The Savior’s Triumph

TriumphYou can listen to the podcast here.

Last week we looked at the mission of the Savior in part 3 of our Christmas series in Isaiah. The Savior’s mission can be summed by saying He came to do the will of the Father and that included saving people from sin by acting as the substitutionary sacrifice on the cross. Over the course of the last few weeks, we’ve seen the sign, character, and mission of the Savior. This morning we’ll finish up by examining the triumph of the Savior.

I encourage you to take the time and read Isaiah 11.

During the presidential campaign of 2008, America was introduced to a man many people believed would be the savior of America. He became our 44th president with promises of hope and change for America. We see athletes and Hollywood stars elevated to a position of greatness and their incredible wisdom is sought over such far reaching issues as global warming, national security, America’s place in the world, civil unrest, and world peace. These people have been elevated by us to a position of worship. Like America today, the nation of Judah in Isaiah’s time was looking for a Messiah. They were faced with desperate circumstances the likes of which no one had ever faced. Their king had rejected God’s clear instruction and firm promises by forming political and military alliances with the Assyrians, only to see them backfire in the worst possible way. Now, it was either going to be death or deportation.  It was only a matter of time. In such desperate times, people look for a way to escape; they look for deliverance, they look for a way out. Sometimes those desires cause us to cry out, is there anybody out there who cares? Will somebody deliver me, will somebody rescue us?  That was the thinking of the people in 700 B.C. Judah and that was the feeling last month in the elections as the American people grew tired of unfulfilled promises. Isaiah’s message gives us the final answer to those desperate cries. He emphatically declared that God would send a true Messiah. His name is Immanuel – God with us. Although in appearance He is a child, His true nature is as a wonderful Counselor, mighty God, everlasting Father, and Prince of peace. His mission is to heal the wounds of the brokenhearted, to release those enslaved by sin, and to restore what has been lost in the years wasting away without Him. All this we now know was fulfilled by Christ Jesus.

In Isaiah 11, the prophet takes us back to the future. Centuries melt away as Isaiah takes us past the birth, life, death, and resurrection of our Savior. We are taken beyond his time and ours and come to a day in the future when this same Messiah who came 2000 years ago will reign over the entire earth. Isaiah tells us what it will be like when His will is done on earth as it is in heaven. You have to wonder why the Holy Spirit wants us to see this vision of the future. Maybe it’s because we need to understand what kind of king was found in the manger of Bethlehem. During this Christmas week, will you come and worship with the shepherds and Magi, or will you dismiss the significance of this incredible birth? Jesus came from a very humble background.  He did not come from a family of incredible wealth, but from a family that was desperate to find some place just for Him to be born. The opening verse in Isaiah 11 tells us, “Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit.” God is always faithful and I don’t want you to miss the significance of this. When a living tree is cut down, a shoot springs forth bringing new life. The shoot Isaiah is talking about is from the stem of Jesse. Jesse was the father of King David, Israel’s greatest king. Isaiah mentions Jesse, but not David.  I wonder why that is. Maybe it’s because God magnifies His grace in ways that we don’t. 1 Cor. 1:27-29 says, but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God.” You see, we tend to elevate the beautiful, the strong, those that are wealthy and powerful. God tends to elevate the meek, the faithful, the willing, those that seek His will. The One that would deliver the world from sin came in a very unpretentious and unpredictable manner. The Messiah would not be born into privilege. Jesse was never king so Jesus is not being born into the royal family and won’t grow up in a palace. He will not start out as royalty; He will inherit His kingdom. But Jesus will be more than an equal to King David. This baby born in Bethlehem will rise to do what no one has ever done.

Jesus will have God’s Spirit on Him in unlimited measure. Verse 2: “The Spirit of the LORD will rest on Him, The spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and strength, The spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.” We have never experienced a leader like this. The people in Isaiah’s day hadn’t either. This shoot from Jesse’s family will have the power of God on Him. He won’t try to accomplish the goals of His Father by human power – He will be controlled by the Spirit of God. The result is perfect wisdom and understanding. He will be unlike any leader in the history of the world. He doesn’t need a Cabinet of advisors. He will appoint no czars. He doesn’t need legislators or judges to help Him. He knows what needs to be done and He has the counsel and strength of the Spirit upon Him. The reign of Christ will bring every person face to face with the King. Look again at Is. 11:3-5. Christ’s rule can be summed up in three words: righteousness, fairness, and faithfulness. Each of these words is about conforming to a standard. From this passage we see that the benchmark for this final King doesn’t come from the people that are around Him. It doesn’t come from the latest research, seminar, or book. There was no election. He reigns by the authority of God and judges by the standards of God. I think the idea of these verses is not how He is going to judge mankind, but how He is going to judge each of our lives. You will be judged by reality, not by perception. He will not be swayed by emotion.  He will see you for who you really are. He will deal with you with precise justice, evaluating your life in accordance with the holiness of God. And when He pronounces His judgment, it is final. All who are made righteous by faith in Christ will be exalted.  All others, He will wipe from the face of the earth.

