Sunday, December 28, 2014

Christmas Grace for the New Year - Galatians 4:4-6

Galatians 4:4-6
Introduction:  Doesn’t it seem like there is such a big build up to and through Advent, and then it is passed so quickly? This week, rather than jumping into a new series just three days after Christmas, I thought it appropriate for one more Sunday to reflect on the implications of the Incarnation for the New Year that is approaching. As we draw near the New Year there is often a mix of feelings, looking back on the year past, sometimes with pain or heartbreak, and looking ahead, with hope, or sometimes with fear about what lies ahead in the New Year. This Sunday, midway between Christmas and New Year, is an excellent opportunity to look back on Advent, and to see how it motivates us to look ahead with confidence to 2015.  We can look back with 20/20 hindsight on the year past, but let’s look forward to the New Year through the lens of Scripture and consider four “I’s” that can give us hope as we look ahead: God’s timing is impeccable, His love is incontestable, His grace is immeasurable, and His presence is irrefutable.
The Big Idea: The incarnation can provide a firm foundation for our faith as we look forward to the uncertainties of a New Year. Know this…
I. God’s Timing is Impeccable (4a)—As God acted at just the right time in sending the Son. He is absolutely in control of history. His sovereignty is such that we can know that He will intervene at the best time for our good and for His glory (4:4a). “When the fullness of time had come God sent forth His Son…”

·                    Remember the context in Jewish history, 2000 years after Abraham was called, 1400 years after the Exodus from Egypt, 1000 years after David was promised a descendant who would have an eternal reign, 700 years after Isaiah and Micah had prophesied of the coming Messiah, 400 years after Malachi, the last of the prophets had spoken, God sent the Son into the world. The Jewish Nation had waited for all those centuries for the promised Messiah. The writer to the Hebrews opens his epistle with the same idea: “In different times and in different ways God spoke in times past to the fathers through the prophets, in these last days He has spoken in a Son…”
·                    God chose exactly the right time to send the Son. Paul calls it here, “The fullness of time.” Now if the time was exactly right, why did things go so badly?  The leaders rejected him, Judas betrayed him, the disciples abandoned him, Peter denied him, the Romans crucified him!  God had a plan. Everything that happened was in accordance with that plan. His plan was not to usher in a golden age and set up a kingdom on earth. His plan was to give his life a ransom for many, to shed His blood so that we could live. The time was right, the messianic hope of the Jews had become truncated, they were focused almost universally on the idea of a military deliverer, someone like David or Solomon who could restore the glory of the Kingdom. Rome had become the dominant world power, and the characters were in place who would expose the hunger for power and control that ultimately plays out in the New Testament story. Even details like the universality of the Greek language throughout the Greco-roman world, the Pax Romana and the Roman system of roads, the Jewish synagogues that had spread from Asia to Mediterranean Europe and north Africa, all prepared the way for the spread of the Gospel. The fullness of time had come.
·                    God had a plan then and He has a plan for your life, and He will work, that is a promise! Last week Herb M. was talking at our morning prayer time on Wednesday, and referred to Jeremiah 1:5, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations." God chose Jeremiah on purpose, for a purpose. The same thing is true of you if you know Him. God has a plan, and his timing is perfect. We can be impatient. Have you ever prayed, “Lord, please give me patience, NOW!” Trust Him, even in uncertain times, because God’s timing is impeccable. It’s not only the destination, but also the journey that God is interested in. The details of your story are a part of His Story and He promises to work all things together for good to those who love Him, to those who are called according to His purpose (Rom 8:28). God is in control, and His timing is impeccable, absolutely perfect. That is one way that the incarnation can provide a firm foundation for our faith as we look forward to the uncertainties of a New Year.

II. God’s Love is Incontestable (4b)—God showed us His love in the most profound way imaginable. “…God sent forth His Son. Born of a woman, born under the Law…” John spoke of this when he wrote in his first letter, “This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him”(I Jn 4:9). If God so loved us, we can deal with any challenges we might face (see Romans 5:8; Philippians 2:6-8). John 3:16 says it plainly, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…”  
·        Humans sometimes let us down, sometimes break our hearts, sometimes fall short even when their intentions are good.  Guess what, we are all sinners, still, even those who have trusted in Jesus! Christians aren’t perfect, they are just forgiven.  When we are hurt or disappointed by someone, realize that you too fall short in relating to others, and remember Abba is here, he loves you, and He has proven His love.
·        God’s love is unquestionable, absolutely pure, inexhaustible and incontestable. How do we know that? First of all, notice that He “sent forth” his Son. The word itself implies much, first of all, the Son was “sent forth” or “sent from” the Father, exapostello, a compound form of the verb apostello, “to send.”  The prefix reminds us that the Son existed from eternity with the Father and the Spirit—three persons, eternally existent in perfect union in one divine essence—the biblical doctrine of the Trinity, or as I prefer the “Triune God.” Jesus, the Son, “sent forth” from the beauty of heaven, took upon himself a human nature. Sinless, but limited and subject to all the pains and struggles of life in this fallen world. One old song reflects on this, “Out of ivory palaces, into this world of woe, only His great redeeming love made the Savior go.” John said, “This is how God showed His love among us, He sent His one and only Son into the world…” (I Jn 4:9).  As Paul said to the Philippians, “…though He existed in the form of God, He did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but He emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant and being made in the likeness of men…” The prefix reminds us that he was sent “from” or “out of” the Father’s presence in Heaven. We are just finishing up a Sunday School series on Heaven, it’s somewhere we want to go, it’s hard to imagine that He chose to leave, for us! The root of the verb hints at the “why” of the incarnation, He didn’t merely come for a visit, He came to carry out a mission.
       Minus the prefix, the root of the verb used here is “apostello” which is the verbal form of the word from which we translate “apostle.” One who is sent with a mission.  Jesus was sent from the Father not just to visit us, to reveal his nature, or even to teach us how to live. He came with a mission to accomplish. That is part of the “fullness of time” in the beginning of this passage. He came to accomplish God’s perfect plan of redemption, He came to be our substitute, a perfect sacrifice that would make it possible for sinners to be reconciled to God.  The angel said to the shepherds, “Unto you is born this day a Savior…” For a Holy God to justify sinners a perfect substitute was needed. Remember the fable of the three trees? One was fashioned into the manger where He was laid, the second into a boat from which He preached to the multitude on the shore, the third made into the cross where he was crucified. All of this was in accordance with the predetermined purpose and foreknowledge of God.  He has a plan. Since God’s timing is impeccable and His love is incontestable, the incarnation can provide a firm foundation for our faith as we look forward, through the lens of Scripture, to the uncertainties of a New Year. Know also that…

