Sunday, December 31, 2017

He took the Form of a Servant - Philippians 2:1-11

[Over seven years ago I spent several weeks going through these 11 verses as part of a series on Philippians. In this message I have drawn heavily on that earlier work. SN]

He Took the Form of a Servant:
“…take up your cross, and follow me…”
Philippians 2:1-11
Introduction: This passage in Philippians seems to be an excellent bridge between Advent and our study of Mark’s Gospel. This pericope highlights the incredible self-humiliation of the incarnation, Eternal God becoming man. Paul says, “He took the form of a servant…” A little later in Mark’s Gospel we’ll see a key verse answering the question of discipleship. To be His disciple, we must take up our cross and follow Him (Mark 8:34)! This passage is a call to…
The Maine* Idea: Pursue unity, following Christ’s example of humility, empowered by our blessed hope!
I. A Call to us: Pursue Unity through Humility (1-4). Paul, himself a prisoner, is writing to encourage the Philippians to rejoice and to be strong in the Lord, and to thank them for their support during his imprisonment.
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy,  2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.  3 Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 
        This chapter begins by saying that because of God’s abundant blessings to us, we should bless others by striving for unity (2:1-2).  The fact that God has blessed us in Christ should evoke a response on our part (v.1). By asking “So if…” Paul is not questioning whether these blessings are part of the experience of believers.  He is speaking rhetorically and saying that since we have been blessed so lavishly we should live differently! If we live like that, people will notice. Paul said elsewhere that we are “…living letters, seen and read of men…” (2 Cor 3:2). Striving for unity in the church should be our response to the blessings he describes…
       “…consolation in Christ…”  paraklesis, is the same root word that is used of the Spirit as our “comforter,” and Christ as our mediator, literally, one “called alongside to help.” We have a new position “in Christ,” and it is here we have true encouragement and comfort. The next phrase is closely related, “…comfort of love…” One translation says “If there is any solace afforded by love…” Everyone wants to be loved – that is what we were made for.  In Christ we have the truest, deepest form of love. When all else fails, when it seems as though the world doesn’t care, there is comfort in knowing we are known and loved by God. He is present with us and we experience “…fellowship of the Spirit…” “koinonia”, fellowship, or sharing. We are connected with God through the indwelling Spirit.  “You are God’s temple…” (I Cor 3:16,17). Think of it! God lives in you… He is with you always!
         “…affection and mercy…” These terms connote heartfelt compassion. We have a High Priest who can sympathize with our weaknesses, one who was tested in all points as we are, yet without sin.  One outcome of suffering is that we can empathize with others who are going through struggles. In Christ we have One who understands and has compassion.  In the church, though others may not understand fully, we still bear each other’s burdens.
       Paul is saying that God’s abundant blessing toward us demands a response (v. 2).  Because of the great salvation He has given us, because of the blessings of the Spirit He lavishes on us, we are compelled by a thankful heart to live differently. He says, “…fulfill my joy…”  This one accomplishment will complete Paul’s joy in the Lord.  What is it? Being released from prison?  The end of persecution? In a word, unity, unity in the church.  God’s abundant blessings toward us should elicit a response, that is, living out our “oneness” in Christ. Paul uses three parallel phrases to express the idea: 1) “…by being like minded…” 2) “….having the same love…” and 3) “…being of one accord, of one mind…” By the way, our passage was preceded with a call to unity in 1:27, and here Paul repeats that idea. 
       Why should we be concerned with “improving our serve”? It is the means for achieving the unity that is God’s design for the church (2:3,4). First of all, we should “Do nothing from selfishness…”  The simple truth is that too often we tend to live our lives cafeteria style: self-service only! It’s like the little boy who was riding a hobby horse together with his younger sister. The boy said: “If one of us would just get off this hobby horse there would be more room for me!” It’s not all about me! Paul is talking about putting others before ourselves.
       “…or empty conceit…” I heard the story of a young woman who asked her pastor for prayer. She said, “Pastor, can you pray for me? I can’t help myself, I look around at the other women in the church and all I can think is ‘I am by far the most beautiful girl here’!” The pastor said, “I think your problem is your eyesight!” CH Spurgeon said: “Humility is to make a right estimate of one’s self… The higher a man is in grace, the lower he will be in his own esteem…”  C.S. Lewis said “humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” Self-centeredness is at the heart of our struggle against sin! We need an “I” check!
         “…but with humility of mind regard one another as more important…” Murray said,
“Humility is perfect quietness of heart. It is to expect nothing, to wonder at nothing that is done to me, to feel nothing done against me. It is to be at rest when nobody praises me, and when I am blamed or despised. It is to have a blessed home in the Lord, where I can go in and shut the door, and kneel to my Father in secret, and am at peace as in a deep sea of calmness, when all around and above is trouble… The humble person is not one who thinks meanly of himself, he simply does not think of himself at all…” (A. Murray).
       “…do not merely look out for your own personal interests…”  The natural man needn’t be told: “Look out for number one!” We naturally tend to put ourselves at the center of “our” universe. Elizabeth Chevalier, author of the novel, Driven Woman, wrote in a letter to a friend: “Have you heard the one about the novelist who met an old friend?  After they had talked for two hours, the novelist said, “Now we’ve talked about me long enough-let’s talk about you!  What did you think of my last novel?” Enough about me! We need to think…
       “…also for the interests of others…” This is the church!  God designed humans to be interdependent. Even in the Garden God said “it is not good for man to be alone”! The Preacher said in Ecclesiastes 4:12: "Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves" (NIV).  Who is watching out for your spiritual welfare? We need each other. Just a couple verses before the Preacher said, "If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him" (4:10). We’re not “lone rangers,” we were designed to be part of the church—the Body of Christ! Pursue unity, following Christ’s example of humility, empowered by our blessed hope!
