Throughout the Advent season we’ve been focusing on the theme of Light. Today, we’re going to draw that all together and take one broad look at the light that God provides us as his children, from start to finish. We’ll start at the beginning, when light was new and perfect. We’ll see that light lost to sin. But then we’ll see God immediately light a candle of hope in the promise of a Savior. And then, throughout the centuries, that light will grow brighter as God expands on that promise, revealing more and more about the Savior, until at last we see him revealed in the flesh. Naturally we can’t possibly focus on every prophecy of Jesus today. But we’ll look at a select few and see the blessings the light brings for us today and always.
We begin at the beginning:
Light Destroyed: Genesis 3:1-8
It didn’t take long for man to ruin what God created. What they had was perfect. Not just the light that shone from the sun but the light that was in them. Adam and Eve did not know pain or suffering. They didn’t know want. They didn’t know anger or jealousy. And they knew their God. They were made in his image. Holy. It was paradise.
But the temptation was that it could be better. The temptation was that they could have even more. The temptation was that they could be like God himself. They did the one thing God told them not to do. “Love me, trust me enough not to do this.” was his command. But instead they loved themselves more. And light within them was destroyed.
Suddenly they did know evil. It was them. Suddenly they knew shame. Suddenly they knew fear. They ran from God. They hid from each other. Holiness was destroyed. Pain and suffering and death would be their lot from then on. God can only accept the holy, those in his image. Adam and Eve were not anymore. And their children were born in that image, not God’s. Down through the generations, everyone born naturally is not born in the image of God. We are born in the image of our fallen parents. That sinful nature meant Adam and Eve were cut off from God and his grace. It was a dark and dreary road ahead, one filled with nothing but misfortune that would end in eternal death.
3 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’ ”
4 “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5 “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.
8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.
Light Focused: Genesis 15:4-7,15
We don’t know exactly how much later it was when God revealed more about the Messiah to a man named Abram. It was a long time. The great flood had come and gone, and the earth was once again being populated. The promise of a man, born of a woman, who would crush the serpent’s head was the gospel until that point. But now, much later, God focused the light of that promise in on one place, and one family.
Abram trusted God. God made him a number of promises. Not the least of which was that he would have a son, born of his wife, and through that son would come a nation’s worth of people. And through that line, all peoples on earth would be blessed. The new news was that the Savior promised would come from his family line. And what’s more, we now had a place. The land of Palestine, which would be known later as Israel, was where this would happen.
It was during a moment of doubt, needing reassurance that God showed Abram light. He brought him out and showed him the stars to reassure Abram of God grace, mercy, and faithfulness. And Abram’s trust in God’s promise of the Savior made him righteous and holy in God’s eyes, just like our own faith that brings salvation.
4 Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” 5 He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”
6 Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.
7 He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.”
18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates—19 the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20 Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.”
Light Brings Clarity: Numbers 24:15-19
God continued throughout the ages to illuminate the picture of the Savior. He used a prophet named Balaam to teach us what the work of this Savior would be like. He saw a bright star coming out of Jacob, one of the sons of Abram, shining its light on the world.
And then we learn here more about how the Savior would accomplish his task as the prophecy turns… aggressive. Yes, the first promise of the Savior said he would crush the serpent’s head. But here, it seems an even greater battle would be fought. Though the prophet uses the names of real nations at the time, the intent is clear. This Savior would fight as God’s chosen champion. He would wage a battle so fierce that none of his enemies could stand.
Sin itself. The Devil. Our own death that haunts each one of us. These are the greatest enemies we have. And through a fierce battle, God’s chosen would destroy these enemies for us and win our victory. You and I have the benefit of knowing this fight did not take place on a grassy plain with swords and shields but was fought on a cross for us. But the message is still the same. God’s champion will fight for us, and the victory will be ours through him.
15 Then he spoke his message:
“The prophecy of Balaam son of Beor,
the prophecy of one whose eye sees clearly,
16 the prophecy of one who hears the words of God,
who has knowledge from the Most High,
who sees a vision from the Almighty,
who falls prostrate, and whose eyes are opened:
17 “I see him, but not now;
I behold him, but not near.
A star will come out of Jacob;
a scepter will rise out of Israel.
He will crush the foreheads of Moab,
the skulls of all the people of Sheth.
18 Edom will be conquered;
Seir, his enemy, will be conquered,
but Israel will grow strong.
19 A ruler will come out of Jacob
and destroy the survivors of the city.”
Light Brings Healing: Isaiah 9:2-7
Having all our enemies defeated is a great thing. But it is not our only problem. Removing all the outside forces does not fix the wound within. It doesn’t fix the darkness we are born in and it doesn’t suddenly make us acceptable in God’s eyes. The devil could not exist, there could be no outside temptation and you and I would still break God’s law every day. We would still be broken inside, born in human image, not the holy image of God.
And so, the prophet Isaiah further reveals the work of the Savior to us. There’s more to his work that just crushing the devil and his enemies. He has something for us too. Isaiah proclaims a light dawning that heals us. The light itself brings us peace with God. It heals us from within. It makes us whole again. The burdens we have within ourselves will be shattered and we will be at war with God no more. Instead we will belong to his kingdom. We are not holy. But the light makes us holy. The Savior heals his people, ends their struggle, and brings them in to his kingdom.
2 The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.
3 You have enlarged the nation
and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice
when dividing the plunder.
4 For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,
you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor.
5 Every warrior’s boot used in battle
and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,
will be fuel for the fire.
6 For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accomplish this.
Light Arrives!: Luke 2:8-14
It took a long time by our standards. Not by God’s. Throughout history God taught his people more about what to expect from the Savior. And he worked history until the everything that he promised would happen exactly as he said. When the time was exactly right, the very event we celebrate today came to pass. Jesus was born. God made man, come here as one of us to fight our battle and heal us from within.
This is our good news, our great joy. We do not see him from afar anymore. We know him. All these prophecies would be meaningless if nothing came of them. The angels, God’s heralds, announced his arrival in glorious light to the shepherds. And they proclaimed peace. Peace between God and man because the Savior would restore the light that was lost at the beginning. He would defeat the enemies and bring us healing. The baby born contains every hope we have worth clinging to.
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
Light Forever: Revelation 22:21-27
That we know Jesus, that we see him and have watched his work for us does not mean there is nothing left to be revealed. The light continues to grow brighter. There is still more to come for us. Yes, we saw God fulfill his promises. We have seen Jesus grow and live as one of us but not like us. He kept the image of God. He did what his Father asked. He was obedient where we are not. And we have seen him march into battle with death and the devil. We watch the serpent strike him on the cross, but in vain. We’ve seen the empty tomb. We know that death did not hold him. We know the serpent’s head is crushed.
The battle is won. And Jesus took his perfect life, wove it into a brilliant garment for you to wear, and gave it to you. It covers all your wrong and makes you holy to God. The image is restored. The relationship with God is restored. And there is one more promised to be fulfilled: eternal life with him. Yes, our greatest problems are solved by Jesus, but the fact is – we’re still here. We may be healed by the light, but this world is still broken and decaying. And so, we won’t stay.
That is our goal, the city of light. Light better and brighter than even the sun. The light of the glory of God. Where everything will be the way God always meant for us to be, before the fall. The baby born, Christmas, it’s a great thing to celebrate, but today let’s finish by celebrating what that truly means for us. It means paradise restored.
22 I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. 25 On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. 26 The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. 27 Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
Today is the Kids’ Christmas program which is the one time a year that the kids get to do the main part of the worship service. They’ll be in charge of teaching the message – granted, it’s the same message that I’d teach – only a lot cuter. (Maybe it’s the beard).
To be fair: It will be cute.
The girls will be wearing cute little dresses.
The boys will be wearing cute little sweaters.
The singing will be cute – cuter if it’s offkey.
And it’ll be cute when that one kid shouts the entire program.
It will certainly be a cute program.
But you need to approach this as more than cute.
Isaiah 61 says this, “The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is one me, because the LORD has anointed me!” Focus in on that word “Anointed.” Back in the day Israelites would anoint people with oil in order to identify them being appointed to a special position. They’d pour oil on the head of the future king. Oil on the head of the general. Oil on the head of prophets.
Here someone is anointed. But not with oil.
Here someone is anointed, but not by another human.
Someone is anointed with the Holy Spirit by God Himself.
What kind of a job do you have when you are anointed – not with oil – but with the Holy Spirit himself?
The LORD anointed me…To preach good news. (v.1)
Does this not seem a bit strange?
Because I would think that if God had a message for me it’d probably be less pleasant:
I saw what you did earlier.
I saw that fight with your wife.
I heard that foul language.
I know what you did last Christmas.
I know all of you filthy, guilty, no good, very bad sins that you have done.
And when people do wrong – I do much worse than coal in a stocking.
No. Not good. At all.
Did you know this isn’t the only time this passage is in the Bible?
In fact, 700 some years after this passage was prophesied…Jesus preached a sermon on this very passage.
It wasn’t very long.
One sentence only.
He said this, “The LORD has anointed me to preach good news. Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
In other words:
I am the anointed.
I’m the One on whom God poured His Holy Spirit.
I’ve got the good news.
I will perfectly when you can’t.
I will die innocently in your place.
I will rise triumphantly for the forgiveness of all your sins.
This is good news.
Good news from God.
Good news from God to you.
Good news Jesus taught his disciples.
Good news that his disciples wrote down.
And years later, 2017 even, here we are looking at it – God reveals it to us.
It’s like unwrapping a gift all over again.
What is that good news?
A half-off sale at Macy’s?
No. Much deeper than that.
Take a look at how Isaiah says it next:
God has anointed me…
…To preach good news to the poor, To bind up the brokenhearted, To proclaim freedom for the captives, to release the prisoners, To comfort all who mourn. (61:1-2)
And you might be looking at that and thinking:
I’m feeling pretty poor. It is Christmas season. Hopefully by the end of this service my bank account will grow a couple hundred.
And I’m feeling broken hearted – I’ve been dealing with this divorce for a while now. It’d be nice to be reunited with my loved ones.
And I’ve got a cousin in prison. He’s been there long enough. Can you release him please?
And this will be my first Christmas without Grandma. Can you bring her back?
If you think that’s what Jesus is talking about, that’s too physical. Too earthly. Jesus came to deal with the spiritual. He speaks about the heavenly.
Which is WAY better.
To the poor – Jesus says, “Here is priceless treasure that money cannot buy: a luxurious penthouse in heaven and the golden jewelry of forgiveness to adorn your neck.”
To the brokenhearted – God says, “I’m sorry they left. But I won’t. I will always love you. And I will always be faithful to you. And I will never leave you.”
To the captives – God says, “That addiction will not overpower you! It does not own you. I own you!”
To the prisoners – God says, “You are free. Don’t let that guilt imprison you anymore! You are free because you are forgiven.”
To the believers who mourns – God says, “I know what it’s like to spend Christmas apart from a loved one. My Son actually…and He. But 3 days later…he came back to life. And because he lives, your loved one will live; and you will live too.”
Good news, right?
Really good news.
And I love the last way Isaiah describes it in verse 2 “To proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor,” and this is not just talking about Christmas Day. No. The day the Lord brings us home with Him. The day of His grace. This is more than, “Hey, it’s Christmas Day, you can open up the presents underneath the tree.” No. Under the tree you find God’s grace. Under the tree you find His forgiveness. Under the tree you find your Lord’s love for you.
Isaiah in this passage loves describing how wonderful this good news is. And now he gets into three word pictures.
In verse 3, “to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.”
Look at the first one, “A crown of beauty.” Have you ever worn a crown before? Like an actual crown? To wear an actual weighted crown with gold and jewels, that would be impressive.
Have you worn ashes before? Sweat and grime, not very pretty.
What’s the point?
As humans, we know what it’s like to sit around in ashes – in our sin, in our yuck, in the wrong we’ve done, and in our guilt. And Christmas comes as a reminder of it.
But the good news of Jesus…God comes around and places a golden crown of righteousness on your head. He removes all of the dust, all of the dirt, all of the ashes, cleans you up, and there you are – royalty. You’re a part of God’s kingdom now.
The oil of gladness instead of the oil of mourning. Oil was used back then a way of appearing better than you were. We cover ourselves with sadness (oil of mourning) as we’re sinful, but Jesus covers us with the oil of joy (gladness). Words of forgiven. Words of love. Words of in my kingdom.
And “a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” Spiritually speaking, our clothes have holes in them. Not holy, but full of holes. Spiritually speaking, we’ve got sin after sin after sin! And here God comes along and He covers us with His garment of praise. He covers you and me and all the sins and all the stains and no one can see them. Before God’s eyes they are nonexistent.
A garment of praise! That changes our lives, right? That’s why we’re singing “Joy to the World” at Christmas instead of “Gloom to the World.” “Joy to the World” because of what Jesus has done.
And here’s the result “They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of His splendor.” (vs. 3)
Oaks are strong. Oaks are large. Oaks grow nice and tall. Oaks are sturdy. Raleigh is the “City of Oak Trees.”
