This sermon is part of the sermon series "Are You Ready for a Visit?". See series.
I have a friend named John who is a medical doctor. He was once making a commercial flight across the Atlantic Ocean, when a teenage boy who was seated nearby nearly lost consciousness. The boy's mother was panicked, and his fellow passengers had no idea how to help. When the flight attendant finally called for a doctor, John came forward to help. John quickly ascertained that the boy was dehydrated and gave him some orange juice. The juice "miraculously" revived the young man in just a short time. The visit from the doctor proved to be a major blessing to this boy. Had John not visited him with just the right expertise, he might have died or suffered severe complications from dehydration.
We all need visits in our lives. All of us find ourselves in need of expertise, confrontation, encouragement, or perspective that we will only find if someone visits us with the resources we need. Our lives come unraveled and veer off course. We need God's expertise and resources. Yet sometimes we become practical deists. A deist is someone who believes that God created the world, wound it up like a giant alarm clock, and will never tamper with it again. They don't pray, they don't expect miracles, and they don't anticipate any visits from God. Even though we believe in God's intervention in our world, we often live like practical deists and do not expect God to show up and help us.
That's why one of the towering needs in the lives of believers is that we become thoroughgoing supernaturalists—people who expect God to break into the natural world and act with power in time and space. The good news is, whether we believe it or not, God still visits today. But what can we expect from God's visits?
A visitation is the sovereign God of the universe breaking into history to change the destinies of people by either blessing or punishing them. In our last sermon, we considered three reasons God visits his people. First, God breaks into our lives to test us, offering us the provisions for success, with the purpose of purifying our faith. Second, God visits to punish believers for chronic sin. Finally, God visits to offer blessing.
The Bible gives three more reasons God visits his people.
God visits for personal deliverance.
Psalm 106 was written while Israel was in captivity for her sins. The psalmist offers a national confession as he catalogs and confesses the long history of Israel's rebellious behavior against God. In addition to confession, the psalmist also praises God for his goodness and appeals to God for a visit: "Remember me, O Lord, in Your favor toward Your people; visit me with Your salvation."
The Hebrew term translated "salvation" can also be translated "deliverance." The danger from which someone needs deliverance can be either physical or spiritual. In the case of Psalm 106, the psalmist is pleading for salvation from the physical bondage of exile. Because he needs God's intervention, he asks God to remember him. In the Old Testament, the word "remember" means "to think about or take notice and act to help." It doesn't mean simply to think of someone without acting. Jeremiah 15:15 is an excellent example. In his desperation, Jeremiah calls out to God to "remember me and care for me." Remembering and acting go hand in hand. When I remember my son-in-law, who is serving in the military in Iraq, I take action to help him by praying, sending emails, gifts, and care packages, and enlisting others to pray.
We sometimes find ourselves in need of deliverance. We need God to break in, but instead, we try to deliver ourselves from our messes. Jeremiah 2:13 expresses this tendency in this way: "My people have committed two sins. They have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, to hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water." When we try to deliver ourselves, we commit two sins. First, we forsake God as the source of life-giving water. Second, we attempt to make life work without God by digging our own cisterns—pursuing our own pleasures and plans for making life good.
The fact is we cannot make life work without God. We can try doubling our efforts and digging our own cisterns. But we cannot find true fulfillment apart from a relationship with God. We must learn to rely on him for everything we need. To do that, we must confess our sins of self-sufficiency and cast ourselves on God for his help.
Do you need a visitation for deliverance from something? Maybe your life is plagued by some kind of danger or bondage or sadness or pain. Just like the people we read about in the Bible, we are called to lean on God in faith and pray that he would visit us with deliverance. We are commanded to resist the temptation to dig our own cisterns and try to make life work without God.
Not long ago, I was speaking with a mentor over coffee. When he asked me how I was doing, I immediately launched into a five-minute litany of all the things that were wrong in my life and ministry, all the people who were against me, and all the messes I was in. While I was still talking, my friend raised his hand in front of me like a stop sign. When I stopped speaking, he said, "Dave, you have only one problem. You don't expect God to show up."
I had acknowledged my inability to solve my own problems, but I didn't expect God to visit. In our busy, affluent, and secular society, we often become too "natural" in our thinking; we pray without expecting God to actually show up. We must become supernaturalists who expect God's visitation.
God will visit to culminate human history.