Nature will be turned upside down. Look at vs. 6-8. Wolf and the lamb – together. Cows and bears grazing; lion’s eating straw. Little kids will play with what used to be deadly snakes. Life becomes as it was in the Garden of Eden. The labor pains that the earth groans and suffers that Paul mentions in Romans 8:22 is over. The rest of the story is found in vs. 9-10.  All that is evil, all that is bad, all that causes pain is gone. All that caused decay and ruin is over. On that day, all crime will cease. Everybody on earth will know God. “The nations will resort to the root of Jesse” (that’s Jesus) Who will stand as a signal for the peoples” (a rallying point). “And His resting place will be glorious.”

Do you know who is born of a virgin in Bethlehem? Do you realize who you’re dealing with this Christmas? The world is divided over this child, for at His birth, God drew a line in the sand. You cannot be neutral about this baby who is called Immanuel – God with us because there is coming a day in which He will not be neutral about you. His first coming was marked by humility because He loved us so much that, though completely innocent, He willingly took the guilt of our sin and the wrath of God on the cross for our sakes. He shed His precious blood, died and was buried. But three days later, He rose from the dead by the same power of God that is available to you.  He later ascended to heaven where He patiently waits for the Father to say, “It’s time.” And then, He will come again to this earth, only it will not be in humility because the next time God, “Bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

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The Savior’s Sign

Virgin BirthYou can listen to the podcast for this message here.

He is considered one of the greatest men of God from the olden days. He was a counselor to kings and a writer whose O.T. book is quoted more often in the New Testament than any other except the book of Psalms. When Jesus preached His first sermon, He preached out of a passage from this man’s writings. His calling from God is one of the most beautiful pictures in Scripture. “In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called out to another and said, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory.’ And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke.” (Is. 6:1-4) This man would be inspired to say things about the Lord so incredible that it boggles our mind. is name is Isaiah and he is a prophet.

Isaiah 7:10-17 is a familiar passage to people in and out of the church and I encourage you to get your Bible and read this incredible passage for yourself.

You’ve heard the saying, desperate times call for desperate measures? This passage comes just after Isaiah answers the call of God in 6:1-4. Isaiah finds himself right in the middle of some pretty intense political action. Isaiah 7:1-2 sets the stage for us. At some point in our lives, every one of us will face desperate times. Circumstances present themselves that may bring us to the edge of despair where there seem to be few options and time is running out. In this passage I want you so see some things that put Judah’s king Ahaz on the edge of despair. Ahaz was an unstable man. He had a godly father and grandfather, but he did not follow in their footsteps. Having godly relatives is no guarantee of godly children. Unless a child personally chooses to enter into a biblical relationship with God through Christ, he will leave that home one day without the tools necessary to face the world.

I don’t know everything about Ahaz, but this much is clear. His life can be summed up as recorded in 2 Kings 16:2, “Ahaz was twenty years old when he became king, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem; and he did not do what was right in the sight of the LORD his God, as his father David had done.” He is not in a wilderness period and he is not sowing his wild oats. He did not do what is right in God’s eyes. Ahaz is probably in his early twenties and he is confronted with a very serious national crisis, but he doesn’t possess the life experience or spiritual resources necessary to effectively handle it. To make a really long story short, Assyria and the northern kingdom of Israel joined forces to invade the southern kingdom of Judah. Against the guidance of God’s prophets, Israel formed an alliance with Assyria in an effort to defend against what they knew was coming from Assyria. It was a, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em scenario. It was Assyria’s practice to invade and conquer neighboring countries and take the people prisoner. Assyria’s  goal was to invade Judah and get rid of king Ahaz. Verse 2 tells us “His heart and the hearts of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake with the wind.” So what’s a king to do? Godly kings seek wise counsel from God and then there is Ahaz. Ahaz was foolish. 2 Kings 17 indicate that Ahaz is going to try and form his own alliance independent of Assyria and Israel only his alliance won’t be against Assyria, it would be with Assyria. Ahaz is planning to buy off Assyria to save himself. You can feel the desperation in Ahaz’s reasoning. So it is with this information that we find the prophet Isaiah called to go talk to king Ahaz in 7:3. Let’s see how this is set up in 7:3-9.

The actual reality is that God always comes through. How many times has God used seemingly incidental things to remind us that He is right there? He is involved in our lives even if we can’t see exactly what He is doing. Here is Ahaz looking over the water supply lines of Judah. Isaiah and his son Shear-jashub walk up to Ahaz. Hebrew names carried a lot of significance. Isaiah means Jehovah has saved. Shear-jashub means a remnant shall return. Standing right in front of Ahaz are reminders of who God is and that He will preserve His people. Remember that Ahaz’s father and grandfather were godly men. God is always bigger than your problems and your fears. In the face of certain defeat, look at what God says through Isaiah in v. 4, “Take care and be calm, have no fear and do not be fainthearted.” God is saying don’t look for a way out, but look for a way through your difficult situation. 1 Cor. 10:13, “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” Do you believe that no situation is too hard for God? For Ahaz, God was trying to show him that his trust must be placed in the One that can handle the problem. V. 9 says, “If you will not believe, you surely shall not last.” Faith, that strong conviction in what you cannot see often stands in the way of God accomplishing what He wants to accomplish. If you do not stand firm, you will fall. God was trying to get Ahaz to believe. To walk by faith, not by sight. To be a follower of God first, then a king.

