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Safe Town? – Micah 5:1-5a; Jeremiah 31:15-17

This sermon was preached on December 26, 2010.

I was thinking about taking today off, and I thought, “Well, I’m not going to sleep in. I’ll just stay home, so where am I going to go to church?” I said to [his son] Ryan, “Are you going to go to Assembly?” [Ryan replied] “Oh yeah.” Well, where do I want to go? Well, this is the church I want to go to myself, so then I thought, “Well, I don’t know. Who do I want to hear preach?” [Congregation laughs as he chuckles.] “Who do I need to hear preaching from? Maybe me.”

I have a word to share with you this morning. First of all, this is a book, going into 2011, if you’ve never read it, I recommend it. Leonard Ravenhill has passed away. He was a great voice for revival in the 20th century. He was an evangelist in England for many, many years. He moved to America. He was a mentor for David Wilkerson and many others. His son, David Ravenhill, was here about ten years ago. We had his ministry, and Ravi Zacharias—many of you are familiar with him—wrote this, “The book that shaped me probably more dramatically than any other book that I have read.” Leonard Ravenhill, Why Revival Tarries [Bethany House Publishers, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1959, 1987] is available for $10 in the foyer. We have a quantity available. If we run out, we’ll get more. Anybody here doesn’t have this book and you promise you’ll read it in the next couple weeks? [A hand goes up and he gives away the book to a young man named Jim.] There you go, Pastor Jimmy. It’s a good book.

The message goes along with this book. That’s why I wanted to share it, and it goes a step further, actually, than the book. Turn with me in your Bibles if you will, to the book of Micah, if you can find it [he chuckles], in the Old Testament. By the way, it’s not backsliding to use your Table of Contents [some people laugh], in the front of the Bible. It’s not a sin. It’s there to be used. It’s good to memorize all the books of the Bible, what order they’re in, but if you don’t have it, that’s okay. Micah, chapter 5 [he pauses while everyone finds it] and then we’re going to turn to Jeremiah 31 as well. Would you stand with me as we look together to God’s Word?

Micah, chapter 5, starting with verse 1: Marshal your troops, O city of troops, for a siege is laid against us. They will strike Israel’s ruler on the cheek with a rod. “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor gives birth and the rest of His brothers return to join the Israelites. He will stand and shepherd His flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord His God. And they will live securely, for then His greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. And He will be their peace.

Now turn with me to Jeremiah, chapter 31 and we’ll tie these together. It’s the passage you’re familiar with from Matthew 2, in the Christmas story, Jeremiah 31, verse 15: This is what the Lord says: “A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because her children are no more.” This is what the Lord says: “Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears, for your work will be rewarded,” declares the Lord. “They will return from the land of the enemy. So there is hope for your future,” declares the Lord. “Your children will return to their own land.”

Pastor Wayne, would you come and lead us in prayer? I just need a second. I’ll be right back.

[Pastor Wayne Miller, the worship pastor, speaks.] Would you pray with me? [Prayer] Heavenly Father, we love You. We praise You. Again, Lord, we’ve exalted You through this service. Father, we’ve lifted Your name high. Lord, we praise You for the great gift of Jesus. We thank You for Your word that was just read, and Lord, I pray that You will take this word and apply it and all that Pastor Grabill says, apply it to our hearts and our lives and Father, help us to grow, to be stronger through it, Lord. Father, help us to become more like You and to be lights everywhere we go. In Your name we pray, amen.

[Pastor Grabill speaks now.] Amen, amen. You may be seated. I just needed to get some eggnog out of my throat [and the congregation laughs]. You know, as I was planning messages for December–the two passages in Isaiah the last two weeks that spoke of the Peace Child, Jesus, and we see reference here again in Micah 5, verse 5: And He will be their peace–I was led to these three passages but I had a word for the first two and I didn’t have it for this until about a week ago. And I was afraid the message would come across as a motivational speech. You know, Jerusalem’s the big city. Jerusalem is highlighted in verse one, actually. Verse two, Bethlehem, the small town; big things can come from small towns.

