Sunday, December 29, 2019

His Mercies are New Every Morning! - Jonah 3:1-5

His Mercies are New Every Morning!
Jonah 3:1-5
Introduction: Since we’ve been away from our series on “Jonah, the Prodigal Prophet” for a while, I want to remind you of the main line of the story. We tend to think of Jonah and immediately think about the great fish. We’ve seen that this is really a story about a great God. God is guiding this story for His purposes, and in the process revealing truth to Jonah, and to us, about His character, while also exposing our hearts, and our desperate need for mercy and grace.
       I decided to resume this series today since we are in the interval between Advent, and the start of a New Year. We’ve been reminded during Advent of the supreme demonstration of grace, as God sent forth His Son to redeem us, making it possible, in Christ, for sinful humans to be reconciled to Holy God. This is how God showed His love among us! How then, should we live? Jonah was in rebellion against God. He knew what God said, but He chose to do the exact opposite: God said “Go!” and Jonah said, “NO!” He ran away. He turned his back on God.  It's not that he didn't understand what God had said!
       Mark Twain famously said: “Many people are troubled by the things they can’t understand in the Bible. As for me, the things that trouble me most are those that I DO understand!” Jonah is, at least for me, one of those annoying Bible characters that is a little too much of a mirror. And I think that is part of God’s purpose. He wants us to see ourselves in the story, and in the process, help us to understand and long for the mind of Christ. Our prayer should be: “God help me to think more like you and less like Jonah!” But what about when we don’t like or understand what God is saying, what about when His will conflicts with ours?
       Nate Saint, one of the five missionaries martyred as they sought to reach the Auca tribe in South America, said that his life didn’t change until he came to grips with the fact that obedience is not a momentary option, it is a die-cast decision made beforehand. Trust and obey. Period. God was still working on Jonah; he had some lessons to learn about himself and about God’s love for the world. He didn’t know about what had become of the sailors on the boat, who, at Jonah’s urging, had finally relented and thrown Him into the sea. God used that near-disaster to reveal his power and holiness and to bring those heathens to repentance and faith. All the while, He was working. And He wasn’t finished with Jonah, and He hadn’t forgotten the Ninevites! And He is still interested in you!
The Maine* Idea: God cares about us, and no matter our past, all who believe have a place in His plan!

I. God will use us, despite our past failures (1,2). It is pretty common among believers to think that something from their past has disqualified them from being useful to the Lord, from having a meaningful part in His mission. There is no doubt that sin has consequences, and that sometimes the consequences of a past sin may disqualify us from certain kinds of ministries. Pastors and elders for example are held to a higher standard, I think because of the potential to cause others to stumble. Nonetheless, if God has left you in this world, and you are seeking Him, and have repented of those past sins, He has a place for you in His mission! Remember the prodigal son, how the father so joyously received him back, not as a servant, but as a son? That is the kind of love that God has for you and me.
Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying,  2 "Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against [“to”] it the message that I tell you." 
      That language might sound familiar, Jonah had heard God’s call before… and had run away! The language here is very parallel to 1:1,2…
Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying,  2 "Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me."
       God had called Jonah to go to Nineveh and to call out against it. And Jonah understood and rejected God’s word. He ran from God’s presence. When we looked at that a couple of months back, the lesson was that that is essentially the nature of sin. We know, at some level, what God would have us to do. We want to do something else, something contrary to God’s word. We might rationalize, justify our actions, explain away our choices, but just like Jonah, we are turning away from the face of God. As Jeremiah said, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked, who can know it?” Remember the story of Christina, told by Max Lucado? She was a young teenage girl who lived with her mother in a small village outside of Rio de Janeiro. Longing for life in the big city, one day she ran away. Her mother pursued her, knowing the dangers of the city. She knew how stubborn her daughter was, but also knew how desperation can drive people to do the unthinkable. But the odds of finding one girl in a city of 8 million? Christina’s mother put little pictures of herself around hotels and bars, with a little hand written note on the back. Finally, the pictures ran out, her money was gone, and the woman returned home without her daughter. It was a few weeks later that Christina came down the staircase of another hotel, the joy and excitement long-gone from her face, knowing now what a mess she had made of her life, but how could she ever return? Suddenly she saw a little picture on a mirror by the desk… it was her mother! She took the picture off the mirror and turned it over, the hand-written note said, “Whatever you have done, whatever you have become, it doesn’t matter, please, come home!” And she did.
