Second Reformed Church

Friday, December 26, 2008

"That Thing That Took Place" Sermon: Luke 2:1-20

“That Thing That Took Place”
[Luke 2:1-20]
December 24, 2008 Second Reformed Church

Mountains. That thing that took place. Advent has led us to this place. As the hours pass into what we call “tomorrow,” Advent will be over and we will celebrate that thing that took place on that first Christmas.

In talking about the prophecies concerning Jesus, I asked us to consider looking at a mountain range, or at a number of objects over a great distance. As we look at them from the distance, they look like they’re right on top of each other, when, in reality, they are very far apart. So it is with biblical prophecy: we often find that a single prophecy refers to more than one event, often to events that take place years apart. We looked at the prophecy of a child being born to a “virgin” in the book of Isaiah, and we saw that the prophecy had to refer to the birth of a child in Isaiah’s time. We saw that the word that is sometimes translated “virgin” in Hebrew can refer to a young woman, so while it was a sign in the days of Isaiah, it was not the miracle that we associate with the birth of Jesus. (If the Lord is willing, on Sunday we will consider why Mary had to really be virgin and never had physical relations with a man before the birth of Jesus.)

We heard Luke’s record of the birth of Jesus; let us hear Matthew’s as well, because it mentions the fulfillment of this prophecy: “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from his sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus” (Matthew 1:18-25, ESV).

Jesus is the fulfillment of the prophecy. The birth of Jesus – of God Incarnate – is that thing that took place on that first Christmas – that thing that took place that was revealed to the shepherds as we heard from Luke.

Very quickly this evening, let’s look at our text and see four things about that thing that took place that we should know, and then consider two responses:

First, that thing that took place is good news of great joy for every type of people.

Some of the Jews of the first century had draw the wrong conclusion about the Promised Savior: some had come to believe that the Savior was only for the Jews, for the children of Abraham. Some had come to believe that the Gentiles, the non-Jews, were completely lost and unsaveable. We would never do that, would we? We would never think that such and such a type of person is beyond God’s Salvation in Jesus, would we? We would never think that it was so obvious why God would save me, but so and so is beyond that Hand of the Almighty, would we?

That was not the promise and the prophecy made to Father Abraham. Listen to what God said: “‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed’” (Genesis 12:1b-3, ESV).

All the families of the earth shall be blessed – the Jews and the Gentiles; the Jews and the Non-Jews. That thing that took place is good news of great joy for every type of people.

Second, that thing that took place fulfilled the promise and the prophecy made to our first parents.

Earlier this year we looked at the opening chapters of the book of Genesis, and we saw that after Adam and Eve sinned, both as individuals and as our representatives, God punished the entire Creation, and every mere human born from that day forth is born a sinner, destined for eternal Hell. But we also saw, in the midst of the punishment, God made a promise – what the theologians call, “the first Gospel,” and we find it in the cursing of the serpent:

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15, ESV).

We came to understand that this prophecy and promise was fulfilled in Jesus: in God being born of a woman, living, dying, and rising from the dead, defeating the devil, and securing salvation for all those who would believe in Him. That thing that took place fulfilled the promise and the prophecy made to our first parents.

Third, contrary to the popular American understanding of faith, that thing that took place does not call for blind faith – for an ignorant acceptance of what occurred.

Notice what we are told in this evening’s Scripture: the shepherds were out in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks, when an angel appeared to them and told them the Good News of the birth of the Savior, and the angel gave them a sign by which they would know the Child. Then a multitude of angels joined in praising and glorifying God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.”

They had been told the Good News, the fulfillment of prophecy, and then what? They said to each other, “‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this things that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’” The shepherds went to see the evidence. They went to check that this Baby existed, just as the angel had said. They went to see that thing that took place. They went to get proof.

Having faith does not mean turning off our brains. Yes, there are things that are beyond our comprehension, but most things we can understand and check to see if they are true. Remember how Paul complemented the Berean Christians – that they didn’t listen to his preaching and just accept it, they went back to the scrolls – to the Bible – and they checked to make sure that the things he said were true – that they matched up with God’s Word.

