December 26, 2010

Promises Kept - Dec 26, 2010

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Much of the worry and anxiety in our lives stems from the general unreliability of people. Will she really be there on time? Will he call when he said he would? Will they remember to do that thing?

Because we are sinners, we also question God’s reliability. Will He be there? Does He really have a plan? And if He does, why can’t I see where He’s going with this thing in my life?

The events of our sermon reading take place right after God’s Son was born into the world. In these events we see one major theme repeated. God is trustworthy. The promises God makes, He keeps. As it says in Numbers 23:19
“ God is not a man, that he should lie,
nor a son of man, that he should change his mind.
Does he speak and then not act?
Does he promise and not fulfill?” (Numbers 23:19 NIV).
Luke 2:21 (NIV)

21On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived.

The modern world has embraced “moral relativity”. This is the idea that there is no one code of conduct that all people must conform to. God is not a fan of “moral relativity”. He has very specific standards that He expects human being to live by.

When Jesus was born into the human race, He was already accountable to God to live a holy life. But here in the first few days of His life, Jesus is circumcised. For the Jewish people this was more than a medical procedure. It was a sign that this Child was now also accountable to keep all the additional rules and regulations that God had placed on the people of Israel. He would have to keep the religious festivals. He would be required to bring any applicable sacrifices to God’s Temple. Like it says in Galatians 5, verse 3
“3Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law” (Galatians 5:3 NIV).
The act of circumcision was a promise to keep ALL the laws of God. It was a big deal for a Jew. And that’s why a name was also given to the Child at this time.

Jesus’ name was a common Jewish name, but one of great significance. The name “Jesus” meant “Yahweh Saves”. This name embodies God’s promise to rescue the human race from the laws that they were required to keep, but couldn’t since the fall into sin.

When the angel told Joseph that Mary’s Son would be the actual Son of God, he said…
“21She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”” (Matthew 1:21 NIV).
One can hardly pass by the circumcision and naming of Jesus without recalling the words of Paul…
“4But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, 5to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons” (Galatians 4:4 NIV).
Jesus would keep the law perfectly for you and me, and thus would free us from condemnation. One day every knee will bow at the name of Jesus, for He is our salvation.

Luke 2:22-26 (NIV)

22When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23(as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), 24and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”
25Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.

At the time when Jesus was born, the religious leaders of Jews had lost sight of the true significance of the promised Savior. They had become wrapped up in earthly politics, and were teaching the people that God’s Savior would save them from Rome’s tyrannical rule. But there were some who understood the true freedom that the Christ would bring. Freedom from sin and punishment. It appears that Simeon was one of these.

In addition to the promise of a Savior, God also made a special promise to this man: He would actually get to SEE the promised Savior before his life ended.

Throughout the Old Testament period God kept the faith of His followers alive by giving them promises about the Savior to come. Prophecies about what He would be like, and what He would do for them.

Here God tenderly reaches into the life of one particular follower of God, and adds an additional faith strengthening promise – YOU, Simeon, will see Him.

You and I don’t have the same promise that Simeon had, but we have a similar one. In this lifetime we will only see the Christ through the pages of the Bible, in the life to come we will meet Him face to face. Just like Job said…
“ 25I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that in the end he will stand upon the earth.
26And after my skin has been destroyed,
yet in my flesh I will see God;
27I myself will see him
with my own eyes—I, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me!” (Job 19:27 NIV).

Luke 2:27-32 (NIV)

27Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
29“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you now dismiss your servant in peace.
30For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31which you have prepared in the sight of all people,
32a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.”

Can you imagine what this must have been like for Simeon? In his hands he was holding the Salvation of the world! The Savior promised to Adam and Eve thousands of years before was resting, a little wide-eyed baby, in his very hands!

Praise bubbles up from Simeon’s heart as he holds the Christ Child. And he expresses what this means to him – God’s promise to him is fulfilled. Not just the smaller promise that he’d get to see the Christ, but the bigger, personal promise that God had made to him. He, Simeon, a sinner, would have peace with God.

Some of the most powerful religious leader’s of Simeon’s time, the Sadducees, claimed that there was no resurrection. No life to come. Simeon would have laughed at them. He knew the significance of this Child. He was an old man, with no great hope for his earthly life. Now, he could pass from this broken world with this Child in his mind’s eye. He could die knowing all was well, and His Creator and Savior would meet him with a smile and an embrace.

All who hold the Christ Child in their hearts by faith have the same assurance. For it wasn’t the fact that Simeon held the Savior in his HANDS that was ultimately significant, it was that he held Him in his heart.

Our eyes have also seen the salvation which God prepared for Jews and Gentiles alike. And we can say the same thing as Simeon: "Lord, you can dismiss us from this life anytime you see fit. There are many things we may plan to do in our lives, but YOU have already done the most important."

Luke 2:33-35 (NIV)

33The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. 34Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

Here, we see the old man Simeon become a prophet.

In our day, many people claim to know God. For some this just means that they acknowledge that a God exists. For others this means that they believe in a specific deity. It was the same thing in Simeon’s day. Many people claimed that they trusted in God. But Jesus would reveal who actually followed the TRUE God, and who didn’t.

To Pontius Pilate Jesus said,
“…You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me” (John 18:37 NIV).
The apostle John testifies…
“23No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also” (1 John 2:23 NIV).
To a world that has embraced religious relativism, the Bible says, If you reject Jesus, you can’t know God.

But the prophet Simeon says more than that here. To Mary, Simeon speaks of a sword that would pierce her own soul. Some great and terrible pain of heart would someday touch her life.

We’re told that Mary cherished up all the things that the shepherds said to her on that first Christmas, but she must have put Simeon’s words away in her heart also, terrible and foreboding though they were.

Most understand Simeon’s words to refer to the fact that Mary would one day stand at the foot of her own Son’s cross, watching Him suffer horrible agony. And here we’re reminded that our redemption was costly. There is forgiveness and freedom and peace for us, but only because the wrath of God fell on our crucified Savior.

