Sunday, December 30, 2018

Extravagant Worship (or, “Crazy Love”) - Mark 14:1-11

Extravagant Worship (or, “Crazy Love”)
Mark 14:1-11
Introduction: One newsletter that I read always has a December issue with a cover article, “Your Ten most important moves…” for the new year. The idea is, that even small changes, if we can integrate them into our lives and our routine, can make a big difference over time. Really, it is just another take on the idea of “New Year’s Resolutions.” Most of us begin a new year with good intentions, but by President’s Day (or maybe even MLK day!) half of those resolutions have fallen by the wayside! What is your top priority for 2019? If you were to make a “Top Ten” list for the new year, would any of those resolutions impact your spiritual life?  That same newsletter began it’s “Top Ten” article with a quotation from the late Eugene Peterson,

“The main difference between Christians and others is that we take God seriously and they do not. We really do believe that He is the central reality of all existence…” [And so,] “…we order our lives in response to that reality and not some other…” (A Long Obedience, quoted in Sound Mind Investing, Dec. 2018).
       I heard a sermon by a well-known pastor this week lamenting the fact that he had gone for his annual physical, and, to his chagrin, his height was 5 feet and ten inches. The problem was that last year he was 5’ 10 ½”! He had lost a half inch in height! He was shrinking! He then made the point that physically speaking, that will happen, it is pretty much inevitable. But what about spiritually? Have you plateaued in your spiritual life, or even worse, are you shrinking? Even into old age, we can, and we should, continue to grow. At the heart of spiritual growth, is to know Christ more intimately, because to know Him is to love Him. What would it look like in our lives, in our church, and in our community, if together we really determined to love the Lord with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength? Can we really give our best to the Master? Will we? As we return to our series in Mark, we’ll see in our passage today, an example of whole-hearted devotion to Christ.
The Maine* Idea: Whole-hearted love for Christ is a proper response from a heart taken captive by the love of God, and by the awareness of how much we have been forgiven.
The Context: Passover had arrived, and the leaders were planning to kill Jesus at an opportune time (1-2).
It was now two days before the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to arrest him by stealth and kill him,  for they said, "Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar from the people."
       Being the shortest of the Gospels, Mark may not get the attention of the other accounts of the life of Jesus, but he is an inspired story-teller.  Once again Mark serves us a literary “sandwich” as he has the “bread” of the treachery of the leaders (vv. 1-2) and Judas (vv. 10-11) surround the “meat” of an exemplary act of devotion, even worship, as an unnamed woman pours out on Jesus what must have been a treasured possession (3-9). We looked at the first two verses back in November before we began our Advent series. We saw that Jesus came as the Passover-King, the Lamb on the throne, who alone could shield us, by His blood, from the wrath we deserve. Now, as we return to the Gospel, Passover is at hand, and the evil intentions of leaders are coming front and center in the story.
       But Jesus will be no victim. He came willingly, to give His life so that we could be reconciled to God. That is how God showed His love among us (I Jn 4:9). God the Son giving His life for sinful humans. How do we respond? Wholehearted love for Christ is a proper response from a heart taken captive by the love of God, and by the awareness of how much we have been forgiven.
The Setting: 14:1 begins,  And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper…” We know from the parallel account in John that when this happened in the house in Bethany, Mary, Martha and Lazarus were present (see John 12:1ff). Mark gives us an additional detail, mentioning the house of “Simon the leper.” For a dinner party on the eve of high holy day to be happening there, we must assume that Simon was a former leper, perhaps someone who had been healed by Jesus. Was he the father of Mary, Martha and Lazarus, or just a friend and neighbor in who’s house they all gathered?  We are reminded by the mention of “leprosy” of why Jesus came. All is not right in the world. Since the Fall, sickness, spiritual separation, the consequences of sin are all around us. He came to undo the Fall, to make possible the reconciliation of fallen humans with Holy God. By His stripes, we are healed, spiritually, and one day, physically. That is grace that requires a response! Whole-hearted love for Christ is a proper response from a heart taken captive by the love of God, and by the awareness of how much we have been forgiven.
I. The Devotion of a woman: Extravagant, Crazy, or Whole-hearted devotion (3)?
…as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head…
       Some of you will recognize in the alternative title of the sermon the title of the best-selling book by Francis Chan, Crazy Love. He tries in that book to give us a glimpse of the majesty of God, and the wonder that such an awesome God would so love us. When we try to describe God we use words like “omniscient” (all-knowing) and “omnipotent” (all-powerful) so casually we are hardly impacted by what we are saying. The Hubble telescope now has expanded our view of the universe, “astronomically.” Billions of galaxies? I can’t even think about numbers like that. The God who made all of that, who spoke it all into existence, knows my name? And loves me? He even knew me from before the foundation of the world? Can it be that I should gain an interest in the Savior’s blood? Died He for me who caused His pain, for me who him to death pursued? You get the idea? How should we respond to Him? Listen to David’s heart in Psalm 63:1-7,
O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.  2 So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory.  3 Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.  4 So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands.  5 My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,  6 when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night;  7 for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.
