The Unexpected Deal

Heritage Presbyterian Church

First Sunday of Advent
November 28, 2021
Scripture readings:  Jeremiah 33: 14-16 and Luke 21: 25-36

In the summer of 1983, my wife and I got married in New Jersey where virtually her entire family lived.  After the ceremony and the reception were done, we piled into her sister’s Volkswagen and drove to Atlantic City for our honeymoon.  Like most newlyweds, we didn’t have much money, but we decided to splurge for two nights at the Sands Hotel and Casino.  We got the smallest, cheapest room they had – but that was fine with us!

When we arrived at the lobby, we found ourselves standing in the longest line I have ever seen at any hotel.  It was going to take a LONG time to get to the front counter, so we settled in to wait.  While we were waiting, this sweet older couple in front of us turned around and began talking with us.  They noticed the floral bouquet in Jeanne’s hands and asked all about the wedding.  After we talked for a few minutes, the woman suddenly said, “Follow me.” 

She began asking each and every person standing in front of us if they would give their permission for us to cut in front of them.  The lady kept saying, “They’re newlyweds from Houston!” as we kept slowly walking to the front.  I was amazing, surprised, and a little embarrassed…but we kept following her.  She managed to get us all the way to the front, where the desk clerks were waiting and smiling at us.  “So…you’re newlyweds from Houston?  Let’s see what we can do for you.”  We turned and thanked the woman who had done all this, but she stayed there for another moment as the desk clerks typed on their keyboards.  We ended up getting a free upgrade to a much nicer room for the price of the original smaller room we have reserved.  

That sweet old lady patted us on the arms, congratulated us again, and returned to where her husband was waiting in line.  I think you’d agree we did absolutely nothing to earn that deal.  We didn’t necessarily deserve it.  

But we got the unexpected deal anyway.

My personal definition of “the unexpected deal” that I am going to use for today’s message is this:  It is a wonderful deal that you don’t necessarily deserve, but you get it anyway.  And you get it because someone loves you.

In virtually all of the Old Testament, we get story after story, generation after generation of examples of the people of God being led by someone God chooses for the task.  The people follow for a time – sometimes even for a long time – but sooner or later, they turn away for the dumbest reasons.  

Then they make it even worse: 

  • They lose faith in the God who always took care of them in the first place;
  • They begin following and worshiping other gods;
  • They begin trusting their own thoughts and plans and quit praying to God for wisdom.

Once this is done, chaos always breaks out.  The people are attacked and overwhelmed by some godless enemy who makes their lives miserable…until they finally realize what they have done, somehow God makes yet another leader appear, and they the people of God return to the God who never stopped loving them in the first place.

In today’s reading from the book of Jeremiah, we hear about the restoration of Jerusalem being told to the Israelites after they have been conquered, destroyed, and carried off as slaves by the Babylonians.  Their God-given country is a shambles.  Their nation is no more.  Their people will now serve as lowly slaves for a pagan nation for several generations.  It would seem that the Israelites have no hope and no reason for it.

Nor do they seem to deserve it!

What did they do to get themselves into this situation?  Everything I stated earlier:

  • They lose faith in the God who always took care of them in the first place;
  • They begin following and worshiping other gods;
  • They begin trusting their own thoughts and plans and quit praying to God for wisdom.

Like I said, they don’t seem to deserve any type of deal from God.  They broke the covenant repeatedly and over generations.  They blew it.  They are done…

Except for the unexpected deal that God now tells them about through yet another of his prophets, Jeremiah.  They are told – even in the midst of the chaos and bloodshed they had seen – that God promised them that all will be restored someday.

Problem was this had been done before.  If you just skim through the various chapters of the Old Testament and read about all the leaders and kings, you will see that many of them did exactly what I listed earlier; yet, God was waiting for them and restored them to good favor repeatedly.  This time, however, was different.

It seemed that restoring the kingship of the Davidic line was important to many of the people.  They expected the son or grandson or nephew or distant relative of the last king to be restored on the throne of King David.  That would signal to the people of God that all was well.

But they were due another unexpected deal…one they didn’t deserve…one they didn’t do anything to earn…one they got anyway.

In just three verses, God promised that a “new branch out of the stump of Jesse” would begin as the king in that someday-in-the-future.  This “Son of David” would be the latest and final fulfillment of all the ancient covenants that had previously existed between God and his people who believed in him.  This king would rule forever and would care for those who remained faithful to God.

That was an unexpected deal.

In Luke’s Gospel, the Apostles are told that the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple that Jesus predicted did not necessarily mean the end of the world.  Jesus pointed out other signs such as some in the sky, some on the earth, some so terrible that people will faint from fear, some so magnificent that believers will lift up their faces in joyful anticipation.

Then Jesus used the same word he had been using during this whole discourse that we have been hearing for the past three Sundays: “Watch.”

  • Jesus told them not to watch the Temple to see how magnificent it was; he told them to watch the old lady who gave two mites to the Temple treasury.
  • Jesus told them to watch out for false leaders who would claim to be God’s chosen messenger but would lead them astray.
  • Jesus told them to watch for wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes, terrible disasters, and yes – the destruction of Jerusalem.

With these comments, Jesus ended his public ministry according to the Gospel of Luke.  If you turn to the next chapter in that Gospel, Luke begins the passion narrative.  In that momentous event, yet another unexpected event occurred…the greatest one of all time:

  • Jesus would be betrayed by one of his friends and turned over to the Chief Priests and scribes;
  • Jesus would be condemned and given over to be crucified;
  • Jesus would die on the cross and be buried for three days;
  • Jesus would rise from the dead on Easter morning and take away all sin from all people;
  • The people would receive the promises revealed by Jeremiah;
  • The “new branch“ would be the new King, the Son of God, the Son of Man, Jesus Christ.

By telling the Apostles all that he did, Jesus returned their focus to faithful conduct and the hope that is strong enough to resist cynicism and doubt.

Today is a gift from God – even if it doesn’t appear to be.

Tomorrow – or someday – we will stand in the presence of this King who loved us, died for us, saved us.

A final unexpected deal!