III. God’s Grace is Immeasurable (5)—The next phrase describes the purpose and the result of the Incarnation—To pay the price to make us His own, “to redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons…”  (see I John 3:1). The language here reminds us that though our salvation is a free gift it came at a great price.  And not only are we delivered from judgment, we are brought into a new relationship with God. If God treasures us so highly, the uncertainties and trials of life are smaller, the sufferings of this present age are not worthy to be compared to the glory that will be revealed in us.

·          First of all notice the purpose of the incarnation, “…to redeem those who were under the Law…” The term “redeem” (exagorazo) means “to purchase (a slave) out of the marketplace.” What a dynamic picture! We were slaves, whether or not we knew it, slaves to sin and to Satan (see Ephesians 2:1-4). Like people in the movie Matrix humans are born slaves, deluded in their understanding of the world and truth and reality. Satan has blinded the minds and the hearts of unbelievers. Only through God’s intervention, by grace through faith, are we set free.

·          Notice the goal or result of God’s intervention in our story, that we might receive the “adoption as sons” (huiothesia). The term has the idea of receiving the rights of an adult son. The New Testament uses a couple of different words, “children of God” usually emphasizes the idea of being born again, or receiving new life through faith in Christ. “Adoption as sons” emphasizes the blessings that come with that position, we are heirs, incorporated into God’s family and His kingdom in a new way. We’re children of the King!  There is a lot we don’t understand about that, at one point Paul tells the Corinthians,
2 Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases?  3 Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! (1 Corinthians 6:2-3).
One thing we can take from that is that God has a plan for creation that goes beyond this present age, and somehow He has decided to include us, purchased by the blood of Jesus, delivered from sin and into sonship, heirs of God in Christ. That is truly amazing grace! God’s grace is immeasurable, His love is incontestable, and His timing is impeccable. These truths are revealed in the incarnation and can provide a firm foundation for our faith as we look forward to the uncertainties of a New Year. What’s more…

IV. God’s Presence is Irrefutable (6)—Another result of the Incarnation: Indwelt by the Spirit, we are His children. God came in the flesh, in Jesus, He is present in the Spirit. So we read in Galatians 4:6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’"
      The Holy Spirit is present in the heart of every person who has believed in Jesus. Paul said in Romans 8:8-11,
Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.  9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.  11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.”
The assurance that only the Spirit himself can breathe into our hearts is expressed just a few verses later,
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.  15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, "Abba! Father!"  16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,  17 and if children, then heirs- heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ…” (Rom 8:14-17).
So we also read in 1 Corinthians 12:13, For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body- Jews or Greeks, slaves or free- and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” You get the idea? Some traditions mistake the idea of the “fullness of the Spirit” or “being filled with the Spirit” with the truth that God’s Spirit indwells every believer in Jesus in this age (Gal 5:18).  Paul, writing to the carnal, prideful, Corinthians said “all” in 12:13. In fact twice in that letter he had already called them “God’s Temple” in whom the Spirit dwells (3:16,17;  6:19; cf. 2 Cor 6:16-18). Think about this, apart from God’s power the Christian life is not difficult, it is impossible. Even after the resurrection Jesus told his disciples to wait for the pouring out of the Spirit, which would happen on Pentecost, before they began the new mission He was entrusting to them. We are weak, but His strength is revealed in our weakness.
            There are uncertainties as we approach the dawn of a New Year, some of us will experience significant challenges, all of us will be tested and tempted at some level, but be encouraged: God’s presence is irrefutable, His grace is immeasurable, His love is incontestable, and His timing is impeccable.

What is God saying to me in this passage? The incarnation can provide a firm foundation for our faith as we look forward to the uncertainties of a New Year.

What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Looking back on the last year, there may have been some surprises, big or small, many trials at a personal level. Hindsight is 20/20, but nobody knows what might face us in 2015. None of us knows what challenges we may face in the New Year… Yet God’s Word is true, and looking ahead through the lens of Scripture we do know some things with certainty,
     1) The Spirit is with us now and will be at every moment, even helping us when we pray to talk to Abba, Father. We’re never alone, His presence is irrefutable.
     2) We know God’s Grace will never reach its limits, after all He spared not His own Son but delivered Him up for us all. How will He not also with Him freely give us all things?  His grace is immeasurable.
     3) His love is incontestable; He showed His love by “sending forth” the Son into this fallen world so that we could live. God demonstrated His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Love beyond measure!