That is the kind of love and devotion that this unnamed woman seems to express in Mark 14. From the other gospels we can conclude that this was Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus. She takes this precious possession, a sealed flask of precious perfume, something worth a year’s salary for a day-laborer, so valuable that it was perhaps a family heirloom, and she breaks it open, and pours it over the head and body and feet of Jesus. We don’t have any information about her motives, no explanation of this extravagant, seemingly worshipful act. From John’s Gospel we know what this family has seen and heard of Jesus. Lazarus was dead and buried, four days in the grave, and Jesus raised Him to life! Jesus said on that occasion, “I am the resurrection and the life…” “I AM?” He had used that phrase before! And who has power over life and death? Could it be that she was grasping something about who Jesus is, and even why He came? 
       And so, she did what she could, she gave Him her best. And John tells us that when she poured out the perfume, the house was filled with the aroma. Everyone knew what she had done. We’ll see that not everyone understood her motives. Whole-hearted love for Christ is a proper response from a heart taken captive by the love of God, and by the awareness of how much we have been forgiven.
II. The Dullness of those at the table: Or, a pragmatic concern (4-5)?
There were some who said to themselves indignantly, "Why was the ointment wasted like that?  5 For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor." And they scolded her.    
       We are not told by Mark who those were who were indignant at the wasteful action of the woman—just some who were there at the table. John gives the detail that one who took exception was Judas (we know his motives [cf. Jn 12:6!]), but since Mark says “some” it seems likely that some of the other disciples had the same reaction! They were just trying to be practical, right? After all, think of all the good that could have been done had the unopened flask been sold, and the proceeds used to help the poor. They were indignant! What a waste! Or was it? What would we give to Jesus? Would we give Him our lives, willingly putting Him and His mission ahead of our comfort and security?
       Some of those who were raising objections were being practical, perhaps, at least from a human perspective. The Bible says a lot about the poor and about the need for showing compassion and seeking to help. After all, giving to the poor is one way of giving to God. So, this expensive perfume, poured out all at once on the teacher seemed wasteful. Couldn’t it have been put to better use? If He was just a teacher, they probably would have been right.
       Who is Jesus, after all? Who was this rabbi who reclined at table with them? They still didn’t understand—not even the disciples (at least not fully). Oh, they had moments when they were almost there it seems, when they were getting a glimpse of His messianic identity. But what did that mean? They still did not understand fully His identity, His dual nature as the God-Man. This was the great I AM reclining at table, God the Son, the Word made flesh, the Redeemer, our promised Rescuer, our Creator. God, incarnate!  If they had understood, would any act of devotion to Him seemed too extravagant, too extreme, too “crazy”? Wholehearted love for Christ is a proper response from a heart taken captive by the love of God, and by the awareness of how much we have been forgiven.
III. The Direction of Jesus: Leave her alone, she has done a beautiful thing (6-9)!
6 But Jesus said, "Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me.  7 For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me.  8 She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial.  9 And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her."
      Leave her alone, why do you trouble her…” Remember when the parents were bringing their children to Jesus for blessing, and the disciples tried to stop them? Jesus’ response: let them come, don’t forbid them! Here this act of devotion, this response of worship, seems too extreme, too extravagant to some. And so, they are indignant about the waste. But if they really understood who it was that reclined at the table with them, would anything be too extravagant?
       Jesus says, “She has done a beautiful thing to me…” There will be ample time and opportunity to do good to the poor. But Jesus would not always be there, at least not physically. The time of His departure was fast approaching. Jesus says, “She has anointed my body for burial…” He had been telling His followers repeatedly that He would soon be betrayed, handed over, and put to death. But even His closest disciples didn’t seem to understand what He was talking about.  That day was drawing near. It is not clear if Mary understood what would soon happen, but in effect, Jesus said this anointing was for His burial. It does seem she had begun to grasp that this Jesus was more than a prophet and teacher. He has more than a “son of David.” This “crazy love,” this extravagant worship, was offered to Him who was, and is, the Son of God. So, she gave Him her best, perhaps her most precious and cherished possession. She broke open the flask.
       Jesus made a point of saying that this woman’s act of devotion would be recounted, told over-and-over again through the ages, in her memory. The idea seems to be that this is what devotion to Christ should look like… total commitment. Think of who He is, and what He came to do. Whole-hearted love for Christ is a proper response from a heart taken captive by the love of God, and by the awareness of how much we have been forgiven.
IV. The Decision of Judas: the last straw (10-11)?
10 Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them.  11 And when they heard it, they were glad and promised to give him money. And he sought an opportunity to betray him.
       We are not told by Mark that there was a specific connection, but you can’t miss how the woman’s action, and the words Jesus, led immediately to Judas going to the religious leaders with his plan to betray Jesus.  As the fragrance of the costly perfume filled the room, it seems a stench, treachery, welled up in the heart of Judas. This was the last straw. Judas goes out to chief priests. Think of the contrast! The beautiful act of devotion by Mary, the fragrance filling the house, and the lack of understanding from others at the table, and worse, the evil in the heart of Judas. But God had a plan. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 2:14-16,   
14 But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.  15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing,  16 to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?