This is a good time for a miracle. It is at this moment that something incredible takes place. Vs. 10-11 says, “Then the Lord spoke again to Ahaz saying, ‘Ask a sign for yourself from the Lord your God; make it deep as Sheol or high as heaven.’” Isaiah was there to speak to the king on behalf of God and Ahaz doesn’t want to listen; all he can think about is the Assyrian army. Ask whatever you want – no limit. “I will not ask, nor will I test the LORD.” Now Ahaz gets all spiritual on Isaiah. He is conveniently forgetting what is going on in Judah: idolatry, human sacrifices, asheroth pole worship, Baal worship. The reality is that Ahaz had already made up his mind and nothing Isaiah said or did would convince him to trust God. Are we like that? Do we seek guidance and counsel from the Scriptures, or do we avoid it because we’ve already made up our minds as to what we will do.

Here is the moment set apart for Isaiah. He turns from the king and begins to speak to the crowd that had gathered. The story continues in vs. 13-14, “Then he said, “Listen now O house of David! Is it too slight a thing for you to try the patience of men, that you will try the patience of my God as well? Therefore, the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call his name Immanuel.” It is God that gives the sign. He doesn’t send an angel or a prophet – God Himself sees to it.

What is the meaning of the sign? This sign is meant to get our attention. V. 13 starts with “Listen now.” Pay attention to what is coming. This sign proves that God can do whatever He wants to do. Sign means a signal or a distinguishing mark. It is something that is obvious, something that will stand out. This sign involves the birth of a son after an impossible pregnancy. A virgin will conceive. Isaiah tells everyone that at some point a woman will conceive a child that simply cannot be explained.  When you see that, that is God’s handiwork. This sign means that God is coming in the flesh. His name is Immanuel meaning God with us. God will be with us in the flesh. He will dwell among us. We will see and experience His glory. 700 hundred years later, that sign was realized. A young woman named Mary was engaged to a guy named Joseph. An angel appeared and told her what to expect. Luke 1:31 records the words of the prophet, “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus.”

If God can cause a woman to conceive in a miraculous manner, why do you doubt that He can take care of you? The birth of Immanuel, God with us, served as a sign for people desperate to see God working. When all seems hopeless to us, God already has a plan in place, has already set the process in motion. Before you even realized you need Him, He is already there. Sometimes it takes being in the pit of despair to see the hope of a Savior. Immanuel means God with us, not God might be here one day if you’re really good.

The Donkey Said What?

DonkeyYou can listen to the podcast for this message here.

Last week it went from bad to worse as Peter told us that these false teachers had eyes full of adultery that evaluated every woman they saw as a potential participant in their ungodly ways. They turned their backs on the right way and followed after the greed loving Balaam. This morning, a rebuke comes from the unlikeliest of places. This should have been included in last week’s message, but there wasn’t enough time.

2 Pet. 2:16-17 says, “But he received a rebuke for his own transgression, for a mute donkey, speaking with a voice of a man, restrained the madness of the prophet. These are springs without water and mists driven by a storm, for whom the black darkness has been reserved.”

A funny thing happened on the way to Israel. Peter picks up the story of Balaam from Numbers 22 as he was making his way to meet Balak to discuss this cursing of God’s people. Please remember that Balaam is not a true prophet of God. He’s in it for the money. He’s in it to maintain his soft, cushy lifestyle. So Balaam is on his way to meet up with Balak under the pretense of godliness, but is really driven by greed. “But he received a rebuke for his own transgression, for a mute donkey, speaking with the voice of a man, restrained the madness of the prophet.” (2 Pet. 2:16) Balaam is supposed to be a prophet of God, but doesn’t recognize the Angel of the Lord standing in front of him. You’ve got to go back and read Num. 22:21-35 to get the full picture. Balaam is arguing with a donkey. If the donkey didn’t see the Angel of the Lord, v. 33 says that He would have killed Balaam and let the donkey live. Balaam admitted to sinning against God after he was told.

Even though Balaam appears godly, the contrast from v. 35 tells us the real story: “But you shall speak only the word which I tell you.” It gives the indication that he had his own agenda. Balaam listened because the donkey spoke with the voice of the man. We would call this a miracle – a sign that so many people look for. The rebuke from the donkey was because Balaam was going to meet with Balak. The donkey, “restrained the madness of the prophet.” The donkey had to get involved. It’s pretty bad when someone that calls himself a prophet of God doesn’t know the way of God and doesn’t recognize God when He’s standing in front of him. Balaam was not literally crazy. Peter is saying that any way that is contrary to the right way, the straightway, the pure way, the holy way, the Jesus way is utter madness. If the donkey didn’t get involved, Balaam would have been killed right there instead of dying while fighting against Israel. Unrighteousness always leads to judgment.