     4) His timing is impeccable, He is never in hurry, but He is never late. Just as He sent the Son in the fullness of time, at just the right time He will work for our good and for His glory. That is a firm foundation as we look ahead to 2015.  That is our assurance of a Blessed New Year, (not necessarily an easy one!).  We don’t know what tomorrow may hold, but praise God, we know who holds tomorrow!   Think about that.  AMEN.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Love of Advent: A Shepherd's Story

[This post is not a typical "sermon" but rather a first person monologue giving the Christmas story from the perspective of one of the characters. Scripture is quoted extensively, but due to the nature of the presentation references are not given. SN.]
The Love of Advent: A Shepherd’s Story
Call me Yitzak, Yitzak ben Yehuda.  I am a humble shepherd, as was my father, and his father before him. I am a son of Abraham and a follower of Yeshua ha meshiach… I am what I am by the grace of the Most High – that is really the Story I have come to share – a story of Grace, the unmerited favor of the Most High, and the love He has shown us! Yes, a story of LOVE, not my love for Him, but His love for His sheep. I am old now, four score, 80 years, can it be? I am old, but I come today to tell you of a night many years ago, I was but a boy... Well, my 10th birthday had passed, in my culture, I was nearly a man, it was time to work, to join my father and the other men in the fields!
     Yes, I know that we Shepherds are not the most respected of people by the pious Jews...  People say we smell like sheep... [sniffs himself, and then shrugs].  I say is that such a bad thing?  It is true that it has always been difficult for us to be observant Jews—we need to be in the fields taking care of the flocks—how can we get into the city for worship and sacrifice?  Of course that has changed since the Temple was destroyed last year, almost 40 years after the Master’s departure…  Most of us Shepherds are not educated... few of us learn letters, but then why would a shepherd need to read? It’s not like we could afford our own copy of the Scriptures! But even those who can’t read can still hear the Word of the Lord, and learn it, and hide in our heart...
Kî-yeºled yullad-läºnû
Bën niTTan-läºnû
waTTühî hammiSrâ `al-šikmô
wayyiqrä´ šümô
·       Pele´ yô`ëc… ´ël GiBBôr
·       ´ábî`ad… Sar-šälôm
Oh, you don’t speak Hebrew? Excuse me my Gentile friends! What do they teach you these days! Let me translate into your strange tongue:
For to us a child is born, to us a Son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
      For centuries we had waited for the Promised One. Yes, even simple shepherds like us had looked for his coming...  It is true, shepherds have been at the heart of the story of God’s dealing with my people. The fathers were shepherds were they not?  Abraham, Isaac, Jacob… Moses himself tended sheep—and this is the heart of the matter—when God was hardening the heart of Pharaoh, he told the people through Moses to sacrifice a Lamb, a spotless Lamb—and to put the blood over the door and on the door posts... It meant life in that home instead of death...
     I am just a simple shepherd, and like my father and his father before him I tend my sheep in the fields around a small and humble hamlet in Judea. The best of our lambs, spotless, without blemish, were reserved for the Temple sacrifices in those days.  The name of our town means House of Bread,” “Bethlehem” you call it... a small place but with a great history...  It was here that Ruth met Boaz and had a son, Obed, who would be the grandfather of David the King. Yes, our father David was from this very place! He too tended sheep you know on these same hills.  Ahh, the City of David… The great prophet Micah spoke of this place when he wrote centuries before the Master’s birth…
"But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Though you are little among the clans of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, From everlasting."
This would be the place from which the Messiah would come… The Promised One, the Son of the Most High… the Son of David for whom we had been waiting for so long.  [Looks aside with a sneer of disdain] We were under the thumb of Rome even in those days, we needed our Deliverer, we longed for His coming, we were looking and waiting for the Hope of Israel. Oh, but there was so much we did not understand…
        It was a quiet and cold night all those years ago, yet it seems to me like yesterday…  We were in the fields taking care of the sheep with my father and a few other hardworking, humble shepherds.  It was a clear night… the Heavens truly declare the glory of God… so many stars!  I tried to count them more than once but I ran out of numbers long before I ran out of stars… It wasn’t a dream… I was laying on the ground, looking up at the marvel of the heavens… Suddenly, a glorious sight, I can hardly describe it even after all these years… There suspended above us in the sky a shining angel of the Lord! I was already laying on the ground, but we all knew we were in the presence of holiness! My father and the men with him fell to their faces in fear before that powerful creature from heaven…  Why was he here, what had we done, what did this mean?  And then, the incredible Word…
Fear not…”
Fear not?  How could we not be afraid at such a glorious sight?  Though his voice was powerful, at the same time his words were comforting, calming, peaceful.  And you know, immediately, I was not afraid.  But he went on, and his next words brought a message that our people had longed to hear for so long… He said, 
“I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).
Messiah had come? Messiah had come!
For centuries our people had looked for the coming of the promised One… It was our “blessed hope” at that time to be sure.  Messiah! The prophecies had started almost from the beginning… from the time of the Fall…  Adam and Eve sinned, and brought death and the curse upon humanity… But God even then promised a Seed, who would crush the Serpent’s head…  And he gave them skins for a covering… Think of that, God himself killed one of his creatures, shedding its blood, to provide a covering for the man and his woman… Yes, they learned quickly: sin would require a price, a life, it would require blood… The hope of a Savior, the Messiah, took many shapes in the Scriptures… The sacrifices yes, also… The great prophet Isaiah spoke of a suffering Servant when he said,
2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.  3 He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Lke one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.  4 Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.  5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.  6 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.  7 He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth (Isaiah 53:2-7).
Like a sheep… We raised sheep, but only the finest, without spot, without blemish, could be used in the temple sacrifices. It was our Law. He, the Messiah, the King, the Good Shepherd, He was also the Lamb, without blemish, without sin… The sacrifices, the Servant, also David spoke also of a Son, an ideal Son who would have an eternal reign, and also be called the Son of God…  This cord of three strands, the Lamb, the Servant, and the Son who would be King, was woven through the fabric of the Scriptures… How could they come together? When would the promised One arrive?  God’s timing is perfect: “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem those who were under the Law that we might receive the adoption as sons.”  
That night the Angel answered with the joyous news… “TODAY, in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you… He is Christ the Lord…”   