Do you ever feel like an oak of righteousness, spiritually speaking? Do you ever feel like that, “Man, I am strong! Nothing can sway me at all! My faith is great!”
I don’t. I feel more like Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree. Not very strong.
But Jesus says, “I will make you oaks of righteousness.” God says this; this message will build you up. If you go a little farther in Isaiah, verse 11, it says, “For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.” Part of the way He does that is by turning you into an oak of righteousness. He fills us with forgiveness, His gospel, again and again and again. He grows our faith and continues to grow our faith.
If you’re feeling like you aren’t an oak of righteousness, then you need to get into His Word, and He will continue to grow your faith. He says, “That’s how I view you already, allow me to make that faith vibrant in your life.” So, suddenly like an oak tree you stand tall and you stand firm, no matter what happens.
And then – His praise will spring before all nations!
How do oaks spring up everywhere? Well they plant their little acorns and more oaks spring up!
And leads us to our final big truth today. Here’s what God tells us this Christmas:
As an oak of righteousness, you’ve got Good News. We’ve got Great News to share.
Share that Good News!
Share that Good News with anyone who doesn’t know it – family member, friend, Starbucks Barista – anyone! God will make it grow; that’s not up to us. Plant that acorn as an oak tree of righteousness.
That’s who you are and that’s what you do! Share it!
This is the message of Jesus.
This is the message of Christmas.
It’s more than cute.
May God implore than on our hearts this Christmas and always.
Today we are beginning a 3-part sermon series on Isaiah’s Christmas prophecies. The goal is to take a break from the gift wrapping, the shopping, the wreath making, the tree decorating, cookie baking, cookie eating, and Netflix Christmas Special watching…to meditate on the peace-giving truth that God’s original Christmas gift for us – Jesus – was a gift he had planned for centuries before it ever happened.
Before we dig in with our first prophecy, join me in prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Reason for Messiah
All of these prophecies that we will looking at are a special breed of prophecy. Something called Messianic Prophecies. That means that these prophecies aren’t prophecies about what you’ll get for Christmas, who the Bowl Selection committee will put in which bowl game, or how Stranger Things will end, but they are prophecies about who the Messiah will be.
Which leads to the question: Who or what is the Messiah? And why do I care?
In the very first book of the Bible, the origins of the universe are explained by God’s himself. In it, a wonderful earth is described.
An earth without pain, an earth without sadness, an earth without hangnails, car exhaust or holes in the Ozone layer.
An earth without broken toys the day after you give kids gifts at Christmas, Starbucks cards that run a zero balance.
An earth without spoiled eggnog in the back of the fridge.
An earth without cancer, racism or mass shootings at a Jason Aldean concert.
An earth without error.
An earth without sin.
An earth of perfection.
And part of that perfection involves two human beings – Adam and Eve.
And part of that perfection involves granting these human beings the ability to show love to their Creator by not eating from the tree in the middle of the garden.
And Adam and Eve listen…
They have fun peeling and eating bananas.
They enjoy seeing how can get to the end of a carrot first.
They play the game where they toss soybeans into each other’s mouths.
Until one day.
A talking snake come by.
And he says, Did God really say you can’t eat from the tree? He’s lying. You won’t die. You’ll just become like him. He’s just jealous of you. Trust me. The fruit will be good.
And Eve looks at the snake.
And Eve looks at Adam.
And Adam says:
I don’t know Eve. On the one hand, we could listen to God, the one who created us and gave us this wonderful, painless, sinless, deathless world to exist in.
On the other hand…it’s a talking snake.
And they make their choice.
And it isn’t God.
And in making that choice, everything God warned them about happens.
The world changes from a place without…to a place with.
A place with pain.
A place with sadness.
A place with sin and discord and racism and terrorism and evil and death.
But when God goes to find Adam and Eve – he doesn’t yell at them. He doesn’t punish them. Not at first.
First, he offers words of hope: Devil, I will put enmity between you and the woman; between your offspring and hers. One of them, will cross your head and you will strike his heel.
This is the Messiah.
This is the Anointed One.
This is the one who will beat Satan. In fact, that’s our definition of Messiah. Write it down: Messiah is one who would crush Satan’s head and his evil work.
The Messiah is the Savior.
II. The Importance of Getting It Right
Therefore, the Messiah is really, really important. It would be a shame to identify him incorrectly.
I come from a family of four kids and we were blessed to have a good number of presents under the tree. But sometimes – be it because it’s easier or be it because it’s cute – each one of the kids would have a gift that was exactly the same size. In other words, my mom got the kids each a very similar present.
Unfortunately, because my mom had to wrap so many gifts she didn’t always identify them correctly.
For instance: One year my younger sister opened her “set of four” present to reveal a Lion from the Wizard of Oz ornament. I immediately got pretty excited. The Lion was her favorite character and mine was the Scarecrow. I loved him a lot. We watched a lot of Wizard of Oz and I had learned all of his movements during the “If I only had a brain” song. Hopefully that wasn’t because we had a lot in common.
So, I was expecting the Scarecrow. Only to get to my same shaped box, rip the wrappings to shreds to reveal: Glinda the Good Witch? Wrong present.
That’s why mom immediately began using differently wrapping paper for different kids with name tags written in bold ink on them. Never again would a present get a mistaken identity.
God thought similarly. With much grander and more eternal consequences.
Because if anyone gets the Messiah wrong…
If they put their trust in someone who doesn’t have the ability to crush Satan, sin and death…
If we get got the Messiah wrong, then there is no salvation.
There is only a yielding to evil and death…The Bible calls that hell.
Because the stakes were so eternally high God provided us with something called the Messianic Prophecy. A prophecy is a word from God about the future. Messianic prophecy is the word from God about the future messiah. There are no shortage of these prophecies. Scholars agree that there are over 300 prophecies in the Old Testament.
Since we are preparing for Christmas, let’s look at a few that deal specifically with his birth.
(1) Prophecy of Lineage
The first prophecy was spoken by God to a guy named King David around 1000 B.C. God said this to David “I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, one of your own sons…and I will establish his throne forever.” (1 Chr. 17:11-12) Granted. David had a son named Solomon. Solomon became king. But Solomon did not reign…forever. That’s a reign tenure that’s reserved only from the Messiah.
And Solomon died, so it wasn’t him.
This teaches our first important truth about the Messiah. He would be a descendant of David. Somewhere on David’s family tree…somewhere below him…eventually the Messiah would come.
Which is helpful, because it means that if someone claims to be the Messiah but isn’t of David’s bloodline, he isn’t the Messiah.
This effectively rules me out.
Actually, anyone not Jewish.
(2) Prophecy of Birthplace
But it’s only so helpful. Because David had 19 sons. Meaning there were 19 possible routes for the Messiah to come from in just that one generation. Fast forward three generations and it would have quadrupled! A couple hundred years and the possibilities of hundreds of thousands!
So…another prophecy to help trim it down. But you Bethlehem…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. (Micah 5:2)
Again – ruler of Israel “origins of old from ancient times…” This is talking about the Messiah.
Micah is a prophet a decent amount of time after David. So, his new prophecy tells us – it isn’t anyone who lived before Micah. In addition, it trims it down even farther for us. The Messiah will not only be of David’s line, but he will live in Bethlehem. If a person is of David, but moved far away from Bethlehem – maybe a summer abroad in Ancient Rome, it won’t be him. Or if a woman moved away to college: “Israel State in Jerusalem,” got married and had a child there, her son would NOT be the Messiah.
Again, this is helpful. Bethlehem isn’t a huge town.
But still, over the generations, there’s thousands of options.
(3) Prophecy of the Virgin Birth
Enter the prophet Isaiah. God uses him to reveal a prophecy that really narrows down our search for the Messiah: “The virgin will be with child and give birth to a Son.” (Isaiah 7:14)
Nowadays science is pretty amazing. If a family is unable to have a child, there are some science ways to make it happen. They just take the two parts that are necessary, combine them in a test tube and…a baby! It’s not fool proof, but it works. Ethics aside – the reality is that a baby can happen for a single mom from using a donor in this way.
But that technology wasn’t around at the time of Isaiah.
It wasn’t around until the last 50 years.
And even so - you still need the two parts – the word virgin implies only egg.
This means three very important things about Isaiah’s prophecies:
Every king of Israel had a mom and dad.
Every President had a biological mom and dad.
Every Olympian has had a biological mom and dad.
Even Coach K has a biological mom and dad.
Everyone in human history has a biological mom and dad.
III. The Unmistakable Fulfillment
About 600 years after the prophet Isaiah makes his prophecy, there is this one girl. She’s from the line of David. She’s about 16-17 years old. She’s engaged to be married.
And she can’t wait for the wedding. She’s been planning with her mom and dad to make sure there are the right kind of flowers, to make sure they order the right kind of wine, to make sure that they have the chicken cordon bleu or roast duck option. She’s excited to be a princess. She’s excited to start a family.
As she’s hanging her father’s laundry out to dry, she grabs one of his white sheets and spins.
She places it behind her head and imagines her train as she walks in to her wedding day.
She imagines her wedding night as she walks in to her husband’s room to be intimate with for the very first time.
And she’s imagining.
And suddenly…a voice.
She’s startled. Did someone see her dancing?
It repeats: Mary!
And as it repeats, a light starts to grow before her eyes. It’s not the sun – the sun doesn’t do that – not so quickly. She falls to the grounds and recognizes the figure of a man within the light. She had heard about these – messengers of God.
She falls to the grounds.
Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever. (Luke 1:30-33)
And Mary is humbled.
And Mary is amazed.
And Mary is…confused.
How will this be? I am a virgin. I…haven’t done what’s necessary to have a baby.
The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. (v. 35)
Aka. It will be a miracle.
Then, the angel leaves.
Mary is a bit nervous.
For a while, she wonders if it’s a dream. She hopes it’s a dream – she doesn’t want to lose Joseph and she doesn’t want the shame that her family will give her.
But then, she’s putting on weight.
And she’s buying bigger clothes.
And soon its unmistakable.
She is the virgin mother of the Messiah.
IV. For Real?
Now, maybe you are a skeptic. Maybe you think that’s impossible.
Maybe you think that Mary just made it all up because she didn’t want to be embarrassed as the woman pregnant out of wedlock.
You know – because crazy woman who said that God put the baby there – is better.
But keep in mind three important things that help to prove the reality of the virgin birth:
1. What Joseph goes through.
I say Joseph as opposed to Mary because Mary doesn’t have a choice in the matter.
But when Joseph finds out about what happened, he takes a moment.
He goes home. He actually makes a plan to break off the engagement, because he can’t deal with an unfaithful spouse. But he wants to do so quietly because he still loves Mary.
But then he doesn’t.
He doesn’t because an angel told him not to divorce Mary.
Think about that – he could have left her! He could have had the whole of his village on his side: “That no good Mary.” He could have been the one in the ‘break up’ that everyone sided with and surely another woman would be his soon.
Instead, he chooses to stay engaged and be ridiculed right along with her.
Because he believed what the angel told him.
This child was the Messiah.
2. The other prophecies.
Because remember – This isn’t the only prophecy that is fulfilled in Mary’s boy.
Mary is also of the line of David.
But they aren’t from Bethlehem! They live in Nazareth.
Except. About a month before Mary gives birth, Caesar Augustus, the Roman emperor, issues a decree that he wants to take a Census of the entire Roman world in order to see how many people he is emperor over. In order to take the census, he demands all people under his ruler to return to their place of origin.
So, Joseph and Mary have to leave Nazareth.
They have to go to their place of origin.
And where is their place of origin?
Bethlehem. Just like the prophecy said.
3. Other miracles surrounding Jesus.
Because the virgin birth isn’t the only one.
Angels appeared to Mary and Joseph.
Mary’s cousin, Elizabeth, who was over 80 years old – well beyond childbearing years – became pregnant with John the Baptist.
An angel caused Elizabeth’s husband to be mute for the 9 months of her pregnancy because of his doubts.
There was the star in the sky for the wise men to follow.
The angels that appeared to sing the shepherds glory.
Oh yeah…and when the baby grew up?
He died on the cross. Publicly.
He rose from the dead. Publicly.
These people wrote these miracles down for us.
They also wrote down the virgin birth for us.
If all those other miracles are true, this one is too.
V. What Now?
1. Pay Attention
God went out of his way to get your attention with this prophecy and fulfillment. Because God used an event unlike any event ever in human history.
He didn’t say, “The Messiah will one-day wear flannel.”
Or, “One day the Messiah will be wearing some skinny jeans and have a man bun.”
He said, “The Messiah will be born of a mom…and that’s it.”
God used an extraordinary event to point to the Savior so that you didn’t miss it!
It’s like one of those Christmas light villages with the really big pop up Santa, reindeer that flash to the beat of Trans-Siberian orchestra and a mortgage invested in the light display. It’s crazy. It’s awesome. It’s screams: NOTICE ME!
The Virgin Birth is the over the top, exuberant, blinking Christmas light display of Messianic prophecies.
It’s God screaming PAY ATTENTION!
Because Jesus is the Messiah.