Peter has talked about the character of the false teachers. They intentionally lead Christians astray. They malign the way of the truth. They indulge the flesh. They’re daring and self willed. They’re not scared when they revile angelic majesties. They’re unreasoning animals. They lure or entice unstable souls. They revile where they have no knowledge. He has clearly established the character of the false teachers is less than what is expected of a vibrant relationship with Christ. Peter now illustrates the affect they have on other people. It’s always nice to illustrate what you mean so Peter compares things that would be understood by his readers. He says the false teachers are like, “Springs without water.” When you go to a spring, you expect water. Think about traveling in the Middle East. There is a lot of wilderness and rugged terrain and it’s hot. A spring would be a welcome opportunity to rest and recharge. A spring without water is useless. This is a comparison to the deception of the false teachers. Teachers of God’s Word should provide clarity, should provide water for thirsty souls, but in the end people expecting help were left parched, frustrated, and confused. There is a parallel from Jeremiah: For My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, to hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water.”  (Jer. 2:13) They promised solid Bible teaching, but their teaching led people away from the straight way. Pro. 13:14, “The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life, to turn aside from the snares of death.” The false teachers are, “Mists driven by a storm.” Again, thinking of Israel as that dry and parched land in desperate need of rain, the mists that could bring relief are blown away. The results of both comparisons are the same. When you need to satisfy a deep thirst, you need water. It’s like giving someone an empty glass to quench their thirst.

These false teachers did not deliver what they promised. They promised no judgment, but God always judges sin. The wages of sin is death. “Black darkness has been reserved” for the false teachers. Once again, Peter hammers coming judgment for these people. Don’t be seduced into thinking that what we do doesn’t matter.

Expect a Miracle

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And so it is Christmas. We begin our Christmas series for this year. Every year seems Christmas seems to come earlier and earlier. American retailers capitalize on our materialism, our over spending, our overeating, and our overwhelming urge for self indulgence. I hope it will be a Christmas like no other for you and your family as we cut through all the distractions of the season.

Is. 7:14 says, “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.” What does God look like?

We know from Genesis that we are created in His image. We know he has hands and he hears and sees. Would we know God if He walked in or when He showed up? Over the years artists have sculpted God, have painted God, have drawn images of what they think God looks like. Would we recognize God or would be like people in the old west that asked, “Who was that masked man?” Centuries before the Messiah came, prophets proclaimed, “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this.” (Is. 9:6-7) This soon coming king would suffer, would be rejected by his own people; He would know heartache and pain. This King would hang out with the ones society deemed low class and poor. People had been told about this King and they had different expectations about what he would look like, what he would act like, what he would be like. Some thought this king would be a political leader that would turn the world upside down; someone that would return the world to the time of King David.

When we talk to loved ones or friends on the phone, you have the mental picture of what they look like. When you pray, what mental picture of God do you formulate? Is it the condemning judge that sits on His mighty throne waiting to drop the hammer on you? Is He like that parent that never says no? That never provides guidance or discipline that lets you do whatever you like? Is He a God that rewards obedience with material wealth or physical health? Or is He a God that is present with you regardless of your circumstances? Immanuel – God with us.

When describing God we use adjectives like all-mighty, all powerful, majestic, consuming, liberating, rich, and infinite. And yet, not one of these words would describe Jesus. Jesus was not at all what people expected. His life is a contradiction of worldly values and ideals. He was not born in power in strength, but in weakness. He was born to a poor family in a poor town filled with marginalized people. He spent his early years as a refugee in Africa where He escaped political genocide. He spent his childhood in a blue-collar, working class family. As He grew into a man, he faced opposition from religious leaders. He resisted the world’s obsession with money, power, and recognition. He had compassion and empathy for the weak, the orphans, and the destitute of society. What does God look like? He looks like Jesus – God with us!

Is this today’s Jesus? We often view Jesus as the genie in the bottle. He exists to grant our every wish. We have redefined Jesus into our own image who promises to give us everything we want. He has become an idol of consumption, materialism, and self indulgence. He has become Santa Claus Jesus. We know the familiar song . . . He knows when you are sleeping, he knows if you’d been good or bad. In this same way, we have reduced God to a heavenly watchdog that judges what we do or don’t do and then grants punishment or reward. This is not the God we see in Jesus. He doesn’t come bearing gifts to give to good boys and girls. God’s gift of Jesus cannot be neatly wrapped in a box with a pretty bow on it. If you’re picture of God is distorted, your view of life will be distorted. We have this commercialized idea of Jesus as the magical gift giver sent from above and as a result, we have certain expectations for Christmas, but Jesus doesn’t do magic. Magic is trickery, sleight of hand, it’s an illusion, it’s for our entertainment; our enjoyment not for our transformation. God doesn’t do magic; He does miracles. That magical, wonderful, ideal, storybook Christmas is unattainable. We get all the new and improved decorations, holiday recipes, and latest gifts to create a warm, fuzzy experience and we’re left wanting. The fuzzy feelings pass and we’re left exhausted, stressed, and overwhelmed at the shopping, spending, school programs, cooking, entertaining, and wrapping of gifts we don’t need or will never use. In the hustle and bustle of the holiday festivities, we miss Immanuel – the gift of God with us. The idolatry of consumerism is tough to knock down. John Wesley said the wallet is the last thing converted in a person’s life. Jesus said it Himself in Matt. 6:24, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