       A parent’s love. Like the father in the parable of the prodigal son, watching, waiting. Well, Jonah had rejected God’s word, he had turned his back on God and gone in the opposite direction, but God was not going to write Jonah off. The same is true about you and me by the way. Our past failures and rebellion don’t mean we are now discharged from God’s army, he hasn’t waived us from his team. As long as he leaves in this world, he has a purpose for us, we have a part in His plan. It took a storm, nearly drowning, and three days in a fish’s belly for Jonah to learn that lesson!
      The ESV seems to miss a slight variation in the first and second call of Jonah. In chapter 1 Jonah was to “call out against” Nineveh. In chapter three a different preposition is used, “call out to it…” It may only be a stylistic variation, but it may be that in light of Jonah’s hard-heart, and in light of God’s intended result for this mission, the Lord is softening His language to prepare Jonah for what will soon happen. Yes, he is to preach God’s wrath against sin. But why did God give Nineveh 40 days? He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
     God is not only working on the Ninevites, He is still working on the prodigal prophet. You know the parable of the prodigal son. We’ve seen Jonah as the younger son, who takes his inheritance and turns his back on the father, choosing to do things his own way. But we’ll also see in the next chapter Jonah’s heart is akin to the elder son. Yes, Jonah is to be God’s spokesman, announcing his wrath against sin, and God is also working on Jonah, seeking to expose his lack of compassion for the lost. As long as we have life, God will work in us and through us. We are a work in progress, and even so, we have a part in God’s program. God cares about us, and no matter our past, all who believe have a place in His plan!
II. Believers should Hear and Obey the Word of God (3a). The contrast with chapter one is notable. There God said “Arise and go…” And Jonah arose… and fled from the presence of the Lord! He knew what God said, but he chose to do the exact opposite. His heart was not right with the Lord.
       Only after Jonah was about to drown, did he pray to the Lord, he remembered the LORD in His temple, and his heart turned toward home. And that was all it took, a mustard seed of faith, a hint of repentance, and God heard him and rescued him. Now, essentially the same call is repeated. As we taught it to the kids in our Olympian group, “a new chance to obey comes every day!” What will Jonah do this time? We read in v.3…
3 So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. 
       Again, the Word of the LORD comes to Jonah, Arise and go! This time, Jonah arose and went!  In this call, in chapter 3, Jonah is told to preach “…the message I tell you…” There is a slight softening in the language. The focus is more on Jonah.
       This simple statement summarizes what the response of believers should be to God’s Word. Jesus said in John 10, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me…” That is the mark of genuine faith. Hearing and believing the Word. We believe God. And we do what He says. All the time, right? Yeah, just like Jonah! We struggle, resist, question, and sometimes rebel. But God won’t just let us go in our rebellion. He chastens every child that He receives. Because He loves us, God will do what He needs to, even send a storm to get out attention, or a giant fish to bring us where we need to be!  That’s the Maine* Idea: God cares about us, and no matter our past, all who believe have a place in His plan!
III. God’s plan is to use us to warn the lost (3b-4). In the first chapter God told Jonah that he was to cry out against the city because their “…evil has come up before me." This time God says to preach the message He would give. We read,
…Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days' journey in breadth.  4 Jonah began to go into the city, going a day's journey. And he called out, "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!"
These people were pagan, depraved idolaters, enemies of Israel. In chapter 1 the language implies that their sin was a “stench” in the nostrils of God. That may have been part of the reason Jonah ran away in the first place. But Jonah needed to understand, and so do we, that all sin is an abomination to God. He is of purer eyes than to look upon iniquity, and He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished. It is not only the sin of people worse than me, my sin is an offense.
       Let’s look for a minute at the message Jonah preached. “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” Notice this: that word “overthrow” can have the meaning, “destroy,” as in the case of Sodom and Gomorrah in Gen 19:25, “And He overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities…” That is surely the meaning that Jonah intended as he preached to the Ninevites. It can also mean “turn” as in transform, as in Jeremiah 31:13, “…for I will turn their mourning to joy…” Could it be that God had Jonah use this word, perhaps intending more than Jonah himself understood? It seems that is they way it turns out! Nineveh is indeed overturned, but not in the way we, or Jonah, might have expected! It is transformed, as the people believe the word that Jonah preached, and receive it as the Word of God. They repent, and cry out for mercy. Think about it, why did God give Nineveh 40 days?  There was time to reflect, time for all to hear, time to believe and to repent. That doesn’t appear to have been Jonah’s motivation however.