       For three years Judas had walked with Jesus and the other disciples. He had heard the teaching. He had seen the miracles. Still, it seems, Jesus did not live up to his expectations. Instead of worship, as expressed by Mary, it seems Judas’ disappointment leads to rejection and betrayal. Judas’ unbelief is exposed. Among those who are perishing, a fragrance of death to death. But some hear the truth and believe, and His Word, and our testimony of His grace, becomes to them a fragrance of life to life! Remember the response of Michal as David danced and celebrated as the Ark was brought into the city (2 Sam 6)? She despised him. We shouldn’t judge the heart of another worshipper. After all…
What is God saying to me in this passage? Wholehearted love for Christ is a proper response from a heart taken captive by the love of God, and by the awareness of how much we have been forgiven.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? It may be a good exercise to think about, maybe even write down, your top five or ten “moves” for the new year. Resolutions about fitness and diet are good things, and probably most of us could do a little better in those areas, but what about your spiritual life? The apostle Paul said “…for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come…” (1 Tim 4:8, ESV). One of the best ways we can grow spiritually is to intentionally spend time in the Word. I would recommend adopting a reading program that can guide you through the Bible in a systematic way.

       Monday night we’ll read aloud the Book of Revelation – I think it takes us about an hour and a half or so? No preaching, no commentary. We will sing to Him! We have some reading plans in the back of the church that will take you through the Bible in a year – in about 15 minutes a day. If you miss a day just pick up where you left off. No pressure! Is that too extravagant? After a while, you’ll really look forward to it—and over time, you’ll realize that your relationship with God is deepening, you are coming to know Him better. To know Him is to love Him. Let’s seek Him in 2019. Let’s give our best to the Master. Crazy love—He has shown us what it looks like.  A Roman scourge. A crown of thorns. A Cross. I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.  And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.  Amen.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

A Shepherd and the LAMB

[I wrote the first version of this monologue over 30 years ago, as a first person re-telling of the story of Christmas. You will recognize numerous Bible texts as a shepherd recalls the story of the coming of the Promised One. SN]

Call me Yitzak, Yitzak ben Yakov. 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, Jesus, the Christ… I am what I am by the grace of the Most High – that is really the Story I have come to share – the story of His Grace!  The One True God, the God of Israel, has acted in history of our good—but I am getting ahead of myself—I am old now, fourscore, 80 years?... 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, time to join my father and the other men in the fields!
     Yes, I know that we Shepherds are not the most respected of people… especially by the pious Jews...  People say we smell like sheep... [sniffs himself, and then shrugs]. I say is that such a bad thing?  If I minded the smell of sheep, I wouldn’t be a shepherd! 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 for everyone since the Temple was destroyed last year, almost 40 years after our Lord’s departure…  There will be no more sacrifices! Most of us Shepherds are not educated... few of us learn letters, but then why would a shepherd need to read?  But even those who can’t read can still hear the Word of the Lord, and learn it, and hide it in our heart...
ybev.yO lAdG" rAa War" %v,xoB; ~ykil.hoh; ~['h'
~h,yle[] Hg:n" rAa tw<m'l.c; #r<a,B.
hä`äm hahölkîm BaHöºšek rä´û ´ôr Gädôl yöšbê
Bü´eºrec calmäºwet ´ôr nägah `álêhem
Oh, you don’t speak Hebrew? Excuse me my Gentile friends! Let me translate into you strange tongue: “The people who walked in darkness Have seen a great light; Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, Upon them a light has shined.” Do you now recognize the words of the great prophet, Isaiah? 7 centuries before the Master’s birth He spoke of the coming of the Light of the World! Did he know that the Light would be both the Shepherd of Israel and the Lamb of God?
       Yes, for centuries shepherds have been at the heart of Israel’s faith...  The fathers were shepherds were they not?  Abraham, Isaac, Jacob… Moses himself tended sheep—ahh, 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... The blood meant life in that home instead of death...
       I am a just 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 name of our town means “House of Bread,” “Bethlehem” you call it... a small place but with a great history...  Our father David was from this same village, he too tended sheep you know, on these very 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 Rescuer, we were looking and waiting for the Hope of Israel. There was so much we did not understand…
     It was a quiet and cold night 3 score and ten years ago… can it be that long, 70 years? It seems 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… how I love such nights, the Heavens truly declare the glory of God! Oh, so many stars!  I tried to count them more than once but I always ran out of numbers long before I ran out of stars! (I wasn’t the brightest candle in the Menorah!). 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, somehow, 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).
Christ the Lord… 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 even then God promised a Seed, a Rescuer who would crush the Serpent’s head…  And God gave them skins for a covering… Think of it… the Author of life, God himself, killed one of his creatures, shedding its blood, to provide a covering for the man and the 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,
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. Like 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.  6We 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… (Isa 53:2-7).