Well that’s true. You can change the world, by the way, from anywhere. You don’t have to be in Manhattan or London or Hollywood or Washington or wherever. You can change the world from anywhere if God has His hand on your life. Martin Luther in Wittenberg, Germany, not a big city–it wasn’t Berlin, wasn’t Frankfurt—so it’s a God issue, and it was God that ordained that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem. But, you know–don’t despise small beginnings, the prophet said–I was afraid that word, it didn’t go deep enough in my spirit that I felt really comfortable with it, because it’s kind of a motivational speech, belief for big things from small places.

And then I felt God gave me a deeper word, something that I had never really thought about before, and it has to do with revival. Now let me go back to something that Christopher Alam [very passionate missionary to Africa and the world, has spoken several times at State College Assembly of God. More information about his ministry, called Dynamis World Ministries, can be found at http://pentecostalfire.com] said when he was here, something very profound, and I agreed with him much more than I disagreed. And that was he said, “There’s a lot of talk about revival, revival, revival.” And he said, “All we need is personal revival.” He said, “Everybody around you may not be following God, but you can be on fire for God yourself. You don’t have to wait for them to be on fire for you to be on fire.” He’s absolutely right! And he said, “And then, when revival comes, maybe lots of people are on fire for God but there are some who aren’t. And they miss it.” So he said, “It’s about you. It’s about you seeking God. And as you read this book [he holds up his Bible], make it about you and not about what the pastor does or the church does or what somebody else does. Make it about you and God.” That was a profound point and I amened it.

But I’ve got to tell you, as a leader, I still want to see lots of people on fire. You know, I want to see more than two or three or five or ten or fifteen or twenty. I want to be in a community where there are thousands and tens of thousands of people on fire for God, so my heart still yearns for revival. And so we pastors, we often ask the question that Leonard Ravenhill asks in the book: Why does revival tarry? And the book covers lots of things preceding revival. We need to be praying more, we need to be dedicated more, consecrated more, and I don’t know that anybody says it better than Leonard. And that is totally true.

But there’s something about the backside of revival that I felt God brought to my mind that I want to share with you as we wrap up 2010. Let me say, for State College Assembly of God, 2010 was a good year. It was a good year. We’ve had dozens of people saved, filled with the Spirit, baptized. We’ve seen people from different cultures come to Jesus. We’ve had people from different cultures come here. Some have not yet dedicated their life to Christ but they heard about Jesus here. Pastor Tom [Pastor Tom Reigel is the Campus Pastor for students at Penn State University] told me we had one Sunday, maybe a few months ago, where we had a Muslim, a Hindu, a Buddhist and a Christian all sitting together, here in church together, and they heard the Gospel. But not everybody says yes. So we didn’t see every healing we wanted to see this year. We didn’t see every salvation we wanted to see. We didn’t see the city set on fire the way we wanted to see it, but it was a good year. It was, in many, many ways. But I’m believing for more. How ‘bout you? [Several people say, “Amen.”] Amen.

However, when there is more, there is pushback, and that’s what God dropped in my heart. Why is it that there are two chapters that really focus on the Christmas story in the New Testament? One is Luke, chapter two and the other is Matthew, chapter two. Now, Luke 1 and Matthew 1 also proceed, but Luke 2 and Matthew 2. So, of Luke 2 and Matthew 2, which is the one that we read? Which is the one that we used Friday night [Christmas Eve Service]? Which is the one we read in our homes? Which is the one we normally recite? Luke 2. Why not Matthew?

Well, Matthew focuses more on Joseph and Luke focuses on Mary. Well, she was the one who physically is giving birth to Jesus. Joseph, understandably, he’s in the line of David and he’s given covering for Jesus and he is going to be his earthly father, but not his biological father. So it’s not the same, I understand that. Then Matthew has the wise men. Luke has the shepherds. Maybe we associate more with the shepherds than we do the wise men. [He chuckles and then he continues, almost under this breath.] You can think about that for a little bit. [Everyone laughs.] The dirty shepherds, and they were, you know, kind of scrungy. Well, the shepherds were Israelites; the wise men were pagans, and the wise men come from afar, and then the shepherds, they get the angels. Okay, the wise men don’t have such a glorious revelation, although God speaks to them very clearly and tells them what to do and where to go, and to follow the star.