One of the greatest problems with Christians, and Americans in general, in the anti-intellectualism that we have embraced. We believe the news and the paper, but we are unwilling to read or think or investigate anything ourselves. I was talking to a friend the other day who was telling me that the Gospels contradict each other throughout, so they are not to be believed, and, in fact, there was little or no evidence for most of what they claimed. I asked her to tell me more about it, but she remember nothing – it was a PBS show she saw that said all these things. I told her I had actually read the Gospels and can’t find a single contradiction, and there is plenty of archeological and historical evidence to support almost every word of the Gospels. She told me she couldn’t believe that someone with so much education was so ignorant.

God is not offended when we seek to prove His Word to be true Read it. Learn it. Compare it to the historical, archaeological records and evidence. Compare one book of the Bible to another. See that it is all true – wonderfully true Beloved, that thing that took place does not call for blind faith – for an ignorant acceptance of what occurred.

Fourth, that thing that took place is amazing.

The shepherds found their way to the manger and saw exactly what the angel had told them, and they told Mary and Joseph and the others who were there everything that had heard and seen – about this Baby – the long-awaited Savior, Who is also God in the flesh. And our Scripture tells us that they were amazed.

Are we still amazed? Do we listen to the Christmas history and consider that the Almighty God, Who had never had a physical body, became enfleshed as a human being, to glorify the Father and to save all of us that are His? Do we still gasp out, like John, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God, and so we are” (I John 3:1, ESV). That thing that took place is amazing.

Two responses to that thing that took place – two ways in which we ought to respond:

What did Mary do? “But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” Knowing and believing in that thing that took place ought to cause us to ponder – to meditate – on what happened and what that means for us. What Mary did – what we ought to do – is to employ Christian meditation about the things of God – about what we are taught in the Scripture. When we talk about Christian meditation, what our text calls “treasuring” and “pondering,” we do not mean “emptying ourselves,” as Eastern meditation teaches. No, what these words literally mean – what we ought to do – is to “preserve them in our memory” – memorize Scripture and to “throw them together” or to “think them through in great detail, with great care, in comparison with others.”

Let us learn the Scripture. Study the Scripture. Work hard to understand the Scripture.

And then, what did the shepherds do? After they told everyone, “the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen....” Again, let us consider the words: glorifying – we may define that as “enhancing the reputation of one.” Like that telescope we have talked about, they looked through the lense which brought God more clearly before them, and they let others know – as they understood better and more about God and His Salvation, they told others, so others would better know God and His Salvation. And they praised Him – the responded to their knowledge of God by exclaiming His Worth and giving Him thanks.

As we learn more about God and His Salvation and know them better, let us tell others. Let’s not hold back, but exclaim His Worth and give Him thanks.

Where do you plan to be tomorrow? Who will you be with? Make sure Jesus is mentioned. Make sure everyone knows about that thing that took place. And make sure they know why it matters to you.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You for Your Incarnation, for becoming Man through the Virgin. We ask that tonight, and henceforth, we would not be bigoted about Your Salvation and that we would make an effort to know what things are really true. We ask that you would help us, that the Holy Spirit would teach us and help us to learn Your Word. And we ask that You would make us a people who love to tell others about You, to praise You, and to give You thanks. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

One Week Left!

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May 26-28, 2009
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Christmas Eve Worship

Come join us for worship this evening at 7 PM, D.V. We plan to have a service of Christmas hymns, Scripture, and candle light. Come, worship the Newborn King!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Today's Worship

I regret to post that due to the snow and ice on the roads, we are not opening the church today. Please join us for worship, D.V., Christmas Eve, Wednesday, at 7 PM.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

"Holiday" Party

Second Reformed Church will be hosting a "holiday" party for one of our local politicians this Saturday at 6:30 PM. If you are a "holiday" person, or just like "holiday" parties, come and celebrate a "holiday" with us, enjoy a free dinner, and look over some of the nick-knacks and "holiday" items that will be for sale. And then join us for worship Sunday morning at 10:30 AM!

"The Bridegroom" Sermon: John 3:22-36

“The Bridegroom”
[John 3:22–36]
December 14, 2008 Second Reformed Church

What is Christmas about? Is it about Christmas carols and hymns? Is it about children and Santa and presents? Is it about angels and shepherds? Is it about Rudolph and Frosty? Is it about candy and family and friends? It is about going to church? Is it about measuring the health of the economy? Is it about there being more money in the offering plate? What is Christmas about?