Get ready for a miracle. Christmas is the celebration of a miracle. A young girl conceived a child without the participation of a man and yet we push the miracle worker out of the celebration. Merriam Webster defines miracle as “an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs.” Every salvation is a miracle of God’s love, of God’s involvement, of God’s desire for an intimate relationship with His ultimate creation. Do you feel like you’re not worth it? In John 7:38 Jesus said, “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, from his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.” The same Holy Spirit that conceived the Miracle that Mary carried within her lives inside of every ordinary believer. Our Messiah was ordinary too. Is. 53:2-3 says of Jesus, “For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.” Not quite the leader the world was looking for. He would not have been one of the cool kids at school. He was from the wrong side of the tracks of an insignificant little town where one person asked, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” (Jo. 1:46) He was ordinary looking, probably plain, nothing that would draw people to Him. That’s the way most of us are yet God chooses to use us, to work in us and work through us.

Scripture is filled with ordinary people that God used in extraordinary ways. Moses was not eloquent in speech and had anger issues. Jonah was disobedient.    David was an adulterer, a conspirator, and a murderer. Peter spoke without thinking. Thomas was a doubter. Paul was a persecutor of Christians, but God had plans for each of them and He has plans for you. “For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” (Jer. 29:11) Are you willing to pay the price? The angel greeted Mary and said, “You have found favor with God.” (Lu. 1:30) Mary faced certain rejection, criticism, and ostracism because of her unwed pregnancy. While grace is free, it’s not cheap. It was not culturally acceptable to be pregnant out of wedlock and Mary had to be thinking, “Wow, if this is God’s favor, I don’t want to be on His wrong side.” What about Joseph? I’m sure life was tough for him too. His wife was pregnant and he wasn’t the father.

Jesus came to this earth not just to die sacrificially on our behalf, but also to demonstrate sacrificial living. How far has our modern Christmas diverted from the original Christmas? We want to be warm and fuzzy surrounded by family and friends with the gentle sound of Christmas carols playing softly in the background. Mary and Joseph were alone in a strange place and of that night we sing, “The cattle are lowing the poor Baby wakes, but little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes.” Their Christmas was full of poverty and anxiety, not mulled cider, turkey, ham, and peppermint sticks. And let’s not forget the reason Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt was to escape government sanctioned genocide. I’m not sure how Mary and Joseph would describe their memories of Christmas, but it was probably not a silent night where all was calm and all was bright.

Christmas is about the sacrificial gift of Jesus that we want to leave in the manger. But you cannot separate the child in the manger from the message of Christ on the cross. The meaning of life is not found in material possessions or personal comfort. The meaning of Christmas is not found in endless debt and getting gifts not needed. I agree with Paul is saying the meaning of life in found in, “know[ing] Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.” (Phil 3:10) Expect God to perform the same miracles in your life that He performed in Mary and Joseph’s lives.

The Promise (1 Peter, Part 4)

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Last week looked at our future inheritance, our joy, and our confidence. We learned that we have an inheritance to look forward to and that we can have confidence in the Lord whom protects us by His power. We saw that the proof of our faith is more precious than gold. Even though we don’t see Him, we love Him because we walk by faith, not by sight. This morning we’ll look at something the prophets could see, but only dimly.

1 Peter 1:10-12 says, “As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven – things into which angels long to look.”

Peter reminds his readers and us of the prediction of the promise. The salvation that Peter refers to is the salvation that is provided by the sprinkling of Jesus’ blood in verse 2. This is the same salvation that the prophets foretold throughout Scripture. Prophets were men of God moved to write the things that God told them to write. 1 Tim. 3:16 says, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.” Scripture is good for teaching, good for refutation, good for instruction, and training. You can use the Scriptures to improve all areas of your life. You can use the Scriptures to prove others wrong. The prophets of old were moved to write. A prophet is someone moved by the Spirit of God and is His spokesman. A prophet declares what he has received by inspiration, especially concerning future events, and in particular such as relates to the kingdom of God and to salvation. A true prophet’s predictions always come true. They are not his predictions, but God’s. They never have to be changed if the prophecies don’t come true because God’s prophets are always right. Today’s prophets are not the same as the prophets of old. Today’s prophets declare the truths of the Bible. They don’t receive special revelation from God. Yes, they’re moved by God; yes they’re led by God; but I do not believe today’s prophets receive special inspiration by God. The prophets said that grace would come to you. Titus 2:11 says “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men.” The prophets said grace would come and Paul says grace has come. Grace has come in the form of Jesus Christ and He has bestowed upon all men unmerited favor allowing the possibility to enter into a relationship with God the Father through the work of the Son on the cross. The prophets knew of His coming because they received the revelation of God. The prophets, “made careful searches and inquiries.”  This phrase literally means to sniff out like a dog sniffs out a scent. They sought out; they scrutinized; the prophets wanted to make sure they understood what the Lord was showing them. The idea is that they perceived that there were some great and glorious truths that they didn’t fully comprehend. They used their natural faculties to understand what they were inspired to write. They became students and interpreters for themselves of their own predictions. These prophets were men and had souls that needed salvation the same as we do. They needed to be sanctified by the truth; and the truth needed to be applied to their own hearts in the same way as it is in others. Just because the Lord chose them to reveal His mysteries would not save them any more than a man who preaches the truth to others will save himself.