II. A Cause (or motivation) for Unity: Following Christ’s Example of a Servant Heart (5-8).
5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,  6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,  7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form,  8 he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
       “…have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus…”  Jesus does not simply command us to serve, he himself came as the “suffering servant,” the perfect example of what it means to serve, to put others before himself. Paul is calling the Philippians first of all to think like Jesus. Right thinking will lead to right living. 
       “…who although he existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped…” The self-humiliation of Christ is magnified when we consider the reality of who he is.  He is God, the ETERNAL SON.  The One who was present in creation and who holds all things together by his power. Jesus was not simply a prophet and teacher who lived in Israel 2000 years ago – He is Eternal God, who always lived in perfect union with the Father and the Spirit. All things were made by Him and for Him. Perfect—Holy—Son of God, He left his exalted position and entered this fallen world, to give himself for us, to reconcile us to God.
       Paul says he “…emptied himself…”  Commentators disagree about what it meant for Jesus to “empty” Himself.  I suggest it doesn’t mean that He divested himself of his divine attributes – God is immutable, He does not change. Jesus is God. He didn’t stop being God when He came to this earth.  He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. In contrast to the self-glory denounced in v.3, Jesus masked his divine glory by taking on a human nature. This is explained by the following phrases:
     1. “[by] taking the form of a servant and being made in the likeness of men…” Rather than laying aside something intrinsic to his divinity (which does not change) the participle here should be read instrumentally: He emptied himself by taking the form of a servant…  The humiliation of Christ included the act of eternal God taking on a human nature.  This is the “hypostatic union, the union of two natures, divine and human, in one person, the Lord Jesus Christ. Fully God and fully man, he reveals the Father to us.
      2. “Being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death…” Not only did he take on a human nature and enter this sinful world, but he came to fulfill the Father’s plan, his humiliation would include dying for sinners.  Death is the result of sin. By one man sin entered into the world and death through sin. So death spread to all men because all have sinned (Rom 5:12).  Jesus was without sin, he didn’t have to die. But he came to die. To give his life.
     3. “…even death on the cross…” The repetition of the word “death” is deliberately dramatic and emphatic.  Not only death, but the most humiliating and torturous form of execution in the Roman world of the 1st century. He did that for us! We are called to pursue unity, following Christ’s example of humility, empowered by our blessed hope!
III. The Consummation of Unity: The Kingdom of God (9-11).
9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,  10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,  11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
       Psalm 2 begins with a question that has echoed through the course of human history: Why are the nations in an uproar and the peoples devising a vain thing?  2 The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers take counsel together Against the LORD and against His Anointed…” Resistance against the rule of God and His anointed is the essence of sin.  Our text today stands almost as a doxology at this point in the letter.  There is no more important subject than that which it addresses: the worship of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well, in John 4:23  "But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.”  The word “worship” has the idea of prostrating oneself before another in reverence (see Rev 1:12-17).
       Paul tells us WHY Jesus was exalted by the Father and deserves our worship: "Therefore God has highly exalted him…." The NASB translates: “For this reason also, God highly exalted Him….”   Why has God highly exalted Jesus? The previous verses tell us, because, "though he was in the form of God, he did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant… and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him." He exalted Jesus because of who He truly is, and because of what he freely did.  The Father has an infinite delight in the Son because the Son esteemed the Father so highly that he chose to die the worst of deaths rather than forsake the Father's assignment!
        We are called to think like Jesus and to follow Him. The Bible states that the Father exalts the humble. "For though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly" (Ps 138:6). "Thus says the high and lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: 'I dwell in a high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and humble spirit'" (Isa 57:15).  Jesus said: "Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted" (Matt 23:11). And it is fitting that the One who humbled himself most deeply, the One whose obedience cost the most, the One who was without sin, should be most highly exalted.
         Therefore, therefore God has highly exalted him. And He calls us to follow the Master, to take up our cross and follow Him (Mk 8:34). It may be in missions. Hudson Taylor said, after a lifetime of toil and suffering in China, "I never made a sacrifice." He understood the "therefore" of Philippians 2:9. "If we suffer with him, we shall be glorified with him" (Rom 8:17).
       Whether overseas or here, the word “therefore…” in this text evokes the power to serve quietly behind the scenes, avoiding the limelight, often seemingly unnoticed or unappreciated, buy consistently serving because you do it for Him.  What a privilege to be called a child of God, a servant of the King!  After all, it’s not about us, He is Lord!
         HOW Jesus was exalted by the Father: "Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him a name which is above every name."
          In Acts 2:36 Peter says, "Let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified." Before his death and resurrection, the lordship of Christ over the world had not been brought to full actuality. The rebel forces were not yet defeated, and the power of darkness held the world in its grip. In order to be acclaimed Messiah and Lord, the Son of God had to come, defeat the enemy, and lead his people out of bondage in triumph over sin and Satan and death. And that he did on Good Friday and Easter. There are at least five aspects of the exaltation of Jesus: 1) His death on the Cross (Jn 3:14,15); 2) The resurrection (Eph 1:20; Rom 1:4); 3) The ascension  (Jn 20:17; cf. Acts 1:9-11); 4) His coronation, (seated now at the Father’s right hand) [Matt 28:18; 1 Pet 3:22; Eph 1:21,22; Heb 1:3; cf. Acts 5:30,31]; and 5) His future millennial reign from Jerusalem (Rev 20:4-6). Jesus wins, and so do we if we are His!
        It says in 1 John 3:8, "The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil." And in Hebrews 2:14, 15, it says,
"Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same nature, that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage."