But there’s an element in Matthew that we really don’t like to be reminded of, that’s not in Luke, and that’s the pushback. That’s when Herod feels threatened by Jesus and has all the children in Bethlehem killed. Now, we don’t like to read that, but it happened. It was pushback. And God brought to my mind so many elements of pushback in the Bible. You know, Jesus’s ministry—we’ll go back to Bethlehem here in a minute, little town of Bethlehem—His ministry ended with pushback. The most dramatic miracle that He did was the miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead [John 11:1-44], and it was in Bethany, close to Jerusalem, not in Jerusalem, but close. And it was such a dramatic miracle that you read in John 11 that they get together and say, “Hey, we gotta do somethun. We gotta kill Him, we gotta kill Jesus. Better that one man die than the whole nation be destroyed from the uproar that this guy is creating [John 11:50]. And Jesus doesn’t pull back either. Not only does He raise Lazarus, but He rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, declaring His Kingship, fulfilling the prophecy of the Old Testament, a King will come to you on a donkey [Zechariah 9:9]. And He not only does that, and the mobs are waving, [shouting] “Hosanna to the Son of David.” He not only does that, He goes to the temple and cleanses the temple. So He is really in your face. And the enemy pushes back by crucifying Him on the cross.

The book of Acts, do we have pushback in the book of Acts? Well, you better believe. The Holy Spirit comes, the day of Pentecost, we focus on Acts 2. We preach out of Acts 2 all the time. Not often do we preach about the beheading of James [Acts 12:2] or the stoning of Stephen [Acts 7:57-60]. We know it’s there but, you know, that doesn’t really motivate us so we focus on what God does, not what the enemy does. I understand that.  But the enemy does do something. It’s pushback.

Well, the story of Jesus being born and the pushback that happens in Bethlehem of the children being killed reminds us of the story in the Old Testament of a child king that was protected, and who wanted to kill him? None other than his grandmother. His name was Joash and you can read the story in II Kings [chapter 11] and II Chronicles [chapter 22] about how he was born. She was the queen of Israel at the time, and she didn’t want—she had a plan, she had an agenda–and she didn’t want anybody even in her own family to interfere. She would kill anybody that got in her way. And so they protected Joash until he was seven years old, and then they revealed him, and he became the king at age seven. So you have this child king and someone wants to kill him. His grandmother’s name was Athalia. She’s one of the few grandmothers in the Bible that needed to be run over by a reindeer [congregation laughs]. Actually she was killed; she was killed and Joash became King. So we have this, even in the Old Testament, we have God’s plan with Joash and you have the enemy’s pushback. Pushback or blowback, what intelligence communities and military call it sometimes.

Why revival tarries. I have a new theory and it goes along with everything Leonard Ravenhill says, everything we preach: we need to pray more, we need to be holy, we need to be consecrated. I understand all that. But maybe there is an element that we’ve missed, and that’s the kindness of God. You know, I enjoy watching football on television, and I think of these NFL coaches and I relate to them as a leader of people, you know, developing a team and wanting to have team victories. It’s just not one person winning; it’s everybody on the field, everybody doing their job and executing, not like the Eagles last week, punting the ball right to the number one returner, if you just happened to see that game. [On December 19, 2010, the Philadelphia Eagles won against the New York Giants at the Meadowlands on the final play of the game as the Giants punted directly to DeSean Jackson, who returned the ball for a touchdown as time expired.] I think about the coaches. Imagine an NFL coach, and he has a seven-year-old son, and the seven-year-old son is playing youth football. And he has an outfit, he has a helmet, he has everything. And he says, “Dad, Dad, Dad, I want to go out on the big field. I want to play in your game. I want to play with your team. I want you to be my coach and I want to play with your players. Let me out on the NFL field.” Now, what loving coach/father would let his seven-year-old get out on that field? It’d be crazy. You’d get killed out there. You know, almost all of us would get killed out there, right? People ask me, “How you doin’?” I say, “I have enough strength to do what I have to do. Thank God I wasn’t called to play in the NFL, [he scoffs], because there is just no way, no way at all.” Is it possible that sometimes revival tarries because God knows we couldn’t handle the blowback? It reminds me of Jeremiah who said to Israel, “You’re having trouble keeping up with the footmen. How are you going to handle the horses when they come?” [Jeremiah 12:5 If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses? If you stumble in safe country, how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan?]