He is the only one that can save you from this world of sin and death.
Not some other god.
Not some other religion.
It’s Jesus alone.
2. See God!
Because look what’s in that manger. The prophecy from Isaiah ends like this: “The Virgin will be with child and give birth to a Son and will call him Immanuel.” (Is. 7:14)
Immanuel is a pretty neat name. Scripture tells us that Immanuel is Hebrew for “God with Us.” Although don’t think of it simply as a name with a meaning. It’s a name that says its meaning.
Ima is the Hebrew word “with.”
Nu is the Hebrew word “us.”
El is the Hebrew word “God.”
In English it’d be like naming your child “GodIsWIthUsLiterallyInTheFleshRightNowInThisChild.” All one word. Besides meaning that the kid will need a very long driver’s license, it also means this child, isn’t just a child.
He’s God himself.
Which means your God is not God who dwells far off!
He’s not the Force.
He’s not a Big Bang.
He’s not an impersonal, divine wrathful king.
He saw the pain that was in this world.
He saw the sin.
He saw the death.
And He didn’t run from it.
He ran to it.
He came to earth and experienced the pain, the suffering, the sadness, even death itself --- on a most painful instrument of death!
In order to fulfill prophecy.
In order to fulfill purpose.
In order to save you.
3. Stop Looking Elsewhere for Your Messiah
Because maybe you are nervous this Christmas.
Maybe you are nervous Christmas won’t be that great.
Maybe you are looking for something to give you a bit more confidence…
A bigger paycheck.
A positive health result.
A good visit with family.
If you only have the right toy for your kid…
If you only have the right topper on the tree…
If you only have the right cookies on the table…then!
Christmas will be saved!
And I’ll be saved.
For a moment.
From my painful past.
From my daily struggles.
From this sin filled world.
But what happens when the toy is the wrong toy?
What happens when the cookie is burnt?
What happens when that family gathering is a disaster?
And now…instead of escaping this sin filled world – you just have more awful memories of it!
Stop looking in this world for your Messiah.
Look at something out of this world.
Look at something that has to be from out of this world.
Look at the baby born of the virgin.
Do you know what I really love? Couches. Couches are awesome.
And if I’m telling the truth – there are times throughout the week when I dream of my couch.
When I’m working out, can’t wait to go to the couch.
When I’m tired of typing things, can’t wait to go to the couch.
When I’m stressed out, can’t wait to go to the couch, grab a bag of Doritos and catch up on America’s Got Talent.
Rest is good.
Rest keeps us going.
The promise of rest keeps us working.
We’ve been spending all summer in the book of Joshua. We have heard about the hard work of the Israelites in conquering the Promised Land and following God’s commands. Today we are going to hear about why it was all worth it. Our goal is to look back at the historical listings and land ownership documents in order to learn some valuable lessons about God’s promises of rest.
Before we do that, let’s pray: Strengthen us this morning by the truth, O God. Your word is truth. Open our eyes to see what YOU want us to see. Open our ears to hear what YOU want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what YOU would have us believe. Amen.
I. Caleb’s Reward
Start our exploration of inheritance by looking at a man named Caleb. If you’ve been following along with this series from the beginning, Caleb might be a familiar name.
But just in case you need review…backtrack about 45 years.
Caleb was a middle aged warrior. He must have been a skilled fighter and a trusted infantryman, because Moses gave him a very important task. Caleb was selected as one of the 12 men who would infiltrate the region of Canaan, spy on the land, and bring back a report on the best places to attack, the weaknesses of the men, and the condition of the terrain.
In short, the group was supposed to come up with a plan to defeat Canaan.
Ummmm…it’s nice and all, but…is milk and honey really worth getting squashed like a bug?
These guys are giants! We don’t stand a chance.
Here’s our proposal for military action: (1) Pack up (2) March in the opposite direction (3) Never return.
The majority of the spies gave up before they even started.
Caleb walked forward to Moses.
Um. Mr. Moses, sir. I know I’m only one man. But I have a different idea. Yes, the people are big and yes, the men are muscular and yes, they would squash us in a one on one battle.
But…we aren’t alone. God is with us. You say these men are giants. God is a giant to these giants. With him on our side, nothing can stop us.
But unfortunately, his idea was drowned out by the misery of the other spies.
And the people listened to the other spies.
And God rebuked the people.
And God said that none of those adults would enter the Promised Land.
None…except Joshua and Caleb.
The LORD said, “No one from this evil generation shall see the good land I swore to give your ancestors, except Caleb...He will see it and I will give him and his descendants the land he set his feet on, because he followed the LORD wholeheartedly!” (Deut. 1:35-36)
Fast forward 45 years.
40 years in the wilderness.
5 years in battle.
45 years of following God.
And Caleb is ready for his inheritance.
Goodness. He’s 85 years old. It’s time for him to retire.
And there were plenty of places available that Israel already had in its possession.
You might expect him to choose a quiet farm.
A lazy valley.
A nice bungalow by the river.
“Now then give me this hill country that the LORD promised me that day. You yourself heard then that the Anakites were there and their cities were large and fortified, but, the LORD helping me, I will drive them out just as he said.” (14:10-12)
Does this not seem a bit crazy?
Instead of taking the easy way.
Instead of choosing a simple plan.
Caleb wants a challenge.
Caleb wants to fight.
Caleb wants to head to the area that he had seen years ago and fight for his land…against giants…
…at 85 years old!?!
And the reason for his confidence?
It wasn’t his impeccable physical condition.
It wasn’t some secret serum of energy plucked from the honey of the land.
It wasn’t himself.
It was God.
“With the LORD helping I will drive them out just as He said.” (v.12)
Here’s the truth: Confidence in God leads to confidence in action.
And this confidence comes regardless of your age.
Whether you’re young and inexperienced.
Whether you’re older and tired.
Whether you’re middle aged and dealing with midlife crises –
Confidence in God leads to confidence in action.
That’s important to us as a church. Because God has given us a big task to do -- “Go and make disciples of all nations…” – And we might look at that statement and combine it with America’s perception on religion and decide: “I’m a believer now. I’m pretty content to take it easy, put my feet up on the pews and relax. Here. Here’s a buck or two for mission work. Enjoy.”
I’m not sure that’s serving God vigorously.
That’s serving God…while limping.
Be like Caleb.
Because you can be confident in God:
He kept Caleb safe for 45 years!
He provided bread from heaven.
He helped him cross the Jordan river.
He toppled the walls of Jericho.
He caused the sun to stand still and give Caleb and his friends an extra 24 hours to defeat their enemies!
That’s the God that you have on your side. A God that has shown similar power to your life.
He has kept you safe throughout your life.
He provides nourishment in his Word.
He helps you cross the challenges you face.
He toppled the wall of sin with his death on the cross.
And has extended your life into eternity through the resurrection of his Son!
Just imagine what it would be like if we stopped intimidating ourselves into not sharing the Gospel.
Or fighting amongst ourselves to distract us from sharing the Gospel.
Imagine if we were like Caleb and vigorously; confidently; boldly share Jesus!
There’d be evangelism going on in all of our homes.
There’d be evangelism at about 100 different workplaces.
There would be conversations about Jesus at Starbucks, Sheetz and Steak & Shake!
Take on this challenge. Back 2 Church Sunday is coming up in two weeks. I’ve got invites ready for you to pass out to others. I have email invitations for you to pass on. There will be social media blasts for you to like, forward, etc.
Don’t just send me an invite. I’m already coming.
Choose a friend who doesn’t know Jesus.
Even a friend who doesn’t like Jesus.
Even a friend who has denounced Jesus.
And invite them.
Tell them about Jesus.
And serve the LORD vigorously confident that the LORD is vigorously fighting for you.
II. The Temptation to Give Up
Enough about Caleb. Because God also has promises and inheritance for many people who didn’t follow God so whole heartedly. Chapters 14-19 chronicle the allotment of the land for all twelve tribes of Israel.
Perhaps what is most interesting is the relation of these sections to a bedside prophecy about 500 years earlier.
…the place is Egypt. Jacob, also known as Israel, is on his deathbed. Before he passes from the earth, he calls his twelve sons --- Yes, twelve sons – into his room. They crowd around the bed. They have tears in their eyes as they listen to his heavy breathing.
Yet in the midst of this sadness, God does something amazing. He works through Jacob to prophecy about the very land allotment that is reference in Joshua. Jacob speaks to his sons – and 500 years later the descendants of each of his sons is allotted land in accordance with these prophecies. Take a look:
Let’s start with Jacob’s most famous son – Joseph. He is the one with the multicolored coat. He was thrown into a pit by his brothers, thought to be dead, but ended up saving the land of Egypt from starvation. Jacob grants a double blessing to Joseph. He says, Joseph is a fruitful vine…a vine near a spring who climbs up over a wall. (v.22)
Immediately I get the picture of a one of those vines that you don’t plant. A weedy vine that you can’t quite control. What happens with those types of vines? You don’t plant them; but they end up taking up more of your garden and fence than anything else.
Jacob prophesies that Joseph will be like that. His land will be great and double in portion to anyone other tribes. Which seems strange. Because if you look over all of the book of Joshua, you will not find mention of a tribe named Joseph.
That’s because Joseph’s inheritance was double.
That’s because Josephs inheritance was given to his two sons – Manasseh and Ephraim.
God gives these people twice the land…and again God keeps his promises.
Jacob says to Zebulon: Zebulon will live by the seashore and become a haven for ships... (v.13) Which is exactly what happens. Joshua allots the Zebulonians (Zebulonites? Zebulonii? the people of Zebulon) an area that’s less than ten miles from the Mediterranean sea. These guys wore a lot of flip flops and got out their surfboards, because it happened exactly as God promised.
Jacob says to Asher: Asher’s food will be rich; delicacies fit for a king. (V.20) And 500 years later, Joshua grants them land near the northern border of the Mediterranean. Archaeologists indicate that that particular portion of land was filled with some of the country’s richest soil. It was perfect for growing pomegranates. God gave the Asherites wonderful farmland -- and God kept his promise.
Jacob says to Simeon: Simeon and Levi…will be scarce and dispersed in Israel. (v.5) This was a punishment on the brothers for a violent incident that God greatly disapproved of. And as a result, Levi doesn’t receive any inheritance at all. In fact, they are simply given places in cities to live in. And Simeon is given the smallest allotment of all. An allotment so small that it eventually gets swallowed up by one more tribe.
Jacob says to Judah: Judah, your brothers will praise you…because you are a lion’s cub. The scepter will not depart from Judah. (v.9-11) And like a lion – God gives Judah the lion’s share of the land. Look at how large it is! It’s huge. It’s the largest section of any tribe.
And above all else? It contains Jerusalem.
Jerusalem which would be home to many kings.
Jerusalem which would be home to many kings of Israel.
Jerusalem which would be home to THE king of Israel.
Here’s the point of all this. These land allotments are proof that God keeps his promises. Whether he’s promising lots of land, or a beach front, or even a tiny little bit…God gives exactly what he promises.
So, what about you? What has God promised you?
A beachfront like Zebulon?
A good gardening area like Asher?
Or just enough land for one of those tiny little houses like Levi?
God has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. (Colossians 1:12)
No matter what the devil says.
No matter how much he tells you that you don’t qualify.
No matter how much he tells you that you might forget.
God has not forgotten you.
He already paid for it.
He has a place reserved for you in heaven.
No matter how long it takes.
III. Joshua’s Inheritance
Which leads us to Joshua.
Because the very last inheritance that God passes out, isn’t given to some lonely orphan.
It isn’t given to some naysaying skeptic.
It’s given to their leader.
When they had finished dividing the land into its allotted portions, the Israelites gave Joshua son of Nun an inheritance among them, as the Lord had commanded. (Joshua 19:49)
Do you see the point?
Joshua followed God and God followed through.
When others didn’t want to, he stuck to God’s promises.
When he couldn’t get past a river, he stuck to God’s promises.
When he faced giant walls, he stuck to God’s promises.
When his people sinned and failed, he stuck to God’s promises.
When he fought an army of five kings, he stuck to God’s promises.
And God stuck to Joshua.
And Joshua had a home.
And Joshua had rest.
Do the same and God will do the same. Follow God and he’ll follow through for you.
If you’ve been abandoned, cling to God’s promises.
If you’ve been sick, cling to God’s promises.
If you have financial struggle, cling to God’s promises.
If you’re facing death, cling to God’s promises.
God will keep his promises and you will receive your inheritance…in heaven. Amen.
We are a chapter away from some big-time action in this Joshua series. But before we get there, chapter 5 reveals some final preparations that God does before he acts. As we take a look at these, it’s interesting to note that God uses very similar things to prepare us before we enter the Promised Land above.