     Like a sheep…He, the Messiah, the King, the Good Shepherd, He was also the Lamb…  The Servant, the sacrifices, another strand of our hope was the promise made to David. He was promised a Son, an ideal Son who would have an eternal reign, and who also would be called the Son of God… Yet… who also would be a rejected, righteous sufferer.  This cord of three strands, the Lamb, the Servant, the promised and rejected King was woven through the fabric of the Scriptures… How could they come together? When would the promised One arrive?     The Angel announced that day, to us, 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 true?  Today?  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 did the angel say? Could it be true? “Onto 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 or royalty, we were not powerful or influential.  Could it be that he came for the meek? Could it be he had come 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 the priests, or the Scribes?  Only years later did it dawn on us… we were in those fields caring for the sheep, animals 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 lambs? 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—the blood of bulls and goats or the ashes of a heifer could not sanctify those who were unclean… 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.” Where? In a manger?  The Messiah?  Our King and Savior? The Great I AM, now incarnate, in a humble stable, his first bed, 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, even to be his messengers…
     We hurried to town, and found them… exactly as the Angel had said: Emmanuel… A baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger… Have you held a newborn baby?  So weak, so fragile. Think of it-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: Jesus, Yeshua, the Savior.
     We shouted to whoever would listen that Messiah had been born. The Rescuer was here, the Lord had come, let earth receive her King! But, many had shouted that before—who would listen to a handful of Shepherds?   
       We were the first, but not the only ones that received a revelation that the Messiah had come. Sometime 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 by 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 stormed 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.  We later learned that Mary and Joseph had escaped with the Son to Egypt. Only after Herod died did they return to his family’s home in Nazareth.
       You know the rest of the story… He grew up as did I, and for years, we heard almost nothing more about him.  It was only later that we began to hear reports of a rabbi who taught with authority… a prophet, miracle worker and preacher.  When I heard the stories, I thought, it must be Him.  He healed the sick, fed the hungry, cured lepers, cast out demons, he gave sight to the blind, he even raised the dead! When I heard his name, Jesus, there was no doubt.  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.
       He entered Jerusalem that last week… At first to cheers, “Hosanna to the Son of David, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. The King of Israel!” A week is such a short time… the days pass quickly… Then it happened. Betrayal. Denial. Scourging. The cross. Darkness.  How could they do it?  Why did he let them? 
       We should have known: “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 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, and touched him, they even ate with Him—he is alive! He is the resurrection and the life… the Way, the Truth and the Life!
       For forty days he appeared to His disciples and taught them about the kingdom. The time came for him to return to heaven… The disciples then asked Him: “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 after all, 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 Comforter to come, the Spirit who would empower them, then they would be His witnesses starting in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the ends of the earth!  When He finished speaking, before their very eyes, He ascended into Heaven!  As they stood, gazing heavenward, 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 a letter to Titus (2:11-14),
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
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…
       Yeshua, Jesus, there is no other name under heaven, given among men, by which we must be saved. Are you looking for the Blessed Hope, the glorious appearing of our Great God and Savior Jesus Christ?  As surely as he came the first time, in fulfillment of Scripture, he will come again, according to his promise.  Are you waiting? Is He your Blessed Hope?    Good.  How will you live until he returns? 
      I have looked about your town… 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 us… and, …as 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? Have you received the true gift of Christmas? Will you follow Him? During these days of celebration, tell someone you know and love about the Gift the Father offers them!  Baruch ha shem AdonaiYeshua, ha Meshiach! Blessed be the Name of the Lord!  Jesus Christ.  Shalom! Peace!  Go, tell your people, and all who will listen, what the Lord has done for you!  Amen.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Between two Advents: Peace on Earth? - Isaiah 9:1-7

Between two Advents: Peace on Earth?
Isaiah 9:1-7
Introduction: Coming to week two of Advent, I couldn’t help but wonder at the contrast we see between the discourse that Jesus gave on the Mount of Olives, which we recently worked through, and the words of the Angels on that Bethlehem hillside some 33 years earlier. Jesus warned the disciples that they would have tribulation in the world—including wars and rumors of wars—violence and suffering that would characterize human history until His return in glory and power. That seems to describe a decided absence of “peace on earth”! Yet after the angel announced to the shepherds that a Savior, Christ the Lord, had been born (Luke 2:11), in v. 14 a multitude of angels were praising God and saying,
"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!"
Peace?  In the light of Jesus’ prophecy on the Mount of Olives, which is confirmed by our experience, the angels’ announcement on that first Christmas morning seems strange. Peace on earth? It doesn’t look like it from our perspective!  How can we understand the angels’ announcement then in the light of our experience?
       “Peace” can have several meanings in Scripture. One is indeed “an absence of war or violence” but that is usually only one small facet of what is meant by the biblical idea of peace. It is clear enough that the day when swords will be hammered into plowshares is an aspect of “peace” that is still future. Yet we can still have peace, even now, as we live as pilgrims in a fallen world. The Hebrew word “Shalom” is explained by one scholar as “The state of fulfillment that results from God’s presence.” This is what expressed in the Aaronic benediction,
The LORD bless you and keep you;  25 the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;  26 the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace…” (Num 6:24-26).