When Jesus died on the cross, making atonement by his blood for our sins, Satan was defeated. Christ disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in the cross (Col 2:15). The sting of death was removed, the power of sin was broken, and the triumph of the Church was secured. In its march to victory the gates of hell cannot withstand it (Matt 16:18). Paul goes on to describe the response to the exaltation of Jesus by the Father…
        Every knee will bow…”. At the end of the age, when the mission of the Church reaches its glorious conclusion every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Believers and unbelievers will acknowledge in that day that Jesus has triumphed over every enemy—believers, to their everlasting joy, and unbelievers, to their everlasting shame.  Notice that “…every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord…”  In the context of the New Testament “Lord” substitutes the divine name, “Yahweh” in citations from the Old Testament.   Jesus is Lord, He is God!  The word “confess” here refers to an open, public confession.  This is not a confession of faith, at this moment people are either saved or are not.  All however will bow the knee and publicly acknowledge the Lordship of Christ.
      At Jesus’ birth, the angel announced to the shepherds that “Today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior who is Christ the Lord” (Lk 2:11).  Jesus told his disciples “You call me teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am” (John 13:13), and after the resurrection Thomas confessed Him as “My Lord and My God.”  At Pentecost Peter proclaimed, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36). 
       Paul told the Romans “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom 10:9).  He told the Corinthians that “there is but one God, the Father, from who are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him” (I Cor 8:6). And all of this “…to the glory of God the Father…”  Here we see a hint of the intimate fellowship within the Godhead: To proclaim the sovereign Lordship of the Son is the greatest glory that can be given to God the Father.  As Jesus is recognized as Messiah and King, as he is worshipped as our Savior and our God, the Father is glorified as well.
       Because of Jesus’ obedience in carrying out the Father’s plan He has been exalted to the Father’s right hand.  As we worship the Son, which is our only fitting response to Him, the Father is glorified.  One day all will bow, either in worship or in defeat. Is He your Lord?  Then worship Him today, and every day! He is calling us to…
What is God saying to me in this passage? Pursue unity, following Christ’s example of humility, empowered by our blessed hope!
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? How do we do this when there are always people who seem to thrive on conflict and bringing division? Follow Jesus. How do you know when you have the attitude of a servant? By how you react when someone treats you like one! As far as it rests with you, be at peace with all. Choose to speak words of grace that encourage and edify. We are all a work in progress! Let’s look ahead with the sure hope that God is in control, and that Jesus is building His church! As we live and serve in unity, God will carry out His good purpose for Boothbay Baptist Church in 2018!  AMEN.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Love: When God Became a Man - Matthew 1:18-25

Love: When God Became a Man
Matthew 1:18-25
Introduction: This year our daughter and family plan to come up here for Christmas. One way or the other, to get here from there, they need to cross over a bridge in the New York area. To avoid NYC Mary Ann and I will often take the Tappan Zee Bridge. If you’ve been down that way in the last couple of years, you know that they’ve been building a new bridge which, on our last trip, was partly in service. The old one was, well, old, and considered to be failing (though not yet falling!). Christmas is all about bridge building. Since the Fall, there was an insurmountable gulf between humans and God. Sin separated us from Holy God. God sent the Son to undo the Fall, building a bridge between humans and God. Jesus willingly came into the world to make a way for sinners to be reconciled to God, to open the way to experience the abundant life for which we were created! Martin Luther said,
When I am told that God became man, I can follow the idea, but I just don’t understand what it means. For what man, if left to his natural promptings, if he were God, would humble himself to lie in the feedbox of a donkey or to hang on a cross? God laid upon Christ the iniquities of us all. This is the ineffable and infinite mercy of God which the slender capacity of man’s heart cannot comprehend, much less utter—the unfathomable depth and burning zeal of God’s love toward us... Who can sufficiently declare this exceeding great goodness of God?”
John reflected on the same idea when He said in His first letter, In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins…” (I John 4:10). He built a bridge shaped like an old, rugged cross! That is love.
Context: We started our Advent celebration looking at the “Hope” expressed in the first coming of Jesus. His birth had been foretold by the prophets in ages past, and then finally, in the fullness of time, God sent forth His Son. We were reminded that He came make a way to make it possible for fallen humans to be reconciled with God, to experience the peace (shalom) for which we were created. Last week we looked at Luke 2 and the angel’s announcement to the Shepherds… the Good News of Christmas brings joy to those who receive the gift of salvation by grace through faith. Today we’ll be reminded of the love that guided the story of the birth of Christ. As John said 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 John 4:9). Today we’ll turn to the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew established the connection between the story of Jesus and His chosen people by beginning with a genealogy... specifically tying Jesus’ birth to Abraham, to David, and to the Babylonian captivity. The promised seed of Abraham, the ideal Son of David, the Rescuer and Restorer of those who trust in God had come! On the foundation of His love a bridge to life was being opened!
The Maine Idea: The miracle of the virgin birth proves who Jesus is, and it was a prelude to what He came to accomplish: the salvation of a people for Himself.
I. A Miraculous Birth: Jesus would be a born as a human baby, but in the most profound sense, this birth would be like no other (18-20). There were other miraculous births in Scripture. Abraham and Sarah in their old age had Isaac. Elizabeth, the wife of Zachariah gave birth to John. But this was unique...
18 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.  19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.  20 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… (Matthew 1:18-20). 
       Matthew began his gospel tracing the lineage of the Messiah. Abraham and David were a part of it, men who believed God and followed Him, but men who also desperately needed forgiveness and grace in their lives. The family tree also mentioned four women (which was highly unusual in ancient genealogies). Even more surprising these were foreign women, and 3 of the 4 were guilty of immoral behavior while the other a foreigner from an accursed nation! By grace they were included in the messianic line. We are reminded that grace would extend to the nations, and that grace is greater than all our sin. By the way, remember that the call to make disciples of all the nations is given in the Great Commission at the end of this Gospel (Mt 28:18-20). If you think you are beyond the reach of God’s grace, that there is no way you could be forgiven, take a look at the characters in the genealogy of Jesus. Finally, the genealogy comes down to Joseph, a carpenter, who would be the step-father of Christ, and a young woman named Mary.