       Messiah!  Could it be?  Today?  The fullness of time had come! Generations before had longed for this day, and now it had come!  The Son of David, the Servant, the Lamb, my King, he was here!
        But what else did the angel say?  Could it be true?  “Unto YOU has been born a Savior…” To us?  Including humble shepherds like us?  We were not the pious ones, the tsaddaqim! We were not the religious elite!  We were not aristocracy…  We were not royalty, not powerful or influential.  Could it be He came for the meek? Could it be that He came for sinners?  I must say that it didn’t strike me at that moment on that starry night, but for many nights afterward I heard my father and the other men speculate, “Why did the angel bring this news to us?” Why not to the priests or the Scribes?  Only many years later did it dawn on us… we were in those fields caring for the sheep, some of those animals were destined for Temple Sacrifice.  He was THE sacrifice, God’s Lamb who would take away the sin of the world.  It was as though the angel was saying,    “Why are you here watching over these sheep? Get down to Bethlehem and see the Lamb of God!”
       Thirty years later, as he presented himself to John the Baptizer to begin his public ministry, John saw him and said: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” The blood of our sacrifices could not take away sin… a perfect sacrifice was needed, one of infinite worth… The Eternal Son, Emmanuel, God with us—The Lamb had been born! How could we imagine that one day, His precious blood would be shed?
         The word the Angel spoke was more than we could imagine… “This will be a sign for you… You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” In a manger?  Wrapped in rags? The Messiah?  Our King and Savior? The Great I AM, now incarnate, in an animal’s feeding bin?
       Suddenly, there was with that Angel a multitude of Angels, the hosts of heaven, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."  Peace!  How long we had waited for it.  God’s favor had truly rested on us. Simple people, and yes, sinful people… But God chose us to receive the GOOD NEWS, he chose us to be his own, to be his witnesses, to be his messengers… Has He chosen you? Do you believe Him? He would say one day, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me…”
       Well we hurried to town,and found them… exactly as the Angel had said: Emmanuel, God with us… Think of it, a tiny baby - on such a slender thread as the feeble throb of an infant life, the salvation of the World should hang.  Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to.  Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being.” His first bed in this cold world a feeding bin, his first shelter, a grotto used as a shelter for animals.  But his name told the story: Yeshua, Jesus, the Savior.
       We shouted to whoever would listen that Messiah had been born. The News was too good to keep to ourselves!  But, many had shouted that before—who would listen to a handful of Shepherds?   You know the rest of the story…
       We were the first, but not the only ones that received a revelation that the Messiah had come. Some time after His birth the Magi came from the East to see the new born king, they offered Him gifts and worshipped Him, and then left another way to return to their own land.  What followed next was the most horrific experience our village would ever know. That madman Herod!  We had no warning, Herod’s soldiers swooped into town, ripping babies and toddlers from their mothers’ arms, slaughter, every male child under 2! Oh the wailing! The unspeakable grief! They could not be comforted. The pain of violently losing a Son…  Do you know it? God does... [pauses, looks downward and sighs] …but His time had not yet come. Later we learned Mary and Joseph had escaped with the Son to Egypt. Only after Herod died did they return to his family’s home in Nazareth.
      He grew up as did I, and for years, we heard almost nothing more about him. It was many years later that we began to hear reports of a rabbi who taught with authority… a prophet, a miracle worker and preacher.  When I heard the stories, I thought it might be Him!  He healed the sick, fed the hungry, cured lepers, and cast out demons. He gave sight to the blind, he even raised the dead! When I heard his name there was no doubt: JESUS!  The name his parents had given him that night in Bethlehem! We thought he would soon assume the throne of David and establish his kingdom.  Even we, the shepherds, forgot what the Lamb had come to do.
       And then that final week He entered Jerusalem… “Hosanna, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord…” A week is such a short time… the days pass quickly… Passover, would the Savior reveal himself at the feast?  Then it happened. Betrayal. Rejection. Denial. Scourging. Darkness. The cross.  How could they do it?  Why did He let them?  We should have known (it was Passover after all) and as Moses had written: “Without the shedding of blood, there could be no remission of sins.”  There was sadness and confusion among us for three days.  What had happened?  What did this mean?  Three days later, all doubt was removed forever! The tomb was empty!   He appeared, first to the women, then to Cephas, then to the 12, and on one occasion to over 500 of the brethren at once!  I have spoken with those who were there—they saw him, they touched him, they even ate with Him—he is alive!
       The time came for him to return to heaven…
·                   After 40 days of teaching about the Kingdom, the disciples asked: “Lord, will you at this time restore the Kingdom to Israel?”
·                   The Master is so patient with us! He didn’t rebuke them, like a Shepherd guiding a lamb that was wandering he simply “redirected” them. It wasn’t a stupid question, it was just the wrong question!  Rather than ask “when” the kingdom will come they should have asked “what” shall we do until that day!
       He said they were to wait for the Spirit to come and empower them, then they would be His witnesses starting in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth!  When He finished speaking, before their very eyes, He ascended into Heaven!
·                   Then an angel spoke:  “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing upward? This same Jesus, who you saw go into Heaven, will return in like manner!” HE WILL RETURN!  Now, in faith, we wait. Our beloved brother Paul said in his letter to Titus,
11 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, 12 teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, 13 looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works (2:11-14). 
That is my hope, that is how I must live.  And you?  Have you put your hope, your trust in Him? He is the Good Shepherd, Jesus, who laid down his life for the sheep. This is how God showed His love among us, He sent His one and only Son into the world, that we might live through Him!
       Think of it, “…God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son, so that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” And, “God demonstrated His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Are you looking for that Blessed Hope, the glorious appearing of our Great God and Savior Jesus Christ? THIS STORY IS NOT YET OVER!  YOU ARE INCLUDED IN THE CAST! As surely as he came the first time, in fulfillment of Scripture, he will come again, according to his promise.  How then will you live until he returns? 
Your trees and lights and decorations are beautiful. But even more beautiful is this truth: The Word was made flesh, and lived for a while among usAs many as received Him, to them He gave the power to become children of God, even to those who believe on His name…  