       First of all, notice the message Jonah preached, if indeed he intended “overturn” to mean “destroy”: Judgement is coming! Period. Just five words in the Hebrew text. Any call to repent, or to call on God for mercy, is at best implied by the prophet’s warning. I don’t think we should conclude that is all that Jonah said, the sermons in the Bible are normally summaries that capture the gist of a message given on a particular occasion. Even the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and the Upper Room Discourse (John 14-16) would take only 15-20 minutes to read aloud. It is certain that Jesus taught for much longer periods of time. These only present a part of what was said. The same is surely true of Jonah’s message. But this was the bottom line: “You’ve got 40 days, and you are going the way of Sodom and Gomorrah!” But they received Jonah’s message as the Word of God, and they were broken by it, they mourned, and looked to God for mercy.
       Jonah, didn’t seem to be interested in mercy for the Ninevites. In fact, notice that we are told that the city was “a three-day journey” (v.3). Yet Jonah only went “a day’s journey” and preached (v.4), and the people, from the least to the greatest, believed God! How did that happen? He didn’t have Facebook or a podcast to help! It seems the Word spread throughout the city, all the way to the king, one person hearing and believing, and immediately passing this earth-shaking news onto everyone they knew (their oikos and beyond). Can we learn something from the pagan Ninevites? If we believe this Word is really true, that humans are facing a lost eternity, God’s wrath against sin, should we not warn them? But you might think, “They won’t believe me!” Many won’t. But some, by God’s grace, will be pricked to the heart, and believe. Let me take you 800 years or so after the time of Jonah. During the Jewish feast of Pentecost Peter was preaching Jesus the Messiah. Near the conclusion he said in Acts 2:36-38,
36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified."  37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?"  38 And Peter said to them, "Repent and be baptized every one of you…”
Three thousand believed that day and were converted to faith in Christ! Jonah likewise brought God’s Word, and thousands of Ninevites, from the least to the greatest, heard and believed the Word of God, as they were cut to the heart. By the way, do you see the contrast between the Ninevites and Jonah himself from chapter 1? Jonah too heard the word of the Lord, understood it, but he chose to disobey it, trying to get as far from God as he could! It took a storm, nearly drowning, and three-days in the fish for Jonah’s heart to soften! The pagan sailors on the ship heard about Jonah’s God, saw his power and believed. The Ninevites heard a message of judgment, and repented, looking to the God of Jonah for mercy! A pagan captain and a pagan King, pagan sailors and pagan Ninevites, were all more responsive to the Word of God than Jonah was at the beginning. But God still had a plan for Jonah, for his ministry, and for his heart. God cares about us, and no matter our past, all who believe have a place in His plan!
IV. Be Encouraged, God’s Word will accomplish His purpose (5)!
5 And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them.
This is not what we might have expected, considering the reputation for violence and debauchery that the Ninevites had!  But God’s Word is powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword. His Word will not return void, but will accomplish the purpose for which it is sent. The Apostle Paul said “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom 10:17). Our brother Richard Cain was one who always was ready to share his faith, either through testimony, or handing out a gospel-tract or an invitation card, he seized every opportunity to point people to Jesus. Will we pick up the torch? Will we pray that God would make us more sensitive to the opportunities around us to hold forth the Word of Life? Many, perhaps most, will reject it. But the result is up to God, not us. And the Good News is some will believe. We are called to be faithful, urging people on behalf of Christ to be reconciled to God.