Last week, we saw that John the Baptist was the forerunner of Jesus – he prepared the way for His Coming. Let us remember what John said about himself and about Jesus:

“And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, ‘I am not the Christ.’ And they asked him, ‘What then? Are you Elijah?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ ‘Are you the Prophet?’ And he answered, ‘No.’ So they said to him, ‘Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?’ He said, ‘I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord,” as the prophet Isaiah said.

“(Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) They asked him, ‘Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?’ John answered them, ‘I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.’ These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

“The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and he said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the whole world This is he of whom I said, “After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.” I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water that he might be revealed to Israel.’ And John bore witness: ‘I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God’” (John 1:19-34, ESV).

We’re told in this morning’s Scripture that after these testimonies about himself and Jesus and what occurred at the baptism of Jesus, John and his disciples went into the Judean countryside and continued to baptize.

And we’re told that a Jew, or some of the Jews – in fact, the very ones who had questioned him about who he was – were now questioning John’s disciples about what he had said and done. “Rabbi John, do you see what has happened? You testified about this Jesus and baptized Him back at the Jordan, and now everyone is going to Him and His disciples to be baptized. You’ve got to have noticed how small your congregation has gotten; they’ve all left you and started following Jesus. What are you going to do about this?”

The Jews asked him, “Rabbi John, you were the talk of Israel, everyone flocked to you to hear you and be baptized by you. And now this Jesus that you testified to and baptized has taken your followers away. Does that really seem fair? Don’t you think you should do something about this? You’ve got your reputation to think of.” They were trying to get John to sin through envy.

But John didn’t sin. Instead, John said, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.” John said, “Everything a person has and is is given to him by God.” Jesus’ biological brother, James, would write the same thing, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17, ESV). John is saying, “God has given and gifted to each person according to His Will; it is not for us to be envious of others, but to be faithful and obedient with what God has given to us.”

Do we understand? God has given each of us everything we have and made us everything we are, and the question we need to ask ourselves is, “Are we being faithful?” We ought not to look at others and be envious and wonder why we are not like them.

John gives us the cure for envy as we continue in our text: John explains to the Jews that he already told them that he was not the Christ, but he is the forerunner of the Christ. John told them that the ones who follow the Bridegroom are the bride, so it is right that Israel follow after Jesus, because Jesus is the Bridegroom and those who follow Him are the bride.

John explained that when you go to a wedding, the friends of the Bridegroom rejoice as the Bridegroom is lifted up – as the Bridegroom is the center of attention. Weddings are not about the friends of the Bridegroom, they are about the Bridegroom. So, the joy the friends experience increases as more and more attention is paid to the Bridegroom and less to the friends of the Bridegroom.

In the same way, you and I are filled with joy when Jesus is more and we are less. Our joy in Jesus increases as we make much of Him. John Piper uses the example of a telescope: when you look through a telescope, it helps us to see something for what it really is. When we look through a telescope, our attention is not on the telescope, but on being able to see more of what the thing is that we’re looking at. So it is with Jesus: we are Christ’s representatives, but our joy is not found in drawing attention to ourselves, our joy is found in making Jesus more clear to everyone else. This is not about us; it’s all about Him!

John said that in focusing on the Bridegroom, “Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.” The commentator, A. W. Pink, explains it this way:

“‘This my joy therefore is fulfilled’ (v. 29). How precious is this! Joy of heart is the fruit of being ‘occupied with Christ!’ It is standing and hearing His voice which delights the soul. But again we say that the all-important prerequisite for this is a cessation of the activities of the flesh. His voice cannot be heard if we are rushing hither and thither in fellowship with the fearful bedlam all around us. The ‘better part’ is not to be like Martha – ‘cumbered about much serving’ – but to ‘sit’ at the feet of the Lord Jesus like Mary did, hearing His word (see Luke 10:38-42). Notice, too, the tense of the verbs in John 3:29: ‘standeth and heareth.’ The perfect tense expresses continuous action: again and again, daily, this must be done, if our joy is to be filled full. Is not our failure at this very point the explanation of our joyless lives?