So as always, before we begin, let’s say a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Preparations for Jericho
Take a look at the first preparation. It isn’t even a preparation on the hearts of the Israelites. It’s on the hearts of the Canaanites. Take a look:
Now when all the Amorite kings west of the Jordan and all the Canaanite kings along the coast heard how the LORD had dried up the Jordan before the Israelites until they had crossed over, their hearts melted in fear and they no longer had the courage to face the Israelites. (5:1)
It makes sense that the Canaanites are afraid. Because if you remember when we were talking about Rahab – the people of Jericho had already heard of God’s awesome work in the desert. They had heard of God’s promise to give the Promised Land to the Israelites. They had heard of all the miracles he had done in the desert to get them to the Promised Land’s borders.
Now? They heard that their God had split a raging, white water rapids in half – wide enough for a million some odd people to cross!
This miracle was from God.
This miracle caused the people of Jericho to be afraid.
God caused the people of Jericho to be afraid.
…this was a blessing.
This fits in well with a question that a few different people have asked me recently.
What did Jericho do wrong?
And to be fair that’s a question I’ve pondered before. They seem to be minding their own business. They weren’t like the Egyptians who held the Israelites in slavery. They weren’t like the kings in the desert that attacked the Israelites. They were just enjoying life in the land of Canaan.
What’d they do to get kicked out of their city?
Why was God attacking them?
Why is God being so mean?
While I understand where that line of questioning comes from (and there’s a lot of forms in it when it comes to Old Testament God), that line of questioning makes two incorrect assumptions:
(1) “People are generally good.”
Do you know what bias is? Bias is the underlying worldview or notion that someone has when they look at a particular event. Bias isn’t always a bad thing, but bias can absolutely affect the way that you react to or report on a certain event.
Take the new:
One network says, “Republican does dumb thing.”
Another network says in the exact same story, “Republican stands up for what is right.”
One network says, “Democratic is whiny.”
Another network says, “Democratic defends freedom!”
Did you know that there’s a bias that humans naturally read the Bible with? A bias that humans are naturally good. Why do we have that bias? Because…(Wait for it)…we’re humans! I like to think of myself as good.
So…when I come across instances in the Bible where it pits God against humans and I don’t find an immediate obvious sinful thing (like Pharaoh horribly mistreating hundreds of thousands of Israelite slaves) my human bias tends to demonize God.
He’s being a jerk.
He did wrong.
He is a monster.
Is that right?
Is God a monster?
Think about it!
Our God created us – he didn’t have to.
Our God gave us this wonderful world – he didn’t have to.
Our God died for us – he didn’t have to.
Our God rose to save us – he did not have to.
Our God did this because our God is good.
All the time good.
When God and humanity clash?
That’s not on God.
That’s on us.
In fact, this is exactly what Scripture says, “The sinful mind is hostile to God.” (Romans 8:7) Hostile means an enemy. A violent enemy. A violent enemy with a bias on the opposite side of God.
Don’t be surprised when your sinful human bias look at a Bible story and wants to rewrite the history to make God the villain!
That’s the wrong narrative.
It’s the sinful, broken, imperfect narrative.
The narrative is not about a good people and a cruel God.
The narrative is about a good God and a cruel people.
And…maybe you know that?
Because you know this world is broken.
To name a few.
And at least a few of those made your heart squirm because you’ve walked a bit close to those lines.
Let me tell you.
That uncomfortable feeling?
Proof that God’s always in the right.
(2) “That God didn’t care about the people of Jericho.”
If you were here last week, do you remember one of the purposes of the memorial that God had his people build? It was so that “all the nations on earth might know that the hand of the LORD is powerful.” (v.24) That’s a key purpose. Because it shows you that with these miracles – with this memorial – with the message that was striking fear into the hearts of the Canaanites – God was making it very obvious:
I am the LORD.
That’s what Rahab did! Remember the prostitute? She concluded that God was with the Israelites. She concluded that God was going to use the Promised Land for HIS purposes! And…rather than fight, she concluded that she would follow the true God.
Was Rahab the only one who knew about God’s power and Strength?
Nope. She’s just the only one who decided not to fight God.
But even after that…Chapter 5:1 is proof – yet again – that God wanted these Canaanites to recognize him as the one true God. He splits the Jordan River. (1) to get Israel across (2) to give Israel confidence (3) to give the Canaanites a warning! They were up against the One and Only God of Heaven and earth! That fear they were feeling? Was a gift! – a warning – a divine smack in the back of the head – to listen to him and follow him, lest they be destroyed!
The fear then is proof that God cared about the people of Jericho.
1 Timothy 2:4 says this about this God of the Old Testament, “God our Savior, wants all to be saved.”
That includes the people Israel, sure.
But it also includes the people of Jericho.
In fact, that’s the ultimate purpose of Israel having ownership of the Promised Land, isn’t it?
God wanted the Promised Land because…
God promised a man named Abraham his descendants (the Israelites) would dwell in the Promised Land, because…
God also promised that same man a Messiah would be born in the Promised Land, because…
God would one day send his son Jesus to be born in the Promised Land, because…
God wanted it to be clear and simple and obvious that Jesus Christ was the promised Messiah, because…
God wanted all people – even the people of Jericho – to read these prophecies, trust in this Messiah and be saved.
What does this mean?
It means this fear isn’t God being a big meanie.
This fear is a gift from God.
A gift to get them on his side.
A gift to get them to listen to him.
A gift to cause them to be just like their friend Rahab – and turn to him as their Savior.
It’s a wonderful blessing from God--
They just didn’t listen.
II. Preparations for Israel
Let’s shift. While this fear spreads over Jericho, Joshua is following God’s instructions to prepare the Israelites. Look at verse 2 (Yes, we are at least ten minutes in and haven’t even made it past the first verse…but I digress):
1. The Preparation of Circumcision
2 The Lord said to Joshua, “Make flint knives and circumcise the Israelites again.” 3 So Joshua made flint knives and circumcised the Israelites…
I’ll say it once so we don’t linger on it. Circumcision is exactly what circumcision is today. It’s the cutting off of skin in the male private area. Interesting note – this was done amongst the ancients for a lot of reasons: health benefits, a tribal mark, a rite of passage, or even simple hygiene.
Biblical circumcision was a visual, outward reminder of God’s personal promise to the recipient. It’s similar to a tattoo of a cross or a key chain that says John 3:16. It’s a very personal reminder of God’s promise.
And it’s permanent! You can’t undo it. Just like you couldn’t undo God’s promise – Even when you faced terrifying things:
In battle and surrounded by the enemy? I have been circumcised – God has promised to be with me.
Walking around a giant, impenetrable wall? I have been circumcised. God has promised to be with me.
Setting up my home for my first year in the Promised Land? I have been circumcised. God has promised to be with me.
2. The Preparation of the Passover
10 On the evening of the fourteenth day of the month, while camped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho, the Israelites celebrated the Passover.
Remember – the Passover was a reminder of how God saved the Israelites from Egyptian slavery. In the final plagues, he sent the angel of death to kill the firstborn son of every family in Egypt. But to those who trusted God, they need only take an innocent lamb, slaughter it and paint its blood on the wooden frame of the door. Then, the angel of death would “pass over” them and they would be safe.
The Passover was a bit different from circumcision then. The Passover was a visual, outward reminder of God’s public promise to the recipients. He would be with them. He would deliver them to the Promised Land.
And I love the very special meaning behind this Passover. Because it was the first Passover that had ever been eaten in the Promised Land. Look at verse 11: The day after the Passover, that very day, they ate some of the produce of the land: unleavened bread and roasted grain. (5:11) Because they were where God had promised the nation that they would be.
Can you imagine the patriotic spirit that night?
4th of July was cool, but…think of it like the 4th of July in 1779 – they year after the Revolutionary War was over!
That’s what was going on for the Israelites.
They had made it.
God had made it for them.
That night -
They reminded each other.
They celebrated together.
They encouraged each other in God’s promises.
III. What Now?
A couple things from these lessons –
1. Thank God for Fear
Because maybe earlier…you felt a bit uneasy when we talked about sin and being enemies of God. That’s a good thing.
It’s similar to the uneasy feeling that you might get if you head to the zoo and you get a bit close to the giant jungle python. It’s behind bars. It’s behind the glass that’s supposed to not break – but still you don’t tap on the glass because you’ve got a healthy fear and respect for the giant serpent.
Same thing with God.
Fear means a healthy respect and awe and wonder and yes – even a bit of – unease. It recognizes the danger we are in as we, sinners, approach God.
Don’t fight him.
Fall at his feet.
Ask for forgiveness.
Ask for his mercy.
Ask for his compassion.
Be confident that he has sent it – in the form of his Son Jesus Christ dying on the cross for your sins.
Moving us from enemies – to friends.
2. Remember God’s NEW Personal Promise
Because circumcision is no longer a church ceremony. Still – we have a ceremony – a beautiful, divine ceremony in which God places his personal promise onto our hearts.
In Him [Christ] you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism. (Colossians 2:11-12)
See the connection? Just as Old Testament circumcision involves the cutting off of flesh, so baptism involves the spiritual cutting off of sin from our hearts! And what’s more? That sin that’s been cut off has been tossed into the grave.
It’s been left behind.
It is no longer who you are.
Have you been baptized? This is God’s personal promise to you.
Want to be baptized? Wonderful. Let’s talk. And God will make his personal promise to you.
3. Remember God’s NEW Public Promise
In fact, as related as circumcision seems to be to baptism; there is an even simpler and easier to see correlation between the Passover and a different New Testament ceremony.
While Jesus and his disciples were eating the Passover Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (Matthew 26:26-28)
The connection is greater than just Jesus started the Lord’s Supper in the middle of the Passover meal.
Scripture calls Jesus the “Lamb of God.” (John 1:29)
In fact, the “Passover Lamb” (1 Corinthians 5:7)
And “The blood of Jesus purifies us from all sin.” (1 Jn. 1:7)
In other words, because of Jesus blood – God’s wrath passes over us.
That’s what’s going on when we partake of the Lord’s Supper.
It’s a big deal.
It’s one of the reasons that we ask people who haven’t been through our newcomer’s class to go through our newcomer’s class before they come up here for Lord’s Supper. Because this is a big deal what’s going on up here and I don’t want you to miss it.
And honestly, if you have kind of forgotten why it’s a big deal – come back to newcomer’s class. I’ll call it “review class.” Learn again what your Savior did for you.
I love the ending to this section: The manna stopped the day after they ate this food from the land; there was no longer any manna for the Israelites, but that year they ate the produce of Canaan. (5:12)
Cool. They are no longer desert dwellers.
They are no longer warriors.
They are home.
Though there are battles to come, because of God’s promises – they are as good as home.
The same is true for you.
Humbled by our fear of God.
Trusting in God’s mercy.
Dwelling in the promise of baptism.
Meditating on the promise of Lord’s Supper.
We aren’t home.
But we’re as good as home.
I was a Senior Vicar – 24 years old and I had been called to the hospital. I was there to visit a woman named Matilda – someone whom I had enjoyed lightly toasted bread and tea with on numerous occasions. We had gotten together to talk about her family, hummel figurines, and the best episodes of the Lucy show.
But now…now there was no Lucy show. No figurines. No lightly toasted bread.
Matilda had just died. Her breathing had stopped.
And my stomach just felt strange. I had just seen someone die. Now…now how could I help?
As I looked at the tear stained eyes of the family members in the room -- I racked my brain. Should I do CPR? Should I run to get a nurse? Should there be some kind of special Pastor trick that I hadn’t learned yet in Pastoral theology that I should be used to return her breath to her...?
I felt helpless. Helpless because…What’s there to do when the breathing stops?
Today we’re finishing up our sermon series called BREATHE and we what Jesus did to prep you for eternal breathing, what he’s currently doing, and what you can do to prep yourself.
I. He’s Preparing Things for You
Take a look at John 14. This happens 43 days before Jesus’ ascension – 40 days before Ascension is Easter. 3 days before Easter is Maundy Thursday. It’s the night Jesus that Jesus is betrayed; the night he’s arrested; the night before he’s beaten, flogged, convicted, crucified, and killed.
And as Jesus was speaking about it, he’s disciples were getting spooked.
If the Pharisees did that to their leader, what would he do to them?
And If Jesus was dead, how could he protect them?
And if he couldn’t protect them, wouldn’t they just run out of breath?
Listen to Jesus’ words of to them:
Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, I would have told you so. I am going there to prepare a place for you.
Now note that when Jesus says, “His Father’s house,” he’s not talking about Joseph. That would have been his step-dad’s house in Nazareth. While a carpenter makes a living, I doubt that the house had enough room for 11 disciples to spread out on the living room floor for a nap. Can you imagine what that would have been like? “Peter & Andrew – you’re brothers so you can sleep in this room together. John, you take the floor. And Philip? There’s an old futon out back that you can curl up on.”
Nope. The Father he was talking about was bigger.
And the house He was talking about was bigger too.
In my Father’s house are many rooms.
Ever been to the Biltmore Estate? It has over 250 rooms. 33 bedrooms. 43 bathrooms. 3 kitchens and 65 fireplaces. It’s able to house hundreds of people at the same time. That’s a lot.
Heaven houses a lot more. It has many rooms. Enough rooms for God to fill it with people from every age, every era, every culture, and every race. Scripture talks about thousands upon thousands and ten thousand upon ten thousand. Myriads of people crowding the halls of this divine house, taking up residents in one of its many rooms.