What is God saying to me in this passage? We see that God cares about us, and no matter our past, all who believe have a place in His plan! He didn’t give up on reaching the Ninevites. And he didn’t give up on convicting Jonah, exposing his heart, and leading Him deeper in faith.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Could it be that you have something in your past that you still struggle with? Something the enemy would bring to mind to taunt you, “How could God love someone like you? How could He forgive you? How could He use you?” Remember that Jesus paid it all, it is finishedNot by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us. In Christ alone my hope is found! That is our testimony, and that is the Good News: Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners! Let a New Year be a new beginning: His mercies are new every morning! To God be the glory. God used Jonah. He later used 12 men to turn the world upside down. As we walk with Him, we can reach this peninsula with the Gospel!  AMEN.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

A Shepherd and the Lamb

[This monologue is intended as a first person "sermon" given from the perspective of a Judean shepherd in AD 70, reflecting on the story of the incarnation of Christ. Scripture quotations and allusions are usually italicized but in most cases no references are given. I have used a version of this presentation during advent in several years in the past. A recording of the sermon should be available on the church website by Monday afternoon].

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 Amazing Grace!  God has acted in history for 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 would 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 your 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 the prophet know that the Light would be both the Shepherd of Israel and the Lamb of God?
       Yes, for centuries shepherds had 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 town 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. Ahhh… 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. I was 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 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 ScripturesHow 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? “Unto YOU has been born a Savior…” To us?  Humble shepherds like us were included in God’s plan?  We were not the pious ones, the tsaddaqim! We were not the religious elite!  We were not aristocracy or royalty; we were certainly not powerful or influential.  Could it be 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 speculated, “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! 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 grasp… “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?  No, it can’t be! Our King and Savior? The Great I AM, now incarnate, sheltered 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 we 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.
     This was Good News! Too good to keep to ourselves. 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 worshipped Him, and offered gifts, 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, a 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, could not imagine what the Lamb had 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!” Such rejoicing! A week is such a short time… the days pass quickly… Then it happened. Betrayal. Denial. Scourging. A crown of thorns pushed down onto His holy brow. 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! Our sorrow was turned to joy - 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,
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 (Titus 2:11-14). 
That is my hope, that is how I must live.  And you?  Have you put your hope, your trust in Him?  He is the Good Shepherd, Jesus, who laid down his life for the sheep…
       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 then will you live until he returns?  Your trees and lights and decorations are beautiful. But even more beautiful is this truth: The Word was made flesh, and lived for a while among 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 of Christmas… the gift the Father offers to all who will believe!
       Baruch ha shem AdonaiYeshua, ha Meshiach! Blessed be the Name of the Lord!  Jesus, the Christ.  Shalom! Peace!  Go, tell your people, tell all who will listen, what the Lord has done for you! Amen.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

“The Peace of Advent” - Isaiah 9:2-7

“The Peace of Advent”
Isaiah 9:2-7

Introduction:  Last Sunday we transitioned from Thanksgiving to Advent by focusing on the “Advent of Hope.” We have confidence that God is good, and that he is working, and that even when we don’t understand we anticipate expectantly the unfolding of His plan. We believe God. We trust Him. We have hope. This week our advent celebration turns to the theme of “peace.”  In the light of our experience, the angels’ announcement on that first Christmas morning might seem strange in Luke 2:14, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!" I am finalizing this sermon on Pearl Harbor Day, enough said? Perennial tensions in the mid-east. Saber rattling on the Korean peninsula.  Violence in schools and on the streets of American cities. Our country divided politically and socially. Unrest in countries like Haiti and Brazil.  Peace on Earth?  We see conflict between nations, struggles in the work place, problems in our homes and families, even divisions in our churches. Peace on earth? It may not look like it from our perspective!  Even Jesus said in Matthew 10:34, "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” How then can we understand the angels’ announcement of “peace on earth” 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 quite obvious that the day when swords will be hammered into plowshares is an aspect of “peace” that is still future. Even so, we can still have peace, even now. 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 in Number 6:24-26: “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.” God’s presence brings “shalom.
        “Peace” relates to the idea that was expressed when God looked at His creation, before the fall, and pronounced it all “good,” tob. God who is holy and perfect was in perfect fellowship with His creation, no sin, no separation. There was peace. The way life should be! That peace was disrupted by the fall, and in the fullness of time the arrival of the Prince of Peace, according to promise, meant that fellowship can be restored, reconciliation can be experienced between God and those who would believe. 
The Maine* Idea: “The Son of God took upon himself a human nature in order to give his life so that we could experience true peace.”
I. The PURPOSE of Advent: Peace on earth, peace with God, peace in our hearts, peace forever (Isa 9:2-5). Humanity was lost, powerless against the darkness.