Luke 2:36-38 (NIV)

36There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37and then was a widow until she was eighty–four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

There’s one more character to see here. The prophetess Anna. What can you say about Anna? She’s old. She’s a widow. She’s a follower of God.

After her husband died, the years marched by, one after another. Perhaps she wondered why God was keeping her on this earth. What possible thing was she still to do in service to her God?

She prayed. She fasted. She worshipped in the Temple. Perhaps she prayed for the Lord to release her from this life. But God had plans for her.

In Malachi it says…
“See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty” (Malachi 3:1 NIV).
From Anna, we learn patience. Our times are in God’s hands, and if we remain faithful to God, cherishing His Word and the promise of His forgiving love, His plan for OUR lives will eventually become clear also.

There were many grand teachers in Anna’s time. Many religious elite who boasted of great spiritual wisdom and insight. But it was this humble woman who served as the instrument of God’s praise on the first day that Jesus visited His Father’s Temple. There were many rabbis with countless followers, but it was Anna who spoke the truth about the redemption of Jerusalem. It was found in this little Child, the Christ of God.

Maybe you don’t feel qualified to introduce the God of the universe to your friends. Maybe you think God will surely use someone else. To that, all I can say is look at Anna. There are many preachers in our time, but YOU have the truth about sin and redemption. You have seen the promises of God fulfilled in Scripture, and in your own life.

Let’s be like Anna. Let’s give thanks to God and speak of the Child to all who yearn for redemption.

The people we know may not be reliable. Even our closest friends and family fail us. We’re sinners. It’s to be expected. But when it comes to God, we shouldn’t expect failure. He keeps His promises in ways better than we could ever work out on our own. The greatest proof is found in the Christ. He was promised, He came, and now our sins stand forgiven by His blood.

May the Holy Spirit move our hearts to simply be still, and know that God is God. He will be exalted among the nations. He will be exalted in the earth. May He also be exalted in our hearts and lives.


December 25, 2010

Love Shown - Dec 25, 2010

To DOWNLOAD an MP3 of this message, first right click here then choose "save link as" or "save target as". This audio version includes two elements not included in the text below. 1) A responsive reading entitled "A Mixture of Messianic Prophesies" and 2) The traditional Christmas reading of Luke 2:1-20 with devotional thoughts sprinkled throughout.

Christmas Message:
“One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one’s cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied. Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty-seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas” (The Gift of the Magi, by O. Henry).

If you’re a past or present student of Redemption Lutheran School, then you probably know what this paragraph is from. Every year before Christmas break Mr. Sprengeler reads a short story to the school: “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry.

It’s a short, simple story. It could be adapted into a nice little one act play, but it’ll never be a Hollywood blockbuster. It’s too pure. To simple. To humble for that.
(Click on either of the following links and you'll find "The Gift of the Magi": free audio download, free text version)
It’s about a youthful couple, James and Della Young, that live in a shabby little rented apartment for $8 a week. Times are tight for the Youngs. Della has only one dollar and eighty-seven cents with which to buy her much loved husband a Christmas gift.

With all her thoughts on her husband, Della doesn’t seem to realize that he is in the same predicament. He loves his wife more than anything, but he has next to nothing with which to show his love, in the way of a gift.

In the end, both of them decide to sacrifice their most prized possessions in order to give each other Christmas presents. Della sells her beautiful auburn hair, which reaches nearly to the ground. Jim pawns his precious heirloom pocket-watch.

The raw beauty of the story is this: their self-sacrificing love for one another. Through the storyteller’s craft, we get to see this love in Della’s thoughts. But mostly, we see it in her actions.

Before the mirror she stands and makes the decision to cut her hair. She throws on her old brown coat and goes out quickly to do it. Standing before the hair buyer she says, “Give it to me quick”, and then her hair is gone and she has the money for Jim’s gift.

There’s an old cliché, “It’s the thought that counts”. And, like so many clichés, it’s true. Dollars and cents mean nothing when stacked up against self-sacrifice and thoughtful care.

On this Christmas day, I’d offer you one verse from the word of God. One verse to help us look down into the manger. One verse through which to see the gift that lies there in that hay stuffed feedbox.

“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” (1 John 4:9 NIV).

The Christ Child didn’t come to solve the world’s energy crisis. He didn’t come to teach us how to be nicer people. He didn’t come to solve the problem of hunger. He came to live for sinners. He came to suffer for sinners. He came to give his life so that our sins are erased from God’s ledger.

The Christ Child came that we might live through Him. Forgiven and radiant in this life. Sealed in holiness after this life. Forever. With God.

If you're a sinner like I am, then this gift is for you.

Merry Christmas.

December 21, 2010

The Angels' Candle - Dec 19, 2010

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Each candle in the Advent Wreath has a special name and significance. During Advent this year we’ve been using these candles to help us prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ.

We lit the Prophecy Candle and talked about some of the prophecies that described what our Savior would be like. We lit the Bethlehem Candle and talked about how God used Jewish history to foreshadow how He would free sinners from the slavery of sin. Last Sunday we lit the Shepherds’ Candle and reviewed some of the Old Testament sacrifices God commanded to be offered. God used these sacrifices to get the idea of “one for another” into the heads of mankind. The Savior of the world was coming to be a “substitute sacrifice”. The innocent for the guilty.

God used all of these things: prophecy, History, sacrifices, to prepare sinners to receive their Savior. To see Him. To recognize Him. To trust in Him.

Today we light the Angels’ Candle and talk about how God used angels to make the final “last minute” preparations for His Son to be born.


Luke 2:5-20 (NIV)

5In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. 6Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly. 7But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren; and they were both well along in years.
8Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, 9he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.
11Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. 14He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. 16Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. 17And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
18Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”
19The angel answered, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. 20And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time.”