And one of those rooms? It’s for you.
Look at what Jesus says next, I am going there to prepare a place for you. That’s a promise he makes to his disciples. A disciple is a follower of Jesus. Do you follow Jesus? Do you believe in him? Jesus is talking about you.
Jesus isn’t up in heaven laying on a couch flipping through episodes of Fuller House on Netflix. He’s not in heaven sipping martinis by a heavenly poolside and leaving you down here with all your problems, with all your relationship problems, with all your financial struggles, to slowly go through life working your dead-end job, barely making it until you die.
He’s busy. He’s preparing a place for you.
Suddenly you get this picture of Jesus sweeping up the floor, turning the Roomba loose on the carpet, putting flowers in a vase by the bedside table, fluffing pillows, lighting some candles, spraying some Febreeze and folding a towel into one of the little duck like creatures that they make at the Holiday Inn.
Is Jesus actually doing such mundane earthly tasks? Probably not. It’s heaven. It’s not earth. But the point is this: Jesus is that excited to have you in heaven. He’s getting a special spot, preserved and prepared just for you.
If one of the angels comes along and says, “Hey Jesus, is anyone using this room? I want to use it for some divine yoga!”
Jesus will respond, “No! That room is for my beloved. It’s for this 21st century Christian, sitting in row 7, seat 2 at Gethsemane church in Raleigh, NC. I’ve been preparing that spot for them for years. I lived perfectly for them. I died for them. I rose triumphantly for them. All so that they might live in that room – down the hall from me – eternally.”
II. He’s Coming Back to Get you
When your spot is ready – when the time is just right – Jesus is coming back. If I go there and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me.
Did you know that infants are terrible at peekaboo? Infants lack something called “object permanence.” That means they don’t understand that objects generally don’t disappear out of thin air. So, if you are making an infant smile and then throw a blanket over your face, the infant thinks “Help. He’s gone. Don’t know where to either.” The infant is extra surprised to see you again – because he was expecting that you were gone.
Don’t we do the same thing with Jesus?
The way this world is going – things are so awful. Jesus isn’t ever coming back!
Finances are so hard – I imagine God doesn’t care a bit about me.
I’m so lonely – Jesus must have forgotten all about me.
My health is deteriorating fast. Jesus must have checked out!
Nope. He remembers.
When he’s done preparing a place for you, he will come back and take you to be with him.
To a place without the sin and immorality of this world.
To a place without financial burdens.
To a place surrounded by God’s love.
To a place where there is no sickness; no sadness and no pain!
That’s sounds pretty awesome. It would be sad to miss it.
Like Google Calendar. Do you ever use its features? If you ever have a really important event you can set it up shoot off an alarm that way you don’t miss the meeting. Sometimes I have to put a couple of reminders for a really big day – like the Doritos convention – I have reminders 1 week, 3 days, 24 hours, 12 hours, 5 hours, 2 hours, 1 hour & ½ an hour before hand. I don’t want to forget!
Don’t you worry about Jesus. He won’t forget. Don’t think you’ve done too much sin or been too far away for too long that he will forget all about coming to get you.
He will remember you. He will come back for you.
It doesn’t matter where you are:
On the sixth floor of your office surrounded by stacks of paper at work? He will remember you. He will come back for you.
In line to make a rent payment at the fourth apartment you’ve tried out this year? He will remember you. He will come back for you.
On the fourth floor of the sixth building on the gigantic campus of UNC Health Center? He will remember you. He will come back for you.
In the ground, row 18 in the cemetery, plot 37 – He will come back for you.
Lazarus had been buried in a tomb for four days. He had been dead for longer – probably a whole week. His body had begun to deteriorate. The grave had begun to smell like rot. He was dead.
When Jesus got there to see him, his sisters lost it: “You’re too late! You should have been here earlier. You missed him. You could have helped him; you could have saved him; but now he’s dead.”
Jesus? He had them roll the stone away. He peered inside. He called out: “Lazarus!”
Lazarus walked out – alive.
There’s a promise that Jesus made right before doing that to Lazarus. He said, “Whoever believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me; will never die!” (Jn. 11:27)
Do you believe in Jesus? That means you will live.
Have cancer? You will live.
Getting older? You will live.
Nervous about terrorist? You will live.
You will be in heaven. You will breathe. Even when you’re breathing stops.
III. What Now?
1. Give the Best Gift a Mom Can Give
Here’s the Mother’s Day connection. We are gonna get it in there somehow. If you are a modern mom, there’s a lot of pressure to be a good mom. Our world is of the opinion that if you want to be a good mom you need to enroll your kid in ballet, take him to swimming, karate, clarinet, science club, make sure he has good grades but get him an iPhone, feed him the most expensive organic food available, but save up enough money for college, make sure he’s disciplined, but not be one of those hard-nosed moms either.
It’s hard. It’s also wrong.
Because if you want to be a good mom, there is one thing needful: Teach your kids about Jesus.
Nothing else is that important. Tell them Bible stories. Read them the Bible. Do family devotions. Bring them to church. Bring them to Sunday School. Have them baptized.
If you want to them in heaven with you, do all you can to teach them about the one, the ONLY ONE, who offers heaven. Jesus!
2. Give the Best Gift a Mom Can Get
Moms – you might be getting a lot of gifts today. A pair of earrings. A flower. A card with “I think it’s a spotted cow” on it. Happy “Mooo—ther’s Day!” Careful how you react! Because if you want to show appreciation for a gift, you take good care of it. You put it in a special spot. You make sure not to throw it away. You keep it for years to come.
It’s the same way with spiritual gifts.
Maybe you have a Christian mom.
Maybe you had a Christian mom.
Maybe you had a grand mom, an aunt, an uncle, a dad, a somebody who loved Jesus and cared give you the gift of your Savior.
Use that gift. Take care of that gift. Keep your faith in Jesus strong. Exercise your spirit in God’s Word – at church, at home, listening to your iPhone as you drive. Whatever it takes to make sure you’re breathing when your breathing ends.
That’s what Matilda had done. She had read her Bible. She sang her hymns. She had listened to the cassette tapes of sermons that past pastors had brought her. She even listened to the CDs of Sundays service that I brought her (after I explained to her how it all worked).
She listened. She heard about her Savior’s last breath on the cross. She heard about her Savior’s first breath in the tomb.
When she took her last breath in that hospital room, immediately, instantly, she segued to her first divine breath.
In her Father’s house.
Genesis 17:1-7 (NIV84).
5 No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations.
This is the tenth day of Christmas, and by now all of the gifts have been unwrapped. This is the time when we perhaps have begun to think about what we didn't receive that we had hoped for. Though Christmas is really about what God has already given: the gift of his only Son Jesus, we are all too human, and so was Abram.
The problem was that was way back in Genesis chapter twelve God had called him to leave his country and people and come to dwell in the Promised Land of Canaan. Promised, but never possessed by him during his lifetime. (Hebrews 11) God had promised to make him into "a great nation" but that had been when Abram had been seventy-five years old and now he was ninety- nine. Very few people even live to be that old. My father died last May at the age of 97, and that was far beyond the "three score and ten or four score" (seventy or eighty) the most might hope for. Twenty-four years had elapsed, and his wife Sarai was still barren.
I. More than the blessing Abraham sought (a son) - God promised A Gift for All Nations
God spoke to Abram again, as we read in Genesis chapter fifteen, and Abram complained "I am still childless." God again promised that "a son coming from your own body will be your heir" and so in Genesis chapter sixteen we read that Abram had a son by Sarai's maid Hagar, but God later told Abram (Genesis 17:21) that this son - who would be the father of the Arab nations - was not to be the son of blessing that God had promised. Instead, God had something else in mind. As God's words to Abraham had been recorded two chapters earlier in Genesis 15:
Genesis 15:3 ...all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.
When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless. 2 I will confirm my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.” 3 Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, 4 “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations.6 I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. 7 I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you."
A man of ninety to be a father who would then be one hundred years old. To hear of it, both Abraham and Sarah laughed. And that would be their son's name: Isaac (which means: "he laughs"). And wouldn't we also laugh to hear of something so fantastic, but true.
And we laugh with Abraham and Sarah, for the gift that God was to give to Abraham and Sarah was not only to be a blessing for them but a gift for all nations. In Isaac, God wasn't only blessing these two elderly parents but every man, woman and child on the face of the earth. Isaac was to be only one in a long line of descendants who would ultimately lead to the birth of Jesus, whose birth we celebrated ten days ago and whose suffering and death later atoned for your sins and my sins and the sins of all people. As we read in today’s Psalm reading:
Psalm 148:13, 14 13 Let them praise the name of the LORD, for ... 14 He has raised up for his people a horn [i.e. a strong one - a king], the praise of all his saints [his holy ones]...
Or the Christmas Psalm: 98:1-2 1 Sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things; ... 2 The Lord has made his salvation known...to the nations.
For the promised messiah was not to come only for his Old Testament saints, the people of Israel. Christ came for everyone. Sometimes people get the mistaken notion that God only cares about some people and that the Old Testament was only about the people of Israel. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The number of Bible passages that affirm that God want's all people to be saved would literally fill at least twenty pages and take hours to discuss. God cares about everybody!
Isaiah 42:6 (ESV) I will give you [Christ] as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations...
Isaiah 49:6 (ESV) I will make you [Christ] as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach the end of the earth.
It was never just about Abraham, or the people of Israel. Abraham would be the ancestor of the promised messiah, and he was to come (and now has come) to be the salvation of all people.
Isaiah 53:6 (NIV84) We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
In this, Abraham placed his trust. Abraham wasn't a perfect man. Faltering in his confidence, he had tried to fulfill God's promise of a son through his wife's servant girl Hagar. But salvation isn't ever about us and what we do but about God and what he has done on our behalf. Though sinful from birth (Psalm 51:5) and though none of us is righteous by what we do (Romans 3:10- 18), God has placed our iniquity - our sin - upon Jesus and he has atoned for the sins of all people. Our righteousness does not come from fulfilling God's law, but through faith in Christ:
Genesis 17:6 (NIV84) Abram believed the LORD, and he [the LORD] credited it to him as righteousness.
That's how God sees us now, you and me, as righteous in his sight, not because of what we have done, but despite all that we have done, purely because of what Jesus has done: This One who was born for us, has suffered and died for our sins and risen in victory over sin and death. In Christ God has declared all humankind righteous. He has absolved everyone on earth. As Edward Kaehler wrote in Summary of Christian Doctrine:
God has forgiven all sins. – Because of the redemption through the Christ God no longer imputes sins to men ...; He does not charge their transgressions against them, but credits them with the merits of Christ. Edward Koehler A Summary of Christian Doctrine 146.
1 JOHN 2:2 He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.
The only thing is, that although all people have been redeemed (their sins have been paid for), this gift for all nations is received through faith in Christ and most people do not believe.
II. Will We Proclaim?
Only about 1⁄4 of the people on this planet self-identify as being Christians. There are 7.2 billion people on earth. That means that something like 5.4 billion people self-identify as not believing in Jesus Christ. And since Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, not a way, a truth and a life, people who don’t believe in Jesus don’t go to heaven. It’s not that God and the Christian faith is somehow exclusive – that we don’t want these people in heaven – but that Jesus is the only way to get there. Jesus is our elevator, and there is no stairway to heaven. That’s just the name of a song.
Every year 130 million children are born. Of these, about 98 million will probably never believe in Christ. Of the 68 million people who die this year, about 51 million will likely die without believing in Christ. That’s about 140 thousand per day. That’s about 58 hundred per hour. That’s about 97 per minute or about 1 1⁄2 for every tick of the clock. When the Titanic sank nearly 103 years ago 1,500 people perished because there weren't enough life boats. But right now we’re talking about a Titanic-sized catastrophe every 15 minutes, four times every hour of every day and night.
Earlier this morning in Bible Class we talked about Christ's Great Commission - to reach people everywhere with the message of the Gospel and if I asked you to put up your hand this morning if you are in favor of doing that, I am confident that every one of you would raise your hand. We believe that Jesus was born, suffered, died and rose again not only for us but for all people. We care about reaching people everywhere with the precious gospel of Jesus Christ. But it mostly isn't getting done, because caring about it doesn't necessarily make it happen.
For example, even though the “Christian World” (the part of the world that is predominately Christian) is only 11% of the world’s population, Christians spend 87% of their offerings on meeting their own needs and only 13% of offerings to reach out to the other 89% of the world. (See CGI (Christian Growth Initiative) CGIoutreach.org.)
When we speak of Christian missions, we divide the world into 3 sections: 1) the "Christian World," 2) the "Evangelized Non-Christian World" and 3) the "Un-Evangelized World."
In the “Christian World” there are 4.1 million full-time Christian workers (pastors, teachers, etc.), while there are only 1 million (a quarter as many) in the “Evangelized Non-Christian World” and only 20,500 church workers (2% as many) in the “Un-evangelized World.”