2 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.  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.
       First of all, the prophet speaks about the great need of humans (v.2). “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.”  John’s gospel shows the importance of the theme of “light and darkness” from the very first chapter (cf. Jn 1:4, 9, 14). There is a moral/spiritual element to it:  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” (John 3:19).  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 rebellious 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. Psalm 53 begins by saying 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 (those verses may sound familiar from Paul’s quotation in Rom 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. Have you got problems? The Son of God took upon himself a human nature in order to give his life so that we could experience true peace. That was the purpose of Advent. Isaiah 9:6 points us to the One who came…
II. The PERSON of Advent: The Prince of Peace (Isa 9:6). God sent his Son for us.
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 is assuming a physical, historical, human birth. God the Son took upon himself a human nature.  There was an early heresy that the church confronted called “Docetism.” The idea was that Jesus didn’t really take a full 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 theological phrase 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, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men” A Jewish-Christian scholar from the 19th century, Alfred Edersheim, reflected on this when he wrote in The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah,
…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! And still it is ever so. On what slender thread has the continued life of the church often seemed to hang; on what feeble throbbing that of every child of God—with no visible means to ward off danger, no home of comfort, no rest of ease…” 
Life is hard, and fleeting, in this fallen world. But take heart, 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. But peace on earth? Why then did Jesus warn, “In the world you will have tribulation…”? The promise of “peace” begins in our heart, it is peace with God and the peace of God. Paul said in Romans 5:1, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  And then we read in Philippians 4:7, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  We read more about that in Ephesians 2:14-17,
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.”
For Jew and Gentile alike the way to peace is through Jesus Christ.  The prophet Isaiah spoke of the birth of the Child, 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 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…” (Isa 9:6b). 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 into the kingdom of the Son… (Col 1:13). And so, He must reign in our hearts and minds by faith. But He will return to establish His kingdom on earth—and somehow, incredibly, we will reign with Him!
       The litany of titles that follow express aspects of who He is: “And his name will be called, Wonderful counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father…” Each designation gives us a little more information about the Promised One…
       He is a Wonderful counselor.  The Holy Spirit is described as our “Parakletos” in the upper room discourse in John 14-16. He is our Comforter, Helper, and Advocate. In I John 2 the same word is applied to Jesus. He is our Advocate…
       Here in Isaiah 9:6 He is also described in the unmistakable language of deity: mighty God, everlasting Father… Think about it: God is on your side, He is at your side, to help, guide, and protect. 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 world.
       Think again of the words of Paul to the Philippians:  Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God, and the peace of God, which passes all understanding…” (Phil 4:6,7).  What are the situations that you are facing in life that can cause you anxiety, that would keep you up at night or burden you?  The consequences of the Fall are all around us, that is why Jesus came! God is bigger than your problems! Remember that the Son took upon himself a human nature in order to give his life so that we could experience true peace.
III. The PROMISE of Christmas: The Advent of Peace on Earth (Isa 9:7).
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 – One of the issues that come up from time to time in our Bible Study discussions is the problem of evil. 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. Sometimes, as we’ve learned from our Jonah series, the storms of life are linked to our sin, our rebellion against God. God will do what He needs to get out attention, even send a giant fish! But remember that the men on the boat with Jonah were not in a crisis because of their sin, but God did use it to get their attention and to bring them to faith! 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).
        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 listen: “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. We read in Philippians 4:5-7…
“…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…
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. The way life should be!
What is God saying to me in this passage?  The Son of God took upon himself a human nature in order to give his life so that we could experience true peace.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Christmas can be a time of high anxiety for many. Are you feeling overwhelmed by pressures of the season? Trials at work, difficulty at home, concern about the future? Christmas celebrates hope and peace, because of the Prince of Peace, Jesus. So…
     1. I would encourage you this month to be in the Word. Make a daily time to read, focusing on the promises of the incarnation, a part of your Advent celebration. Many start a Bible Reading program in the beginning of the year… why not get started now? His Word is truth, let it be a Light to your path…
     2. Don’t allow the pressures of family get togethers, travel, and shopping to become “Christmas” for you. Remember Jesus. Focus on the fact that the Eternal Son of God, purposefully took on a human nature – for you… Look at the Chaos around us and remember why He came: To give us peace!