         Do you know Him? Will you follow Him?  Think about that, AMEN. Baruch ha shem Adonai, Yeshua, ha Meshiach! Blessed be the Name of the Lord!  Jesus, the Christ.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Joy of Advent: Joy to the World, the Lord has Come! Luke 2:9-12

The Joy of Advent: Joy to the World, the Lord has Come!
Luke 2:9-12
Introduction: One of the songs we sing at Christmas time is, “Joy to the World, the Lord has come!” Yet when we see the pressures, the frantic shopping, and the focus on parties, gifts and giving, is “joy” really what you think about at Christmas?  I read this week a story of a mother wearily dragging her young child through a department store, shopping, and the child paused at a nativity display. The mother said, “Let’s go, we’re late!” The child asked, “Momma, can’t I look at Jesus for a minute?” The tired mother pulled her along, “We don’t have time to look at Jesus!”  Joy to the world? Is this what Christmas has become for us?
        Christmas celebrates a critical moment in human history: God entered our story, taking on himself a human nature He entered into this fallen world, knowing that his path would lead to Calvary.  We should be joyful, if we have trusted in that sacrifice, because it means that by His grace, through faith, we have been reconciled to God: Heaven is ours!  We’ve been led for three weeks now by Dr. Dan Bates in one of the adult classes in a study of heaven. We have so much to rejoice about!  Can you see it on the faces around you?  What about in the mirror? Some of us have trouble showing the joy in our hearts in our countenance. C.H. Spurgeon said:
When you speak of Heaven let your face light up, let it be irradiated with a heavenly gleam, let your eyes shine with reflected glory. But when you speak of Hell—well, then your ordinary face will do.”
Heaven is ours because Christmas is not just a story—it is history. God concerned himself with the human condition and stepped onto the stage of human history. Billy Graham said,
Christmas is not a myth, not a tradition, not a dream. It is a glorious reality. It is a time of joy. Bethlehem’s manger crib became the link that bound a lost world to a loving God. From that manger came a man who… brought us into a new relationship with our creator. Christmas means that God is interested in the affairs of people; that God loves us so much that He was willing to give His Son.” 
That is reason for joy. Real joy, the joy of the Lord, springs from a heart that has been reconciled with God.  We’ve considered this month the “Hope of Advent” and were reminded that the first coming of Jesus revealed God’s grace and motivates us to live faithfully in the sure hope of His return. We’ve looked at the “Peace of Advent” and were reminded that the Son entered this broken world, taking upon himself a human nature in order to give his life so that we could experience the true peace, the Shalom, for which we were created.  Today we remember that Christmas is reason for joy! Not just the presents and the get togethers, and the dinners and decorations. Those are nice, they are a blessing, but the heart of Christmas is the good news that “Unto you a Savior is born this day in the city of David a Savior—Christ the Lord…”
      From the Old Testament times the messianic hope anticipated a time of rejoicing would be associated with the coming of Messiah. In Isaiah 9:2,3 we read,
 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.  3 You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil.”
The magi in Matthew’s gospel certainly felt joy when the star they saw in the east led them to Him.  We read in Matthew 2:9-10  “And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was.  10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.” The God who is, led them to the Promised One, the Messiah of the Jews and Savior of the World. They had reason to rejoice! And so do we!
     In Luke, when the pregnant Mary came for the first time into the presence of her cousin Elizabeth who was also expecting, the yet unborn John the Baptist responded with joy, in Luke 1:44 Elizabeth says “For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.”  As we focus on the Joy of Advent, I want to look again at a familiar passage, focusing on the angel’s announcement to the shepherds in Luke 2:9-12,
And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear.  10 And the angel said to them, "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people.  11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger."
 The Big Idea: Advent is cause for joy to all who believe the good news: God sent his Son who revealed His glory and provided salvation by giving himself for us.
I. Advent is cause for joy because it is a revelation of the glory of God (v.9).  “And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear.” 
             Notice that the message came to them, to a group of shepherds watching over their flocks on a Bethlehem hillside. What an awesome moment that must have been! Common shepherds, out in the fields, watching over their sheep. They were doing their job, they weren’t in a church or a synagogue, they weren’t praying (at least as far as we know).  But God met them where they were and revealed Himself to them.
That’s the first lesson to take from this story: If our eyes are open to the truth, we’ll see that He meets us in the course of life. Times of retreat are helpful when we can withdraw from the busyness of life and seek God. It’s good, yes, essential, that we gather together for worship and celebrate Jesus. But it is also true that there is no secular/sacred dichotomy for a Christ follower. God is interested in every aspect of our lives. Even our work is worship if we do it for Him. He meets us where we are, living as broken people in a broken world, and He picks us up, dusts us off, and walks with us on the way.
            God sends this angel to announce a glorious message that the Jewish people had been anticipating for centuries. It was an awesome revelation of the glory of God…
       Incredibly, it was a revelation through a heavenly messenger, an angel of the Lord.  Several humans have had the opportunity to see and hear an angel in the gospel accounts. After centuries of apparent silence, at this point in history, as the fullness of time approached, an angel had spoken to Zachariah, to Mary, to Joseph, announcing that the time was at hand, and now to a group of Shepherds to news that He was born.
       “The Glory of the Lord shone around them…” As though heaven itself cracked the door open for a moment, the light of heaven, God’s glory, flooded all around them. The brilliance of the glory of God is something the Jews understood from Old Testament times.  Moses got a glimpse of it as God hid him in the cleft of a rock and passed by in his radiant glory. The Jews in the wilderness had a hint of it as they saw the Pillar of Fire in the wilderness leading them on the way and awesome presence of God shaking Mount Sinai and shining in the Tabernacle. It spoke to His transcendence and His holiness. That same glory shone down on these shepherds on a hillside outside Bethlehem. Christmas reveals God’s glory. We read in John 1:14,
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
       Notice the response of the shepherds to this revelation from heaven: they were filled with fear!  This was probably not just the godly reverence of knowing they were in the presence of holiness, a visitor from heaven. They were probably confused, troubled and frightened by what was happening! But their confusion would soon be transformed into joy. The God who is has spoken. And Advent is cause for joy to all who believe the good news that God sent his Son as He had promised, revealing His glory and providing salvation by giving himself for us.