We have the prediction of the promise, now let’s look at the person of the promise. The prophets searched out, “what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow.” They sought to know the character of the One who would bring this grace. The prophets knew they were talking about the Messiah. They didn’t know what He would look like. I’m sure they thought of His work and His nature and wondered what it would be like to be with Him. Much like we wonder about things like our future spouses, our children, or our grandchildren. They sought to know the time the Spirit of Christ was indicating. This is not the specific time that Christ would come. This refers to the age that He would come. What time is right? Would the people and the condition of the age receive Him? Notice that the Spirit of Christ was within them. Peter is simply saying that the Spirit had to be within them so they could write without error. Do notice that Peter says the Spirit of Christ. This is the Greek word Christos meaning anointed one. Remember that Peter is talking about the prophets of old being indwelled by Christ. That means that Christ was around prior to His arrival in the flesh as recorded in John 1:14. His existence did not begin with His incarnation. As Christ has always existed, He knew of His sufferings that would come. The suffering of the Messiah is recorded in the Old Testament, but the glory that would follow is also recorded. David speaks about it in Ps. 16. Isaiah talks about it in several places in his prophecy. The glory followed the suffering and Christ knew that He would have to endure that in order for us to be sprinkled with His blood to secure our inheritance.

We’ve seen the prediction of the promise, the person of the promise, now the purpose of the promise. Verse 12 says, “It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven – things into which angels long to look.” The prophets knew that the Spirit was inspiring them for our benefit. The prophets benefited, but the prophecy was for future generations. Remember the prophecy that Peter is referring to here is that the grace of God would come. This grace has been announced or made known by those who preached the good news of Christ’s love, of His life, of His shed blood, of His payment for our sin through His death on the cross, of His resurrection, and of His ascension. That’s the good news. That’s the gospel. The time in which Peter is writing to these strangers is an awesome time. They’re around to see these prophecies actually happen in their lifetime. Jesus said it this way, “But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear. For truly I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” (Matt. 13:16-17)  I think we’re experiencing things the same way. The angels longed to look at the gospel. The word picture here is of one that can’t see something clearly so he has to stoop down to get a better look, to get a better understanding. Angels don’t have a clear understanding of the gospel. They are not omniscient and must evaluate the things of God. It is not unreasonable to think that there are many things in the plan of God that angels do not understand. They clearly have an advantage in that they are in the presence of God and know much more than we do about some things. They surely have an interest in us. They are ministering spirits. What is so interesting that the angels, “long to look.” There is something so unique about earth that we don’t find anywhere else in the universe. Man was created on earth. Man fell on earth. Christ came to earth to redeem mankind. Angels are intrigued by this and long to understand all of it. But we have the privilege of knowing the gospel.

Peter’s talked about our future inheritance and he has confidence in Christ. Grace was predicted to come by the prophets of old and those prophecies came true in the person of Jesus Christ. Peter sets all of this up to set the stage for what he will talk about next.

A Time for Reflection

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Last week Jonah expressed great joy over the provision of a castor oil plant that provided him some shade in the hot Assyrian sun. That joy turned to despair as God appointed a worm that destroyed the plant. That was followed by a scorching east wind carrying small particles of sand that blew with such force that Jonah begged God to let him die. Quite the range of mood swings. There is one final conversation that God initiates with Jonah. Let’s see what God says.

Jonah 4:9-11 tells us, “Then God said to Jonah, “Do you have good reason to be angry about the plant?” And he said, “I have good reason to be angry, even to death.” Then the LORD said, “You had compassion on the plant for which you did not work and which you did not cause to grow, which came up overnight and perished overnight. Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?”

The first thing you notice is God’s incredible patience. Hey Jonah, just one last question to think about. Do you have good reason to be angry about the plant?” God is affording Jonah another opportunity to look at things from a kingdom mindset. I don’t think God is using His mighty voice. I think He’s asking in a very soft, tender sounding voice because He still wants Jonah to get it. Pro. 15:1 tells us that, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” You want to diffuse a difficult situation quickly?    Speak softly and tenderly. It really works. Try it with your spouse, your family, friends, and co-workers.

“Do you have good reason to be angry?” Jonah said, “I have good reason to be angry, even to death.” How angry is that? No doubt the heat and scorching wind played a part in Jonah speaking before thinking. If only Jonah would have thought about the question for just a second. There’s got to be something more here than tremendous grief and sorrow over the death of a plant. Is that really the issue here or is there more going on? What kind of man are you that you would despair to the point of death over a plant? In Jonah’s mind, he was absolutely justified regardless of what anyone says, regardless of what the Word says, regardless of what God says. His mind was made up and no amount of reasonable dialogue could change what he thought.