The prophecies about the Savior, the history of Israel, the sacrifices offered in the Old Testament – all of these things are old. But angels are older.

In the Bible, God tells us that the angels are created beings. We assume that God must have been created them when God spoke the rest of our universe into being, during those first six days.

When we read the Christmas story, we hear about plenty of angel activity. The angel Gabriel told Zechariah that his son would prepare the people of Israel for their Savior. Gabriel told Mary that she would be the mother of that Savior. Another angel, possibly Gabriel, later reassured Joseph that Mary’s unborn child was the product of a miracle, not of infidelity. And who can forget how the glory of the Lord surrounded an army of angels when they announced the birth of the Savior to a group of shepherds.

What do we think when we hear about angels appearing to people? How seriously do we take it? We believe it’s true, but perhaps we pass over their presence a bit too quickly. Perhaps we’ve heard the story so many times that we miss the weighty significance that these spirit beings carry.

The Bible tells us that angels are immensely powerful.

They are spirits, but not like the spirits we see in movies and books. They aren’t wispy shades who have no substance. They are more than “ghosts”. They are powerful creatures who can affect the tangible world.

So much about the angels is a mystery to us. God only reveals so much about them.

In Matthew 18, Jesus says…
“See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven” (Matthew 18:10 NIV).
Does this mean that angels can be in more than one place at one time? That they are not limited by space and location like we are? Some believe so.

Angels are spirits. They have no bodies. But, they have the ability to take human form (Genesis 18). And when they appear in human form, they can appear “incognito”, or they can appear “awesome”. They can dial up their intimidation and glory, or they can turn it down and appear like just another guy. (Hebrews 13:2, Luke 2:12).

The angels who appear in connection with Christ’s birth have the dial set on “full awesome”. They’re serving as God’s messengers, and they want to get people’s attention.

When Gabriel appears to Zechariah, Zechariah is terrified. Gabriel has to tell him, “Don’t be afraid”. When Gabriel appears to Mary, Mary is terrified. Again, Gabriel has to say, “Don’t be afraid.” When the angel appears to the shepherds, same thing. He’s got their attention, but he’s got to calm them down a bit before they’re ready to hear the message of peace that God has for them. (Luke 1:13, 1:130, 2:10)

Now, we know from the Old Testament that angels aren’t just good at LOOKING powerful, they actually are incredibly powerful. It only took ONE ANGEL to close the mouths of the lions when Daniel was thrown in their lair. When the king of Assyria surrounded Jerusalem and mocked God, it only took ONE ANGEL to kill 185,000 soldiers and send king Sennacharib packing. And that single angel accomplished this terrifying display of judgment in a single night.

And who can forget the first good angel mentioned in scripture? Remember? After Adam and Eve sinned against God, they were banished from the Garden of Eden. And God stationed a single angel with a flaming sword at the east gate of the garden. He was put there to ensure that mankind didn’t eat from the Tree of Life, thus sealing himself in a state of eternal sinfulness.

Angels are immensely powerful. But for all this power, God’s holy angels are limited. They have no power to remove our sins. They can do nothing to make sinners acceptable to the Holy God. Their power can’t expunge our guilt, and secure our happiness by giving us a clean conscience before God. The strength and power of the angels can’t change what God thinks about sin.

As we’ve mentioned, God’s angels are often the messengers of His wrath and judgment. They are his executioners, his hitmen, his warriors. Maybe it wasn’t just the way Gabriel LOOKED that frightened people. Maybe they remembered some stories from Sunday School.

Maybe they remembered how one angel cut down those 185,000 soldiers of Assyria and thought Gabriel had come to them a messenger of death. Let’s face it, if a brilliant messenger from God appears in your living room or cubicle, your first thought probably isn’t going to be, “Oh, hey, I’ve been expecting you. I guess God is finally getting around to rewarding me for all the good stuff I’ve been doing lately.”

Maybe fear of God’s judgment is a pretty good response when a soldier from God’s army makes an unannounced visit.

But in the Christmas accounts, we don’t see angels appearing to bring the pain. They don’t hold swords, but trumpets! (Okay, the Bible doesn’t actually say any of the Christmas angels were holding trumpets, but you get the idea.) They’ve got their dial on “full awesome”, but that’s just to get the people’s attention. They’ve come to deliver the most longed for message of all time – the promised Savior is about to be born! God’s plan to save sinners from sin and hell is about to hit high gear!

You know, God must have been smiling when He sent ANGELS to deliver the message of forgiveness and peace. It’s like sending Arnold Schwarzenegger or Bruce Lee as our UPS guy.

And what better way to point out that the Christ Child brings peace with God? God’s DEATH DEALERS are sent, not to deal death, but to shout praises and direct sinners to the manger!

Now, involving such powerful and glorious beings in the Christmas story could distract people from the main point of Christmas. But if we know something about the history of angels, their presence only serves to highlight THE GIFT that God was giving by sending his Son.

You see, when God created the angels He created them perfect and sinless. But He also created them free. Some of the angels left God. They rebelled against Him with satan as their leader. When they turned away from God, that was it for them. There was no way back into God’s presence FOR THEM. No escape hatch. No second chance. There is no savior for the angels who sinned.

But for the children of Adam and Eve, things are different. We have a second chance in God’s Son. He was born into the human race to take all our sin on Himself. When He suffered and died, our punishment was used up on Him. Like it says in Romans 8, verse 1
“…there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1 NIV).
We ought to see every angel of God or every demon as a stark reminder of the GIFT we have been given in the Christ Child. God wasn’t required to rescue us from our own foolishness. He didn’t owe sinners anything. But out of his compassion He promised so send us forgiveness. And when Jesus came, He kept that promise.

This Baby would crush the power of satan. This Baby would win forgiveness for all sinners, and offer it to us as a gift. A real gift. Nothing from us is required. We have complete release and freedom because of God’s grace.