II. Advent is cause for joy since the good news is for all people (v. 10). “And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people.’” 
             They were terrified, and what did the angel say? “Fear not…” That is often the word of the Lord to his people when he is revealing himself. We respond with “fear” I think because we recognize our weakness in the light of his power. Our sinfulness is exposed in the light of his holiness. But the admonition “fear not” in itself is good news. It reminds us as Billy Graham said, that God is interested in us, that He loves us so much that He did not send His Son to bear a sword, but to bear a cross.
            Then the angel goes on to say, “…I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people.” That offer of salvation in Christ is extended to all people: a universal call to turn from your sin and rebellion and turn to Jesus for life. Jesus came to provide the one and only way for sinners to be reconciled to God.  That might sound like an exclusive message, after all we read in John 14:6 “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father but by me…” and Acts 4:12, “There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved…”   Exclusive, yes, but in another sense it is an amazingly inclusive message in its context. The barriers were gone: rich or poor, male or female, Jew or Gentile, the Lamb came to take away the sins of the world and to offer life to all who turn to Him in faith without racial or ethnic distinction. That is cause for rejoicing!  Advent is cause for joy to all who believe the good news that God sent his Son, revealing His glory and providing salvation for all who will believe, by humbly giving himself for us.
III. Advent is cause for joy since it celebrates the birth of the promised Savior and Lord (v.11). “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
             Isaiah had said 700 years earlier, “Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given…”  Now the angel speaks and says onto you is born a Savior.  The word of the prophet was not only for the leaders and the powerful and the influential, it was even for these shepherds, and it is God’s word for you and me. He came for us, to save us.
             “…in the city of David…” just as the prophet had said.  So He is born according to promise, in fulfillment of Scripture. In perfect detail, God arranged history to compel Joseph and Mary to travel to Bethlehem. We looked last week at Micah 5:2 which says, “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days…” They had been in Nazareth, but that wouldn’t do. God providentially guided circumstances rather than giving a direct revelation to get them where they needed to be for His plan to unfold on schedule. By the way do you ever struggle discerning the will of God? Search the word, His will will never conflict what Has been written. Seek godly counsel, He has designed us to be part of a community of faith. God will use those to help give direction. But don’t ignore the circumstances through which you are passing. He is Lord of history.
             The angel gives some information about this coming one, He is “…a Savior, Christ, the Lord.”  He is Savior, Messiah (Christ), and Lord. Only the unfolding of His life, his teaching, and his death and resurrection would reveal the full meaning that God intended for each of those terms. This would prove to be the greatest “Good News” that humans had ever received.  Advent is cause for joy to all who believe the good news that God sent his Son, revealing His glory and providing salvation for all who would turn to him in faith. He gave himself for us.
IV. Advent is cause for joy since it revealed His willingness to humble himself for us (v.12). “And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger."
         His humble birth was a sign. First, He came as a human baby. Think about how humbling that was!  Couldn’t He at least have created a second Adam as an adult human out of the dust of the earth? Of course he could have, but He didn’t.  Mary was with child of the Holy Spirit. He was born. And as a tiny helpless baby He depended on her care and feeding and the protection of Joseph. This was the creator of the Universe and yet He took the form of a servant and was made in the likeness of men!
        And remember the circumstances that surrounded His human birth: Not to the castle of a king, not in wealth or even with the recognition of the religious leadership, but with this sign: in humility, humbly wrapped in rags and laying in the feeding bin of an animal. Paul said to the Philippians that “He emptied himself, [by] taking the form of a servant…” Isaiah had prophesied of the coming of a servant-king, a suffering servant, and it began in his incarnation.
             Notice that it was a sign given to these shepherds, men who were looked down upon for their failure to “keep kosher,” since they couldn’t regularly get into the city for worship, but who also did the essential work of caring for the animals that were destined for sacrifice in the temple. They were watching over these sacrificial lambs who were destined for temple sacrifice [not that they could take away sin]. They were shadows and types, pointing forward to a perfect sacrifice that could finally take away sin. The time has come: get down to Bethlehem and see the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” That is Good News. They believed, and they rejoiced!
What is God saying to me in this passage? Advent is cause for joy to all who believe the good news that God sent his Son as He had promised, revealing His glory and providing salvation by humbly giving himself for us.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Every year, as we look back during this season on the year past, we’ve faced some crises as an extended church family. This has been no exception. Mourning for some, praying in the midst of uncertainty for others, struggles of faith in the midst of decision and financial uncertainty for several, health issues, our prayer list is full of them. None of these struggles can rob our joy in the truth, the good news, that God is good (all the time), and that He loves us so much that He sent His Son into the world, to humbly give himself for us. That is cause for joy! We have to make time to look at Jesus, we have seen His glory!   

