or in your families, or in the past, or in the present. 

I think of the many African-American sisters and brothers in our church who have stories of oppression—whether personally or through ancestors  who were enslaved when this song was being sung. I think of native American sisters and brothers who, in your families and tribes, have experienced oppression and poverty. 

I think of a variety of sisters and brothers in our church family who immigrated here because of oppression or poverty in your home country. Many of you are burdened daily by continuing oppression back home, where friends and family are living. I think about conversations I’ve had with Eliza, who oversees our Counseling and Care ministry. Some of you are quite frankly burdened by oppression in your home, even now.  

So how is the coming of Christ specifically good news for the oppressed or the impoverished. I think about sisters and brothers in our church family who are struggling right now to make ends meet. Some of you literally are without a home, as our elders and various church groups are coming alongside you. How is the coming of Christ really good news for the homeless? And not just for us. Ultimately, how does the coming of Christ change the way we all live in a world where we’re surrounded by people who are poor, oppressed or even enslaved still today? 

Let’s read the words to this song together then later we’ll sing the first and third stanzas and chorus of “O Holy Night.” Let’s make sure to read it through the lens of the history behind it. This is a carol that took hold in our country amidst slavery and civil war. With that background, let’s read these words together: 

O Holy Night!
The stars are brightly shining
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth!
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till he appear’d and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary soul rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!

Fall on your knees
Oh hear the angel voices
Oh night divine
Oh night when Christ was born
Oh night divine
Oh night divine

Truly He taught us to love one another
His law is love and His gospel is peace
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His name all oppression shall cease
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name

Christ is the Lord; 

O praise His name forever!
His power and glory evermore proclaim
His power and glory evermore proclaim

What a song! What claims, that this night was set apart from all other nights—that’s what “holy” means. It was a divine night when God was doing something unusual, because it was the night when Christ was born. A baby Who will break chains. A baby Who will make slaves brothers, Who will totally change the fabric of society and in Whose name all oppression shall cease. 

Luke 4:16–21 Speaks of the Announcement of Jesus’ Birth

What is the biblical foundation for these claims? Why would somebody who’s not even familiar with all the Bible read the story of Jesus’ coming in the book of Luke and come to these conclusions? Well, if you fast forward just two chapters from Luke’s announcement of Jesus’ birth, we read about the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Look at how it all starts, beginning in Luke 4:16:

And [Jesus] came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
    and recovering of sight to the blind,
    to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

What an awesome scene. Over these last two weeks we have referenced prophecies of Jesus’ coming, specifically in the book of Isaiah, which was written hundreds of years before Jesus was even born. A couple weeks ago we looked at Isaiah 7:14: “The Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and you shall call his name Immanuel…”—which means what? God with us. 

Last week we looked at Isaiah 9:6, briefly: “To us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” So much is there, but notice this mention of the government being on His shoulder. 

Now, let’s keep reading what it says about His government in verse seven: “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.” This mention of justice and righteousness to come in Jesus the Messiah is a major theme in the book of Isaiah. From the very beginning of Isaiah, God is confronting His people, because they were claiming to worship Him while they were ignoring injustice and oppression around them. 

Listen to what God tells them in the very beginning. In Isaiah 1:12–17, God says through Isaiah to His people:

“When you come to appear before me,
    who has required of you
    this trampling of my courts?
Bring no more vain offerings;
    incense is an abomination to me.
New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations—
    I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.
Your new moons and your appointed feasts
    my soul hates;
they have become a burden to me;
    I am weary of bearing them.
 When you spread out your hands,
    I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers,
    I will not listen;
    your hands are full of blood.
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
    remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
learn to do good;
seek justice,
    correct oppression;
bring justice to the fatherless,
    plead the widow’s cause.

Did you hear that language? God just said, “I want to make clear what I hate.” That was the language He used: “My soul hates them.” God hates religious motion that is just content to ignore justice, that is okay with oppression, that doesn’t care for the fatherless or the widow. 

A few chapters later in Isaiah 10:1-3, God says again through Isaiah, “Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees, and the writers who keep writing oppression, to turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their right, that widows may be their spoil, and that they may make the fatherless their prey!” God is making it clear that He loves justice and loathes oppression, specifically when it comes to the poor, the widows and the fatherless. At other points in Isaiah we see the sojourner mentioned alongside the poor, the widow and the fatherless. 

What I want to show you is that into this world of injustice and oppression, God gives two promises in Isaiah, hundreds of years before Jesus came, and I encourage you to write these down. They are both so foundational for understanding our lives, this weary, fallen world we live in and specifically for understanding the purpose of our lives in this weary, fallen world. 