So, are you ready to celebrate Christmas? I mean, are you really ready? All Advent we’ve been talking about getting ready. Preparing for Christ. But really, we don’t need a Christmas tree. We don’t need stockings, or presents, or cookies, or cider, or red bows. We don’t need candles or programs or carols to be ready for Christ. What we need is sin.

I didn’t want to say that at the beginning of Advent. It would have sounded a bit odd: What we need to be ready for the Christ Child is sin. But that’s really what we need. If we’ve got sins that need God’s forgiveness. Sins that keep staining our lives. Sins that keep dragging us down. Sins that weigh heavy on our consciences. If we know we’ve got those and that we can’t do a thing to wash those off ourselves, THEN we’re ready for the Christ Child. He came to take our sins AWAY.

God’s mighty angels can’t carry our sins away.

God’s mighty angels can only TELL us of the peace God gives, only CHRIST can give it.

Prayer: Dear Father in Heaven, we’ve got sins. Sometimes we’ve tried to stop. Sometimes we’ve rushed headfirst into those sins. We’ve got sins. If this whole Christmas thing is about us getting ready alone, then we’ll never be ready. But if this is about grace. If this is about YOU giving us what we could never get on our own, then we’re ready. Cover us Lord, with the true Christmas spirit. The spirit of repentance and trust in that little Baby. Then we can celebrate Lord. No matter what circumstances surround us, with peace between You and us, we can celebrate Your Son. Amen.

December 12, 2010

The Shepherd's Candle - Dec 12, 2010

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Service Introduction:

This year, we’ve been using the Advent Candles to help us prepare for Christmas.

A couple weeks ago we lit the Prophecy Candle and talked about some of the Old Testament prophesies. These revealed details about the Messiah hundreds and even thousands of years before His actual birth.

Last week we lit the Bethlehem Candle and talked about how God imprinted previews of the great “Messianic Rescue” right into the events of history.

Today, we light the Shepherd’s candle and meditate on yet another way God got sinners ready to recognize their Savior: Through the many sacrifices made in the Old Testament.


We all know the story of Jesus’ birth. We remember how God sent angels to announce His birth to a group of shepherds. Many a pastor has pointed out that God’s angels came to these common herdsmen as a way of emphasizing that this Little Savior came to save all sinners; from the king on his throne to the poor shepherd in his field.

But perhaps there was another reason that God directs our attention to these shepherds. With their flocks feeding just six miles from the great Temple in Jerusalem, no doubt some of these lambs were destined for sacrifice.

Day after day animals died in the Temple. They died for things they didn’t do. Their life blood was poured out because of the sins of the people.

With each sacrifice offered, God was saying: This is how your forgiveness will be effected: the innocent will be sacrificed for the sinner. The wrath of God would not touch the guilty, because it will be diverted to another.

In our sermon meditation today we’re going to take a walk through the Old Testament and examine some of the many sacrifices which foreshadow the sacrifice God’s own Son.

If you’ve ever worked in retail, you’re probably pretty familiar with the idea of substitution. The boss says, Sure you can have this day off work, if you find someone to work for you.

It was just this concept that God needed to get into people’s heads before the Savior arrived. You sinners will escape Hell, because someone else will take your place. Trust in Him.

God started imprinting this concept of “one for another” into the consciousness of mankind very early. Turn to Genesis 3, verse 21.

When Adam and Eve sinned by eating fruit from the forbidden tree, the first thing they noticed was that they were naked. For the first time, they were embarrassed, and quickly tried to cover up. Genesis says that they sewed up fig leaves together for clothes.

Now, you can imagine how effective those clothes were. So, after telling them about the Savior from Sin that would one day be born to cover their sin with His righteous life, God then helped Adam and Eve to cover their current shame. Genesis 3, verse 21.
“The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them” (Genesis 3:21 NIV)
Here we see the first sacrifice made to cover man’s sin. It was a simple, but ingenious foreshadowing of what Christ would do for us. Our shame, covered through His death.

Turn to Genesis 22, verse 13.
“13Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide. And to this day it is said, ‘On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided’” (Genesis 22:13 NIV).
God had promised Abraham that he would have uncountable descendants through his son Isaac. One of these descendants would be the Savior of the world. But, then God tested Abraham’s faith. He told Abraham to take Isaac to a certain mountain and offer him as a sacrifice.

Abraham didn’t understand, but he obeyed. God stopped Abraham just moments before the blade fell. And instead of Isaac, a ram died on that altar. One for another.

Turn to Exodus 12, verse 12.
“12“On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn—both men and animals—and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the LORD. 13The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt” (Exodus 12:12-13 NIV).
At this time, the Israelites were slaves in Egypt. When God sent Moses to Pharaoh asking that they be set free, Pharaoh refused. So God sent disaster after horrible disaster on the land of Egypt until Pharaoh changed his mind.

In the final plague, God sent the Angel of Death to kill every firstborn in Egypt in one night. But God also arranged a way to escape this horrible tragedy. If the blood of a lamb was painted over the door of a house, the Angel of Death would pass over that house and the firstborn there would live.

Every firstborn that survived that night in Egypt survived because a lamb died in their place.

Turn to Leviticus 16, verse 20.
“20When Aaron has finished making atonement for the Most Holy Place, the Tent of Meeting and the altar, he shall bring forward the live goat. 21He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites—all their sins—and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the desert in the care of a man appointed for the task. 22The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a solitary place; and the man shall release it in the desert” (Leviticus 16:20-22 NIV).
The “Scapegoat” is probably the most unusual sacrifice in the Old Testament. Once a year, on the Day of Atonement, this sacrifice was offered for all the sins of the community of Israel.

Even people who have never opened a Bible know what a scapegoat is. It’s someone who gets the blame, even though it’s obvious they didn’t do the crime. The real criminals go free and the scapegoat takes the fall. Is there a better picture of what Jesus did on the cross for sinners like us?