       Verse 18 summarizes that situation. Joseph and Mary were “betrothed,” they were engaged. More than engagement today, betrothal was a commitment to marriage that actually required a certificate of divorce to dissolve. They had not yet “come together.” There had been no physical, marital intimacy between them. They were both faithful Jews... And then Joseph got the heart-breaking, what must have been shocking news: Mary was pregnant! Her encounter with the angel is not described by Matthew. We have that only in Luke 1:30-38…
30 And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.  32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High… 34 And Mary said to the angel, "How will this be, since I am a virgin?"  35 And the angel answered her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy- the Son of God… 38 And Mary said, "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word."
       Mary’s struggle to understand makes sense—what the angel was describing was contrary to nature, it was unlike any human birth before. But she believed this message came from God, and she believed that God could do anything. So she was available, and willing, “Behold the servant of the Lord...” In Mt 1:18, we are simply told, “...she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit...” Apparently, she told Joseph what had happened, but who could believe such a story?
       Joseph is described as a “a righteous man.” Not that he was perfect, but that he believed God and sought to obey His word. He knew God and loved Him. He also loved Mary. And we see him extending grace, not wanting to “…subject her to public humiliation...” he decides to quietly “divorce” her. But God had a plan.  Joseph would raise this child... “That which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit... This was a pregnancy like no other! The Messiah would come in human form, but, like the first Adam, with a nature unaffected by sin.  Conceived by the Holy Spirit. The miracle of the virgin birth proves who He is, and it was a prelude to what He came to accomplish: the salvation of a people for Himself... It was a miraculous birth, and...

II. A Merciful Plan: This Child would do for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves (21).
She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus,
for he will save his people from their sins."
       This verse makes it clear that God was in control of this unfolding story. “She will bear a son...” There were no ultra-sounds in those days, but there was no doubt: it would be a son. Who was this Son? David was promised a Son who would have an eternal kingdom. The Seed of Abraham was prophesied to one day be a blessing to the nations. The Seed of the Woman would come who would crush the serpent’s head. This deliverer would be the Son of God, who one day will rule the nations with a rod of iron. His conception and His birth would be like no other, and He would do what we could not do for ourselves (see 21b).
       Joseph was given the name of the Son who would be born, and he was told what He came to do. Names are given to children for all kinds of reasons. It may be a family name. Maybe it’s a name that is taken from a character in literature or film or history. Maybe it’s a name that a parent likes the sound of. Occasionally a name might say something about the faith of the parents or their hopes for the child (perhaps why we sometimes see Bible names in Christian families). Within the Bible we see names often telling us something about people. Abraham, “father of a multitude”; Isaac, “laughter” (recall Sarah laughing at the idea that she would have a son, and then the couple laughing with joy when he is born!). Jacob, “heal grabber,” or “supplanter,” born holding onto Esau’s heal, and later slyly taking his birthright and blessing. Barnabas, “Son of Encouragement,” so named by the apostles.  The name “Jesus” was related in Hebrew to the verb yasha, “he saves,” and the word “Yeshua,” meant “salvation.” The angel’s words would have immediately been understood by Joseph,  “...for he will save his people from their sins."
       Now this pronouncement would have been shocking in the historical context, not only in terms of the miracle that was being explained, but also what this messianic figure would accomplish. Recall the history: David had been a military leader who led the army of Israel to victories over their pagan enemies. This was a new focus. This child would save His people “...from their sins...”
       We tend to criticize the Jewish nation of Jesus’ day for having lost sight of the miracle of grace that was at the heart of His mission. You remember when Jesus fed the multitude, a few verses later they wanted to come and make him king by force. A king that fed them, that was a king they could deal with! Then there were those loathsome Romans, marching around like the land was theirs, disrespecting the Jews and the promises of their God. But when Jesus Christ came in humility, as a suffering servant, the people hastened his execution by proclaiming, “We’ll not have THIS MAN to be our king!” They lost sight of what was most necessary! 
       But here we are, 2,000 years later. What do we look to God for? When do we usually acknowledge that “God is good”? We pray for healing. We pray for help with our finances. We pray for work so that we can feed our families. We pray about decisions we need to make that will affect us today. We look to Him for a lot of our needs, and all of that is good, after all, every good thing comes from above. But what about the Christian father in Sudan who is barely feeding his family, or the Syrian Christian who has a sword put to his neck but refuses to deny Christ? What about the Hassidic Jew who puts His trust in Jesus as Messiah? Let me say it plainly: There is no promise of health and prosperity in this life (in fact, he assures us that “In the world you will have tribulation...”!). One day, sin will be eradicated... But not today. Today we are pilgrims living in a fallen world.
       He came to save his people from their sins. “For by grace you have been saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves it is the gift of God.” That is reason to worship Him, to love Him whole heartedly, and to spread His fame to those around us!  Christmas is not about jolly red-suited elves and reindeer! It is about God entering history to lay down His life for us. The miracle of the virgin birth proves who Jesus is, and it was a prelude to what He came to accomplish: the salvation of a people for Himself. A miraculous birth, a merciful plan, and…
III.  A Magnificent Savior: This child would be like no other: the promised savior, the great I AM, who took on a human nature: God became a Man!  (read 22-25).
22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:  23 "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel" (which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.
       This child was the fulfillment of the promises of God (22-23a).  One of the results of seeing the many prophecies that were fulfilled in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is realizing and understanding that God was in control, the life of Christ unfolded in every detail exactly as the father had planned it. It also serves as evidence that Jesus is the promised Messiah. If the Christ was to be born of a virgin, born in Bethlehem, exiled to Egypt, raised in Nazareth, rejected by his own people, and ultimately crucified and resurrected, all those things, in precise detail happened in the life of only one man: Jesus! Over 300 predictions were fulfilled in Jesus’ life and death. That is beyond any imaginable mathematical probability. There is only one explanation: God sent forth His Son as He had promised! He was guiding every detail of His Story.
       This child would be God, incarnate (23b).  Like Luther said, “...the idea that God became a man, I can follow the idea...” but in truth it is a difficult concept to grasp! Like Paul said of Him in Philippians 2, “...who, though He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant...” God became man, “...the Word was God… and the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us...”