“Peace” relates to the idea that was expressed when God first looked at His creation, before the Fall, and pronounced it “good,” tov. God who is holy and perfect was in perfect fellowship with his creation, no sin, no separation. There was peace. There was harmony between God and the first humans—shalom. That peace was disrupted by human rebellion. In the fullness of time the arrival of the Prince of Peace, according to promise, provided the basis for that fellowship to be restored. Reconciliation between God and those who would believe—peace for “those on whom His favor rests.” And so, salvation can be described as a restoration of peace. Listen to Isaiah the prophet,
 How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, "Your God reigns." (Isa 52:7).
Notice the parallel phrases, Peace / happiness / salvation / God reigns! In Him we can experience the shalom, the “good” for which we were created, in a preliminary sense now, and in its fulness in the age to come. This is why He came! That is why the prophet could also write in Isaiah 53:5,
But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.”
His suffering was because of our sins, and He suffered “…the chastisement that brought us peace…” The perspective of the prophets often interwove the promise of the coming of the Messiah with what we now know to be His return to reign in His Kingdom on earth. We live between those great events, His first advent, and His coming in Glory. We live between two Advents…
The Maine* Idea: Living in the light of the first coming of Christ we have peace with God and the peace of God, even as we anticipate His second coming in glory.
I. Our Problem: There is no peace in this dark world [apart from Christ] (8:22-9:1a). Read the end of Isaiah 8 to see the contrast that chapter 9 brings…
20 To the teaching and to the testimony! If they will not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn.  21 They will pass through the land, greatly distressed and hungry. And when they are hungry, they will be enraged and will speak contemptuously against their king and their God, and turn their faces upward.  22 And they will look to the earth, but behold, distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish. And they will be thrust into thick darkness. [ESV Isaiah 8:22-9:1]
       People walking in darkness. It is getting dark early these days. While we were in Brazil the southeast of the country experienced a wide-spread blackout. At the time I didn’t know the extent of it (it impacted the entire southeast of the county, about 40 million people!), I was at the seminary teaching a night class in down town Sao Paulo, probably 15 miles from home. When the lights first went out, I actually tried to continue with the class for a few minutes, thinking it might come right back on. It didn’t. And I drove home that night, through the city, no traffic lights, blissfully ignorant of the crime that was happening around me as people took advantage of the darkness!  At times like that you discover anarchy is just below the surface, lurking in the darkness. John’s gospel uses that language of “light” and “darkness” quite a bit to describe the state of fallen humanity. For example, we read in John 3:19-21,
   19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil.  20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.  21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been carried out in God.
God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness has shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Christ Jesus. And so, living in the light of the first coming of Christ we have peace with God and the peace of God, even as we anticipate His second coming in glory.
II. The Purpose of His Coming: To Make Possible Peace on Earth [for those on whom His favor rests] (Isa 9:1-5; cf. Luke 2:14; Rom 5:1).
But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. 2The 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.  4 For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.  5 For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire.
       The prophet is describing a new age, without the anguish and darkness of the past. A light has shined in the darkness, and there is rejoicing as the covenant blessings are again being experienced. A time of peace, the warrior no longer needs his battle clothes, they can be thrown on the fire! The day has not yet come when spears are fashioned into pruning hooks, and swords into plowshares. How do we square the pronouncement of “peace” with the continued presence of violence and warfare? We can experience peace, real peace, right now, and forever. First of all, we can have…
      Peace with God (Romans 5:1) – Objective, positional. Paul wrote in Romans 5:1, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” That idea that connects “peace” with the state of salvation was implied by the prophet Isaiah centuries earlier. For example, we read in Isaiah 52:7,
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who proclaims salvation, who says to Zion, "Your God reigns."
Notice the parallel statements, proclaiming peace / good news of happiness / salvation. Peace with God is Good News! In the next chapter we’re told the suffering of the Servant is what brought us peace: But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed...” (Isa 53:5). So, though we who were God’s enemies (Eph 2:1-3), because of Him, can have peace with God.  The Apostle Paul said,
For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility  15 by abolishing the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace,  16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.  17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near…” (Eph 2:14-17).
For Jew and Gentile alike the way to peace, peace with God, is through Jesus Christ.
        Paul also speaks of the Peace of God (Phil 4:7) - Subjective, experiential. Paul said, “…And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  Why don’t we have peace on earth? James asked and answered the question when he said: “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this: that your passions are at war within you?” (James 4:1). Conflict starts in the human heart. Jeremiah said “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?” (Jer 17:9).  The prophet is describing a dark place, and that is the depth of the depravity of the human heart. We are all sinners. We read in Psalm 53 in the first couple of verses,
there is none who does good.  2 God looks down from heaven on the children of man to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God.  3 They have all fallen away; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.
That is pretty clear, how many of us are sinners? Every last one, by birth and by choice (Paul quotes this passage in Romans 3:10f).
        The good news came in the promise of deliverance in Isaiah 9:3-5.  Verse 5 describes a time when the Light shining in the darkness will bring “peace on earth”: “…For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire.Though “peace on earth” is not yet our experience, that day is coming, that is our sure hope, the enemies of Christ will be put under his feet and peace will reign, at last.  Because of His coming, because of the reality of His presence for those who trust Him we can already experience peace in our hearts, a peace that passes understanding. Living in the light of the first coming of Christ we who know Him have peace with God and the peace of God, even as we anticipate His second coming in glory.