To make this image even more clear, God added a special element to the Day of Atonement. Look at Leviticus 16, verse 29.
“29This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: On the tenth day of the seventh month you must deny yourselves and not do any work—whether native-born or an alien living among you— 30because on this day atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you. Then, before the LORD, you will be clean from all your sins” (Leviticus 16:29-30 NIV).
On the Day of Atonement the people were not allowed to work. Atonement was to be made FOR them, not BY then.

Turn to Leviticus 4, verse 27.
“27If a member of the community sins unintentionally and does what is forbidden in any of the LORD’s commands, he is guilty. 28When he is made aware of the sin he committed, he must bring as his offering for the sin he committed a female goat without defect. 29He is to lay his hand on the head of the sin offering and slaughter it at the place of the burnt offering. 30Then the priest is to take some of the blood with his finger and put it on the horns of the altar of burnt offering and pour out the rest of the blood at the base of the altar. 31He shall remove all the fat, just as the fat is removed from the fellowship offering, and the priest shall burn it on the altar as an aroma pleasing to the LORD. In this way the priest will make atonement for him, and he will be forgiven” (Leviticus 4:27-31 NIV).
This section describes one of the most common offerings made in the Old Testament sacrificial system – the sin offering. For the removal of guilt, God required a sacrifice. But, the sinner wasn’t the one to offer the blood of this sacrifice. God had designated the tribe of Levi to serve as priests to the people. One of God’s chosen had to offer the sacrifice. In this way, God emphasized that the sinner would not cleanse himself, his sin would BE CLEANSED through the act of another.

The Old Testament is full of sacrifices that foreshadow the final Messianic Sacrifice. These are just a FEW examples.

Today, sacrifices like these are no longer being offered. These sacrifices were meant to ingrain the concept of “one for another” into the minds of the people. God wanted them to have this concept firmly in mind so they would understand what the Savior’s death meant when they saw it.

After Christ’s crucifixion, God let the sacrifices go on for a short time in the Temple at Jerusalem. But just a few decades after Christ’s death and resurrection from the dead, the Temple sacrifices came to an abrupt end. Jerusalem was destroyed by the Roman general Titus, the Temple was destroyed and the ritual sacrifices of the Old Testament have never been reinstated.

Correction: God never reinstated them. There is no more need to point FORWARD to the One Sacrifice for sins. It has been offered. The New Testament Word witnesses to this sacrifice in every book.

Turn to Colossians 2, verse 13.
“13When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. 15And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.
16Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ” (Colossians 2:13-17 NIV)

Two thousand years ago, a group of shepherds kept watch over their flocks in fields near the little town of Bethlehem. The sheep in their care, each shaggy goat, each little lamb, was a PRE-MINDER of the way God would restore sinners to Himself.

One for another.

The innocent for the guilty.

A sacrifice to cleanse the sinners.

As the Shepherds looked down into the manger, they were looking at the Sacrificial Lamb that all these other lambs pointed to.

They didn’t understand all that this child would do for them. But they rejoiced that He had come at last. Let us do the same as we wait for Christmas, and the celebration of His birth.

We close our meditation today with the words of John the Baptist.
“29The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 NIV).

December 8, 2010

Children of Light - Dec 8, 2010

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What do you think of when I say the word, “Advent”? Think of all that you experience during the four weeks preceding Christmas - and grab a word or a phrase out of that period of time. What do you think of when I say the word, “Advent”?

What did you think of?

Did anyone think about, “fasting”? What about “prayer”. No? Maybe some of these words came to mind instead: Shopping. Decorating. Snow. Rain. Hurry. Stress. Credit card. Debt.

During Advent we’re getting ready for company. Getting ready for meals. Getting read to give gifts. Getting ready to send gifts. Worship leaders are getting ready for extra services (especially this year, with Christmas falling the day before Sunday, pastors are getting ready for three service days in a row!)

But what I wonder is, how much are we doing to get ready on the inside? Just what exactly, are we doing to get our hearts and minds ready for Christmas?

Back in the day (around the fourth century) Christians had a somewhat different idea of what Advent meant than we do today. Advent was considered a time of fasting and prayer. It was a time to refrain from eating during the daylight hours as a sign to God that you were sorry about your sins. A sign that you didn’t want sin in your life.

When ancient Christians thought about God’s Son coming into the world for the first time, they couldn’t help but think about the second time He would come into the world – on Judgment Day. And this led them to ask, Am I ready?

Tonight we’re going to ask a similar question: What does it take to be ready to meet our Creator and Judge?


Our first Scripture reading tonight tells us how John the Baptist got people ready for Jesus’ ministry. It wasn’t enough that the Jewish people were the physical descendants of Abraham. They thought that was a big deal. But John told them that would mean NOTHING on the Last Day. Instead, John directed the people to understand that they were sinners. God didn’t owe them anything. In fact, because of their sins against God, all they really deserved was Hell.

In the same way, being a member of a church, or being here tonight is not enough. The first step in preparing to meet our Maker is to recognize our complete inadequacy to stand before a Holy and All-powerful God. The first step in Advent preparation is to see how serious our sins really are.


In our second Scripture reading, Jesus uses a parable to teach the people about the importance of being ready to meet the Savior on the Last Day.

Jesus’ parable is a story about a wedding. In Jewish culture, the groom would pick a special day to bring his wife to their new home. It was a festive wedding-walk. His best friends would come with him to his wife’s home to pick her up. Then they’d parade together to their new home where a wedding feast would be held to celebrate.

In Jesus’ story, nobody knew when the groom would arrive. It was a surprise. Those who didn’t want to be left out of the celebration had to BE READY TO GO when he showed up.

In the same way, if we don’t want to be left out of Heaven’s celebration, we need to be ready when Jesus returns to collect us.


In our sermon reading, the apostle Paul is talking to followers of Christ who lived in a town called Thessalonica. Since they are followers of Christ they know that the Day of Judgment is coming. Since they follow Christ, they know that their sins have already been forgiven because Christ died in their place.

