Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Glory of God's Word in Psalm 119

Earlier in the week, I wanted to spend the morning talking about a rationale for doing what we’re doing in the current series. Right now, we’re going through the Ten Commandments. We’re studying the Law of God. That is so basic. It answers a few very important questions: How has God ordered the universe? What is it that God requires of us? How does he want us to live in relation to him and in relation to one another? Another question our study on the law answers—and this is perhaps more central—is who is this God we worship, anyway? That’s really what Gordon has been wanting us to focus on when he points out the covenant and how God is not only our Lord, he’s also our husband, in that sense. So that’s the central question we’re answering. What is God’s character?

I wanted to give a rationale for this series that would prepare us for the next few teaching series we’re planning, but this week I was personally convicted about two things. First, I was convicted about how I think about the Law of God, myself. Sometimes when I see a command in the Bible, I say to myself, “Well, Okay. Let’s get to it.” Then I roll up my sleeves and try to do it. For one thing that doesn't work for long. When you try to bootstrap the Law of God, eventually you’ll come to the end of your ability and you’ll do one of two things. You’ll either completely crash, or you’ll readjust your standards so that you can say you’re keeping the Law when you’re not, really.

But then second, I was convicted about how I talk about the Law of God. Since I have this tendency to approach the Law as something that I can just do, then what I look for is some kind of mental trigger, some kind of trick to it, or some kind of better technique so that I can more faithfully keep this law. With that in mind, my approach to teaching the law can so quickly become “do better, pray more, try harder.” On the one hand, that doesn’t sound so bad. The Law tells us what God wants from us, right? Of course it does. But when you think about it, there’s not too much hope in it when that’s the way you see it—when you depend on yourself. Is keeping the Sabbath hard? Yes. Well, there’s always next week. Honor your parents? Well, you can always try harder.

I don’t think that’s uncommon either. In fact, it’s probably one of the most common ways of understanding religion in the world. Work harder, and maybe things will turn out okay. Of course the Bible doesn’t let us do that. We know true religion is about faith in God. True religion leads to good works, but it doesn’t start there.

In the story about the Rich Young Man in Mark 10, a young man runs up to Jesus and asks him what he should do to be saved. Jesus responds by listing out commandments “Don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t give false testimony, don’t defraud, honor your parents.” Then the man says he’s kept all of those. Then Mark writes,
“Jesus looked at him and loved him.”
After that, Jesus tells him he lacks one thing: Sell everything you have and give to the poor. Then the man walked away disappointed because he was very wealthy. We’ll come back to this story a bit later.

This is a very common—but very wrong—way to look at the law of God. It was the mistake the Pharisees made. Jesus tells them in John 5, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.”

There is a way to look at the scriptures and miss the point. There is life to be found in the scriptures. There is hope to be found in the Law.

The topic today is the Law, of course. We’ve been going through the Law in our current series and my goal is to look for the hope. Gordon has been taking us there every week. When we see that God says “You shall have no other Gods” and “You shall not make idols,” we find that God offers us true freedom and true security in himself. When he tells us “You shall not misuse my name” and “Remember the Sabbath,” we find a God who offers us a true identity and a true rest. Last week, when we heard God say “Honor your parents” we find a God who offers himself as a true and better authority, a true and ultimate parent. There is hope to be found in the Law of the Lord, and I want us to take a little time just to stare at it today.

Our text for today is Psalm 119. It’s the longest chapter in the Bible. One writer said you can spend your whole life getting familiar with the Psalms, but allow a little extra time for Psalm 119.

Just a few things to notice about the Psalm before we start: It’s an acrostic poem in 22 stanzas, each with eight verses. Each stanza is assigned a letter in the Hebrew alphabet, and each verse in that stanza begins with that letter. That’s why your bible probably has the Hebrew letter written at the top of each stanza: aleph, bet, gimel, etc.