Joy to the Word, because the Lord has come and He is coming again! So rejoice in the Lord always! Again I will say it, rejoice!      AMEN.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Peace of Advent: Peace on Earth, or War of the Worlds? Micah 5:1-5a

THE PEACE OF ADVENT: Peace on Earth, or War of the Worlds?
Micah 5:1-5a
Introduction: 73 years ago today, December 7, 1941, a day F.D.R. famously said “would live in infamy,” the United States forces in Pearl Harbor were brutally attacked, and we were at war. So now all is calm, all is right as we continue through the Advent season, right? Not quite. In fact, whether it has been violence between nations or violence among individuals, there has been no "peace on earth" since the fall! (Think Cain and Abel, it didn't take long for things to turn violent!). Last week I saw a part of a movie, a modern remake of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds. It seems like an odd movie between Thanksgiving and Christmas, but, maybe, it does illustrate the tension between “the already and not yet” aspect of God’s story as He is working it out on the stage of human history.  The angels announced, “Peace on Earth, good will toward men…” but we can’t deny that history has been marked by violence and warfare through the centuries. The tragic killing of two hostages in Yemen by Al-Qaeda terrorists last week is only the most recent reminder that all is not well in the world. Is the Advent season a time when we see a glimmer of “peace on earth?” Or is it a time when the “war of the worlds” is most evident?  The second candle in the Advent wreath that was lit today is called the “Candle of Peace” by some, others refer to it as the “Bethlehem Candle.” As the Advent reading for today pointed out, one text that brings together both of those ideas, “Bethlehem” and “Peace,” is Micah 5:1-5a.  
Now muster your troops, O daughter of troops; siege is laid against us; with a rod they strike the judge of Israel on the cheek.  2 But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.  3 Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has given birth; then the rest of his brothers shall return to the people of Israel.  4 And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth.  5 And he shall be their peace…” (Micah 5:1-5a).
This passage is one that we associate with the Christmas story. Remember the story of the Magi in Matthew chapter 2, when they came to Jerusalem looking for the one who had been born “king of the Jews”?  Herod inquired of the religious leaders as to where Messiah should be born and they quoted this very Scripture: He would come from Bethlehem (see Matthew 2:1-6).  By the time Jesus revealed himself publically he had living for most of his life in Nazareth, and that became a point of contention for some as they considered who Jesus might be: How could Jesus of Nazareth be the Messiah?
Others said, ‘This is the Christ.’ But some said, ‘Is the Christ to come from Galilee?  42 Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the offspring of David, and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David was?’  43 So there was a division among the people over him” (John 7:41-43).  
I think this is an example of John assuming his readers knew the story of Jesus from the synoptic Gospels, so there was no need for him to explain that Jesus had, in fact, been born in Bethlehem in fulfillment of the Scriptures. But how do we reconcile the tension we see in Micah 5 and in our experience: How can we understand a world in conflict and chaos, and the idea that “He is our peace”? After all Jesus himself said, "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword”  (Matthew 10:34).  Yet He later said to his disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid…” (John 14:27).
The Big Idea:  Even in this chaotic world, we can have peace with God and peace in our hearts as we wait for the day when the Good Shepherd will bring peace on earth.

I. There is no peace on earth: The world is decidedly hostile toward God and toward the people of God (1).

Now muster your troops, O daughter of troops; siege is laid against us; with a rod they strike the judge of Israel on the cheek.”
Israel then – Captivity in the North, enemies in the South.
As Micah is writing, seven hundred years before the time of Christ, his world is in crisis.  The unthinkable had happened, and the northern kingdom of Israel had fallen to the Assyrians and the writing was on the wall in the south. The phrase “Seige is laid against us…” pictures the enemies surrounding Jerusalem and attacking its walls. Think of the irony: “Jerusalem” means “City of Peace,” yet as Micah wrote it was surrounded by an attacking army and seemed to be on the brink of being overrun. There was no peace—the threat of annihilation was imminent. One thing the prophets were doing, Micah included, was reminding the people that their circumstances were not the result of God falling down on his promises or forgetting about Israel. Rather it was chastening that God allowed in order to drive the people to repentance.

The world today is hostile toward God (and His people!)
If we “fast forward” 2700 years or so to today, we can see that the world is still in Chaos.  The hatred of Israel by its neighbors goes without saying (take a look at a map of the Mideast if you need a reminder!). It is also true that the persecution against the church is rising in many parts of the world, and even in our country which prizes tolerance and inclusion, Christianity is rejected and ridiculed by the authorities and the very influential media. More and more, Bible believing Christians are being marginalized by the mainstream and looked upon as radicals and extremists.  There is no “peace on earth,” and the worst of it is that the world is hostile toward God and His people. But even in this chaotic world, we can have peace, peace with God and peace in our hearts as we wait for the day when the Good Shepherd will bring peace on earth.

II. God has a plan to bring peace (2). That plan included sending the Prince of Peace in the fullness of time.
2 But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days. 
He used an unlikely place: the little town of Bethlehem – Bethlehem was known in Israel’s history. It appears in the book of Ruth as the place where Ruth met Boaz. It was the town where David, the son of Jesse was born. So there was an association between Bethlehem and David, and the promises that were made to David. Even so it was a hamlet, a small village, not Jerusalem where the Temple was located, or even a city made important by culture or commerce. What set it apart was the sovereign choice of God. When we consider God’s electing grace there is no room for boasting. The Corinthians were a people who struggled with that, they thought they were something special what with all the flashy spiritual gifts that they had. Paul sought to correct their perspective a bit when he wrote,
25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.  26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.  27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;  28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are,  29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.  30 He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption.  31 Therefore, as it is written, "Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord" (I Corinthians 1:25-31).
Bethlehem was an unlikely choice, from a human perspective, as a place to which God would send the Savior of the world. We too are nothing to boast about, but he has chosen us, you and me, to share the news of the Savior with the world!
God chose an unlikely place, he also had and unexpected plan: He promised a ruler, shepherd, and deliverer who would be “…from ancient days…” i.e., He would be pre-existent, eternal.