     3. Look for opportunities to share the promise of Peace with those in your sphere of influence, point them to Jesus, the One who came to save us.
     4. Jesus began and ended the upper room discourse in John with a promise of Peace: John 14:27,  Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” And then, in John 16:33   I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world." There will be peace for those who trust Him!
     5. Remember the promise: as we lean on Him, His peace will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  You can take God at His Word! Shalom, the way life should be!     AMEN.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

The Hope of Advent - Titus 2:11-15

The Hope of Advent
Titus 2:11-15
IntroductionYou have probably noticed the decorations around the church (and around town!) have begun to appear. We saw some decorations going up already last week, before Thanksgiving!  For many people, Christmas is a time for adorning the house and decorating the carefully selected tree with the symbols that are associated with Advent.  Those traditions are ok, as long as we maintain our focus on the One who is the reason for the season.
       This week as we begin our month-long Advent celebration, we focus on the “Hope” that came with the Advent of Christ. We’ll turn to a passage in Paul’s letter to Titus that reminds us that sound doctrine, right teaching of God’s word, is something that we can adorn, it visibly impacts us and changes us. It gives us hope, while revealing the beauty of the Gospel to those around us: “…in every-thing they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.” Some translations say, “make attractive” the teaching. We want to show God off to the world!  When people see that we have hope in the midst of this chaos it gets their attention because “hope” is something everyone desperately longs for.  The ESV reads…
so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.  11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people,  12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age,  13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ,  14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.  15 Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority… (Titus 2:10-15a).
Have you ever faced a situation that seemed helpless? Such must have been the feeling of John Aldredge and Anthony Sosinski. They were commercial fishermen, heading out from Montauk, Long Island in the summer of 2017.
As they headed out to sea, about 40 miles offshore, Anthony was sleeping below deck while John was working to get things ready for the catch they would soon begin to haul in. John was pulling on a handle with all of his might when it snapped, sending him sprawling backwards, and right off the boat. As soon as he surfaced he began screaming for help, but he knew there was no way for Anthony to hear him below deck. And he didn’t. John watched the boat pulling away, over the crest of a wave, and that was it, he couldn’t see it anymore. He was alone, treading water in the open Atlantic, without a life vest, thinking this was the way he was going to die. I can’t imagine what that must have felt like. A hopeless situation? Or was it?
       Have you ever been in a situation where you began to lose hope, where it seemed there was nothing but darkness as you looked ahead?  What can give us perspective, and hope, as believers in Jesus, we have a sure hope that is based on the truth that Jesus Christ has defeated death, He knows us, and one day we will see Him face to face. One little boy said “Hope is wishing for something that you know ain’t gonna happen!Biblical hope is different. Hope means to anticipate something with a confident expectation that it is coming. We find comfort in the promise that the suffering of this present age is not worthy to be compared to the glory that shall be revealed in us (Rom 8:18). It seems that Paul is saying that as we live in submission to God’s revealed truth, we reveal the intrinsic beauty of who God is, and what he has done in us and for us. For Paul theology is always practical and it must filter from our mind to our heart, and to our hands and our feet. The truth He has revealed empowers and motivates us to live by faith.
The Maine* Idea: The first coming of Jesus revealed God’s grace and motivates us to live faithfully in the sure hope of His return. We’ll take a verse at a time…
I. The Advent of Christ offers hope: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people…” (11).
       Grace has appeared, because the Grace Giver, the gracious Redeemer, burst upon the stage of human history over 2000 years ago. Grace has appeared since He came of his own free will, with a purpose, to give himself to provide salvation for all who would believe.  We are so familiar with the story we can almost forget how astounding it is in the way that it unfolded. After 400 years of silence, the God of all creation, the Lord of the universe who spoke in times past through the prophets, spoke in His Son.  He himself took on a human nature, He came as one of us. The Jewish people in the first century had a hope based on Scripture, hope that one day Messiah would arrive and save His people. Contrary to expectations he came under the humblest circumstances not to defeat armies and establish His earthly kingdom, but rather to make a way for forgiveness and life.