That shows you a little bit about what the psalmist is after. This is an elaborate poem in which the psalmist very carefully applied a rigid structure so that verse by verse by verse, you would see what he or she sees in God’s word. Leland and Phillip Ryken wrote this about Psalm 119;
The overall effect of the poem is like turning a prism in the light: as we progress through the psalm, we contemplate various facets of God’s revealed word. The rhetorical format involves continuous address to God, which lends an aura of prayer to the entire collection of individual poems.
Today, we’re going to read this psalm together by dividing into four groups and each group will get a section. At your tables, I’d like you to assign one or two readers and three or four scribes. To the readers, I want you just to read through your section. To the scribes, at each table I want one of you to note what the psalmist says about God—Who he is, what’s his character; I want one to note what the psalmist says about his own character; and I want one two write down what the psalmist says about what the law is; and if you have a fourth scribe, I want the fourth to write down what the law does. If you don’t have four scribes, you can combine the last two. Take note that the psalmist uses about eight different synonyms for law: 1) law, 2) testimonies, 3) precepts, 4) statutes, 5) commandments, 6) judgments, 7) word, and 8) ordinances.

As you read through Psalm 119, you might notice that the verses are kind of like proverbs. You may have noticed common themes, but all in all each stanza, and in many cases each verse could stand on its own.

If you want to take notes today, this is what I want you to take away today. I want you to see Jesus. I want you to see his character. I want you to remember his teachings. I want you to see the way he makes up for your inadequacies. I want you to see the promises the Father makes to you, fulfills in Jesus, and seals to you in the Holy Spirit. These will be my points…
  1. God’s word shows us the path to true happiness
  2. God’s word illustrates our inadequacy
  3. God’s Word demonstrates God’s glory.
  4. God’s Word points us to Christ
  5. God’s Word sanctifies us.
  6. God’s Word invites our response
1. God’s Word shows us the path to true happiness.

God’s Word shows us the path to true happiness. Verses 1-3 tell us “Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord! Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart, who also do no wrong but walk in his ways.” Another way to say that is Happy. “Happy are those whose way is blameless,” and so on. The word there means happy, but it’s really stronger than that. It’s a true and ultimate happiness. It’s similar to the kind of happiness you feel when everything is exactly as it should be. Maybe you’ve experienced that. You may have experienced that at summer camp, growing up. Maybe you had that kind of feeling when you graduated from school. Or when you first started at the job you wanted. Ultimately, this is the kind of happiness that everyone who knows the Lord will experience on the last day when we are finally united with him forever in heaven.

What does it say brings about this state of true happiness? Walking in a way that is blameless. Walking in the Law of the Lord. Keeping his testimonies, seeking him with our whole heart. Doing no wrong but walking in his ways.

This brings to mind a few other passages. Psalm 1 tells us “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the way of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers. But his delight is in the Law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” I am also reminded of Matthew 5, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives the beatitudes. Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are the meek. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. The merciful. The pure in heart. The peacemakers. Those who are persecuted for Christ’s sake.

In either case, why are these the ones who are called truly happy? I imagine some of you may be thinking, well, if that’s the case I’m out of luck. It’s a tall order, true, but let me tell you why these are the truly happy ones. They’re happy because they can see very clearly that God is the one who meets their needs. The person in Psalm 1 is happy because he or she purposes in their heart to delight in God. Psalm 37 says delight yourself in the lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.

People who mourn or who are persecuted are not happy because of the mourning or because of the persecution, but because of how God comes through for them. In our passage again, the happy ones are the ones who find God. How do they look for him? In his word. They look for his character. They look for his ways. They walk in them so that they will know God; and God answers their prayer.

One more thing before we move on. Look at how important this blessedness, or this true happiness really is. Psalm 119 starts by talking about the way to true happiness. The entire book of psalms starts by talking about the way to true happiness. Our Lord himself begins his Sermon talking about the path to true happiness. This is the ultimate reward. True happiness is found when we are united with God in Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. The narrow way is worth pursuing because true happiness in God is what’s at the end of it. And pursuing this end or this goal glorifies God. IN pursuing this goal, we imitate Jesus, who according to Hebrews 12, “for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” God’s word shows us the path to true happiness.

2. God's Word illustrates our inadequacy

If you’re thinking, that still sounds like a tall order, you’re right. It is. The second point is that God’s word illustrates our inadequacy. Like I said a moment ago you know that if you've ever simply tried to keep the law in your own power, you’ll either crash and burn, or you’ll redefine what it means to quote-unquote “keep the law,” so that you’re satisfied with yourself. The psalmist knows for a fact that God’s law is way above him. That’s why at several points along the way, the psalmist prays for God’s help.
  • In verse 5, the psalmist cries, “Oh that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes!” He knows that he’s not an example of perfect obedience. He knows what’s at stake. He knows the path to blessedness. He also knows that he misses the mark.
  • In verse 18, the psalmist prays “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.”
  • In verse 27, the psalmist pleads, “make me understand the way of your precepts and I will meditate on your wondrous works."
  • Verse 36. “Incline my heart to your testimonies.”
The psalmist knows that he misses the mark. He knows that all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. He is well aware that in his own power he cannot faithfully keep God’s laws. As he prays, you start to see that he has to rely on God at every point.