·                    Both the son of David and Son of God – When God made the promise of a son to David in 2 Samuel 7  he was speaking of his descendants who would assume the throne after him, but also looking forward to the coming of David’s ideal son, the One who would also be the Son of God, who would have an eternal reign. It was not a plan we could have imagined: the Son of God became a man, the Word was made flesh and lived among us, He took the form of a Servant and was made in the likeness of men—knowing that it would lead to the Cross, where He would bear our sins in His own body! God had a plan to bring peace! So even in this chaotic world, we can have peace with God and peace in our hearts as we wait for the day when the Good Shepherd will bring peace on earth.
III. The Promise of Peace: Already and not Yet (3-5a).
3 Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has given birth; then the rest of his brothers shall return to the people of Israel.  4 And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth.  5 And he shall be their peace.
The promise of v.3 is that the captivity and defeat that had come upon Israel and was coming upon Judea would one day end, and that deliverance was connected to coming of Messiah.  I don’t think he is talking here specifically about Mary giving birth to Jesus, but rather that the Promised One, the deliverer, would rise at the appointed time from Israel. And yes, when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, that He might redeem those who were under the Law and that we might receive the adoption as sons. Peace!  What wasn’t clear when Micah wrote was that that restoration would be in phases: there would be a re-gathering, as the captivity ends and a remnant returned to the land under Ezra. After being re-established in the land there would be a first coming of the promised one in the fullness of time, the birth of Jesus which we celebrate during this season. His death and resurrection would make peace with God possible for fallen humanity. There would also be a future turning back of Israel to God that will be linked to His second coming (see Romans 11), and ultimately, one day, peace on Earth as he puts his enemies under His feet.
·        He shall stand…” (v.4). This brought to my mind the scene in Acts 7 as Stephen is being stoned. He saw heaven opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of the Father. It seems to imply that He is active, watching, exercising his rule in the world, even at the hour of our death. Even in that moment Stephen was able to pray for his attackers, and though he died, he died in peace. That can encourage us that nothing touches us that has not first passed through the hands of our loving heavenly Father—nothing. One aspect of the peace we have in our hearts is the assurance that we are never alone, He is with us always.
·        Shepherd His flock…” We see this image in other contexts in Scripture. The image of the Lord as a “shepherd” is something that would have resonated in the biblical world. They saw shepherds and sheep all the time, it was part of their culture and life.  They understood what a shepherd meant to his sheep: knowing them, feeding, leading, and protecting them. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who knows us intimately, and who laid down his life for His sheep. He is the Bread of Life who feeds our deepest hunger, He is the Shepherd who leads in green pastures and beside still waters, and as our Shepherd He protects us from the enemy, and is with us even when we pass through the Valley of the Shadow of Death.
·        In the strength of Yahweh and the majesty of the NAME…” A merely human shepherd could fail us. He could fall short, and lead us astray or leave us vulnerable to the attacks of the enemy.  Remember David’s brothers as Goliath taunted the army of Israel? They cowered in fear. But David understood, “The battle is the Lord’s.” Our Shepherd, Jesus, shepherds us in the strength of YAHWEH!  Think of the power that describes! He is the Lord of Glory, the Creator of the Universe, the Master of History, the Omnipotent I AM. Nothing we face is too difficult for Him.
·        “And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth…” That is the future for the faithful remnant, the true Israel that Paul is describing in Romans 11 when he says “all Israel will be saved.” And that is the future for us, His sheep, those who “hear His voice and follow Him.” Our response of faith demonstrates that we are His.
He himself shall be our peace. There is a tension here. Remember that Jesus said "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34). It seems that Jesus is preparing his disciples, telling them that the message they are called to preach would bring rejection and persecution from the world. He reinforces that in the Upper Room discourse in John when he says, “Do not be surprised if the world hates you, it hated me first!” (see John 15:18-21). That is exactly what we often see as we call people to turn from sin and trust in Christ.  But He also told the disciples in the Upper Room, Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27).  How can both of these ideas be true? We may not see peace in the world during our lifetime, but we can have peace in our hearts. First of all we’ve been reconciled to God, so we have peace…
 “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).
Several of the themes we are looking at this month converge in Romans 15. There we are reminded that God himself, through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit gives us Hope and Joy and PEACE…
And again Isaiah says, ‘The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; in him will the Gentiles hope.’  13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope (Romans 15:12,13).
We have the assurance that one day, one day soon, the Enemy of our souls will be finally defeated and war and hatred and the consequences of sin will be no more,
The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you” (Romans 16:20).
In fact Paul may be alluding to this passage in Micah when he speaks of the gentiles being reconciled to God through the blood of Christ. Micah says in the future, “This one will be our peace…” while Paul writing from his perspective says in Ephesians 2:14  “For he himself is our peace…”

What is God saying to me in this passage? Even in this chaotic world, we can have peace with God and peace in our hearts as we wait for the day when the Good Shepherd will bring peace on earth.

What would God have me to do in response to this passage? According to Isaiah the promised Messiah would be called, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).  At the end of the Upper Room discourse, as Jesus was speaking to His disciples and preparing them for what was coming, He said  “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). Pearl Harbor day, a reminder of the darkness of the human heart. Whether it is a world war or terrorist murder as we saw in Yemen this week, there is a lot of violence and chaos in the world. Even so, we can have peace with God because of Jesus, and the peace of God, the peace the passes understanding, because of Him. That is something to celebrate this Advent Season. I like the NIV rendering of the angel’s greeting to the shepherds in the Christmas story, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests" (Luke 2:14). Think of it!  AMEN.