“‘He must increase, but I must decrease’ (3:30). Blessed climax was this to the lovely modesty of John, and well calculated to crush all party feeling and nip in the bud any jealousy there might be in the hearts of his own disciples. In principle this is inseparably connected with what he had just said before in the previous verse. The more I ‘decrease’ the more I delight in standing and hearing the voice of that blessed One who is Altogether Lovely. And so conversely. The more I stand and hear His voice, the more He will ‘increase’ before me, and the more shall I ‘decrease.’ I cannot be occupied with two objects at one and the same time. To ‘decrease’ is, we take it, to be less and less occupied with ourselves. The more I am occupied with Christ, the less occupied I will be with myself. Humility is not the product of direct cultivation, rather it is a by-product. The more I try to be humble, the less shall I attain unto humility. But if I am truly occupied with that One who was ‘meek and lowly in heart,’ if I am constantly beholding His glory in the mirror of God’s Word, then I shall be ‘changed into the same image from glory to glory, even by the Spirit of the Lord’ (II Cor. 3:18).” (The Gospel of John, 148-149).

John explains further, beginning in verse thirty-one, telling the Jews that Jesus came from Heaven, whereas John and the Jews came from earth. Jesus came from Heaven and has all authority, so the bride belongs to Him. Paul explained it this way, “They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen” (Romans 9:4-5, ESV).

Jesus, Who is God, and has all authority, came from Heaven, first to the Jews. So John tells the Jews that he is not envious of the Christ and that Israel is going to be baptized by His disciples, because that is the way it is supposed to be. The Gospel is not about John, it is about Jesus.

Even so, we know that most of Israel did not believe in Jesus – more of the Jews rejected Him. John said, “no one receives his testimony.” Of course some did receive Jesus, so John means, compared to the whole population of Israel, no one received His Testimony.

But, John says, those who do receive Jesus “set [their] seal” – they confirm – they believe – “that God is true.” They believe that Jesus fulfilled the prophecies of the Coming Savior. They believe in Him whole-heartedly. And, John explains, this makes good sense because Jesus speaks the words of God, because God the Holy Spirit has fully indwelt Jesus – without measure. Each Christian in indwelt by the Holy Spirit and He gives us gifts and graces as it pleases Him, but Jesus received all of the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit. Whereas each Christians receives a measure of the Holy Spirit, Jesus received the Holy Spirit without measure. Why? Because “the Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand.”

The trap of envy that the Jews set before John is really all about the question of Who Jesus is. If Jesus is the Savior, God Incarnate, the Perfect God-Man, then there is nothing to envy. Instead, John, and we ought to find ourselves bowing before Him, doing everything we can to draw attention to Him, spending every moment learning more about Him, focusing on Him, finding our joy in Him.

Paul answers the question this way: “[Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth of in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:15:20, ESV).

The testimony of John and all the Scripture is that Jesus is God Who came to earth in human form on that first Christmas. John, and we who believe in Jesus Alone as Savior, are friends of the Bridegroom, and Jesus is the Bridegroom. And the more we are focused on Jesus, the more we are centered on Jesus, the more time we spending knowing Him and worshiping Him, the greater our joy will be and the smaller our problems will seem.

Well, the economy is so bad, I’m cutting back on my giving – everyone is getting smaller gifts from me this year. But I better get what I want, or Christmas will be ruined. I’ve worked hard and I deserve to get what I’m expecting. God knows how hard I’ve worked, and I’ve been suffering a lot physically this year, so I expect everyone to be generous and really thankful to me this year. And I hope so-and-so is busy and can’t make it to our Christmas party, or Christmas will be ruined. So-and-so is so annoying; everything has to be about so-and-so – never lets anyone else be the center of attention.

Advent is a season of preparation: what are we preparing for? What is Christmas about?

Christmas is about the Bridegroom. It’s about Jesus. It’s all about Jesus.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, as we prepare to celebrate and remember Your Coming to earth in the flesh, we ask that You would help us get our eyes off ourselves. Help us to focus on You and help us to tell others that Christmas is all about You. And may our joy increase in You as we celebrate You as the Bridegroom. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Consistory Meeting

Consistory members, please remember that we are meeting after worship this Sunday (D.V.)