God gives two promises throughout the book of Isaiah. First, God promises that a Savior is coming Who will endure injustice, Who will suffer oppression and Who will die for sinners. This is remarkable. It’s astounding that the holy God Who created the world is promising to come into this world Himself—Immanuel, God with us. He promised to come into this world of injustice and oppression and death to save sinners.

Watch this with me. Fast forward to Isaiah 53:6–9 and read this prophecy about Jesus—maybe one of the most famous prophecies about Jesus.

All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.

This is why we have sin, evil, oppression, injustice and death in the world, because we—every single one of us—have turned aside from God to our own way. Yet this verse is talking about a Savior Who will come, then God the Father will lay on Him the iniquity of us all. The payment for our sins will be put on Jesus—Emmanuel, God with us. 

Then listen to the language that follows. Talking about Jesus, the Savior to come, we read:

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
    yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
    and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
    so he opened not his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
    and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
    stricken for the transgression of my people?
And they made his grave with the wicked
    and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
    and there was no deceit in his mouth.

Do you see the promise here? A Savior would come Who would endure injustice, Who would suffer oppression, Who would die at the hands of sinners. Why? To pay the price for our sin. This is what makes this holy night set apart from every other night in history, because this is the night when the dear Savior was born into a world of sin to pay the price for sinning against Him.

God has Created You for Relationship with Him

Especially if you’re visiting with us today, I want to share with you the greatest news in all the world. God has created you and me for relationship with Him. But like we just read, all of us have turned aside from God to our own ways. That’s what sin is and we are all guilty of sin before a holy God. We’re all separated from God by our sin. As we’ve talked about, this is why we see evil, oppression and suffering like we do around us in the world. In our sin, we all deserve eternal judgment before God. But God loves you and me so much that He’s not left us alone in this state of sin in a world of injustice, evil and oppression. God has come to us for one purpose: to save us from our sin. Jesus was born to die on a cross so that you and I could live in relationship with God forever. Anyone in the world can be forgiven of all your sin and restored to relationship with God through faith in Jesus, the Savior Who came to endure injustice, suffer oppression and die for sinners. 

Indeed, a thrill of hope, the weary world has reason to rejoice, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn. Rejoice in this world of sin, suffering, violence, viruses, pain, pandemic, trial and tribulation, because a Baby has been born Who will ultimately save us from all of these things. Indeed, fall on your knees before Him, before the Christ. His name, Christ, means the promised One, the One promised for centuries to save us in this world. He has been born. He has come for you and for me.

Which then leads to the second promise we see in Isaiah. Not only will this Savior endure injustice, suffer oppression and die for sinners, but He is a Savior Who will end injustice, Who will stop oppression, Who will transform the hearts of sinners to follow His lead. This is loaded language here. In Isaiah 61:1-2, we see another prophecy of this Savior to come. Listen to what God says through Isaiah, talking about the Savior to come: 

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor… 

Do you recognize those words? With a couple small differences, this mirrors what Jesus read in the synagogue in Luke 4. Out of all the places in the scroll that Jesus unrolled at the beginning of His ministry, He finds the place that prophesies the One Who will proclaim good news to the poor, Who has been sent by God to proclaim liberty to captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed—which is actually an exact quote from Isaiah 58:6—and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Isaiah 61 goes on to proclaim the reality of the Lord’s judgment on those who don’t trust in this Savior. Jesus reads these words from Isaiah, then He sits down, and with everyone’s eyes fixed on Him, He looks at them and says, “Today, right here, this passage has been fulfilled in Me.” What a statement! 

Can you imagine somebody like me coming up on a stage, reading a passage written hundreds of years before about a Savior to come, and then close with, “Yours truly.” What a moment! “Today this is fulfilled. This promise from hundreds of years before is filled in Me, right in front of your eyes and your ears.” So what does this mean?

We’ve already seen that obviously there’s a spiritual dimension at work here. This good news is certainly for the poor in spirit, which we see throughout Jesus’ teaching—the humble in heart who choose poverty of spirit over pride in self. I urge you, self-made men and women, successful men and women, choose poverty of spirit over pride in yourself. Your eternity hinges on it before a holy God. Throw aside pride in yourself; choose poverty of spirit. Jesus has come to proclaim to those who are captive to sin and Satan, to power and its penalty. He’s come to open eyes of the blind. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. He’s come to free those who are oppressed by sin and Satan, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor to all who place their faith in Him. So there is potent spiritual application in all of these words. 

