The Shipwrecked
by Jack Wald | December 18th, 2016

Matthew 2:1-2, 9-11

We have enjoyed another wonderful Children’s Christmas Pageant. It is a treat to see the children of the church in their costumes, speaking out their lines. Christmas Pageants are always a bit chaotic and we love the confusion, the timidity, the unexpected.

It is a luxury for us to enjoy this Christmas Pageant. I made the point in the RICEmail that I sent out this past week that while even King Herod in our Christmas Pageant is a cute character, the King Herods of the world who are holding on to power and accumulating wealth, are seeking to use, abuse, and kill children in many parts of the world. What we have enjoyed this morning is not being enjoyed in all the churches of the world.

Here are some comments from Christians in Syria about their Christmas this year.

“It’s snowing in Damascus now. It’s rare that it snows. We don’t have much to warm ourselves: there is a lack of oil and gas, and there are electricity blackouts that last for hours and hours. Yesterday I was at home with my daughter and we just wore all the clothes we could find.

“But we don’t complain, because we think of all of our fellow Syrians that are living in the streets now. It breaks my heart if I think of the children that fled with only their summer clothes on them. We would love to go there and help them, but traveling to the area they live in is far too dangerous.

“No, Christmas will not be a time of celebration for us this year. How can we celebrate when people around us are suffering?

“We will have some special prayers in church, but we don’t have any decorations. Having Christmas decorations outside the church would provoke the terrorist to attack us. They already send the Christians a message: they have special ‘Christmas gifts’ prepared for us: three bomb cars.

“Last week I went to the market to get some hats, socks and candy for the kids in our church. Normally we would buy them some games, but toys are way too expensive now. At least they will have something to keep them warm, that’s more important than toys in this situation. I want to give those gifts to the children and hope that they will know that Jesus still loves them, no matter what’s going on around us.”

I read a book this past week by Nik Ripken, The Insanity of God. Ripken worked in Somalia from 1991 – 1997. These were years of the Somalian Civil War when there was great suffering and Ripken went in and out from his base in Kenya to do relief work. After his horrendous experiences, Ripken felt led to explore persecution of Christians in the world and interviewed people in Russia, China, and other parts of the world. The stories of men and women who held on to Jesus despite horrible persecution took my breath away, amazed me, blew me away. And I realized that faith in Jesus is far deeper than the comfortable Christian experience we have in our churches. Because life is so easy for us, we don’t know how much we need Jesus. We hold on to our comfortable existence and to Jesus. There are others who had to choose and gave up their material possessions, their physical well-being, and their family and friends. They choose Jesus over all of these.

In a Christmas devotional, Brennan Manning makes the point that Jesus is for the shipwrecked.

From time to time I take the ferry from Ceuta or Tangier to Spain. We drive our car onto the ferry and walk upstairs where we sit in comfortable chairs drinking a soda, eating a snack, and reading a book. An hour later we arrive and drive off the ferry.

One time we crossed in the darkness and I thought of those who cross the straits of Gibralter in overcrowded, leaky rubber rafts, trying to sneak their way into Spain. The seas are not always calm and big ships cannot see a small raft as they move through the water. For rubber rafts, it is a very dangerous crossing. I cross because it is a convenient way to get to Spain. Those who take the leaky, overcrowded rubber rafts do so because they are desperate.

I cross in convenience and comfort, but if the ferry were to have an accident and begin to sink in the middle of the straits, I would join the ranks of the desperate. In the dark waters of the straits, I would be desperate to find something to support me in the water.

Jesus is for the desperate and we see this in the birth of Jesus. Jesus was not born in elegance or luxury. Jesus was born in a simple, Palestinian home where Mary and Joseph shared a room with another family who lived there. This was a one room house, with a guest room that was already occupied, and a lower section on the other end of the house where the family animals were protected during the night. At the end of the room, by the section for the animals, there was a depression in the floor where the hay for the animals was put. This was the manger where Jesus was laid.

A simple, Palestinian home, a shared room without privacy, only the hay in the manger as a place for a newborn baby to be laid.

Who goes to such a place for help? Only the shipwrecked are desperate enough to come. Those who live in comfort seek a clean hospital or the soft couch of a psychiatrist’s office when they need help. Those who live in comfort seek a sophisticated church with a wonderful choir, stimulating preacher, and interesting people in the congregation with whom they can mingle. The wealthy seek another peek at their financial portfolio and make plans to go to their summer home for a break. The bored make another trip to the mall to buy more clothes.

Shipwrecked and desperate people come to Jesus. When you are in the open sea with the waves swelling around you, you flail your arms and are relieved to find a piece of wood to which you can cling. Finally you are washed ashore and make your way to the manger and make the stunning discovery that the plank you were clinging to was the salvation Jesus offers.

Notice some characteristics of the shipwrecked who come to Jesus.