       This child would be human, born of a woman. One of my favorite Christmas quotes comes from Augustine, who described the wonder of the incarnation…
The Word of the Father, by whom all time was created, was made flesh and was born in time for us. He, without whose divine permission no day completes its course, wished to have one day for his human birth. In the bosom of the Father He existed before all the cycles of the ages; born of an earthly mother, he entered upon the course of the years on this day.
     The Maker of men became man that He, the ruler of the stars, might be nourished at the breast; that He the Bread, might be hungry; that He, the fountain, might thirst; that He the Light, might sleep; that He the Way, might be wearied on the journey; that He the Truth, might be accused by false witnesses; that He the Judge of the living and the dead might be brought to trial by a mortal judge; that He Justice, might be condemned by the unjust; that He, Discipline, might be scourged  by whips; that He, the Foundation, might be suspended on a Cross; that Courage might be weakened; that security might be wounded; that Life might die. To endure these and similar indignities for us, to free us, unworthy creatures, He who existed as the Son of God before all ages, without a beginning, deigned to become the Son of Man in these recent years. He did this, although He who submitted to such great evils for our sake had done no evil, and although we, who were the recipients of so much good at His hands had done nothing to merit these benefits... (from Sermons on Liturgical Seasons).
What an eloquent statement of the demonstration of love when God became a man to save us by sacrificing himself! He did all of that willingly, for us. He came to take our sins in His own body on the Cross—to be “...made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him...”  God became a man to make a way for sinners to be declared righteous. He would be the sacrifice, the propitiation, for our sins. Isaiah spoke of our justification when He said in Isaiah 53:10,11…
10 Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.  11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.  
       This child would be Jesus Christ, the One and only Savior. Notice the obedience of Joseph. “He did not know her until she gave birth to a Son...” There would be no questions, no doubt about the virgin birth, at least not between Mary and Joseph. They obeyed the Word of the Lord, and named Him “Jesus.” They believed God, and they obeyed Him.
What is God saying to me in this passage? The miracle of the virgin birth proves who Jesus is, and it was a prelude to what He came to accomplish: the salvation of a people for Himself. Come, let us adore Him, Christ, the Lord!

What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Christmas is not primarily about exchanging gifts and having parties. It is a story about “bridge building”: God came, as a human baby, into this fallen world, to be our substitute, to live a sinless life, and then to take the punishment that we each deserved. He built a bridge between this fallen creation—including fallen humanity—and Holy God. He is the only Way to get from here to there. Tonight is Christmas Eve. As we remember why He came, please consider how God loved us so much that He spared not the Son, but delivered Him up for us all—He gave His only begotten Son so that all who believe could live! That is truly the first and greatest Christmas gift, and it demonstrates His love for us (Rom 5:8). We love, because He first loved us. Let us remember who He is and what He did. Christmas should stir our hearts to love Him more.  Come, let us adore Him!  Christ, the Lord!   AMEN.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Joy to the World! Luke 2:9-12

JOY to the World!
Luke 2:9-12
Introduction: A woman told a story from a childhood Christmas. She and her siblings eagerly awaited their father’s arrival from his job at a foundry in the city.
…But this year, their dad had been laid off and there were no presents and, most disappointing, no tree. The kids still held out hope that their dad would come up with a tree. Dad promised that he would do what he could. He went into the garage and emerged some time later carrying a two-by-four, about five feet tall, with holes drilled on each side. He went down the street to a neighbor whose property was bordered on three sides by a row of evergreen trees. He asked permission to cut some of the branches, which he brought home and inserted into the holes in the two-by-fours, making a “tree.” He was trying, but by no stretch of the imagination could this be called a Christmas tree! While the kids were trying to deal with their disappointment and the little girl who grew up to tell the story was looking out the window and praying, there was a knock at the front door. The woman and her son from the property down the street were standing there with the tallest, most beautifully shaped Christmas tree that the children had ever seen! It filled the doorway. The woman also presented the children with a number of small presents that thrilled the children, since it was all that they got that year.
       Every year that she was growing up, the woman who wrote the story saw a gaping hole in the row of evergreen trees around her neighbor’s property and she remembered that act of kindness and how God had answered her prayers. (Irene Lukas, Guideposts, Dec., 1976.)
       That little girl could see the gap in the row of trees reminding her of a neighbor’s kindness, and how God had answered her prayer. Let the nail pierced hands be our reminder.  Because of Him, we can have the joy of the Lord that springs from a heart that has been reconciled with God! The Son entered this broken world, taking upon himself a human nature in order to give his life so that we could have peace with God.  Today we remember that Christmas is reason for joy! I am not talking about trees or lights or presents or get-togethers. Those things are fine (and fun!). But the good news is that “Unto you a Savior is born…”
       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... 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. It is an old, old story, but it is a wonderful story! Does the message still fill your heart to overflowing?  If we are not careful, the busyness and pressures of life can rob our joy. Remember why He came!
      From the Old Testament times the messianic hope anticipated a time of rejoicing would be associated with the Coming One. 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 the Son.  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!
       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, Luke 1:44 says “For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.” Mary, Elizabeth, and even John knew the Hope of the ages was here! His coming was cause for rejoicing!
       As we focus on the Advent of Joy, I want to look closely at another, very familiar passage in Luke’s Gospel, focusing on just four verses of 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 Maine* Idea: Advent is cause for joy because God sent his Son as He had promised, revealing His glory and providing salvation to those who would believe.
I. Advent is cause for joy because it is a revelation of God! We have seen His glory in Jesus (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.” 