For Small Church Pastors

On John 3:23 --

"'John also was baptizing.' There is a word of great practical importance here for many a servant of God. The Lord Jesus was there in Judea in person, and His disciples were with Him, baptizing. The crowds which at first attended the preaching of John had now deserted him, and were thronging to Christ (v. 26). What then does the Lord's forerunner do? Does he decide that his work is now finished, and that God no longer has need of him? Does he become discouraged because his congregations were so small? Does he quit his work and go on a long vacation? Far, far from it. He faithfully persevered: 'John also was baptizing.' Has this no message for us? Perhaps these lines may be read by some who used to minister to big crowds. But these are no more. Another preacher has appeared, and the crowds flock after him. What then? Must you conclude that God has set you aside? Are you suffering this experience to discourage you? Or, worse still, are you envious of the great success attending the labors of another! Ah, fellow-servants of Christ, take to heart this word -- 'John also was baptizing.' His season of popularity might be over: his light might be eclipsed by that of a greater: the crowds might have become thin, but, nevertheless, he plodded on and faithfully persevered in the work God had given him to do! 'And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not' (Gal. 6:9). John performed his duty and fulfilled his course."

-- A. W. Pink, The Gospel of John, 142.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

"Here Is Your God" Sermon: Isaiah 40:1-11

“Here Is Your God”
[Isaiah 40:1-11]
December 7, 2008 Second Reformed Church

On this Second Sunday of Advent, we are turning again to the prophet Isaiah, and we may remember that Isaiah was preaching during the Assyrian conquest of the Kingdom – about eight hundred years before Jesus. He preached before the Babylonian captivity and before the Persian captivity.

In our text, we find four promises from God. For promises to the people of Israel and to all those who believe in Jesus Alone as their Savior.

After prophesying to Hezekiah that the kingdom would be taken into captivity by Babylon, Isaiah spoke God’s very words to the king, telling him that the people should take comfort (and this is actually in the future tense in the Hebrew). Isaiah says that Israel should take comfort because, in the future, God will comfort her, God will speak tenderly to her, her warfare will come to an end, her sins will be pardoned, after she receives a double punishment from the Lord.

God tells Israel through the prophet, that they should not be distressed by the war and the captivity that will follow in the generations to come, because God loves His people. Rather, they ought to understand that those who humble themselves before God – before the cross – will experience comfort, despite the extent of the distress they would go through. God promised that after the captivity, after they had suffered for their sins, they would receive God’s comfort.

Now, we might wonder what Isaiah and God meant by saying, in verse two, “[Israel] has received from the Lord’s hand double for her sins.” There are two ways we can interpret this: we could understand this to mean that God punished them twice as much as their sin deserved. But that cannot be the right understanding, or else that would leave God sinning. The other possibility is that this means that God punished them twice as much as usual, but still not necessarily as much as they deserved. This is the interpretation that makes sense, since God is Holy and Just – God punished them twice as much as usual, but still less that what they deserved.

So, God’s Promise is that after a period of time, God will comfort His people.

And that promise is for us, as we look forward in hope and remember this familiar Scripture: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold the dwelling place of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:1-7, ESV).

In verses three through five we hear the second promise in our text, as we hear this very familiar text of a voice crying in the wilderness. Luke records its fulfillment this way: “And [John] went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As it is written in the words of Isaiah the prophet, The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord. Make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God” (Luke 3:3-6, ESV).

God promised to send a prophet to prepare the way and to prepare the people for God’s Savior.

But we need to remember something: when the prophets gave their prophecies, it was like they were looking at a series of mountains before them. And if you’ve ever looked at a bunch of mountains, they can look like they’re very close – or even right on top of each other – when they are very far apart. The same is true with biblical prophecy: often, a single prophecy deals with more than one issue and/or time period. That is the case here.

It’s clear from the rest of Isaiah’s prophecies, that Isaiah is the prophet “crying in the wilderness”, and the savior that Isaiah is talking about in this section of the text, is Cyrus, King of Persia, who will set the people of Israel free from captivity over one hundred and fifty years after Isaiah. So, Cyrus is the first mountain, if you will.

Then, we have the confirmation in the Gospels that John the Baptist is also the prophet “crying the wilderness” who prepares the way for Jesus, as the Greatest and Final Savior of God’s people. Whereas Cyrus freed Israel from slavery to other nations, Jesus frees us from our slavery to sin. So, Jesus is the second mountain.