III. The Person who offers [true] Peace: The Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ (9:6).
6 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 unto us a child is born…” The prophet assumes a physical, historical, human birth. God the Son took upon himself a human nature.  He only appeared to be human, the Bible makes it clear that the eternal Son took a human nature, and the divine and human natures were one in the person of Christ.  The technical term to describe this is the “hypostatic union.”  Paul described this act in his letter to the Philippians when he wrote in Philippians 2:6-7  “…although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped,  7 but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men…” Alfred Edersheim reflected on the wonder of the incarnation when he wrote,
“That on such a slender thread as the feeble throb of an infant life, the salvation of the world should hang—and no special watch care over its safety, no better shelter be provided it than a stable, no other cradle than a manger…” 
Mary Ann linked on Facebook a graphic of a manger… the caption said, “The first King-sized bed.” The humility of His first coming! God became a man. So, we have a Prince and High Priest who understands, who can sympathize with our weakness and empathize with our pain. He was tempted in all points as we are, yet without sin.
        The Isaiah said “…a Child is born…”, and then in the next phrase says “…unto us a Son is given…” A Son, handed over as a gift. This is not only parallel with the previous phrase, but it expounds on a couple of elements. One, the prophesied child would be a son. (In our day of sonograms that may seem like a small factor, but God’s plan would be accomplished). Secondly, he was “given.” The term used in John 3:16 expresses the same idea: in John, God gave His Son, in Isaiah, the passive form, the Son was “given.”  As Paul said, “God spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all.” John in his first letter said, “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).
          The prophet Isaiah, writing 700 years earlier, goes on to give more information about the coming One:  “…and the government will be upon his shoulders…” He is the Ruler of creation, Lord of all, and His Kingdom will come. This hope is not exclusively future.  Even now we’ve been transported from the domain of darkness to the kingdom of the Son… (Col 1:13). Still, we live between two advents. In the second advent there will finally be “peace on earth…”
       The litany of titles that follow express aspects of who He is: “And his name will be called, Wonderful counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father…” Notice that He is described in the unmistakable language of deity: mighty God, everlasting Father—God became human. Whatever you are facing in your life, whatever you will face tomorrow, think about it: if you know Christ, God is on your side, He is at your side, to help, guide, and protect. He whispers to us through His Word, “I’ve got this, trust me.” So, you don’t need to be overwhelmed or despair: if God is for us, who can stand against us?
       He is finally called the “Prince of Peace” – The Prince of Shalom. The one who’s reign would be marked by the presence of God and the blessings of the covenant. He is Immanuel, God with us. And so, we can experience “shalom” because of His presence.  As the Prince of Peace, He is the source of peace. Because of His work we are reconciled to God. Because of His presence we can have peace in the midst of a chaotic worldLiving in the light of the first coming of Christ we who know Him have peace with God and the peace of God, even as we anticipate His second coming in glory.
IV. Promise of Christmas: The Coming of Peace, Between the Advents, and Beyond (9:7).
7 Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.
       Notice that he speaks of an eternal kingdom – The problem of evil is a rather thorny topic for apologists. If God is good, and all powerful, why is there so much suffering and injustice in the world? That was not the world as it was created by God. That original creation was pronounced “good,” it was a setting marked by “shalom,” the fulfillment that results from God’s presence. He is Emmanuel, God with us.  Human rebellion, sin, brought suffering and death into the world, and believers are not exempt. God isn’t surprised by suffering. Even there He is present and working, causing all things, even the hard things, to work together for our good, and for His glory (Romans 8:28). Sin is what made the incarnation necessary! How could God be just and justify sinners? He found a way, on Calvary. That is where God showed us His love (I Jn 4:9; Rom 5:8).
        In our passage (Isa 9:7) the prophet Isaiah speaks of an eternal kingdom brought about by God. It can be and will be an eternal kingdom and everlasting peace because the omnipotent king of the universe will accomplish it. Now remember Mark 13: “wars and rumors of wars” will characterize this age until Jesus returns.  But “shalom” is not merely the absence of conflict. We look forward to the day when fellowship and the presence of God will be restored fully. But even now we can experience peace:
“…The Lord is at hand [and so the presence of God, the fundamental requirement of “shalom”]  6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:5b-7). 
Have you had the experience of your child being frightened at night and running to your bedroom? They can climb into bed and fall fast asleep in about two seconds, because as long as mommy and daddy are there, there is no fear, no anxiety.  Here is the promise: The Lord is at hand.  Daddy is with you. You can rest. Shalom.
What is God saying to me in this passage? Living in the light of the first coming of Christ we who know Him have peace with God and the peace of God, even as we anticipate His second coming in glory.

What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Do you have peace with God, though faith in Christ? God’s favor, His grace, rests on you! In the midst of a chaotic world, the peace of God, which passes all understanding, can guard your heart and your mind in Christ Jesus. Our hope is sure, as surely as He came in the first advent, one day He will return and there will be peace on earth! AMEN.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Christmas Brought Hope! - I Corinthians 5:7b; Luke 2:8-11

Christmas Brought Hope!