      First, notice that this glorious 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. Sheep were a necessary part of the worship of Israel. The sacrifices were required by the Law. But shepherds, ironically, were not highly respected by the pious Jews. Their work kept them from worship! Here they were, out in the field, doing their job, yes, but they weren’t in “church” (or at the Temple in Jerusalem!), they weren’t praying (as far as we know). They weren’t even listening to a podcast of their favorite rabbi!  But God met them where they were and He revealed himself to them. And 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 hustle and bustle of life and seek God. It’s good, yes, essential, that we gather together for worship and celebrate Jesus. We need quiet times when we can be alone with the Lord. But it is also true that there is no secular / sacred dichotomy for a Christ follower. God is with us always. God meets us where we are, living as broken people in a broken world. Even in our struggles He is there. He walks with us through life, changing us and growing us on the way.
            God sent 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. God has spoken in many ways through the prophets in times past. At this moment, incredibly, He spoke through a heavenly messenger, an angel, to these shepherds.  How many humans have had the experience of seeing an angel (at least knowingly!)? At this point in history, as the fullness of time approached, an angel had spoken to Zachariah, to Mary, and to Joseph, announcing that the time was at hand. And now, a group of Shepherds, out in the fields, watching their flocks, hear the angelic announcement that a Savior had been born! What joy!
       “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 past times.  Moses got a glimpse of it, first in the burning bush, and then later 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 from the Holy Place in the Tabernacle. It spoke to His transcendence and His holiness. Isaiah had a glimpse of the Lord, “high and lifted up.” That same glory shone down on these humble shepherds on a hillside outside Bethlehem.
       Notice the response of the shepherds to this revelation from heaven: they were filled with fear!  This was probably not only the godly reverence of knowing they were in the presence of holiness, a visitor from heaven. They were likely confused and troubled by what was happening! Why was he here? What did this mean? But, their confusion would soon be transformed into joy. After all, 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 for all who believe by humbly 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 first? “Fear not…” It seems that is often the first word of the Lord to his people when he is appearing to them. We respond with “fear” 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 cares, 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’s very inclusive in its context. The barriers were gone: rich or poor, male or female, Jew or Gentile, the Lamb came to take away the sins and to offer life to all who turn to Him in faith. That is cause for rejoicing!  Advent is cause for joy because God sent his Son as He had promised, revealing His glory and providing salvation to those who would believe.
III. Advent is cause for joy since it celebrates the birth of the promised One, our Messiah, 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 “the people,” including these shepherds. That means it is also God’s word for you and me. He came for us, in our “lostness,” to rescue us.
       He was born “…in the city of David…” just as the prophet had said (see Micah 5:2). He was born according to promise, in fulfillment of Scripture. In perfect detail, God providentially guided “His story” to compel Joseph and Mary to travel to Bethlehem. The prophet said,
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…” (Micah 5:2).
      They had been in Nazareth, that was where the angel found Mary and Joseph and revealed God’s plan. God used circumstance rather than a direct revelation to get them where they needed to be for His plan to unfold on schedule, according to promise. It seems that God still guides His people providentially… through the circumstances of life that He sovereignly orchestrates, along with the more subjective “nudging” of the Spirit. And, of course, He has given us His Word, the Bible, as our infallible guide.
       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. Our men’s meeting last week the question came up, could this be the first time those titles had come together? He was the promised one, the Messiah, He came as Savior, to rescue us from our sins, and He is Lord, God incarnate. This would prove to be the greatest news that humans had ever received. So, Advent is cause for joy: God sent his Son as He had promised, revealing His glory and providing salvation to those who would believe.
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 of all, He came as a human baby. Think about how humbling that was!  He existed eternally as God! Couldn’t God at least have created a human body out of the dust of the earth as He had done with Adam? Of course he could have! But He didn’t.  Mary was with child of the Holy Spirit. Jesus was born of a woman. And as a tiny helpless baby He depended on her care and feeding and the protection and provision of Joseph. This was the creator of the Universe! Fully God, and fully human.
        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 though
he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,  7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form,  8 he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8).
Isaiah spoke of the coming of a suffering servant. His willing “humiliation” began in his incarnation as a servant. This “stable” was likely a small cave out behind the inn used to shelter animals. As He entered life as a human baby, he was wrapped in rags, and laid in a manger, in that cave. Thirty-three years later or so, He would be once again wrapped in rags, and laid in a cave, but this time it would be a tomb. That was God’s plan!  He came to do for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves: He came to rescue us, to save us, by laying down His life for us.
       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. “You’ve been watching over these sacrificial lambs who were destined for sacrifices [not that they could take away sin] that 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, they went to Him, 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? The neighbor who cut down a tree from her yard and brought it to the family along with some presents for the children no doubt found joy in giving. But how might she have felt if the family had opened the door, looked at the tree and the gifts, and then said, “No thanks, we really aren’t interested…” and had they then politely closed the door? The price was paid but the gift was rejected? 

       God didn’t give us a tree, He gave the Son, who was hung on a tree, accursed so that we could be forgiven! The nail pierced hands remind us of why He came!  The only way to know real joy, is to receive the Gift of Christmas! Believe the good news, that God loves us so much that He sent His Son into the world, to give himself for us. “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 John 4:9).  That is cause for joy!  Rejoice in the Lord always! Again, I will say it, rejoice!  AMEN.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Advent and The Hope of the Nations Mark 1:1

Advent and The Hope of the Nations
Mark 1:1
Introduction: This time of the year we hear some stories about people’s actions around Christmas, you might like this one…
A story… about a man who worked for the Post Office. This man’s job was to process all the mail that had illegible addresses that the computer scanning system could not decipher.
One day, a letter came to his desk addressed in shaky handwriting to God. He thought he should open it to see what it was about. He opened it and read these words:
“Dear God, I am a 91-year-old widow, living on a very small pension. Yesterday someone stole my purse. It had $100 in it, which was all the money I had until my next pension check. Next Sunday is Christmas, and I had invited two of my friends over for dinner. Without that money, I have nothing to buy food with. I have no family to turn to, and you are my only hope. Can you please help me? Sincerely, Edna.”