Luke 4:16–21 Reminds Us that only Christ can Reconcile Our Sins

Every single person in this gathering today, every single person in the world, has one primary need: you need to be reconciled to God. This need can only be met by faith in the Savior Who came to die for sinners. This is gloriously sufficient for our eternal salvation, but this isn’t all. Follow this. Jesus did not come just to forgive our sins. Jesus came to transform our lives, to give each of us hope that this weary, fallen world, with its poverty, captivity, blindness and oppression, will not have the last word. Jesus came to give us hope and to revolutionize the way we live and love in the face of all these things in this weary world. Jesus came to die for us and to live in us, so that we might do all the things God has called His people to do over and over again in His Word. To care for the poor. To go to the captive. To love the blind. To work for the oppressed. To learn to do good. To seek justice. To correct oppression. To bring justice to the fatherless.  To plead the widow’s cause.

Jesus came to live in such a way that this kind of life would be evident in you and me. Jesus came to enable and empower us to make this kind of life our life in this world. This is why we see Jesus doing all these things throughout all four Gospels. He was beckoning His disciples to follow His lead. Love the unlikely, He tells them and then shows them. Love the Jewish tax collector, the dreaded Samaritan, the Roman oppressor. Love the blind, the deaf, the mute, the diseased, the demon-possessed and the poor. Jesus warns them, “Do not give your life to religious motion while neglecting what matters most: justice, mercy and faithfulness. This is exactly what God has said in the Old Testament and Jesus is reiterating it in the New Testament. 

This is  the first picture of the early church. What do we see them doing? Look at Acts 2:44–45, describing the very beginning, the founding of the New Testament church: “All who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.” In Acts 4, they were selling fields and lands to give to those in need. Followers of Jesus care for others in need inside the church and they extend that care to those in need outside the church. This is why Paul spends so much of his time in the New Testament collecting offerings for the impoverished church in Jerusalem. This is why James tells the church, “If you say you have faith but do nothing for the poor, your faith is fake. You’re fooling yourself. If you sing your songs and study the Bible every Sunday, yet you ignore the poor throughout the week, you are a fraud.” True religion that God our Father accepts is not merely coming to church. True religion is looking after and taking care of orphans and widows.

Do you realize what this means, Christian brothers and sisters? True followers of Jesus are not content to debate justice; true followers of Jesus are committed to doing justice, to following Jesus’ lead, showing Jesus’ life and love in a world of poverty, injustice and oppression. I praise God for how you’re doing this across our church family. Some of you are adopting, others are fostering, others are helping families who are adopting or fostering. Many of you are volunteering at pregnancy centers to provide care for parents with unwanted pregnancies and the children God is forming in their mothers’ wombs. So many of you are serving across our city, sharing literally millions of meals with people in need of food. Not just once a year, but week after week after week, throughout the year. Some of you are driving trucks full of resources to people in storm-ravaged parts of our country. Others are caring for individuals and families with special needs or serving children at our various locations.

Speaking of children, throughout November, our Kids’ Quest participant have packed hundreds of kits for homeless men, women and children in the DMV that will be given out along with a proclamation of the gospel of Jesus here at Christmas. Then this month they’ve been collecting winter hats, gloves, scarves and toys for refugee families in our city. 

Many of you are leveraging your work as individuals—whether in business or politics or education. I think about police officers in our church family who serve our church family in so many different ways to promote justice and mercy through the common means of work that God has entrusted to us. Caring for individuals and families in different ways. Coming alongside ministries around our city, beyond our city.

I think about all that’s happened in Afghanistan over recent months. You have risen up as a church and given to support our brothers and sisters over there, plus hundreds of you volunteering to serve those who have come here. There is similar work in Turkey, Thailand, Crimea, Ethiopia. The Ethiopian ambassador recently honored Dr. Z and Naomi, plus many of you, coming alongside churches and caring for orphans there.

I praise God for how you are following Jesus’ lead in doing justice. That’s true religion. I want to encourage us as a church family to do all the more justice in the days ahead, because there is so much work to do. There are more orphans and more widows to care for, right around us and all around the world. There are more communities in need across our city.

I had a conversation this week with a man and woman who have been doing ministry for 30 years in housing projects across New York City. He was talking to me about the challenges facing men, women and children in these communities and all the opportunities that exist for the church to be a part of the solution. Then he said, “I just can’t get churches to make commitments to come and stay, to live, give and work in these communities long term.” I walked away from that conversation just praying, “God, make us a church family that will go, stay and live, what will give and work long term in communities in need here in our city and around the world.”