Here Paul tells them, Because you trust in God’s promised Savior, you’re ready to meet Him. You are Children of the Light! You have nothing to fear when He returns. He will come to gather you to Himself, not to condemn you.

Through faith in Christ, they are ready to meet Him in the End. Here Paul warns them to STAY READY for Christ’s return. And He tells them how to do that.

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 (NIV)

1Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, 2for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.
4But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. 5You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. 6So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self–controlled. 7For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. 8But since we belong to the day, let us be self–controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. 9For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. 11Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

It’s easy to be lulled to sleep during Advent. Author Max Lucado speaks about this in one of his Advent meditations. Let me ready what Lucado has to say.

“I saw a manger in a mall. Correct that. I barely saw a manger in a mall. I almost didn’t see it. I was in a hurry. Guests coming. Santa dropping in. Sermons to be prepared. Services to be planned. Presents to be purchased.

The crush of things was so great that the crèche of Christ was almost ignored. I nearly missed it. And had it not been for the child and his father, I would have.
But out of the corner of my eye, I saw them. The little boy, three, maybe four years old, in jeans and high-tops staring at the manger’s infant. The father, in baseball hat and work clothes, looking over his son’s shoulder gesturing first at Joseph, then Mary, then the baby. He was telling the little fellow the story.

And oh, the twinkle in the boy’s eyes. The wonder on his little face. He didn’t’ speak. He just listened. And I didn’t move. I just watched. What questions were filling the little boy’s head?

…why is it that out of a hundred or so of God’s children only two paused to consider his son? What is this December demon that steals our eyes and stills our tongues?” (When God Whispers Your Name, Max Lucado).

In other words, What is this December demon that lulls us to sleep?

In our sermon reading, Paul tells the Thessalonian Christians, As you wait for Christ to appear the second time, DON’T BE LULLED TO SLEEP.

The tragedy isn’t that you don’t know what’s coming. The potential tragedy is this – that you MIGHT BE MADE TO FORGET IT. The potential tragedy is that you might look away from the manger and the cross, to some false source of forgiveness. Or that you might mistakenly think that there is something you need to add to the equation before God will really accept you.

Don’t let these lies lull your faith to sleep. Be alert. Stay awake.

Paul calls the Thessalonian Christians “Children of Light”. And he explains that part of being a “Child of Light” is being alert and also learning self-control. Learning to be sober in all things. Learning to be self-possessed in every situation, not controlled and driven by emotions, peer pressure, by our physical impulses, or by anything else.

Look at verse 8 again. There Paul says,
“…since we belong to the day, let us be self–controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate” (1 Thessalonians 5:8 NIV).
When a person comes to trust in Jesus as their Savior from sin, God expects change. Mark that order. First faith, then change. So often people think, God wants me to change first, then He’ll accept me. But that’s not how grace works.

It’s NOT, If I want to become a Christian I have to stop sinning in this way – then I can be God’s child. It’s faith and forgiveness first, then change.

Just like Paul said, You’re Children of Light, so NOW don’t continue to live like you did when you were in the darkness. NOW cultivate self-control. And be putting on the breastplate of faith and love.

Paul calls them Children of Light, but he might just as well call them Soldiers of Light – because until we cross the threshold of heaven followers of Jesus are in a constant battle. Satan wants to hurt us with sin. He wants to wound and batter us until we no longer trust God. That’s why we need to keep on wearing the breastplate of faith and love. It protects us from sin’s damage.

When we trust that Christ died for us, and when we know that God loves us dearly, then we’re protected from God’s anger on the Last Day. And we’re also insulated against the damage that sin can do to our lives NOW.

When other people do bad things to us, it can both hurt and damage us. Their sins can make us bitter and hateful. Their sins can incite rash reactions from us that damage others and ourselves. But when we wear the breastplate of faith and love daily, then we’re protected.

Think about it like this. Imagine that you come home after a long day, only to open the door and receive a tongue lashing from your spouse because of something you did wrong.

Now, if you’re already mad at your spouse about something, you’re probably going to react badly. There’s going to be words, and I don’t mean good ones.

But, what if you’ve been thinking about how much your spouse does for you? What if throughout the day you’ve had little reminders of how much she loves you, and how much you love her? Then you’re not going to react in quite the same way. The breastplate of love deflects and diffuses sin that would otherwise hurt and damage us.

And if you’ve just had a reminder of all the things that God has forgiven YOU of lately, that deflection and diffusion is going to be magnified big-time.

In verse 8, Paul also tells the Thessalonians to put on the hope of salvation as a helmet. Maybe you noticed already, that Paul mentions the two most critical parts of a soldier’s armor. You can take an arrow to the arm, or a bullet to the leg, but you can’t take a bullet to all the organs in here (the torso) quite as easily.

If I were to clock you over the head with a war-hammer, if you survived, you probably wouldn’t be thinking straight. And that’s what the hope of salvation does – it’s a helmet that helps to keep thinking straight. That we’re under control.

The hope of final salvation at Christ’s return is a big-picture hope. It draws us back and gives us a proper perspective on everything.

Think about it. We were sinners doomed to hell, but along came our gracious Savior who rescued us from our damning sins through His death in our place. Now that we’re forgiven, we’ve got heaven scheduled in our future. With that kind of perspective, the glass of milk that just got spilled on the laptop looks a lot less important. Now, those thoughtless words from our neighbor seem a lot less important. God’s gift of salvation clears our heads, so that we can respond to these things soberly. With self-control. With a proper, measured response – instead of responding like someone who’s had a few too many drinks.

These are qualities that we Children of Light want to cultivate. Alertness. Self-control. And these are also qualities that we want to help each other cultivate.

Look at verse 9 again. Paul says...
“…God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. 11Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:9-11 NIV).