God provides a very solid argument for agreeing with Him even though He doesn’t need to. The gentleness of God’s voice diminishes in v. 10 when He says, You had compassion on the plant for which you did not work and which you did not cause to grow, which came up overnight and perished overnight.” Jonah has some misplaced emotion. He has compassion for a plant that he had nothing to do with. He didn’t put a seed in the ground and lovingly care for the plant. He didn’t water it; he didn’t do anything for it. The plant is an inanimate object and when it dies, Jonah wants to die. He still doesn’t get it. The real issue isn’t the plant; the real issue is that Jonah is still wallowing in his great anger thinking of Nineveh’s turning from wickedness. God’s doing what He can to make Jonah realize that his priorities are whacked. Jonah had no compassion on Nineveh. His rationale? Nineveh was wicked and we judge him for his lack of love. Yet, don’t we do the same thing? All compassion goes out the door when we mention names like: Osama Bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, Moammar Khadafy, and Adolf Hitler. We have no compassion when we think of the unknown person that killed Jon Benet Ramsay, or what we believe is the unjust not guilty verdict for Casey Anthony. None when we think of the unsolved disappearance of Natalee Holloway we get angry and demand justice. When we hear of death row inmates repenting we are skeptical. We feel like Jonah and we justify our feelings by concluding they deserve death, not life. When this is our attitude, we don’t fully grasp God’s grace. If God’s grace is sufficient for you and for me, then why isn’t it sufficient for someone as despicable as Bin Laden, or Hitler? When we look at humanity from God’s perspective, from a Kingdom perspective, our attitude should change. We are the receiver’s of God’s grace – unmerited favor: we are granted what we do not deserve. We are also recipients of God’s mercy – we don’t get what we do deserve.

God does have justification for what He does. God’s last recorded question goes unanswered when He asks, Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?” It’s a very thought provoking question. If God exercises His grace and mercy on one person, why not on another? On one nation, why not another? Jonah had compassion on a plant. He cared for that plant deeply enough that when it died, he wanted to die. Jonah had an opportunity to express compassion on God’s highest creation and would not. Nineveh repented and Jonah still concluded they did not deserve God’s mercy, they deserved God’s judgment. God’s question captures the whole purpose for this book. It’s never too late to repent. No matter what a city or country has done, it’s never too late. The issue is God’s grace and mercy. It’s seen throughout the book. Jonah disobeyed the call to go to Nineveh. God’s grace resulted in a second call. Jonah deserved to die in the sea. God’s mercy resulted in a fish. Jonah deserved to bake in the sun. God’s mercy resulted in a plant. Nineveh deserved judgment for their wickedness. God’s grace sent them a prophet.

God’s desire for humanity is salvation, not destruction. He’ll do what He can to provide that salvation as long as His creation does its part. We have the responsibility to carry the message of hope – the message of salvation to people that deserve death yet God loves the world so much that He willingly gave His only begotten Son. Each person must respond to that message of hope – that’s our part of the equation. God wants Jonah to feel how He feels for Nineveh. Jonah has the capacity for compassion. He showed it to the sailors on the ship. He showed it for the plant. God loves the people in Nineveh, just like He loves the people of Jerusalem and Galilee. He also loves the people Pyongyang, Kabul, Riyadh, Mogadishu, Tehran, Malé, Tashkent, Sanaá, Bagdad, and Islamabad. What is significant about these cities? They are the capital cities of the top ten countries on Open Doors world watch list where it is most difficult to be a Christ follower. In 8 of these top 10 countries, Islam is the predominant faith.

God has compassion on these places and wants those people to hear and respond to the life changing message of Jesus Christ. God tells Jonah that, “There are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right hand and left hand.” The number is probably the entire population of the city. The exact meaning of the phrase “do not know the difference between their right hand and left hand” is not definitively known. It might refer to the Ninevite’s inability to distinguish between various religions. During this time period, there was monotheism, polytheism, atheism, idolatry, and the Assyrians were known for worshiping the constellations. It might refer to the helplessness of the people or their pitifulness. The best understanding would be that God is referring to a morally and ethically naïve group of people. The people are not innocent, but it conveys the idea that they just don’t know any better. When told the truth, they responded so they at least recognized their evil ways and did something about it. At best, this group of people is in the infancy of their Christian walk of faith. “As well as many animals” likely indicates that even God’s creatures that walk, fly, and crawl about the earth as well as the fish of the seas have a higher place than plants do. God is still the Teacher. It seems that this book ends suddenly and somewhat strangely. We don’t know what Jonah’s response was, if any. Did Jonah hear? Did Jonah care?

We leave Jonah to wallow in his self pity for being the instrument God used to accomplish the greatest mission trip ever recorded. Salvation comes to every person in Nineveh. No one can ever resent the grace of God that is shown to another person. We are all undeserving of it. Today we are left to wonder if we, God’s people, will have any compassion for a lost world. The choice is ours. What becomes of Nineveh? Do they live happily ever after? Next week, we’ll look at the rest of the story.

The Response

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Last week as Jonah prayed to God from the belly of that fish, he realized what he must do. He was undone by his circumstances, at the end of his rope and cried out to God and God heard his cries. Jonah determined to look to the temple even though he believed he had been expelled from God’s sight. It’s never too late to turn from sin to God, but that doesn’t mean you’ll escape the consequences. Jonah realized this and knew that, “Salvation is from the Lord.” It wasn’t too late for Jonah. Let’s see why.