I Corinthians 5:7b; Luke 2:8-11
Introduction: Waiting, hoping, watching… For four-hundred years the people clung to the words of the prophets, promising that God would send a Rescuer, a Deliverer, a Savior. Then, in the series of events that led to the birth of Jesus, the silence was broken and hope was realized. Christmas brought Hope!  The Word was made flesh and lived for a while among us! One of the most familiar scenes associated with the Christmas story is the angelic announcement to the shepherds in the Gospel of Luke. We read the story in Luke 2:8-11…
8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.  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.  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.
Why did God send angels to a group of shepherds to announce the birth of the promised Messiah? The answer to that question is tied to the answer to a question we’ve been looking at all year in the Gospel of Mark: Why did He come?
The Maine* Idea: Christmas means hope for those who believe that Jesus came as their Savior, Sacrifice, and Substitute.
I. The Hope of the Ages: God promised faithful humans, those who trust Him and take Him at His word, that one day a Rescuer would come, Messiah, our Savior! As our starting point, I’d like to look at I Corinthians 5:7b…
“…for indeed Christ…”
       The context in I Corinthians 5, Paul is rebuking the church for their tolerance of sin in their midst. He uses the analogy of Passover and unleavened bread: As the leaven must be removed from their homes for the feast, so sin must be removed from our lives and from the church. It is essentially a call to holiness: Live in the light of your new life in Christ! The first part of I Corinthians 5:7 says, “Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened…” Cleanse out the old that you may be new, because that is what you really are! In other words, live in the light of your position in Christ. This is the indicative and the imperative of the Christian life that we have seen before. This is who you are, this is what you have in Christ, now live like it! It is our response in the light of what God has done for us in Christ. God offered humanity hope from the time of the Fall.
       In the context of the Fall, and God pronouncing judgment, we also see, amazingly, promise, hope.  We read in Genesis 3:15,  
I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.
That reference to a promised “Seed” who would crush the serpent’s head and rescue humans is carried through the Scriptures, like a “Scarlet Thread of Redemption.” God’s promise to Abraham included reference to a multitude of descendants, but as it was read by the NT writers, Genesis 22:17-18 also looked ahead to a specific One, to a promised “Seed” (singular)… 
17 I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring [seed] as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring [seed] shall possess the gate of his enemies, 18 and in your offspring [seed] shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice."
The Seed of Abraham!  That promise of a “seed” is reiterated to Isaac and to Jacob, and then we read in Genesis 49:10,  
"The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, Until Shiloh comes, And to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.
      Later David is told that He would have a son, a descendant, who would be the Son of God, and who would have an eternal kingdom (2 Samuel 7:12-16 ). Aspects of that promise were never realized by the merely human descendants of David. In fact, the story of the kings of Israel and Judah highlights the failure of the kings – even the best of them fell short in some way. But in the fulness of time God would send His own Son, born in the line of David, who would be an ideal Son, the promised Son toward which all those before alluded.
      The promise of a Rescuer, a Savior, carried through the Scriptures and offered hope to those who trusted in God through the ages. Though that hope got skewed for many, focusing on military or political deliverance from would-be oppressors, other images in the Scriptures could always point thoughtful seekers back to our greatest need, that is, deliverance from sin and the penalty of sin. The Kingship of Israel was always to represent and point to the Kingdom of God. But the Scriptures also used other images to show that God’s kingdom was not like that of the nations around them.
       The Suffering Servant of Isaiah, the rejected and suffering King of the Lament Psalms, and, as we’ll see, the sacrificial system itself, pointed back to the first promise of a deliverer, the Seed of the Woman promised in the context of the Fall, highlighting the problem of sin and the need for someone to rescue us from the righteous wrath of God. And so, in the fullness of time, 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!  Christmas means hope for those who believe that Jesus came as their Savior, Sacrifice, and Substitute. And so, Hope was realized and the Savior came, bringing…
II. The Hope of Redemption: Christ came as Savior, and as Sacrifice, the Lamb of God who would shed His blood to take away the sins of the world.
“…our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed…
       The text literally says, “…our Passover…” but the ESV rightly makes it clear that is referring to the Passover Lamb which is sacrificed for us. The necessity of blood being shed to redeem sinners carries through the Bible. Sometime after the first Passover, the principle would be stated in Leviticus 17:11,   
“For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.”
The requirement of blood is well established in Scripture, and, as in the first Passover, the principle predated the giving of the Law. Remember that first Passover the Jews were still in Egypt, and the Law had not yet been given on Mount Sinai! Even earlier we see the Patriarchs offering sacrifices to God, as did Noah after the flood. In fact, Abel offered God “…the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering…” (Gen 4:4).  It may be that God had already taught Adam and Eve, immediately after the Fall, that their sin required blood, a sacrifice, when, as we read in Genesis 3:21, that  
“…the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.”