The people sitting around us tonight know that God’s judgment is coming on the world because of sin. They know that their salvation is coming also, because of Christ. Look around you. These people are just like you. They depend on Jesus. We’re Children of His Light! So let’s keep each other awake. Let’s keep each other sober, self-controlled. Let’s encourage each other to keep on putting on the armor of faith, love and hope.

Then we’ll be ready to really WORSHIP Christ this Christmas. And more importantly, we’ll be ready to praise Him as our Savior on the Last Day.

Children of light, see your sin, trust your Savior, and follow Him into the light.

You received candles when you came into the sanctuary tonight. Now we’re going to light those candles. Please rise.

As we light these candles, think about how Christ has made you a Child of His Light. A sinner made a saint. An unworthy one made perfect by the gift of Christ’s righteousness.

Think about how Christ’s light came to you through other Christians. Maybe through the people you’re going to share this flame with.

By touching one candle to another, we’re going to light up this room. And that’s what we have to do. We have to touch one life to another if we’re going to encourage and build each other up.

December 5, 2010

The Bethlehem Candle - Dec 5, 2010

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This year we’re using the Advent candles to guide our inner preparations for Christmas.

Last Sunday we lit the Prophecy Candle and reviewed some Old Testament prophecies.

When mankind sinned, God promised to save them. It’s as simple as that. Just how that salvation would occur was the question. Prophecies sprinkled throughout the Old Testament fleshed out God’s promise. Forgiveness would come to sinners through One specific individual – God’s chosen Messiah.

The prophecies concerning this individual are called, “Messianic Prophecies”. They give us details like: He would be human. He would be God. He would be a Prophet, a Priest, a King. He would perform miracles. He would suffer a horrible death in the place of sinners. He would be raised from the dead. He would be rewarded by God the Father for His mission completed.

But God used more than prophecies to reveal the Messiah to the world. Amazingly, God also wove images of the great “Messianic rescue” right into the events of history.

Today we light the Bethlehem Candle and examine three periods in history on which God stamped the image of the Savior.


Exodus 2:23-3:10, 4:29-31 (NIV)

2:23During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. 24God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. 25So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.
3:1Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. 3So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”
4When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”
And Moses said, “Here I am.”
5“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” 6Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.
7The LORD said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. 8So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. 9And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. 10So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”
4:29Moses and Aaron brought together all the elders of the Israelites, 30and Aaron told them everything the LORD had said to Moses. He also performed the signs before the people, 31and they believed. And when they heard that the LORD was concerned about them and had seen their misery, they bowed down and worshiped.

In 2007, star NFL quarterback Michael Vick pled guilty to involvement with an illegal dog fighting ring. As a result he was sentenced to serve 21 months in prison, followed by two months of home confinement.

This year, Vick is out of jail and is playing football with the Philadelphia Eagles. I Recently saw an interview with Vick in which he talked about his time in prison. He described the hopeless feeling of not being able to go where he wanted to go, or be with the people he wanted to be with.

In Egypt, the Israelites must have felt the same. They were stuck. They couldn’t do the things they wanted to do, or go the places where they wanted to go. Perhaps they wondered whether God cared about them at all. Year after year went by, and they remained slaves.

But God did care about them. He knew what was happening to them. He heard their cries for help. He felt for these people. And because He did cared, He worked out a plan to set them free.

Today, we live in a country where slavery is illegal. But we can feel the same despair that the Israelites did. So what if we don’t have to make bricks for Pharaoh, we feel the whip of another master. We feel the whip of sin in our lives.

The Bible says that we are slaves to whatever masters us. Sin causes all kinds of suffering. Sin complicates our lives and damages our relationships. Sin makes it impossible for us to do the things we want to do. It pushes the people we want to be with away from us.

But God sees our dilemma. He hears our cries for help. And just as God sent Moses to lead Israel out of Egyptian slavery, God sent His Son Jesus to lead sinnners out of sin’s slavery.

At the end of their journey, the people of Israel found themselves in the Promised Land. A liberated people, living in an abundant land that was now theirs. Thanks to Moses, and thanks to God.

At the end of our life’s journey, we will find ourselves in the Promised Land of Heaven. We will be given a place of our own, in God’s House. Thanks to Jesus, and thanks to God the Father.

Now, after God freed the Israelites and gave them their own land, He wove another image of “Messianic rescue” into their history.

When Israel arrived at the Promised Land it was already inhabited. The nations that lived there worshiped all sorts of false gods, and through Israel’s armies God intended to sweep these nations away in judgment.

But the Israelites didn’t listen to God. They allowed some of the inhabitants to stay in the land. This failure to follow God’s command lead to repeated temptations to worship gods other than Jehovah.

It also lead to surrounding nations occasionally taking control of Israel, and oppressing them harshly.

Judges 2:1-5, 3:7-11 (NIV)

2:1The angel of the LORD went up from Gilgal to Bokim and said, “I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land that I swore to give to your forefathers. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you, 2and you shall not make a covenant with the people of this land, but you shall break down their altars.’ Yet you have disobeyed me. Why have you done this? 3Now therefore I tell you that I will not drive them out before you; they will be thorns in your sides and their gods will be a snare to you.”
4When the angel of the LORD had spoken these things to all the Israelites, the people wept aloud, 5and they called that place Bokim. There they offered sacrifices to the LORD.
3:7The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD; they forgot the LORD their God and served the Baals and the Asherahs. 8The anger of the LORD burned against Israel so that he sold them into the hands of Cushan-Rishathaim king of Aram Naharaim, to whom the Israelites were subject for eight years. 9But when they cried out to the LORD, he raised up for them a deliverer, Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother, who saved them. 10The Spirit of the LORD came upon him, so that he became Israel’s judge and went to war. The LORD gave Cushan-Rishathaim king of Aram into the hands of Othniel, who overpowered him. 11So the land had peace for forty years, until Othniel son of Kenaz died.