And this plays into my view of scripture and end time revival, and that is, again, we are not going to take over the world for Jesus and then present it to Him. It’s not going to happen that way. But I do believe we’re not just holding out for Jesus to come either and retreating. Those aren’t the only two choices. You have people who say we’re going to take everything over and if not, you are—oh, they use different words—you are copping out, you’re just hiding out, you’re in defeatism, you’re a pessimist. No, I’m not a pessimist at all. We are on the advance, but as we push against the darkness, there is pushback. And I believe as we read the book of Revelation, we see that the enemy is cornered. It’s like when Jesus, before He went to the cross, they said, “We have to do something. The whole world is going after Him.” And we live in a day-to-day, around the world, I’m telling you, more people are coming to Jesus today than ever before. Than ever before! And the enemy is pushing back in different places.

So if we had the revival that we would want to see in State College, what would the pushback  look like? We had some pushback in the 90’s, the late 90’s, and the enemy pushed back and we had to deal with his subtleties, his deceptions, his seductions, his opposition. We had a taste of that in the 90’s, and what did we learn from that? I hope I learned a lot. I hope we all did. I believe God wants to do more. The question is, can we handle the opposition when it comes? Because the devil is still out there. The devil doesn’t disappear, right? And he is not going to be happy.

A few weeks ago I was sitting with some pastors in State College and I was saying I don’t know what the days ahead hold. There’s people who see, in our nation, a very gradual unraveling of the nation, fraying and unraveling, and concern that there may be a major event much bigger than 9/11, and if such an event ever comes, I said, you know, “If it happens on the East Coast, they’re going to be looking for cities of refuge, and State College is a very likely place for people to go, seeking refuge from whatever they’ve experienced, [whatever] they’ve survived.” And I said, “If we spiritual leaders are not on the same page, we will not have a city of peace. What we need is agreement and reconciliation and unity, so this can be a place of peace.” The more I thought about that, if this is a place of peace, a place where God is moving, a place where people acknowledge God is, then the enemy will attack. Can we stand together and handle that?

Well, when we’re having trouble with just normal things of life, how are we going to handle it when a tsunami comes? That’s what happened in Bethlehem. Jesus is born, and we kind of stop the story there. Jesus is born, how wonderful it is. Yes, Mary and Joseph go to Egypt but how ‘bout all those other people in Bethlehem, what they experienced? Matthew 2 quotes Jeremiah, the passage we read in Jeremiah 31, where it says: “A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because her children are no more.” But I want you to read with me verses 16 and 17. This is what the Lord says: “Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears, for your work will be rewarded,” declares the Lord. “They will return from the land of the enemy. So there is hope for your future,” declares the Lord. “Your children will return to their own land.” [He specifically emphasizes each of the last three words.]

This passage is lifted out, by the Holy Spirit, verse 15, and applied in Matthew 2, for the children because Herod has threatened, the enemy has threatened and kills the children. But in its original context in Jeremiah, it is a passage of promise. In the original context in Jeremiah, it’s saying, “Your children have left Israel. It’s like they don’t exist anymore, but God is saying they are going to return.” And I want to end this year, believing that part of what God wants to do in this city is see loved ones return to God who’ve gone away from God. [Many in the congregation say, “Amen.”] That is part of revival. When hearts who have gotten hardened or cynical or bitter, hurt, whatever it is, and those hearts melt, and the promises of verses 16 and 17 in Jeremiah 31 come true, and those children come home to God, it’s more than coming home to Mom and Dad. It’s home to God, and then everything else follows. We are going to believe this morning for unsaved loved ones in 2011, should Jesus tarry, children who are no more—they’re still here but spiritually they’re not where they should be—they are going to return to Jesus. And they’re going to be part of what He is going to do, and I believe that God will prepare us. I don’t want to stop believing for great things. I believe God can prepare us, like the church in the book of Acts. When there is pushback, when there is blowback from the enemy, we’ll be able to handle it. We understand we’re in a war, and that war isn’t over until the King of Kings comes, and finally establishes His eternal reign. But in the meantime, we’re going to trust Him.