The postal worker was touched. He showed the letter to his fellow workers. Each of them dug into their pockets and came up with a few dollars. By the time he made the rounds, he had collected $96, which was put into an envelope and sent to the woman. The rest of the day, all the workers felt a warm glow for the kind thing that they [had] done.
Christmas came and went. A few days later another letter came from the old lady addressed to God. All of the workers gathered around while the letter was opened. It read:
“Dear God, How can I ever thank you enough for what you did for me? Because of your gift of love, I was able to fix a glorious dinner for my friends. We had a very nice day and I told my friends of your wonderful gift. By the way, there was $4 missing. I think it must have been those thieves at the Post Office. Sincerely, Edna.”
Oh well! The Post Office never gets good press! There is a lot of confusion about Christmas, what a blessing it is that the children in our church hear the truth! Even well taught kids can get a little mixed up though. Did you hear about the ten-year-old, who was becoming quite knowledgeable about the Bible because of her grandmother’s teaching. She asked her grandmother: "Which Virgin was the mother of Jesus? The Virgin Mary or the King James Virgin?"
       I thought we would begin our Advent celebration looking back to the first verse of the Gospel we have been studying for most of this year. For the Jews, the opening words of the Biblical books were memorized, since they also served as the “title” of the book. We’ll see that Mark’s opening may intentionally evoke the opening line/title of the first book of Scripture, the book of Genesis, in order to clue the reader to the significance of the story that he is about to relate...
The Beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
Genesis began with the phrase “In the beginning…” and Mark echoes that in his opening verse. It is a new beginning, the beginning of the ministry that would make possible a New Creation. It was an awesome moment in God’s unfolding story, the history of redemption.  We’ve seen over the months that Mark’s Gospel is a book of action, and Mark points immediately to the pinnacle of God’s plan of reconciliation which is found in the sending of the Son, by starting His narrative at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. We don’t have the details of the incarnation, no angels or wise men here! Jesus suddenly explodes onto the scene of human history.
       We’ll look at the three synoptic gospels this month… (next week, the Christmas program will focus on Mark and Luke) but we’ll also touch on some verses from the Fourth Gospel. God gave us four gospels telling the story of Jesus, each from their own perspective. Each one is true, all present history, but each writer is inspired by God to tell the story of Jesus with different emphases. And each is essential to our understanding. God, in His sovereignty, gave us four accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus. None of them is a complete biography, but each one brings a message with unique emphases and urges the reader to believe in Jesus and to follow Him.   
       By the way, let me remind you that the writer of Mark is John Mark, perhaps the young man who fled naked when Jesus was arrested, and clearly the one who abandoned Paul and Barnabas under unknown circumstances on the first missionary journey (and who so became the cause of Paul and Barnabas having a “sharp dispute” and going their separate ways!). From that beginning, this man became the writer of one of the four accounts of the life of Jesus! What Grace!  Our God is the God of second chances. Whatever we have done, whatever we struggle with, God’s grace is bigger than our sin. And He will use us, if we are available and willing. Our Advent theme today is “Hope,” and we have “Hope” because God so loved the world that He gave His only Son… recognize that God’s grace is bigger than your sin. In fact, your sin, and my sin, is exactly why He came! Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. That is where this gospel starts, with a summary statement alluding to who Jesus is, and what He came to do...
The Maine* Idea: Advent means Hope because Jesus, the Son of God, came just as God promised, to save us from sin and reconcile us to God. 
I. The Purpose for the incarnation: To reconcile sinners to God. “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus...”  The word “beginning” invites the reader to be thinking in terms of the Old Testament Scriptures… This “beginning” is not the creation referred to in Gen 1:1 and John 1:1, but rather the start of the public ministry of Jesus of Nazareth, that would ultimately accomplish God’s plan to redeem a people for Himself. That redemption is the foundation of the Hope of Advent.
       The Gospel. Mark begins by making reference to “the Gospel.” The word itself means “good news” and, in a sense, it refers to the story of Jesus that he is about to relate. What makes the gospel good news? God sent the Son into the world for a purpose, to address the problem of sin. That is not a popular notion today. We don’t like to admit that we are guilty, and that left to ourselves we would be lost sinners, without God and without hope.  People are basically good, right? We all believe in the same god, whatever we happen to call him, don’t we?  Well, no, we don’t. One summary of the liberal version of the “gospel” is that “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross...” The truth is much harder to face. The Gospel is good news precisely because of our sin problem. You don’t have to spend much time reading about current events or listening to the evening news before you are reminded that we live in a fallen, sinful, depraved world. The effects of the fall are all around us! Most importantly, sin separated humanity from God. By birth and by choice we all sin and come short of the glory of God—there is none righteous, no not one! Jesus came to pay the penalty for our sins, to offer forgiveness and life to all who will believe.  Paul points to the work of Christ when he explains in Galatians 4:3-5 that we
…were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world.  4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law,  5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons… (Galatians 4:3-5).
Notice what he says, this is the gospel, the message that saves: Christ died for our sins. He was without sin, and yet he willingly came to be our substitute. The wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23) but He was sinless. The Lord laid on Him the iniquity of us all (Isa 53:6). He died and was buried, but, hallelujah, the grave couldn’t hold Him. The resurrection proved beyond any question that He is who He claimed to be, and that he did for us what we could not do for ourselves. Notice that Mark relates the name of the savior,The beginning of the gospel of Jesus...” His name was given to his earthly parents before he was born. We sometimes think about the “meaning” of a name these days, but usually we like the sound of it, or maybe it is chosen to honor someone in the family. In the biblical narrative, an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins..." (Matthew 1:21). The name is the Greek form of the name “Joshua” and literally means “Yahweh saves.” His name reflects his purpose in coming, to be our substitute, to pay the price for our redemption, and to call sinners to repentance and faith. He came to make a way for fallen humans to restored to fellowship with God. Remember the angel’s word to the shepherds, “Unto you is born this day a Savior, Christ the Lord.” He came to save. That’s the Maine* Idea, and it is Good News! Jesus, the Son of God, came just as God promised, to save us from sin and reconcile us to God!