During this period of Israel’s history, a definite pattern is seen. First, the people turn away from God and worship idols. Then God sends a foreign nation to oppress Israel. In their oppression, the Israelites call out to God for help. Then God sends them a hero to rescue them. These heros are called, “Judges”, that’s why the books is called the book of Judges. Then after they’re rescued, Israel has a time of peace and devotion to the true God. Then, they step away from God and the cycle begins again.

Over and over they Israelites turn away from the true God to worship idols. Over and over God chastises them and ultimately sends them a hero to rescue them.

The way that Judges is written points this cycle out very plainly. Each cycle has a similar beginning like “the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD”. Each cycle has a individual who is called on to rescue Israel: Othniel, Ehud, Deborah, Gideon, Jephthah and Samson. Each cycle has a similar conclusion statement, “the land had peace for a certain number of years”.

When you read through this book you feel like shouting, “Don’t do it! Don’t turn away from God! You know what is going to happen!” But it keeps happening. And God keeps on being Himself, the compassionate, patient parent. Rebuking and delivering.

And with each deliverance the future “Messianic rescue” is foreshadowed. Jesus would finally arrive in the manger, the little Hero who would grow up to rescue all sinners from sin and establish a peace between God and man that would last for eternity.

When I consider the cycle of the Judges, I can’t help but think of my own life. It’s the same cycle of sin, pain, cries for help and deliverance from God. That’s why God had this painful history recorded – so we know we’re not the only ones God has had to rescue over and over. Thank God that we have a compassionate Creator who leads us to turn away from sin and gives us forgiveness and peace through Jesus’ death on the cross.

So, we’ve talked a little about how God rescued the Israelite people from Egyptian slavery. We’ve talked about how God repeatedly rescue them from their own faithlessness in the period of the judges. But, before the great Messiah was finally born, there was one more major historical event that foreshadowed the great “Messianic rescue” of sinners.

As the years ticked down to the birth of God’s Son, the nation of Israel continued to push God away by worshipping false gods. Eventually, one nation descended on Israel and totally decimated them. Babylon conquered Jerusalem in the year 586 BC. The people who weren’t killed were uprooted from their home and carried east to exile. This period in Jewish history is commonly called the Babylonian Captivity.

But again, God reached into the events of history.

Jeremiah 23:7-8, 2 Chronicles 36:15-23 (NIV)

23:7“So then, the days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when people will no longer say, ‘As surely as the LORD lives, who brought the Israelites up out of Egypt,’ 8but they will say, ‘As surely as the LORD lives, who brought the descendants of Israel up out of the land of the north and out of all the countries where he had banished them.’ Then they will live in their own land.”
36:15The LORD, the God of their fathers, sent word to them through his messengers again and again, because he had pity on his people and on his dwelling place. 16But they mocked God’s messengers, despised his words and scoffed at his prophets until the wrath of the LORD was aroused against his people and there was no remedy. 17He brought up against them the king of the Babylonians, who killed their young men with the sword in the sanctuary, and spared neither young man nor young woman, old man or aged. God handed all of them over to Nebuchadnezzar.
18He carried to Babylon all the articles from the temple of God, both large and small, and the treasures of the LORD’s temple and the treasures of the king and his officials. 19They set fire to God’s temple and broke down the wall of Jerusalem; they burned all the palaces and destroyed everything of value there.
20He carried into exile to Babylon the remnant, who escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and his sons until the kingdom of Persia came to power. 21The land enjoyed its sabbath rests; all the time of its desolation it rested, until the seventy years were completed in fulfillment of the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah.
22In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah, the LORD moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and to put it in writing:
23“This is what Cyrus king of Persia says:
“‘The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Anyone of his people among you—may the LORD his God be with him, and let him go up.’”

Once again the people of Israel were oppressed. But this time all hope seemed lost. They weren’t merely overrun by enemies, this time they were completely uprooted and shipped away to a foreign land. How in the world could they hope break the power of Babylon over them? They couldn’t.

But once again, God reached into the pages of history and made his power known. God moved the heart of Cyrus the Great, king of Persia, to release the people. Go home, he said, and worship the LORD.

Proverbs 21:1 says,

“The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases” (Proverbs 21:1 NIV).

And throughout history God has done just that. He has moved kings and parliaments to accomplish His will. King Cyrus’s greatest claim to fame is this – that God used him as a preview of Jesus. Through Cyrus, the Israelites were set free. Through Jesus all sinners are set free. With our sins forgiven through Him, we are free to go home to God.

Today we lit the Bethlehem Candle in our Advent wreath. Bethlehem was the place that the Old Testament said the Savior would be born. Indeed, that is the place where Mary gave birth to Jesus, the Son of God.

But when we look at the Bethlehem Candle, let’s not forget what brought Mary there. She wasn’t from Bethlehem. She and Joseph lived in Nazareth, many miles to the North. Jesus was born in Bethlehem because God reached into the pages of history once again, and moved Caesar Augustus to call a census. And to be counted in this census Mary and Joseph had to travel to Bethlehem.

Because God is invisible to our eyes, it’s all to tempting to view Him as being far away from our daily activities. Far away from politics and weather. Far away from our troubles and decisions. But He’s not some ethereal figurehead watching history unfold from some great distance away. He’s active in history. He’s moving people here and there in connection with His great plan of salvation.

In Acts 17, the apostle Paul says,

“26From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. 27God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:26-27 NIV).

God has placed you and me right here, right now, so that we might learn of His greatness, and His love for sinful people like us. What a great God we have. May He who imprinted His plan of “Messianic rescue” right into the events of history, also imprint Jesus on our hearts and lives.

Prayer: Father in heaven, you are sovereign over all the universe that you made. You are King over all kings. Reign over our hearts also. Lead us to trust ever more and more in the Savior that you sent to make us acceptable once again. When we sin, lead us to turn to you, crying out for forgiveness. And lead us to know peace, through our Savior Jesus Christ. Imprint your Savior on us, Lord. Amen.