The shipwrecked do not ask if they deserve to be helped. Out in the open sea with their strength failing and desperation increasing, when they find a plank of wood, they do not ask if it is right for them to hold on to this piece of wood. They do not evaluate it to see if there might not be a better piece of wood available. They do not measure themselves and see if they deserve this piece of wood. They simply cling to what comes to them to save them.

The shipwrecked come to Jesus with nothing to offer. All they had was lost at sea. Their intricate theologies were proved to be insignificant. Their refined education was shown to be inadequate. Their sophistication was irrelevant. Their wealth proved only to be a danger, dragging them deeper in the water. The shipwrecked abandon all they have and come to Jesus with gratitude that they were saved from a certain destruction.

The shipwrecked come to the humble home in Bethlehem and pay no attention to the shared space or the smell of the animals. The shipwrecked kneel at the manger of Jesus without worrying if the floor is clean. The shipwrecked pay no attention to the aesthetics of the room, they pay attention only to Jesus. They do not care if there is a choir or not. They do not care if they sing music they like or not. The intensity of the gratitude of the shipwrecked breaks through all the surroundings and focuses on Jesus.

Desperate people cling to Jesus in gratitude for his rescue of them. Some of us believe we are making our life’s crossing in a luxurious ocean liner, relaxing in a first-class suite, drinking from crystal glasses and dining on fine china. Others of us are in tourist class and some of us are working our way across by washing dishes and cleaning rooms. And then some of us are in leaky rubber rafts. The truth is that whatever ship we are on, it will sink in the middle and leave us desperate. The fortunate are the ones who realize this and cling to Jesus.

What would you do if you had to make a choice between Jesus and your job? What if it were necessary for you to deny faith in Jesus in order to keep your job? What if you were forced to make a choice between Jesus and your household possessions? What if you were given a choice to deny Jesus or be put in jail and tortured? I have never faced these choices and I pray I never will. But many brothers and sisters in Christ have had to make that choice.

In most persecutions in church history, only a small fraction of those who go to church choose Jesus over physical harm and loss of material comfort. It all comes down to how desperate we are. How clearly do you see that you are lost and without hope of eternal life without Jesus? How much are you willing to give up to follow Jesus?

This Christmas, along with enjoying Christmas decorations, music, food, and traditions, take some time to pray for those around the world who are not able to celebrate Christmas with the abundance and safety we experience.

Followers of Jesus in China were asked about how they handled persecution and this is what they said:
The security police regularly harass a believer who owns the property where a house-church meets. The police say, “You have got to stop these meetings! If you do not stop these meetings, we will confiscated your house, and we will throw you out into the street.”
Then the property owner will probably respond, “Do you want my house? Do you want my farm? Well, if you do, then you need to talk to Jesus because I gave this property to Him.”

The security police will not know what to make of that answer. So they will say, “We don’t have any way to get to Jesus, but we can certainly get to you! When we take your property, you and your family will have nowhere to live!”
And the house-church believers will declare, “Then we will be free to trust God for shelter as well as for our daily bread.”

“If you keep this up, we will beat you!” the persecutors will tell them.
“Then we will be free to trust Jesus for healing,” the believers will respond.

“And then we will put you in prison!” the police will threaten.
By now, the believers’ response is almost predictable. “Then we will be free to preach the good news of Jesus to the captives, to set them free. We will be free to plant churches in prison.”

“If you try to do that, we will kill you!” the frustrated authorities will vow.
And, with utter consistency, the house-church believers will reply, “Then we will be free to go to heaven and be with Jesus forever.”

You tell me, who will be great in the kingdom of God? Who will be rich in faith in the kingdom of God?

I visited Communist East Berlin the year I was an exchange student in Germany, the year before I became a follower of Jesus. I had a meal in the apartment of a young couple who were followers of Jesus and because of that, they were denied a state paid university education. They were denied the other benefits of the state and I wondered why they would pay a price for saying they were Christians. I grew up going to church but it bored me and I certainly would not pay a price to go to church. What was it about Jesus that made them be willing to pay a cost for their faith? This question was part of what led me to surrender to Jesus that next year.

Followers of Jesus in the world who are willing to pay a great price for their faith in Jesus challenge us to ask ourselves if we too would be willing to pay a great price for following Jesus. Do we know Jesus? How important is Jesus to us? Are we willing to suffer for our faith in Jesus?

I’m not asking you to stand and say, “Even if I have to die for Jesus, I will never disown him.” Peter said that and then denied knowing Jesus three times. In humility, knowing how weak we are, we can pray, “Help me Jesus to hold on when it becomes difficult. In my weakness, make me strong.”

The best Christmas present you can receive this year is to see how desperate you are apart from Christ and cling ever tighter to the only one who can rescue you and take you safely into his kingdom.