This sermon is part of the sermon series "Are You Ready for a Visit?". See series.
In Charles Dickens' novel A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge lies down on Christmas Eve hoping to enjoy a good night's rest. In the course of that night he has four separate visitors, all of them uninvited, all of them unexpected, and all of them unappreciated—at least in the beginning.
The ghost of Jacob Marley, Scrooge's deceased business partner; the Ghost of Christmas Past; the Ghost of Christmas Present; and the Ghost of Christmas Future all show up, unannounced and uninvited, and break into Scrooge's life. These four disturbing visits leave a profound impact on his life. When Ebenezer Scrooge wakes up on Christmas morning, he is a different person because of the visits he experiences on Christmas Eve.
There are two possible outcomes with any visitation in our lives: blessing or cursing. When family or friends visit us during the holidays, we experience the blessing of being around loved ones. We experience the blessing of visitation when the plumber comes to fix a broken pipe, or when the doctor comes to bring healing in times of illness. On the other hand, we experience cursing when a thief visits our home and takes all our valuables. The outcome of the visit is dependent upon the visitor and his purpose in visiting.
The Bible makes it clear that we can expect visits from God. We are going to look at the basic realities of a visit from God and at three reasons that God visits a person or nation.
The Bible teaches about God's visitation.
The Bible teaches a powerful concept called "visitation." The Hebrew word for visitation, paqad, indicates a time when the Eternal God breaks into human history in order to bless or to punish individuals or nations. This visitation always changes the destiny of the person or nation, whether they are ready for it or not. In fact, very few people are ready for a visitation from God.
Many people doubt that God has anything to do with humans. They argue that God created the universe, wound it up like a giant alarm clock, and then let it go, with no intention of interacting with it again. Other people are too busy for a visit from God. They have their list of things to accomplish, and they have their ladders to climb; they simply have no interest in God's breaking into their plans. Still others are afraid of a visit from God.
Regardless of whether we expect—or want—to experience a visitation from God, he comes. Let us consider three reasons that God might break into the life of a nation or an individual. The first is explained in Job 7:17-18.
God visits for testing.
In Job 7:17-18, Job asks why God concerns Himself with examining human beings. The word translated "examined" is the Hebrew word paqad—visitation. In other words, God visits us to give us a chance to pass a test and succeed.
First, whenever God breaks in to test us, he expects that we will succeed. He doesn't expect us to fail, and He certainly doesn't desire for us to fail. In fact, the Bible makes it very clear that God provides us with everything we need for a life of godliness.
Job was wealthy, healthy, and wise. He had everything a person could possibly have or want. Satan told God: Just give me a chance to test him, and he will curse you to your face. So God allowed Satan to test Job, and Job succeeded. His immediate response was to fall on his face and worship God: "Naked I came into the world, naked I am leaving. Blessed be the Name of the Lord."
Second, God breaks into our lives to purify our faith. God understands that our faith is impure; it is mixed with doubt that needs to be driven out. He knows that if we can go through the fire successfully, our faith will be purer and stronger, and we will be more fit for his service. In 1 Peter 1:6, for example, Peter writes that even in our trials we should "greatly rejoice … so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ."
When metal is impure, it must be put into a crucible, where it is heated until the metal becomes molten and the impurities are driven to the top. The impurities that come to the surface are called dross, and it can be removed with a scraper, leaving a purer metal in the crucible.
When God breaks into our lives to visit us for testing, he puts us in the crucible. He turns up the heat and drives some of the doubt out of our faith. In the end, we have a more purified faith. We become a people who trust him more and are more fit for his service.
God breaks into every life for testing. There is no storm-free life; there is no one who can make it from the cradle to the grave without experiencing the crucible. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said when the floods come, when the rains come, when the winds blow, when the waters rise. He didn't say if. Since you know testing is coming, the wisest thing to do is to prepare for it through prayer, Bible study, silence, and fasting; through friendships and connection with God himself. As Dallas Willard has noted, the difference is between trying and training. We can spend time in spiritual training so that we'll be ready when the trials come; or we can choose to do nothing now, and when the time of testing comes, simply try our hardest. Refusing to train is like going to the Olympics without training and hoping that your best effort will be good enough.