There is a God. There is a devil. And don’t confuse the two. Don’t confuse the two. It’s the enemy that comes to steal, kill and destroy [John 10:10]. It’s God in His kindness Who is patient and waiting. And I’ve got to wonder, is He patiently waiting for us in State College to be ready to handle what we’re asking for? You know, sometimes we want our driver’s license when we’re five years old. Can we handle it? I’m looking for that day when He says, “Yes.” It may be a bolt out of the sky. It may be a dramatic healing. It may be a dramatic salvation. It could be anything that will be the spark where God says, “Yes. Yes, there’s going to be pushback but they can handle it. They’re going to call on me. They’re going to look to Me, they’re going to be safe in My arms. They can handle it.” And part of handling it [is] those who’ve drifted come back to Jesus and they are ready to tell others, “Yes, I walked away from the Lord for a while, but I’m back, safe in His arms, and you can be too. You can be safe in the arms of Jesus.”

Would you stand with me this morning? As we end this year, I’m going to ask you to take a step of faith in just a moment. If there is a loved one in your life, you are believing in 2011, they will turn to God or they will turn back to God, and you want to see them walk these aisles in 2011, or get baptized in that baptistry, or maybe somewhere else in this nation or around the world. I want to invite you to come forward and stand here in proxy for them, that you are standing here, right here, right now, come. Come in faith believing that they will return. They will return and you end 2010, not with tears, but with joy. [quoting Jeremiah 31:16-17 again, with similar emphasis as before] “Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears, for your work will be rewarded [declares the Lord.]  They will return from the land of the enemy. So there is hope for your future,” declares the Lord. “Your children will return to their own land. Amen, amen!

Take a hand of someone nearby and believe with them. We’re going to pray together. [He pauses and then begins to pray] Lord, You’ve been so good. You’ve been so good in 2010. You’ve been faithful through the years, and we rejoice in that. We are here today as representatives of Your grace and Your mercy. Not that we are perfect, not that we have it all together, but Lord, it’s by Your grace that we’re even here today, that we got up this morning, we got ready, we came to the House of God to celebrate Your goodness. But there are many that we know–loved ones, children grandchildren, nieces, nephews, aunts and uncles, parents, siblings–who are away from You right now, and we want them to come back. Yes, Lord, we want to see the nations come to You. We want to see internationals in State College come to You, but Lord, on our hearts are the people that we know, that we’re related to, that we live with, we work by them. They’re on our heart today. We love them, we care for them. They’re loved ones that we’re standing for today and believing that they will return. They will return! Lord, we declare it today, prophetically. They’ll return to You. They will return to You. Lord, we ask it, that You will touch their heart even today. Lord, You touched so many in the last couple days. I pray even before this year ends that some will come back to you, and they’ll get on the phone, “Mom, Dad, brother, sister, God’s been speaking to me, and I’ve decided to turn my life over to Him.” Lord, we declare it today, in the Name of Jesus. Let’s say that together: In the Name of Jesus, in the Name of Jesus we declare it done! Amen, and amen! We declare victory in Jesus’ Name! [Congregation breaks into applause.] Amen! Amen! Amen! Thank You, Lord, for those that will return to You. Lord, they’ve declared State College to be one of the safest towns in America. I’m sure Bethlehem thought they were safe, there away from the fray. Lord, we do want this place to be a safe place, but we also want it to be spiritually a dangerous place in a way, because we’re not just—we haven’t compromised with the enemy, we haven’t made a deal with him. We’re here to take territory from the enemy. And so whether it’s safe or not, whether it’s safe or not, Lord, we pray that, like out of Bethlehem, out of State College You will raise up something for Your glory, for Your honor. And we want to be like Jesus, born in that little town, 2000 years ago, faithful to You. We will do what You call us to do, we will follow You, in Jesus Name. And everyone said amen, amen. God bless you.

[The service ended with “Glory in the Highest”, composed 2009 by Daniel Carson, Ed Cash, Matt Redman, Jesse Reeves and Chris Tomlin.]

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