Where did those “skins” come from? The implication seems to be that God Himself killed an animal to cover the nakedness of the fallen humans. The writer to the Hebrews restates the principle when he said in Hebrews 9:22, Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” In the very next chapter he also addressed this question in considerable detail, making it clear those sacrifices pointed ahead to something better, as we read in Hebrews 10:1-5…
For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near.  2 Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sin?  3 But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sin every year.  4 For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.  5 Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, "Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me…
       Why did Jesus come? Was the baby in the manger there to teach us about morality or to show us God’s love? Well, yes, but the principle reason He came was to deal with our sin problem by laying down his life, by sacrificing Himself, for our sins. Every son and daughter of Adam, since the Fall, has been born in sin. Spiritually dead, separated from God. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Jesus came to redeem us, to make it possible for us to be reconciled with God!
       And so, Christmas means hope for those who believe that Jesus came as their Savior, Sacrifice, and Substitute. He came as the promised Rescuer, the Savior, which he accomplished as the Lamb of God, the perfect and final sacrifice to which all other sacrifices pointed. And He did it for us, as our substitute, taking the wrath that we deserved.
III. The Hope of Reconciliation and New Life: He was our Substitute, bearing our sins, giving His life so that we could have new life.
“…for us…
       There is a small variation in the text here which explains a difference you see in the NKJV and the ESV. Some older Egyptian manuscripts don’t contain the little prepositional phrase “for us” at the end of the verse, whereas the majority text, which is mostly later, but consists of thousands of manuscripts, has it. Based on the evidence, I think it should be included, but it really doesn’t change anything either way. Since Christ is described as “our” Passover lamb, of course He would be sacrificed for us! What the NKJV makes explicit, is clearly implied in the ESV and other modern translations.  
       Think back to the first Passover. The lamb was slain, its blood put over the door and on the door posts. The blood meant life in that house. The firstborn would be spared, covered by the blood of the lamb. The lamb was essentially a substitute for the firstborn. Think back to the story of Abraham and Isaac recorded in Genesis 22. God had told Abraham to do the unthinkable, to take the son of his old age, the promised and beloved son, Isaac, up on Mount Moriah, and then to sacrifice him, to offer him as a burnt offering to the Lord!  As we read Genesis, we know the end of the story, and we can see that God was testing and building Abraham’s faith. But Abraham didn’t know that. We pick up the story in Genesis 22:5-8,   
5 Then Abraham said to his young men, "Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you."  6 And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together.  7 And Isaac said to his father Abraham, "My father!" And he said, "Here am I, my son." He said, "Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?"  8 Abraham said, "God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son." So they went both of them together.
It seems Abraham had faith when he told the young men that he and the boy would return to them, and when he told Isaac that “God will provide for himself the lamb.” The writer to the Hebrews says that Abraham believed, that if necessary, God was able to raise the promised son from the dead. Resurrection faith! But, God intervened. Abraham had bound his son, placed him on the wood, and raised the knife, ready to kill Isaac as God had commanded. But an Angel from God stopped him, and…
 Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son…” (Gen 22:13).
The ram was offered in place of Isaac. A substitute. 2000 years later, in that same place, another Son would be offered, as our substitute. You see, God did not stay the executioner’s hand as Jesus was being sacrificed. God Himself had provided the Lamb. He spared not the Son, but delivered Him up for us all. That idea of a substitute taking the punishment that we deserved is clearly implied in the sacrificial system. It is also spelled out explicitly by the prophet Isaiah. See, for example, Isaiah 53:4-6 where he says…
4 Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.  5 But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.  6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
That night on a Bethlehem hillside the angels announced to a group of humble shepherds, “Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people. Born to you this day n the city of David is a savior, Christ the Lord!Here they were, guarding sheep destined for sacrifice in the Temple. Those sacrifices were shadows and types, looking forward to the once-for-all sacrifice of the Lamb of God. It was as though the Angel was saying to the shepherds, “Why stay here guarding these sheep? Get down to Bethlehem and see the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” Hope was realized in the birth of Christ!

What is God saying to me in this passage? Christmas means hope for those who believe that Jesus came as their Savior, Sacrifice, and Substitute.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? It is a beautiful thing to begin our Advent series with a reminder of why He came. The babe in the manger came to be the Lamb of God, to rescue us from the wrath we each deserved by being our substitute, the sacrifice for our sins.  He lived a sinless life, He fulfilled all righteousness. When He began His public ministry at the age of 30 or so, He showed through His teaching and through the miracles that He did, His authority as the Son of God. And then, when the time came, when that final Passover was at hand, He laid down His life for His friends. Before He did, He shared a final Passover meal with His disciples, and He gave new significance to it. Some time before, on the Mount of Transfiguration, He had spoken about what was coming in Jerusalem with two men of God from the past, Moses and Elijah. Luke’s account tells us they spoke about His “departure” which He would accomplish in Jerusalem. That word “departure” is the word, “Exodus.” As God had led the people out of Egypt, set free after the first Passover, so Jesus would set free a people for himself by shedding His blood for us.
       And so, we share the Lord’s Table together, looking back to the Cross, remembering that our salvation is free because the price has already been paid. That is why He came. The gift is Christmas is the sure hope we have because of what He has done for us! Let’s remember that today, and worship Him.   AMEN.