God visits for punishment.
Sometimes God eventually tires of our waving our fists in his face. So, after he's given us opportunity to repent, he breaks into our life for judgment or punishment. God makes this concept clear in Exodus 20:4. He commands the Israelites not to make any idols for themselves, because he is a jealous God, "visiting (literally, paqading) the iniquity of the fathers on the children on the third and fourth generations of those who hate me."
He says very simply: If you make an idol out of wood or gold, or out of a person or an ideology, a car, a career, or a collection—anything—I will paqad you for the purpose of punishing. He will not let disobedience continue indefinitely. The New Testament records five different times in which God takes the physical life of a believer in order to end a sinful pattern in his or her life.
In fact, in Exodus 32:30-35, God proves he is serious about idolatry. While Moses is on Mount Sinai, the people lose patience and melt their gold things to build a golden calf to worship. When Moses comes down from the mountain and finds them worshipping the golden calf, God promises that he we will punish (paqad) the entire nation for their corporate sin.
God is patient, but his patience is not eternal. There is a time when he will break into a believer's life and say, "Enough is enough."
God visits for blessing.
God doesn't visit only to test and punish; he also visits to bless. The verb paqad is used a number of times in the Old Testament to indicate God's breaking into someone's life in order to bring blessing. In Genesis 21, for example, God visits Sarai and gives her a baby. In Ruth 1, God visits his people and provides them rain and food.
At the end of Joseph's life, recorded in Genesis 50:22, Joseph tells his brothers he was confident God would take care of—paqad—them. Joseph spent the majority of his life helping the Egyptians gather grain in anticipation of a devastating famine. It is not surprising, then, that his final words to his brothers were a blessing, a promise of God's provision. Joseph asks for only one thing in return for his blessing: that they carry his bones with them into the land to which God leads them. Joseph dies before the promise of exodus has been fulfilled, but he still believes in the promise of exodus. In fact, he hopes to enjoy the blessing of God in the Promised Land even after he has died.
Luke 1:68 is a classic example of God's breaking into human history in order to bless: "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people." The arrival of Jesus Christ is the ultimate visitation of God in history. The human race was paying no attention to God. The world was covered in spiritual darkness. It was a place of despair and discouragement. In response to our great need, God sent his Son for a paqad. He broke into history with a visit of blessing that changed history forever.
This is the core message of the Bible—that we in our darkness and sin, wandering without hope and separated from a holy God, see the God of the universe break in by sending his Son to pay for our sin on the cross. His offer is simple: If you put your trust in Jesus Christ, I'll give you forgiveness. I'll give you a clean slate, a new capacity to obey; I'll give you all the resources you need for life in this world; I'll give you eternal joy with me. His offer is a gift. If eternal life were gained through rule keeping, we should be in despair. But the message of the Bible is eternal life gained as a gift, given by our God who broke into human history.
I experienced the visitation of the Lord when I was 19 years old. From the time I was 12, I had a keen understanding of my sin and knew I was separated from God. I was working as hard as I could—to the point of exhaustion—to make God happy with me. But it wasn't working. The harder I worked, the worse it got. Then when I was 19, I was sitting in my bedroom in Tucson, Arizona, and I took out a little Bible study I had picked up at a Bible study at the university. Through that study of the Gospel of John, God helped me understand what Jesus did to pay for my sin. God showed up that night. He broke into my life with a paqad that blessed me. He brought me to faith in Christ, and he changed my destiny forever.
God is still in the business of visiting people. This is not just Old Testament stuff or even New Testament stuff; this doesn't only happen to other people. God still visits people, blesses them, and changes their eternal destiny. My simple appeal to you is that you be open to—and even courageous enough to ask for—a visit from God. Tell him about your struggle, and ask him to bless you and change your destiny.
Dave Gibson is pastor of Cypress Bible Church in Cypress, Texas.