And at this point, we may wonder about the mountains and valleys: There are still mountains and valleys. They haven’t all been flattened and filled up. So what is going on with Isaiah’s prophecy? John Calvin, in his commentary, explains that the mountains and valleys in this prophecy are part of a metaphor. What Isaiah is prophesying is that God will remove all obstructions from His accomplishing the salvation He intends to bring. Isaiah is not saying that the earth will be as flat as a pancake one day; he is saying that nothing can stop God from saving His people.

Yet there is a third mountain to consider, because Jesus’ Work was not finished (in history) in His First Coming to earth: the prophecy says that all flesh – all people – all nations – shall see the glory of God – or the salvation of God. That has not occurred yet. Not everyone on the planet has seen the glory of God – not everyone God intends to save has received His Salvation. That will happen at Jesus’ Second Coming: “For as the lightening comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather. Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the heavens, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (Matthew 24:27-31, ESV).

The third promise is found in verses six through eight, where we find God telling the prophet Isaiah to make the pronouncement that all flesh is like grass and like flowers – we have a finite life – we will, one day, unless the Lord tarries, die and return to the dust.

Peter quotes this text in his first letter: “‘All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of the grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever”’ And this word is the good news that was preached to you” (I Peter 1:24-25, ESV). And James uses the same theme in his letter: “Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because, like the flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits” (James 1:9-11, ESV).

The fading, failing human flesh is the contrast to the promise: the Word of the Lord will stand forever. No matter what you and I face in this world, no matter how many people and teachers and ministers and friends and family members fail us, the Word of God never fails. It is always authoritative. It is always true. We can always go to it to find out what God has done and promised and will surely do. We can always go to it to find out how we are to live and how we can be right with God.

Then God tells Isaiah to go up to the highest peak, to Mount Zion, to the highest point in Jerusalem, as the herald of Good News and to cry out to Israel, with strength and not fear: “Here is your God.”

Israel was being ravaged by the Assyrians. She would be taken into captivity by the Babylonians, and then ruled over by the Persians, until Cyrus came to power. And in the midst of this, surely the people were crying out, “Where is our God?” And the answer from God through the prophet Isaiah is, “Here is your God.” “Your God is allowing the Assyrians and the Babylonians and the Persians to punish you for your sin, but the day will come when I will comfort you. The day will come when I will send a prophet and a savior to you. But for now, you have My Word, which shall never fail. My Word, in which every word is Truth and I commit myself to keep.”

And, as the fourth promise, God promises to return for His people with might, as their Ruler. He will come to receive the people that belong to Him; salvation shall be the reward to all those who believe in Him Alone for their salvation. He will be a shepherd to them. He will protect them and care for them and love them as his own.

Jesus said, “What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices more over it than over the ninety-nine that never went astray” (Matthew 18:12-13, ESV). And “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me. Just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I received from my Father” (John 10:14-18, ESV).

And remember what the author of Hebrews wrote, “And without faith it is impossible to please [God], for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:8, ESV). We often hear the first part of this verse – that it is impossible to please God without faith. But notice what it says in the second part: in order to draw near to God, we must believe that He is Who He says He is in His Word, and that He will reward those who seek Him in faith. And Who is that reward? Isaiah tells us that the Savior is the reward of all those who seek the God of the Bible in faith.

As we continue through this Advent season and remember the first coming of our God and Savior Jesus, let us remember that our God is here, and He has made promises to His people. After we have suffered on this earth, He will comfort us. God has sent a Savior to all who will believe, and He is coming again. God stands behind the everlasting authority and truth of His Word. And God promises security for His people in His Love and Care.

We might add a fifth promise as we prepare to receive the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper: Jesus has promised to be with us here spiritually, and as we receive the bread and the cup, He ministers to us by giving us His Grace, strengthening us to be able to do all that He has called us to do and giving us understanding. Amen.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we continue to celebrate the Advent of Your Birth in human flesh. We ask that You would renew our hope and trust in Your Promises as we look forward to Your Second Coming. And we ask that we would receive the grace we need to be Your people as we receive the elements of the sacrament. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

December Sermons

D.V., I will preach:

12/7/08 Communion/Advent 2 Isaiah 40:1-11 "Here is Your God"
12/14/08 Advent 3 John 3:22-36 "The Bridegroom"
12/21/08 Advent 4 Luke 1:26-38 "How Can This Be?"
12/24/08 Christmas Eve 7PM Luke 2:1-20 "The Thing That Took Place"
12/28/08 Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7 "Now"