       Paul goes on to say that grace appeared, “…bringing salvation for all people…” Not to say that all people would be saved, but that the price has been paid and the gift has been offered, the One Way of salvation through faith in Christ has been extended to all classes of people, and to all races and nations.  In the context, Paul had just been talking to masters and servants, to husbands and wives, to young and old, telling them to walk worthy of their calling in Christ.  Jesus is the one and only source of forgiveness and life, the Way, the Truth, and the Life, the only name under heaven by which we can be saved (John 14:6, Acts 4:12).   The first coming of Jesus revealed God’s grace and motivates us to live faithfully in the sure hope of His return. The advent of Christ is the Advent of hope, and…
II. Hope calls us to live differently: “…training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age…” (12).
       First of all, we are to live differently in terms of what we don’t do: “…teaching us to renounce ungodliness and worldly lusts…” Sin is a choice.  We have certainly seen that in our series on Jonah. The prophet willfully turned his back on God and rejected His Word. As we live our lives in this fallen world, our hope in Christ is something that motivates us to live more and more in the light of eternity.     Increasingly our forward focus on Jesus and what He has prepared for us will enable us to say no to sin: “I have been crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me. And the life I live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me…” (Gal 2:20). We have hope!
       Positively, we are called to live in a way that manifests the fruit of the Spirit, the presence of God in our lives: “…we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age…” Did you know that you are living, already, in the future? We have, right now, eternal life. We are living in this world, but we are citizens of heaven. We walk in this present age, but we already are partakers of the age to come. As Paul told the Colossians He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son…” (Col 1:13). Our sure hope about the future motivates us to live differently, to adorn, that is, “make attractive,” the doctrine of God. And so, the first coming of Jesus revealed God’s grace and motivates us to live faithfully in the sure hope of His return. 
III. Hope calls us to live expectantly… “…waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ…” (13).
       Hope involves waiting confidently, expectantly.  The word “hope” usually has a different connotation in modern English, it’s something we desire or want or long for, but we don’t necessarily have confidence that it will happen.  We “hope” it will, but there may be doubt, our “hope” might be no more than wishful thinking.  One child said, “Hope is wishing for something you know ain’t gonna happen.”  Well biblical “hope” is different. It implies anticipation, confidence, faith, based on God’s revealed Word, an assurance that God is good, and a sure expectation that God’s story is going to unfold according to His plan.
        Waiting for what? The first coming of Christ revealed grace, God’s unmerited favor, and provided the basis of the gracious salvation provided in the Cross. His second coming will reveal more fully his unveiled glory. We see a glimpse of His glory now, but wait until we see what John saw in Revelation 1:13-18,
“…and in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band.  14 His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire;  15 His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters;  16 He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength.  17 And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, "Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last.  18 "I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen.”
       Waiting for who? The language here is quite emphatic, “…our Great God and Savior, Jesus Christ…” He is our Savior. Because of Him we have hope. He is God, so our hope is sure. Think of that: The first coming of Jesus revealed God’s grace and motivates us to live faithfully in the sure hope of His return. 
IV. The Advent of Hope was costly and purposeful: “…who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” (14).
          Christmas is a time for giving, but there is no doubt that the true gift of Christmas was presented 2000 years ago. The gift-giving can distract us from the greatest gift of Christmas, which came at such cost….
In an episode of the comic strip “Peanuts,” Charlie Brown cracks open his piggy bank. He says to Lucy, “Look, I’ve got $9.11 to spend on Christmas gifts.”  Lucy is not impressed as she says, “You can’t buy something for everyone with $9.11, Charlie Brown.” Charlie Brown says, “Oh yeah? Well I’m gonna try!” “Then” Lucy continues, “they’re sure gonna be cheap presents.”  Charlie  says with absolute conviction, “Nothing is cheap if it costs all that you have.”
On the very first Christmas, God gave us all that He had: Himself, in the person of his Son, Jesus. Thirty-three years later Jesus would give us all that he had: his very life. Now it is our turn to give a gift to Jesus, and it should, likewise, cost all that you've got. 