I think of brothers and sisters sent out from here and others we partner with around the world who are living and staying and working in the hard places where the gospel hasn’t even gone yet. If you’re listening online overseas, keep going. Know that we as your church family are with you. We want to send reinforcements to you. We have a whole pipeline of hundreds of people working toward that end. Why? Because we are following a Savior Who not only came to die for us but to live in us. He came to change us, to empower us to live different from the rest of this world, to love mercy, to do justice, to correct oppression and to care for people in need. This is a fundamental part of the Christmas message. 

One of my top three favorite books, other than the Bible, is Knowing God by J.I. Packer. If you’ve been around here very long, you’ve heard me quote from it at different points. As I was reflecting on Luke 4 this week, leading up to Christmas, I went back to Packer’s chapter on Jesus’ birth. It’s an amazing chapter on the Incarnation. At one point he talks about 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, where Paul is encouraging the church to give generously and sacrificially for the sake of people in need. Specifically in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, he talks about the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and that although He was rich in divine glory, He became poor. He emptied and gave of Himself so that we, by His poverty, might become rich, be blessed and full. Packer writes that if we are followers of Jesus and His life is in us, then we should become poor, empty, and give of ourselves, so that others might be rich, blessed and full. The main picture there in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 is to give for those in need because of the Spirit of Christ in you.

So then Packer goes on to talk about the Christmas spirit. Listen to this quote to hopefully help it soak in:

We talk glibly of the Christmas spirit, rarely meaning more by this than sentimental jollity on a family basis, but it ought to mean the reproducing in human lives of the temper of Him Who for our sakes became poor at the first Christmas. The Christmas spirit itself ought to be the mark of every Christian all year round. It is to our shame and disgrace today that so many Christians—the soundest and most orthodox—go through this world in the spirit of the priests and the Levites, seeing human needs all around them, but after a pious wish and perhaps a prayer that God might meet those needs, avert their eyes and pass by on the other side. That is not the Christmas spirit, nor is it the spirit of those Christians. 

Alas, they are many whose ambition in life seems limited to building a nice middle-class Christian home, making nice middle-class Christian friends, bringing up their children in nice middle-class Christian ways, and who leave the sub-middle-class sections of the community—Christian and non-Christian—to get on by themselves. The Christmas spirit does not shine out in the Christmas snob, for the Christmas spirit is the spirit of those who, like their Master, live their whole lives on the principle of making themselves poor.

I’ll caveat Packer here and you’ll see this when you read the whole chapter. He’s not saying the goal is to be poor, as if we’re ascetics. But listen to how he defines this; “Spending and being spent to enrich their fellow humans, giving time, trouble, care and concern to do good to others, and not just their own friends, in whatever way there seems need.” 

MBC family, what will shine out of us, the Christmas spirit, the Spirit of Christ, or the Christmas snob? Not just here at the end of this year, but throughout the next year? We live in a weary world of poverty, injustice and oppression in so many ways that we could not even begin to exhaust today. We all, individually and as a church, have a choice. We can worship week in and week out, do the motions, have the Bible studies, say the prayers, sing the songs, but do little to nothing about poverty, injustice and oppression around us. God has spoken clearly about what He thinks of this: He hates it. 

Or we can gather for worship week in and week out, sing the songs, study the Word, say the prayers, plus give our lives reflecting His life, His love and His Spirit amidst poverty, injustice and oppression around us. I want to urge you individually and us as a church: let’s choose true religion and true faith. Let’s have nothing to do with fraudulent faith that fakes worship while ignoring those in need around us and around the world. As just one practical application, I would urge you, in your giving here and at the end of the year, to see that we have built all kinds of ministry along these lines into our budget. We have so much more we can do along these lines if we have a potential surplus budget, depending on how much we give. The more we have in surplus, the more we’re able to give to work like this. I look across our church family in this part of the world, in this city, with all the grace God has given us, and I know there is no limit to what we can do together if we truly follow the leadership of Jesus. He taught us truly to love one another, to love each other as ourselves, to give to each other in need, to love people across this city as we love ourselves, not just people who live near us or look like us or think like us. He taught us also to love the nations as ourselves, even some whom the world might say are our enemies. We are to love them as ourselves. The law of our Savior is to love people in need. His gospel is peace. Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother. 

That’s exactly what Paul says in the Bible to Philemon on behalf of Onesimus, a former slave. Paul says, “Philemon, do you realize he’s not a slave or a bondservant; he’s our brother in the Lord.” Jesus has made this total relationship transformation. 