Sometimes God visits in order to bring about personal deliverance. But some day, God will visit the earth to crush all rebellion. This visitation will mark the beginning of the end of human history, when Jesus will be physically present on earth to rule as King. This will be the second of Jesus' two advents on earth.
In the first advent, Jesus came as the Suffering Servant. In fulfillment of the prophecy in Isaiah 53:1-12, Jesus first came to earth in order to suffer for our sins, so that we might experience eternal life through faith in him. The Jews, Jesus' own people, were expecting a Messiah, but they were not looking for a Suffering Servant. They were looking for a conquering king who would throw the Romans out of Palestine. The Jews rejected him, and ultimately crucified him, because he didn't look like the conquering king they had in mind. Jesus' first advent was intended to take care of sin. At that advent, he was born to die.
We have friends in Anchorage, Alaska, who found out while their son was still in the womb that he had a chromosomal deformity and would not live more than a few days after he was born. The little boy shocked everyone by living for 53 days. He never left Anchorage Providence Hospital; he never even left the neo-natal critical care unit. He was, in a sense, born to die.
At his first advent, Jesus came with the same prospect. He was born to die. He lived 33 years, but he knew that in the end his purpose would cost him his life. Fortunately, Jesus was not only born to die; he was also born to reign. In his second advent, Jesus will come as the conquering king. Revelation 19 describes Jesus' return to earth, at which time he will appear on a white horse with a sword in his hand, and he will lead the armies that will subdue his enemies. At this Second Advent, Jesus will establish himself as king and quiet all rebellion, once and for all.
Because Jesus is loving, he acts to meet the needs of the needy. Because he is just, he acts to rectify all injustices. Because Jesus is wise, his judgments are always right. All the things that are now wrong will be corrected when Jesus returns. Because we look forward to the day when Jesus will judge the earth with equity, we should invite Jesus to return quickly: "He who testifies to these things says, 'Yes, I am coming quickly.' Amen, Come, Lord Jesus" (Revelation 22:20).
God visits to offer an opportunity to respond to Him.
Luke 19:28-44 recounts the story of Jesus' Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. Jesus wept as he approached the city, because he knew Israel would be judged for failing to recognize "the time of God's visitation." A visitation is a specific opportunity to respond to God. While he walked on earth, Jesus offered people the unique chance to recognize him as the King of the Jewish people. Instead, they responded by crucifying him.
The Bible is full of visitations in which God gave people opportunities to respond to him in faith: Three angels visited Abraham to announce the birth of his son. God visited the boy Samuel in the night. The Angel of the Lord visited Jacob at Peniel. Jesus visited Saul of Tarsus on the Damascus road, and he visited Peter after his Resurrection.
I once had an opportunity to present the gospel to an elderly couple in a restaurant over breakfast. I drew out the bad news and the good news and the invitation to trust Christ. I drew a box on a napkin, drew a cross inside the box, and then asked them, "Where are you putting your trust for forgiveness and eternal life?" Simultaneously, two aged forefingers landed on the cross on that napkin. It was the day of their visitation—the day of their opportunity to respond to God's offer of salvation—and they both jumped at the opportunity. That's the right way to respond to God's visitation of salvation.
The visitations we can expect are related to our inner lives. These are matters of the heart and the spirit. God shows up in the form of a sermon, a friend, or a book or Bible passage; He comes in the midst of a crisis event or in the form of a person modeling life-change. He arrests us, confronts us, and he demands a response—either positive or negative.
The first visit God wants each person to consider is his visit to offer forgiveness of sins and eternal life. We are separated from God, and there is no way for us to restore our relationship with him. Fortunately, Jesus died a sacrificial death in order to pay for our sin. He invites you to place your trust in Christ and receive his forgiveness, so that you may experience eternal life with God.
After he offers us eternal life, God visits us to demand our additional response to him. He may call us to greater obedience, greater sacrifice, and greater Christlikeness. You will know what he asks of you when God pays you a visit. How do you plan to respond to that visit?
We all need visits from God. His visitations are not just a "Bible thing" or a "historical thing" or a just-for-super-Christians thing. We all need him to visit. The good news is God still makes visitations. Invite a visit from God into your own life. Demonstrate your faith by inviting him into your life and expecting him to visit your life for deliverance.
Dave Gibson is pastor of Cypress Bible Church in Cypress, Texas.