       Ultimately it was not a present under a tree, but the One who was given, hung on a tree.  He “gave himself for us,” that not only means that He came for us, but that he came to die for us. He gave himself to redeem us from the penalty of sin. “Redeem” translates lutroo, “free by paying a ransom.” We were guilty, condemned sinners, unable to free ourselves.  There is an old famous story of A.J. Gordon who was the great Baptist pastor of the Clarendon Church in Boston. It’s worth retelling…
“One day he met a young boy in front of the sanctuary carrying a rusty cage in which several birds fluttered nervously. Gordon inquired, "Son, where did you get those birds?" The boy replied, "I trapped them out in the field." "What are you going to do with them?" He said, "I’m going to play with them, and then I guess I’ll just feed them to an old cat we have at home." When Gordon offered to buy them, the lad exclaimed, "Mister, you don’t want them, they’re just little old wild birds and can’t sing very well." Gordon replied, "I’ll give you $2 for the cage and the birds." "Okay, it’s a deal, but you’re making a bad bargain." The exchange was made and the boy went away whistling, happy with his shiny coins. Gordon walked around to the back of the church property, opened the door of the small wire coop, and let the struggling creatures soar into the blue.”
       That’s redemption. The wages of sin is death. That is what we deserved. Jesus paid the price that we couldn’t pay.  He did what we could not do for ourselves. He who was without sin, was made sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. The Advent of Hope was costly, it was also purposeful.  He gave himself to make possible a new life, to give us a new heart. Remember that beautiful passage in Ezekiel 36:25-27,  
I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your unclean-nesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.  26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”
For that hope to be ours, a price had to be paid, God’s justice, His wrath against sin, had to be satisfied. Jesus, the Son, came to be the Lamb who would take the penalty, and by grace through faith, we receive His righteousness.  That grace was revealed in the first coming of Jesus and motivates us to live faithfully in the sure hope of His return. 
V. Hope engages us in mission: “Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority…” (15).
       Paul admonished Titus to declare the truth, to speak about the hope we have in Christ, not apologetically, but confidently. It was a mission that Paul himself embraced and lived, and it was something that he expected to see in his disciples. We too are called to be his witnesses, to boldly stand up for Christ and to speak the truth in love, with passion and conviction. One of the key themes we’ve seen in our study of Jonah is his initial unwillingness to share the message of God with unbelievers. I think the implication of the book is that by the end Jonah gets it, and his readers are invited to accept the call as well. Have you looked for opportunities to share that message of Hope with those in your sphere of influence? The call to share the message of hope that Jesus offers is a key aspect of the ongoing mission of the church. The first step in making disciples is telling people the truth about Jesus, about who He is and why He came. Look around, the fields are white for the harvest. We are surrounded by people who desperately need Jesus.  At this time of the year people are perhaps more open to hear what we have to say about the One who gave himself to give us hope.
What is God saying to me in this passage?  The first coming of Jesus revealed God’s grace and motivates us to live faithfully in the sure hope of His return. 
What would God have me to do in response to this passage?  As you might have figured out, John Aldredge survived his harrowing ordeal when he fell overboard.
He didn’t panic. First, he realized that he could invert his boots, trapping some air inside, and he put them under his arms as a flotation device. He had a flicker of hope… at least he could keep afloat. Four hours later, Anthony, back on the boat, woke up, and found the broken handle. He realized what must have happened and called the Coast Guard. John made it alive until morning, and tried to keep his hope alive. He was close to despair when he spotted a fishing buoy, which he was able to reach and latch onto. A surge of hope! Only about an hour later, a Coast Guard helicopter flew nearby and spotted him, waving and splashing!  By the time he was pulled aboard, about 12 hours had passed since John went overboard.
Truth be told, John didn’t have a reasonable expectation of rescue. But he never lost hope. As we enter the Advent season this year may I ask you, do you have hope?  I don’t mean wishful thinking or denial, but real hope, firmly grounded in the truth that God is, and He has spoken in the Son, assurance that He became a man, He lived among us, He bore our sins on the tree, He rose from the grave and He will return. That is biblical hope, that is our sure hope!
       The Lord’s Table reminds us why He came, and we celebrate what He accomplished. If you are unsure about where you stand with Jesus, there is no need to doubt. The gift of Christmas has been purchased: salvation, life, a sure hope for tomorrow.  Jesus didn’t brave the lines on Black Friday to buy some Christmas presents to place under a tree, He faced the Cross on Good Friday, to purchase the gift of life and hope. But like any gift, it must be received, …whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have everlasting life… whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.  His gift is received by faith: Life and Hope in Jesus.  AMEN.