We have over 300,000 missionaries serving in the “Christian World” but only a hundred thousand (one third that number) in the “Evangelized Non-Christian World” and only about 10 thousand (10,200) (one percent as many) in the “Un-Evangelized World.” These numbers are all upside-down. (We are allocating the fewest number of workers where the need is the greatest.)
Perhaps we think that this is just being responsible. After all, isn’t it important for Christians to receive instruction and grow in their faith? Yes it is. But what of the lost? The world needs to hear the gospel, the only hope of salvation.
III. The Continuing Need to Bring God's God promised Gift to All Nations
In the United States, 2 1⁄2 million people die every year, 7 thousand per day, 113 per hour, about 2 people every second, most not believing in Christ. More than 4 1/2 million people are born in America every year, nearly 12 thousand per day, 194 per hour, more than 3 per second. Will someone bring them the gospel?
Sometimes I hear that we don't need to concern ourselves about such things. After all, we hear, God will take all his "elect" (predestined) to heaven. Yes he will, as he promises in Romans chapter 8, but Romans chapter 10 (:17) tells us that "faith comes by hearing the message" and "how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?" (:14) In Christian Dogmatics (3:476) Francis Pieper writes:
Election is...a selecting...in eternity of...persons...to salvation...In this choosing was included the work of the Holy Ghost, approaching the chosen with the Gospel and through the Gospel engendering faith in them. ...not without regard to the means...but in such a way as to provide for the preaching of the Gospel and the operation of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel for the generation of faith.
This isn't hypothetical. Where I was raised, in Oregon, only 5% of people attend a Christian church. I was in college before I came to know and believe in the gospel. I didn't hear the gospel from one of the few Christians I knew, nor did I hear the gospel in one of the few churches that I visited. I found the mercy and love of Christ in the pages of the Bible. Will everyone in North Carolina have an opportunity to hear the gospel?
Here in Raleigh, NC: 2,073 deaths / year, about 6 / day, or about every 4 hours. 5,554 births / year, 15 / day, one about one every 90 minutes (See my website: CGI (as in “Christian Growth Initiative”) -
lso invite you to visit my blog: AuthenticChristianityCGI.Wordpress.com.) The need for workers in God’s harvest field is more now than it ever has been, and it’s more than a pastor can do by himself.
IV. A 10-Point Mission Plan (from the Book of Acts) to bring God's promised A Gift for All Nations
As we go out with the gospel, how do we go? If we look in the book of Acts we find a ten-point
A. One: We go out in sufficient numbers to bring God's promised Gift to All Nations
And (briefly): And (Point 1), is that we go out in sufficient numbers. Jesus sent the Seventy out to a population of Israel that was about one million at that time. That would be about one missionary for every 14,000 people.
In Saint Paul’s three missionary journeys, he was accompanied a number of coworkers. (Acts 20:4-6). Paul didn't do the work alone. God granted him lots of help.
Wake County has a million people living in it; Raleigh has over four hundred thousand, after an increase of one hundred and fifty thousand during the past twelve years. To have the same number of evangelists for Raleigh as the early church did in Israel (one for every 14,000 people), we would need thirty people or thirty congregations in Raleigh; each with a "responsibility area" of about 14,000 people or about 5,000 homes each. Reaching 5,000 homes! Actually, that isn't so difficult. A team of 4 college students from WELS Kingdom Workers for a week each spring and a team of 2 college students for 10 weeks each summer could bring a personal gospel message to 5,000 homes in just 3 years. Some congregations with trained evangelists just take a compass, draw a big circle around their church's location, with perhaps a one and a half-mile radius. Then, even without the help of WELS Kingdom workers, they are able to canvass a quarter of their area each year: 1,200 homes per year at only 100 per month! In my mission in Florida we canvassed 13,000 homes.
Or, if 10 people spent a half-hour (part of one evening) each week, phoning 25 homes, in ten months these 10 people would have telephoned 10,000 homes. In a dozen years, these same 10 people could phone the home of every person currently living in Raleigh, North Carolina.
B. Two: It's Not As Hard As We Expect - We Don't Go Out Alone as we bring God's promised Gift to All Nations
Sometimes we are a little afraid to do so. But (Point 2) it’s not as hard as we expect and we don't go out alone. Jesus sent people out two by two (Mark 6:78); sometimes we do the same. We also go out after being fully equipped as trained evangelists. It's not always easy. Jesus said... "Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves." (Luke 10:3) but there's one more thing: We don't go out alone: God goes with us too. In thousands of visits we’ve run into a few unpleasant responses here and there. But I can’t say we’ve ever really been in danger.
C. Three: We depend on God as we bring God's promised Gift to All Nations
Jesus said ... "Do not take a purse or a bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road."
(Luke 10:4a) He’s talking about depending on God as we share the gospel. That’s (Point 3) D. Four: We Go Out with a Sense of Urgency as we bring God's promised Gift to All Nations
Jesus said: "...do not greet anyone on the road." (Luke 10:4b)
It’s like in the time Elisha sent out his servant and told him: “... If you meet anyone, do not greet
him, and if anyone greets you, do not answer. ...” (2 Kings 4:29)
That’s (Point 4). There is a sense of urgency in this. There is a whole world out there, dying without Christ.
E. Five: We Select Our Mission Fields Carefully & Strategically as we bring God's promised Gift to All Nations
Also (Point 5), as we select our mission fields, we do so carefully and strategically. Look, for example, where Saint Paul went. (see Acts 13:4-6, 15:36-41, Acts 14:5-7, 14:19-23, 16:1-5, Acts 14:24-26, Acts 19:1, 21-24) When we examine 25 different locations where Paul traveled, we find that these were places that were centers of government, centers of commerce, centers of travel, not just to facilitate his own journeys, but so that the message of the gospel would travel far and wide from the places where the seed of the Word of God was planted.
F. Six: God Opens Some Doors and Closes Others as we bring God's promised Gift to All Nations
(Point 6) Another thing we learn is that God opens some doors and he closes others. For example, God told Paul not to go to Asia and Bithynia (Acts 16b-8a). It wasn’t until later that we learn that a church was well-established in those areas. Some times God says “not yet” with some locations but then opens up opportunities elsewhere, as when God directed Paul to go to Macedonia.
G. Seven: Go Initially to where People have some Knowledge of the Bible as we bring God's promised Gift to All Nations
We also learn with the Apostles (Point 7), to go initially to places where there are people who have some knowledge of the Bible – but where God’s Word may have been misunderstood or misrepresented. In the case of the Apostles, it was to Jewish synagogues. Over and over again (as we are specifically told in 8 of the 25 places Paul visited), the apostle Paul went to synagogues to present the gospel. At that time there had not yet been a division between Jews and Christians. Here was a people instructed in Old Testament scripture, and it was an opportunity to show them that their scriptures pointed to Christ. When Jewish people rejected the message, they turned to people called “God-fearers” – non-Jewish people who had been instructed in the Old Testament and who believed in the God of Israel, but who had not officially
converted to the Jewish faith.
H. Eight: We Also Go Where God Opens Doors & Where The Gospel Is Needed Most as we bring God's promised Gift to All Nations
(Point 8) is that along with establishing a foothold among populations with knowledge of the Bible, Jesus and the Apostles also went where God opened doors and granted an opportunity: Jesus reached out to the Canaanite woman in the area of Tyre and Sidon (Matthew 15:21-28) and the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:4-26, 39-42). It seems that Jesus specifically went to these places to talk with these people.
Paul did the same thing. When he found himself in Athens among a group of people who had little knowledge of scripture but who were willing to listen, he proclaimed God’s Word to them ...
22 ... “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you. ... 34 A few men became followers .... (Acts 17:15-17, 22-24, 32-34 - During Paul’s 2nd Missionary Tour)
We might also mention Paul preaching to (and later baptizing) the Philippian jailor and his family in Acts 16 (:25-34). Sometimes God opens door that surprise us, but we also make sure to bring the gospel to the people who need it most.
I. Nine: When Your Message is Rejected in One Place, Move to Another as we bring God's promised Gift to All Nations
That brings us to (Point 9): When your message is rejected in one place, move on to another. As we read in Acts chapter 18:
But when the Jews opposed Paul and became abusive, he ... [went] to the Gentiles (Acts 18:6, see: 1-4, 6-8 – Paul’s 2nd Missionary Journey)
Remember, every door you knock on gets you closer to one that will open up and be receptive to the message of the gospel.
J. Ten:Work where youI message is received
i brings us to (Point 10): Work where your message is received. Jesus said:
5 "When you enter a house, first say, 'Peace to this house.'" 6 "If a man of peace is there ... 7 Stay in that house...." (Luke 10:5-7, (8)
V. The Content of The Message
What’s the message that we proclaim to people like this? It doesn’t need to be complicated. Their message was simply “the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Luke 10:9) God is normally not “near,” in the sense that our sin builds a wall between us and God. In the person of Jesus Christ, who is God himself, who died to pay for the sins of the world, the kingdom of heaven has indeed come near.
The message of law & gospel isn't complicated. We can summarize the outline from an evangelism program called "God's Great Exchange" in just four points: (1) God Requires, (2) God Sees, (3) God Gives, (4) God Assures. (Law) (1) God requires that we be perfect to be good enough to get to heaven. Now how many people can do that? (2) God sees that we are not perfect and can’t be good enough to get to heaven. (Gospel) (3) God Gives full forgiveness, because on the cross Jesus paid for all of our sins. And the promise of heaven is a free gift, which is what “grace” means. Sometimes people say, “religion is a crutch” and I say “no, it’s an electric wheelchair.” (4) God therefore Assures us that through faith, which means to trust in what Jesus has done on the cross rather than trusting in our own goodness, we are forgiven and will be in heaven.
God gave a promise to Abraham that he would become a father, and not only that, a father of many nations. God's promise looked beyond Abraham's son Isaac and the people of Israel. The promise was that one of Abraham's descendants would be the promised savior, Jesus. He was to be born, not only as Israel's messiah, but (in the words of the hymn), as the "Savior of the Gentile Nations." But the work is largely unfinished, for most people still do not believe and many have not yet heard the gospel. It is not as when the Titanic sank without enough lifeboats.
When God brought you to faith in Christ, he not only rescued you but placed you in his lifeboat, not only so that you could go to heaven one day, but so that you could invite others to come onboard. Christ has won salvation for all nations. It's now up to us, you and me and all of us, to bring this marvelous gift of salvation to the whole world.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus our Lord, Amen.
Do you remember the Presidential Physical Fitness test? It was a test for Middle schoolers to see how physically fit they were. You'd be tested on how many pushups you could do, how many situps you could do, and how fast you could run the mile.
I thought I was going to get the highest level of fitness for sure. I was tall and good at basketball. No problem testing to the top, right?
Then...the V-Sit and Reach.
Basically you had to sit with your legs in a v shape (no more than a foot apart) and reach 6 inches past your toes.
I couldn't even get to my knees.
That's what tests do though. They measure where you are at. They tell you if you really are where you think you are. They let you know if you need to improve.
Over the Lenten season there is alot of spiritual exercising going on. In confession we turn to the LORD for forgiveness and ask for strength to fight against sin.
It's the perfect time for a test! A faith test.
Over the next weeks we will look at Old Testament believers whose faith was put to the test. As you hear about them, please consider your own life. How is your faith? Strong as it needs to be? Does it need to be stronger? How does God say that our faith is strengthened?
I. The Test for Abraham: “Give Up…
Take a look at the test God had for Abraham. This is from Genesis 22. God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”
Sacrifices and burnt offerings might seem strange to 21st century America, but these were very common in that Ancient farming culture. Think of it like God asking you for money today. It’s why we call it an offering – it’s not easy to part with. Back then it wasn’t easy to part with an animal or the fresh crop of corn, but it wasn’t unheard of either. Burning some of your food was a way of saying – “I am thankful God has provided this for me and I know He will provide more for me.”
God’s request of Abraham was not ordinary. God’s Words to Abraham emphasize just how difficult this would be:
· Your Son. It wasn’t his grain offering. It wasn’t some vegetables. It wasn’t a goat. It wasn’t a lamb. It wasn’t even the fattened calf. It was a person. His own son. His own flesh and blood. Abraham would be sacrificing his own DNA: his blue eyes, his jutted chin, his round nose! This was the one he was supposed to be protecting.
· Your Only. Abraham and his wife Sarah had been waiting for children for years. Genesis 12 first records Abraham’s longing at 75 years old. That was when God first promised him and his wife a Son. It wasn’t until he was 100 years old when Isaac was finally born to Him. Can you imagine the joy Abraham felt? Can you imagine what he felt when God asked him to give it all up?
· Whom You Love. As you might expect, Abraham didn’t tolerate Isaac. He didn’t like him. He wasn’t simply ok with him. Abraham loved him.
· Your Son --Isaac. When God said his name, it became very personal. God wasn’t asking for some nameless goat. He wasn’t asking for an inanimate bag of wheat. He was asking for Isaac – his personality, his voice, his being. God was asking him to give up his farming protege, his friend to play a game of catch with, and a pupil to lead through life.