Jonah 2:10-3:2 says, “Then the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah up onto the dry land. Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and proclaim to it the proclamation which I am going to tell you.”

Maybe Jonah thought all was lost, but God’s not finished. God is still in control of the fish and gives it one final instruction. Three days and three nights Jonah was inside that smelly, disgusting prison of his own making. It took a miraculous intervention from God to save Jonah and to get his attention. What will it take for you or for me to follow God? Have you ever prayed for a second chance? You find yourself in a place of hopelessness because you didn’t pray and now you wonder: will God give me a second chance if I pray? When that second chance is given, what will you do with it? For three days and nights Jonah wallowed around in the stomach of the fish praying, likely praying as he never had before. After Jonah prays and acknowledges that God is the author of salvation and that he needs to be obedient, the God of the universe that controls all things speaks to the fish, And it vomited Jonah up onto the dry land.” The fish being fully obedient, responds the only way he can. The fish vomits. That’s an unusual word. It means eject matter from the stomach through the mouth. In Hebrew it’s used only to arouse disgust. The fish is probably happy to get rid of Jonah. Remember in 1:13 the Bible tells us that the sailors, “Rowed desperately to return to land” so it is likely they were fairly close. There is so much that is not said in these verses. How far did Jonah fly when the fish projectile vomited him? Did he kiss the sand? Was he grateful to God for His salvation? From the fish? From hell?

And so God speaks . . . again. “Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time.” A second time. Don’t think casually about this. Second chances are not always given. We don’t know the time frame between hitting the sand and the word coming to Jonah again. Did he kick himself for not obeying the first time? Isn’t that what we do a lot of the time? We beat ourselves up because of sin, we lament over our inadequacies, we convince ourselves that God doesn’t want us, that He can’t use us. Jonah was in the belly of a fish because of disobedience, rebellion, and faithlessness. Jonah thought in terms of “I” and not of God. But the good news is that God forgave and re-commissioned Jonah. We’ll be quick to jump on Jonah and say he didn’t deserve a second chance, but guess what? He didn’t deserve his first chance either. None of us are deserving of what God chooses to do in us, through us, or for us. We don’t deserve to be part of His plan, to be part of His eternity. Not everyone gets a second chance. Adam didn’t get one. Neither did Cain. Or the lying prophet in 1 Kings 13. Or Ananias and Sapphira. Or Judas. The reality is that sometimes God does give us a second or third or fourth or however many chances He chooses. Our hearts should be filled with thanksgiving and awe when we do get a second chance. But it’s always best to listen the first time.

God calls out, “Jonah!” I wonder if Jonah was relieved? Sometimes when I mess up or I’m disobedient, I wonder if God’s grace is still going to be poured out on me. I wonder if God gets tired of forgiving me. That’s the marvel of God’s grace. I don’t deserve it. God chooses to lavishly pour His grace on me. Was Jonah sickened over his disobedience? I know when God chooses to use me after I fail in some way, I’m relieved.

God is very clear the second time just as He was very clear the first time. Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and proclaim to it the proclamation which I am going to tell you.” The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time. Jonah got the message, “Go to Nineveh.” This time he would listen. This time he would follow God’s command. Jonah’s way didn’t work. Notice there is no condemnation for Jonah’s actions. I think Jonah understood what was going on. The word that came to Jonah was a familiar sound in Jonah’s ears. The second time God spoke though, is just a bit different than the first time. The first time God spoke to Jonah, he was told to cry out against Nineveh. This second time Jonah is told to, proclaim to it the proclamation which I am going to tell you.It looks like Jonah forfeited the privilege to speak from his heart. That’s still not a bad deal. These orders were specific, but there’s something here that Jonah was guaranteed. He would receive directly from God the message that should be proclaimed. God’s revelation would continue and that’s a big burden lifted off of Jonah’s shoulders.

Even though he hated the Assyrians, he was a prophet. That may sound contrary, but Jonah was having a hard time getting passed his past. This is great encouragement to us. No matter your past or your present, God can and wants to use you. No matter what you have done, no matter your attitude, when you approach God in humility having agreed with Him regarding your sin and ask for forgiveness, you have the confidence that your sins are forgiven. The slate is washed clean. But it’s not enough just to be sorry. Matt. 3:8 says, “Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance.” For many people today, we’re sorry but there are no corresponding acts of service to the Lord. Don’t misunderstand; forgiveness is not dependent upon doing something. Service results from a repentant heart. For Jonah it meant responding to God’s second call to go to Nineveh.

What will you do with God’s second chance? Jonah had a good twenty-day walk ahead of him to get to Nineveh. Go and preach. It’s the same message that was given to the disciples. Our instructions are the same. Brother Andrew reminds us, “You cannot spell Gospel or God without first spelling Go.” So go. Go to your family, your friends, your neighbors and proclaim the same message that God gave to Jonah. Jesus loves you. Jesus died for you so you could live for Him.