II. The Promise of the Incarnation: The Plan of God was prophesied - “...the Gospel of Jesus Christ...” Scholars tell us that there are over 300 references to 61 specific Old Testament prophecies that were fulfilled by Jesus in his first coming.
       The title most used by the Gospel writers invites us to think in terms of the Old Testament Scriptures. This detail is one of those things that we could miss as New Testament believers in the 21st century.  All of our lives we’ve heard the full expression of the Lord’s name, “Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” In fact, other than someone sinfully taking the Lord’s name in vain, the only time we hear the word “Christ” is in reference to Jesus. It was however a word very well known to Jews in the Greco-Roman world of Jesus’ day. Literally it meant “The Anointed One” and it was used to translate the Hebrew word, meshiach, or “Messiah.”  There was an anticipation of a coming one, a deliverer, throughout the Old Testament.
       The first hints of a coming deliverer are found in the passage that is called the proto-evangelium, the “first good news,” in Genesis 3:15, in the context of the fall, as God is spelling out the consequences of sin, he speaks of a “seed” who would crush the serpent's head. That idea is repeated and developed throughout the Scriptures, in the Law, the Prophets, and the writings (see Luke 24:44).
       In the centuries before Christ the messianic expectation was growing.  For the most part, the people hoped in a human deliverer, someone like David or Solomon who could unite the people and lead them to victory over their oppressors, establishing peace and security in the land.  Very few seemed to wrestle with the Rescuer’s role in addressing our sin problem. Much less did they understand that the messiah himself would suffer, and even die for the sins of His people! The sacrificial system pointed to the seriousness of sin and the need for atonement. They should have understood the words of Isaiah the prophet which spoke of a suffering servant, one who would bear our sins. “All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned every one to his own way, and the LORD has laid on Him [on the Servant, Jesus] the iniquity of us all...” (Isa 53:6). They should have thought about the “Righteous Sufferer” in the Psalms, who seemed to be a king, innocent, yet rejected and suffering. Could this be God’s Messiah?  It could only be the Promised One! And then in the fullness of time, God sent forth the Son! That is the Maine* Idea... And that is Good News! Jesus, the Son of God, came just as God promised, to save us from sin and reconcile us to God. 
III. The Person of the Incarnation: The Identity of Jesus is revealed in His Sonship. He is “...the Son of God...
       One of the titles related to the king, and by extension to the promised son of David, was “Son of God.” We sometimes think that Scriptures like Psalm 2:7 were purely prophetic of the coming messiah. They were prophetic, but they were also applied to the king, who, in his leadership of Israel, served as God’s vice-regent, as the representative of his rule before the people. So at the anointing of the king the second psalm would be read, including the oracle, “You are my son, today I have begotten you...” (Ps 2:7). The background to this was the promise that God had made to David in 2 Sam 7:14 when he said that David’s son would be called the son of God. 
       What was true in type for the merely human kings of Israel, was true ontologically for Jesus. He is eternally the Son in relation to the Father, it is His nature. The Son existed from eternity in a face to face relationship with the Father and the Spirit. It was also true with respect to His human nature, because Jesus had no biological, human father. As the Son of God He would be born miraculously to a virgin (cf. Isa 7:14). The angel’s announcement to Mary alludes to this extended meaning of the title,
31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.  32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David,  33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end."  34 And Mary said to the angel, "How will this be, since I am a virgin?" 35 And the angel answered her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy- the Son of God... (Luke 1:31-35).
Jesus would be fully man, and fully God: two natures, one person. The theological term that is used to describe that paradox is the “hypostatic union.” The eternal divine Son, the Logos who was with God and was God, took upon himself a human nature. There was not (and is not) a human Jesus and a divine Christ, but one person with two natures. I believe Paul refers to this in Philippians 2:6,7,
“...though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,  7 but made himself nothing, [by] taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
Jesus took upon himself a human nature. God the Son became the God-Man. To undo the sin of Adam, to bridge the chasm that separated sinful humans from Holy God. He came to open a pathway to reconciliation, and that pathway is the way of the cross.
What is God saying to me in this passage? Have you heard the Good News? Jesus, the Son of God, came according to promise to make a way for sinful humans to be reconciled to holy God. 
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Have you trusted Jesus as your only hope of salvation? Have you acknowledged Him as the Lord of your life? The Gospel is a message of Grace, of God’s intervention in history, of the supreme demonstration of unconditional love: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son...” His plan for getting that message to the world is US – you and me!  He chose to include us in His story! Think about the people around you, your family, your neighbors, your co-workers... you are God’s ambassador, his missionary, sent to them to share the Good News of Jesus.  After all He has done for us, will we be found faithful in fulfilling that calling? Recall what Jesus said to the healed man, “Go, return to your house (oikos) and tell them what the Lord has done for you.”
       As we embrace that mission, we hope that all of our teaching in this church is equipping you to follow Jesus and to be His witness. We want also want to give you opportunities to invite the people around you to come and hear the truth. Next week you will have at least three opportunities to invite your friends and neighbors to our Journey to Bethlehem event... Saturday night, then Sunday morning a “modified” program, and then again Sunday night. Don’t miss this opportunity to be a blessing to someone you love, and start praying now that God would open their heart to the message.
       Even now, as we prepare our hearts to share in the table that commemorates the sacrifice that bought our redemption, let us repent of the sin of complacency, and determine in our hearts to love our friends, relatives, and neighbors, the people that God has sovereignly and strategically placed in our lives, let us commit to praying for them, and to asking God for the opportunity to give a reason for the hope that we have in Jesus. The Lord’s Table invites us to look back on His sacrifice, and also remember that we celebrate this ordinance “until He returns.” We don’t know the time, but now is the day of salvation!      AMEN.