Over this past week there was a lot of Snow Days here in NC. That sounds like a lot of fun time with your kids. Time as a family. Time together.
Did you feel the same way when it was done? Waking up to the sounds of arguing over the iPad? The constant clanging of Superman action figures? The marathon of the Frozen soundtrack in the background?
As trying as your kids can be on your patience, what would it be like if you lost them?
If you get that, then you get how hard this test was for Abraham.
II. Abraham’s Response
How do you think Abraham might react to God’s difficult request?
For starters, he could waste some time. He could put it at the end of his to do list and get to it when and if he ever has time. He could keep Isaac around until after the next harvest – get some final work out of him. He could even wait one more day just to spend some quality time with his son.
Would you fault him? Probably not. We have a hard time doing what God asks – and he hasn’t even asked us to do anything that difficult.
· “OK. I hear you God. You want me to join a church and get involved on a weekly basis. But I’m busy with my career now. I’ll have to t to it later on.”
· “God, can you take a rain check on getting that sin out of my life? I’m just not feeling ready to live without it just yet.”
· “God, I’ll get to working on my addiction. I promise! Just let me have one more puff, one more drink, one more scouring of the internet for pictures. When that’s done, then I’ll get rid of it.”
We might expect Abraham to waste time, delay, and put off God’s request. It’s what we do on a daily basis with sin – things we should get rid of for our own good!
Abraham did none of that. 3 Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about.
Did you catch that? There were no delays. There was no distraction. There was no putting it off. Abraham got up, got ready, and got going on what God wanted him to do.
That’s trust. Trust with No Hesitations.
Even if Abraham was following God without hesitation, we still might expect him to complain about – to mutters they journeyed to the mountain, to have a mind racing with Hebrew expletives against God for making him do this, to tell his servants – “Don’t think bad of me, this is all God’s fault.”
Again – would you be upset with him if he did? This is another common human practice when God asks us to do something hard.
· “The only reason I’m not joining you guys for way too many drinks is because of my religion. Jesus can be kind of a bummer sometimes.”
· “I stopped watching that TV-MA show because church keeps making me feel guilty about it. That’s what church does. Makes you feel guilty.”
· “Fine. I’ll go to church. I know that I’ll get my faith strengthened, I’ll be encouraged, and get to eat some donuts, but I won’t be happy about it. Even though it’s three hours later than when I have to wake up during the week – God I’m not happy about it. I could be sleeping!”
· “Another email from Pastor about inviting people to church! He even quoted a Bible passage telling us to do it. Ugh! Put it in the SPAM folder.”
Abraham could have done that. That would be understandable. We complain about things God tells us are good for us: going to church and leaving sin.
But Abraham didn’t complain. Check out how he describes his task to the servants with him: He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”
Amazing, right? Abraham doesn’t define this task as a joke, annoying, or worthless. He doesn’t even consider it a terrible task from a terrible God. He calls it worship.
That’s trust. Trust with No Complaints!
Then, as Abraham is getting closer to the mountaintop, Isaac speaks: “Father?...The fire and wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”
Wow. That’s hard. Isaac’s voice is calling to him. What are you doing? What’s going on here?
Whether Isaac meant to or not –and who could blame him if he did mean to – Abraham’s actions are questioned.
Are you doing what’s right?
Are you sure you want to go on without Isaac?
Is this the God you really want to serve?
If there was ever a time for Abraham to turn, back now would be it!
That too is something that is common amongst humans. We make plans to follow God. We are excited to listen to him. Then, just when it’s about to happen – someone gets in our head. Another person. Our own desires. The devil himself. These voices get in our head and cause us to turn back:
· “I was planning on moving out from my live in boyfriend and wait until marriage to have sex, but…he told me he really loves me. I trust him more than you God.”
· “I was in the middle of installing the Internet filter on my computer, but then…I thought of all the fun that porn gives me. I don’t want to give that up.”
· “I was planning on reading my Bible during Lent, but then I’d have to give up the marathon I set up on Netflix! I just can’t do it.”
Woe to us human. We love to turn back from our plans to TRUST and follow God.
But Abraham? Listen to his answer. “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.
Simply amazing. We struggle to say no to the sinful voices that sinfully tempt us to sin – which is bad. Abraham hears the innocent voice of his son – who maybe – just doesn’t want to die and Abraham trust God. There is NO TURNING BACK!
III. God Provided
Then, we reach the climax. It’s time to see if Abraham will go through with it. Time to see if he really trusts God. 9 When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. Abraham was going to go through with it.
But God wasn’t.
The angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham!...Do not lay a hand on the boy, do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”
It doesn’t say it, but I bet Abraham sighed and then gave Isaac a big hug. He had passed the test.
But perhaps you are wondering about the how? How did Abraham pass the sacrifice his son test?
Hebrews 11:17-19: By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.”
Do you see how Abraham did it? He held to the promise that God provided. God had promised that Abraham would have grandkids through Isaac. Isaac hadn’t had any kids yet. Therefore, Abraham figured God couldn’t be done with him. He had promised otherwise. So…if Isaac died, then God would just bring him back to life.
That’s pretty amazing faith. But it only happened because God has provided the promise.
But God wasn’t done. Read verse 13. "13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son.”
Can you imagine the rejoicing? Abraham because his son was alive. Isaac because he was alive. Both of them because God was good.
Do you want a faith like Abraham’s?
“I don’t see how I could do that pastor. That faith is just too incredible.”
But remember Abraham’s faith was only strong because of what God provided. God has provided for you too the exact same things he provided Abraham.
First of all, God provided a substitute for you in a very similar way to the way he provided a substitute to take Isaac’s place.
True, it wasn’t on Mt. Moriah, but on Mt. Calvary.
True, it wasn’t tangled up in thorns, only his head was covered in thorns.
True, your substitute wasn’t a ram; it was a close, domesticated cousin – a lamb – the Lamb of God.
Just as the ram in the bush was Isaac’s substitute so he wouldn’t die, so Jesus was your substitute so you wouldn’t die eternally for your sins.
For all the times you hesitated to trust God, you should have died – Jesus died in your place.
For all the times you complained while obeying his will—Jesus died in your place.
For all the times you have turned back from doing what God wants you to – Jesus died your place.
Jesus was your substitute.
Secondly, God also provided promises to you. The reason Abraham had such a strong faith was that he had such strong promises from God.
You have similar promises. And…better than Abraham…you don’t have to just remember them from way back when God spoke it. Someone wrote them down for you! In a book. A book that we have plenty of copies of. A book that we study every Sunday at church!
Think about some of these promises. They will help you do the tough things:
· When your friends threaten to unfriend you won’t join them in their sinful activities, REMEMBER: God has promised he will never leave you.
· When you are tempted to choose sin, REMEMBER: God has promised that His way is better.
· When you are overwhelmed and feel like there is no time for God, REMEMBER: God has promised to bless all who spend time with him.
· When you are tempted to stay away from church, because you did something bad and God couldn’t possibly love you REMEMBER God has promised that his love for you is eternal…a love he proved on the cross.
· When something is hard or difficult REMEMBER: God is stronger. God is with you. God’s strength will not leave you.
Before Abraham and Isaac left that mountain, Abraham gave it a new name. Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. Whenever he started to have doubts, he could remember that mountain. Remember that the Lord would provide…and do anything God asked.
May the same be true for you. When your faith is being attacked, when your trust is being tempted, when you have doubts –anytime you have doubts— head to the Mountain. Head to your mountain. See God provide a substitute. See God provde you promises. TRUST: The LORD will provide. Amen.
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard. 3 “About the third hour he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4 He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ 5 So they went.
He went out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour and did the same thing. 6 About the eleventh hour he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’ 7 “ ‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered. “He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’
When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’
The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These men who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’
But he answered one of them, ‘Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’
So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
The disciples were confused.
Not that long ago some parents had brought their young children to Jesus. The disciples immediately tried to send them away. How could these young ones follow Jesus? He didn’t have time for them. They’ll just play around and get in the way without anything of merit to contribute.
Jesus told them that “the kingdom of heaven belonged to such as these.” (Mt. 19:14)
“Ok, Jesus wants them in the kingdom, even though they have nothing to contribute, but a bit of drool.”
Then, a rich, young man had approached. An entrepreneur. He had the know how, the drive, and the economic resources to really boost this whole discipleship movement.
But Jesus put up such a high standard: keep all the commandments and then sell everything and follow their movement that the man ended up walking away dejectedly.
What was going on? Why was Jesus extending grace to those without merit, but turning away those with much merit!?!
The disciples were confused. So. Jesus told this parable
“A landowner…went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard.” Most likely he headed to the marketplace where workers would go to be hired. It’s the old fashioned equivalent of heading to Lowe’s or Home Depot where you will find workers for hire waiting outside near the carts.
He found some workers and He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard. (v.2) A denarius was a common day’s wage. Eleven hours of work for about a hundred dollars. Fair enough. They’ll start work at 7am and go until 6pm.
After going back and setting them up with the work they had to do, he went back to the market to get more workers. In fact, he goes back four separate times. Once at 9am, once at noon, and once at three. Then he comes back at 5pm when there’s only 1 hour left. He finds a few guys who haven’t done any work all day. They are just lounging around – perhaps they are even finishing up a PBR—giving up on any work for that day.
Somehow the Vineyard owner persuades them. They go to work in the vineyard…maybe thinking, “I’ll make enough money for another beer.”
Then, it’s quitting time. He calls them all to get paid. First in line are the guys who came at 5pm.
Imagine their surprise when he reaches into his pouch and pulls out one shiny new denarius for each worker. $100 for an hour of work? Not bad.
But as excited as those workers were, imagine the excitement that those who had been working all day felt. They’d been there 11 hours. If these guys got $100 for one hour, then they’d get $100 x 11, $1100 dollars.
Think of what you could buy with that! It’s a nice down payment on a car. A whole month’s worth of rent. 275 bags of Doritos! Suddenly, the long hard day of work in the hot sun of the vineyard field was well worth it.
Picture what happens next. The boss calls them forward. They are trying to withhold their excitement as they step up to the front. They hold out their hands…maybe even close their eyes just to be a bit more surprised. The boss places his payment into their hands. They open their eyes.
Yep. The exact same amount that the guys who only worked for an hour got.
Jesus says, “When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner.”
That’s not fair! We worked all day. What an unfair boss you are. Don’t you appreciate a hard worker? I’m reporting you to the Better Business Bureau of Jerusalem for unfair labor conditions!!! We have merited so much more.
The business owner doesn’t blink. ”Excuse me? Am I being unfair? Didn’t we make a deal? Weren’t you willing to work for a fair wages of a denarius? Didn’t I give you just that? I gave them a day’s wage, yes. But what is it to you? You didn’t lose any money. You got paid exactly what I said you would. I didn’t have to hire you and give you anything! Be thankful for what I am giving you, take your money, and go.”
Now Jesus doesn’t tell us this story so that we can put it to the test of our justice system and see if there needs to be a Labor Union set up for Vineyard workers in order to prevent the exploitation of others.
It’s a parable. There’s a spiritual meaning behind it. Jesus is warning us to watch out for entitlement!
Entitlement is a part of our society today. Entitlement means “This is what I’m entitled to. It’s what I’ve earned.” A coworker gets a raise and we better get the same raise. Someone gets off of work an hour early; we better get that same perk. If someone gets paid $15 an hour for a job that requires a college level education, I should get paid $15 for a job that doesn’t require a college level education?
It even happens with kids. They get upset if they don’t get a birthday party with a pony, a clown, and $500 in gifts because “My friend got that and so should I!”
Be wary that our culture of entitlement. It doesn’t take over your views on spiritual matters. Watch out for spiritual entitlement. It’s dangerous and it leads you to feel like God owes you.
Be careful. This entitlement comes in three areas:
· TIME. I’m entitled to more blessings from God because I’ve spent more time a Christian. I’ve logged in more hours at Gethsemane. I’m one of the stable members of Adult Bible class. I sat through even the boring parts!
· WORK. God has got to be more pleased with me than your average church goer because of all the good things I’ve done. I’ve been a part of many maintenance projects at church, I’ve been on the Council, the altar guild, the cookie makers, the lawn mowing team, the ushers, the nursery, the Sunday School teachers...I even have picked up litter in the parking lot, so I’m basically the WELS version of Greenpeace.
· MONEY. God has to be impressed with all the money I’ve given...10% of my paycheck always has gone to church. In fact, there are a few years I’ve given 10.1% by accident…but I didn’t complain. It makes me a little better than those who don’t…I know. God’s got a special place in heaven for me. I should get a plaque on this church’s wall.
Hmmm…? Does that sound familiar at all?
Then, in spite of our feeling of being entitled to specific things: God comes out in his Word and says this to all people, “Whoever believes in me will not perish but have eternal life.” (Jn. 3:16) He says, “All have sinned…and all are justified freely by God’s grace in Jesus.” (Romans 3:23) He says, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” (Mk. 16:15)
No time requirements. No money amounts. No work awards. There’s no difference – God gives the same promise to all.