Just think of what would have happened if more professing followers of Jesus in the 1800s, when this song was written, had realized the reason for Jesus’ coming, had followed Jesus’ lead, had proclaimed the good news of reconciliation with God and worked on behalf of the enslaved and the oppressed. Frederick Douglass, in probably his most famous speech amidst slavery, quoted what we read today from Isaiah 1. He pleaded specifically with the church to follow Jesus’ lead, saying, if Christians in churches alone would stand against slavery, “this whole system of crime and blood would be scattered to the winds.” But too many Christians professed the gospel, worshiping every Sunday while ignoring the poor, oppressed and enslaved right around them. So many people suffered as a result. With examples like this spread across history, may God help us today to follow Jesus’ lead to help more in a world where we are surrounded by countless people who are impoverished, enslaved, orphaned, widowed or displaced.

I was talking yesterday in a store with a man whose family is from Syria. He was talking about how people have totally forgotten about the refugee crisis there, including his family. As I listened to him, I thought about millions, even billions of those struggling in these ways who are totally unreached. They have not heard the good news of Who Jesus is and why He came, that we sing about in all these songs. 

Luke 4:16–21 Invites Us to Follow Jesus in Our Lives

So let’s give our lives today to following Jesus’ lead and showing Jesus’ love in a weary world with confidence that one day, “in His name all oppression shall cease.”

Our current Bible reading is in the book of Revelation, a book that reminds us where all of history is headed in the end: to His government, fully and finally reigning. To Jesus returning and His justice and righteousness being made known. It’s this confidence—not only in why He came, but in what’s going to happen when He comes back—that causes us to live and love sacrificially and generously with hope today.

Remember how Martin Luther King’s famous speech, “How long?” ended? “How long will prejudice blind the visions of men, darken their understanding and drive bright-eyed wisdom from her sacred throne. When will wounded justice be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men?” He said this in the middle of civil rights battles:

I come to say to you this afternoon: however difficult the moment, however frustrating the hour, it will not be long. Because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. It will not be long, because:
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored.
He has loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword.
His truth is marching on.
He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat.
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment seat.
O, be swift, my soul, to answer Him, be jubilant, my feet.
Our God is marching on.
Glory, glory, hallelujah. Glory, hallelujah. Glory, hallelujah.

Yes. “Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we, let all within us praise His holy name. Christ is the Lord.” He’s the Lord, He has come and He is coming back. When He returns, there will be no more poverty, no more injustice, no more oppression, no more sorrow, no more evil, no more sin, no more pain. For all who have put their hope in Him, He will remove all these things once and for all, then we will praise His name forever. Forevermore we will proclaim His power and His glory.

So I invite you to bow your heads with me, all across this room, in all locations and online, this is Jesus Christ the Lord. I want to ask every single person within the sound of my voice, have you put all your faith, all your hope, all your trust in Him alone, to save you from your sin and to transform your life? If the answer to that question is not a resounding yes in your heart, I invite you right now  to say to Him from your heart, “God, my Creator, I know that I have sinned against You, but today I believe that Jesus came to endure injustice, suffer oppression and die for my sin. Today I place my faith in Him. I ask You to transform my life. Make His life my life.”

As you pray that, and for all who have already placed your faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord of your life, let’s pray together before God? 

God, help us to follow Jesus’ lead. Help us to do what You have called and commanded Your people to do throughout history. God, we are not so foolish today as to think that what others who have gone before us have done we would never do. We realize that it’s possible for us to pretend our faith, to go through religious motions, to ignore justice, mercy and faithfulness. It’s possible for us to think we’re worshiping You when we are doing that which You hate. We pray this may it not be so among us. May it not be so in each of us; may it not be so in all of us together. 

God, make our lives a reflection of the life of Jesus, we pray. By Your power in us, Jesus, by Your love for us, lead us to do justice, to love mercy, to proclaim Your gospel as we portray Your love in this weary world in which we live. We pray this would be the mark of McLean Bible Church, that we as a church family would hold fast to hope and faith in Jesus alone for our salvation, with lives that reflect Jesus’ love for people in need all around us, for this city and for the nations. God, please may it be so. We pray that You would lead more of us to foster or adopt children, to care for widows, to help sojourners and refugees. We pray that You would lead more of us to work in ways that lead to justice, righteousness and good for others, that You would use our lives to care well for the poor among us, around us and far from us. 

May all these things we see in Your Word be true, based on the coming of Jesus for us. In the name of the One Who will one day end all injustice and oppression, in Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

David Platt serves as a pastor in metro Washington, D.C. He is the founder of Radical.

David received his Ph.D. from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and is the author of Don’t Hold Back, Radical, Follow MeCounter CultureSomething Needs to ChangeBefore You Vote, as well as the multiple volumes of the Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary series.

Along with his wife and children, he lives in the Washington, D.C. metro area.

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