That’s when entitlement attitude really starts to kick in:
Really God? That guy? He hasn’t done anything. He’s barely been at church. He’s not a part of any service group. I’ve never seen him put a dime in the offering basket! And you’re offering him the same promise of love and forgiveness? I even see Pastor spending extra time talking to him after church? What did he do to deserve that? And why are we having a New Member Sunday? Shouldn’t we be having a “Long Time Member" Sunday?
That’s unfair God! You should give him as he deserves. You should give me as I deserve.
Really? You want God to be fair. You want God to “give you what you deserve.”
Romans 6:23 “The wages of sin is death.” You ever sinned? If so, what do you deserve?
I’m reminded of that time in a college English class when I approached the English Professor and asked him for a better grade on my test. I had a B and I thought I deserve an A!
Then, he said, “Oh, you wanted me to give you what you deserved? I had thrown out a few questions and graded on a curve, but I guess I could put those questions which you got wrong back into the test and drop the curve. Would you be happy with a C-?”
Trust me on this. In Spiritual matters, you don’t want what you deserve. Because what you, I, we deserve is hell.
So let’s go back to God’s promises. In spite of your sin he says, ‘’You who believe in Jesus as their Savior, will not perish, but have eternal life.” "You who have sinned…are justified freely by God’s grace.” You who “believe and are baptized will be saved.”
Think about what God is offering you. Heaven. A place you can’t get into unless you are perfect! Yet God offers it to you. Not because you earned it, but as a gift. Romans 6:23 continues, “The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus.”
And this gift is more than just heaven. It is the forgiveness for all of your sins. Peace with God. A new life on this earth serving God. An eternal life in the pain free, sin free, glorious streets of heaven!
That’s a pretty fair deal, isn’t it? We deserve hell, but we get heaven. All for believing his promise!
Then, instead of grumbling when others receive this message, why not rejoice!?!
If someone puts a picture of something they are happy about online, how do people react? A cute puppy picture? LIKE! A new outfit! COMMENT: That looks fantastic! “You just had a baby? I’ll SHARE it with my friends.”
Why not do the same thing with new believers? Why not celebrate? Celebrate when they are but a child OR celebrate when they are much older. Have a party! Give a bunch of high fives! Pray countless prayers of thanks AND sing the hymns in worship with a whole new vigor.
And understand this, it isn’t a celebration of THEM. It’s not a celebration of YOU. It’s a celebration of GOD!
So…here’s your challenge this week:
1) Read Romans 3. The first part of the chapter will remind you of what you really deserve, while the second part of the chapter will fill your heart with the amazing nature of God’s love! Read it and be thankful for the gifts you have been given.
2) Share the Message of Jesus with someone who doesn’t look like he deserves it. Specifically reach out to someone with a tattoo OR at a bar. I’m gonna have my business cards available after church. Why not just grab a few, have them on hand, and be ready to say, “Hey, I wanted to invite you to our church on Sunday! I want you to learn about grace.”
3) Meet and talk with newer members. This is something to put into practice right after worship. Find someone you haven’t talked to before. Find someone who looks new to you. Introduce yourself. If you know everyone’s name already, then find someone that you don’t know much about. Show that you care about them. Show that you are thankful they are here. Show that you happy to marvel at God’s grace together with them. Tell them, “It’s a joy to have you here!”
At the beginning, we mentioned how the disciples were confused by Jesus, but it’s my hope that today’s parable hasn’t left you confused at all. Because, it’s clear. God doesn’t base the reward of his forgiveness on our merits. God bases it on his grace!
Praise God it is so. Amen.
10 “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech.
11 They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it. 12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”
13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed.“Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.”15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17 For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. 18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.19 After being made alive, nhe went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits— 20 to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were save through water, 21 and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.
1 Peter 3:10-22
It was late at night. The middle of the water. The winds were kicking up. The rain was starting to fall. Peter’s muscles were starting to ache from all the rowing and his mind was clouded with thoughts and worries of the past days. And his eyes were tired.
Maybe too tired.
He saw him off in the distance. A man. Not rowing. Not floating. But walking…On the water.
“It’s a ghost!” his friend cried. But the figure responded, “Do not be afraid. It is I.”
Peter’s grimace softened. That was the voice of his teacher, his leader, his friend.
“Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water!” Peter cried.
“Come,” Jesus said.
Peter stood up—the boat rocking from his weight. He lifted his sandled foot over the edge. He took a deep breath. He placed it on the surface. Then, he pushed off.
No splash. He was standing on liquid water as if it were solid ground.
Another step. His confidence grew. Step by step he was filled with rejoicing. He was doing it. He too was walking on water.
But then, a wave. Crashing toward him with the roar of the ocean. Peter panicked. His feet sank. He was drowning! Fear came over him. Panicked ensued. He tried to tread water as the waves picked up, but it was no use. He couldn’t do it.
He needed help. He needed saving! And he called to the only One he knew could do that.
“Lord, save me!”
Jesus walked over. Calmly reached down. Pulled him out of the water.
Jesus saved him.
Fast forward twenty-some years. Peter is older. Peter is wiser. Now he wants to share with you the same wisdom that he learned. He wants you to be saved. He wants you to know your Savior. But he isn’t just talking about making sure that you know Ken the lifeguard’s name down at the local pool.
He wants you to know about your eternal Savior, the Lord, Jesus Christ. He wants you to remind you how you have been saved and/or show you how you can be saved by the exactly same Lord!
I. A Good Savior
First, Peter starts off by describing God our Savior. This is from 1 Peter 3:10. He says, “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech. He must turn from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”
Back to school recently. Hopefully, you’ve learned your teacher’s favorite goodies. It’s a great way to get on their good side. Find out what they like and bring them a gift. Chocolates, Starbucks, iTunes gift cards. By the way, if you are want to do the same with your pastor, go ahead and grab a bag of delicious Nacho Cheese Doritos, that wouldn’t be offensive.
What does God love? Peter makes it clear. God loves good. Therefore, we are to do good.
And even if you don’t think God exists or you have a different God in mind, then you are already on common ground with Peter’s God.
Good = Good. (Deep thoughts so early in the morning, right?)
The opposite is also true. God loves good and hates evil. Look at verse 12 again, “The face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” That word “against.” It has the idea of being an opposing foes.
Think football for a moment. As ECU or UNC or State or Duke lines up against whatever ACC foe they might line up against, they are opposites. There is no love loss. They are against each other.
God is good and therefore against evil.
But not like humans are against evil. Humans are more like that friend that cheers for other teams in the ACC as long as they aren’t playing State because “I like the ACC.”
In other words, humans are ‘flaky’ on the hatred for evil.
For instance, most humans think it is wrong to text while driving. If you are driving down the road and text, they get upset, “Stop texting and pay attention you maniac!” Then, there’s a buzz. And that same person reaches into his pocket, checks her phone, smiles, and starts texting back. “But it’s ok because this text is important!”
God is not like that. He is not against some evil. He is not against most evil. He is not even “against evil unless it benefits Him.” God is always against evil all the time.
And God isn’t like the football fan who pushes up his glasses after his team gets crushed and powerlessly sighs, “We’ll get ‘em next year.” Powerless to do anything about it.
Nope. God always gets what he wants done.
EXAMPLE -- People of Noah's Time. Hundreds of thousands of people all against God. All in love with evil. All opposed to everything he stood for and all of the morals he upheld. Only 8 people--8 PEOPLE--were on his side.
That’s not good odds.
But it was no problem for God. God verses evil. A few rain clouds later. God wins.
This is God. Good loving, evil hating, and all powerful! He is the One who saves!
II. A Savior from Evildoers
Now…what does this have to do with you? How does he save you? What does he save from? Take a look at verses 13-15. Peter writes, “Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.”
Peter asks a good question: “Who would harm those who do good?” In theory, the answer should be NO ONE. If you have done good, then there is no reason for anyone to harm you.
That’s not what happens in reality, is it? Here on this earth, people who do good are sometimes (oftentimes) harmed by those who do evil. The temptation is to get revenge. To repay evil for evil.
But here’s where God comes in! Because – remember what we talked about already. Remember Who it is that will harm those who harm those who harm those who do good? It’s not you it’s God. The One who is against all evil!
This is a comforting truth. For our world feels chaotic right now. Chaos and vengeance reign supreme. Hatred in Ukraine, in the middle East, in America, on our streets – in our schools. It seems like Chaos and Hatred reign!
But remember: God is still God. And he’s good. Therefore, in your hearts – set apart Christ as Lord. He still reigns. He will one day defeat evil!
Now you might be thinking. “Well…when’s that happening? Can God hurry up with that? Destroy evildoers already! I know you made a promise not to send a worldwide flood, but God, why don’t you break that promise and totally destroy all the evil people. Why don’t you get rid of everyone who’s ever done any evil at all?!”
PUMP THE BREAKS!
Do you really know what you’re asking? Do you really know what the destruction of any evildoer means for you?
III. A Savior from Ourselves
Heard that word before? If you have, how would you define it? Sometimes we say “problems” or “mistakes” or “oopsies.” But really the Greek word used for “sin” in this text means “missing the mark”! As in God set up a target that we were to aim to live our lives according to. Actions, words, and thoughts are to land on God’s prescribed mark. And remembering what we said about God being good, we know that he only prescribes actions, words and thoughts that are good.
So...If you sin and you do the opposite of the prescribed good action, then you haven’t done good. You’ve done evil.
And now, in our humans are good and can do anything they put their minds to culture, prepare for a shockwave thought: How is it that good humans are doing bad? Where does the bad come from?
Those new Coke machines in restaurants where you have over 200 flavors that you can make when you add it all up. Those are pretty cool. But, try as I might, if I head over to the Coke machine and I start looking for Pepsi, I can’t find it!
That’s because Coke comes from the Coke machine. And Pepsi comes from the Pepsi factory.
The same is true with good and evil. Good comes from good. Evil comes from evil.
The SAD TRUTH is this: If you have sinned, you are not good.
Now, I know you don’t want to hear this. No one does, but this is the most important news about yourself that every human must face. We are not good. Not God’s definition of good. We might be our definition of good. The "at least I didn’t kill anybody definition of good,” but God has much higher standards. He can’t bend for even one sin OR He himself would no longer be good!
And the SADDER TRUTH: is that we CANNOT SAVE OURSELVES. Just like Peter couldn’t pull himself out of the water, no matter what he did, so a person drowning in his own sins cannot pull himself out of sins! Not by ‘trying hard’; not by ‘doing better’; not by doing ‘good’ things. The efforts of one already stranded in the depths of his sin only result in him still being in sin!
Which leads to the SADDEST TRUTH of all. God, who loves us, has turned his face against us. His threats are now against humanity. Against us. Against me. Against you.
Therefore we need a Savior. We need someone who is standing on firm ground. We need someone who is entirely good. We need someone who is entirely God.
We need the exact Savior that Peter introduces in verse 19, “Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” Safe and sound. Out of the depths of our sins, out of the wave of God’s wrath, back into God’s good graces.
Listen to how Christ did it:
1) He was put to death in the body – Jesus, who had no sin, took your sin. He became what he loathed; he punished what he loathed; he suffered for what he loathed, and he saved what he loved --- you.
He defeated sin once for all. Once for us. Once...for you.
How certain is this? Peter says, “Christ was made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison that is hell who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.”
Jesus went to hell, but not to surrendered. He went there to trash talk the devil. To tell whom he won. To declare to him, “You are a loser! Your plans have failed. I have died to save the world and I will save many! Whoever believes in me will not perish, but have eternal life!"
2) He saves us through his promises. Verse 20 explains how God bring this salvation to us. “In it (the ark) only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water 21 and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God."
Now normally when we think of the flood, we think of destruction. But Peter has an interesting perspective. He says the water saved 8 people. They floated on top of it and were saved.
That water from the flood, then symbolizes the waters of Baptism. Waters which don’t symbolize, but waters which really save. Look at verse 21 "Baptism now saves you also!" It saves because it holds out God’s promises. Promises that say, “You are now my child. In the name fo the Father, you are forgiven. In the name of the Son, you are washed. In the name of the Holy Spirit you are saved.”
Believe God’s promises to you in your Baptism. If you haven’t been baptized, believe that God’s promises will be true and be baptized!
And believe, not because of your own believing power OR your age OR your emotional attachment to Jesus.
Believe because of the awesome power behind Baptism. Look at the ends of verse 21-- Baptism saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him. In other words, you are saved by same power that defeated death!
Now, you know death. It’s ugly. It’s scary. It’s frightening. It’s unbeatable. It’s evil.
But not to Jesus. He died and came back to life. The only One ever to do so on his own! And he is the same one who will save you from death too.
Think back to Peter. There he was drowning, flailing, scared. And Jesus reached out. With his hand to lift him up.
The truth is. You might feel just like Peter. When you consider your relationship with God, you might be flailing, drowning, scared. Know that God is reaching out for you, too. Not just with one arm, but with both – on that blessed cross.
Whether you have believed in it before OR this is a brand new concept to you, listen to the Lord’s call today.