Without God’s help we are unable to see the wonderful things in his word. Without his help we cannot understand the Lord’s ways. Without his help, the truth is we cannot even want to understand it. The prayer in verse 36 is “incline my heart.” O Lord, give me the right desires. Without God’s help, my heart will naturally be turned inward. Apart from the help of the Holy Spirit, my heart will shout “no way!” to mourning, or meekness, or lowliness, or persecution. Maybe my a sinner will be compelled to keep some laws outwardly if it makes him or her look good to people, but not under the threat of persecution. No way! Know this: if your heart inclines toward the Lord, that’s a gift from God. Make no mistake about it. This psalm clearly demonstrates our need. Of course this standard is way above our ability. St. Augustine, the great early church father, prayed this way. “Lord, command whatever you will, and grant what you command.” God’s word illustrates our inadequacy.

3. God’s Word demonstrates God’s glory

Third, God’s Word demonstrates God’s glory. Glory can be defined as high renown or honor; or magnificence and great beauty. This fact is true of God in every sense. God is the first and greatest being. He created the universe and everything in it. He defines the laws of natures and holds them together moment by moment. The psalmist recognizes this and just exults in it. Let me read to you from Psalm 119...
9 How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. 10 With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! 11 I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. 12 Blessed are you, O LORD; teach me your statutes! 13 With my lips I declare all the rules of your mouth. 14 In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches. 15 I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. 16 I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.
The truth of God has so affected the psalmist that he or she devotes their whole heart to seeking God. The LORD is the Blessed (read truly happy) one. There is something about this truly happy God that has made the psalmist realize that in God, he has more value than all riches. All riches! All the wealth in the world amounts to the pennies that collect in the cup in the console of my car, when compared with God. The psalmist continues…
51 You are near, O LORD, and all your commandments are true.

89 Forever, O LORD, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens. 90 Your faithfulness endures to all generations; you have established the earth, and it stands fast.

129 Your testimonies are wonderful; therefore my soul keeps them. 130 The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple. 131 I open my mouth and pant, because I long for your commandments.
God is true. His word is fixed. His faithfulness endures. His testimonies make people wise. The glory of God causes people to pant because they long for his word. If you know God, you can’t get enough. God’s Word demonstrates God’s glory.

4. God's Word points us to Christ

Fourth, God’s Word points us to Christ. Here is a principle to remember when you’re studying the Bible. The Old Testament and the New Testament are united in their message. They have one single message. St. Augustine has a helpful little rhyme: “The new is in the old concealed; the old is in the new revealed.” R.C. Sproul explains,
This famous statement by Saint Augustine expresses the remarkable way in which the two testaments of the Bible are so closely interrelated with each other. The key to understanding the New Testament in its fullest is to see in it the fulfillment of those things that were revealed in the background of the Old Testament. The Old Testament points forward in time, preparing God’s people for the work of Christ in the New Testament.
Luke writes it this way in Luke chapter 24. “Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, Jesus interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”

When the psalmist writes
  • 22 Take away from me scorn and contempt for I have kept your testimonies
  • 51 I do not turn away from your law
  • 110 I do not stray from your precepts,
The psalmist is not only indicating is own resolve toward following God’s ways, he’s also pointing forward to the one who will walk with God perfectly in every way.

In some of those same verses, the psalmist says
  • 51 The insolent utterly deride me
  • 53 Hot indignation seizes me because of the wicked
  • 109 I hold my life in my hand continually
  • 110 The wicked have laid a snare for me
In his own suffering the psalmist is foreshadowing the one who would suffer unjustly at the hands of the whole world, for the sake of the world, and for the sake of his people.

Because of Jesus Christ we know for a fact that all of the Lord’s words are fixed in the heavens and all of the Lord’s commands are true. Jesus Christ is the answer to the promise of salvation. In Jesus God fulfills the Law. God’s word points us to Christ.

5. God's Word sanctifies us

Fifth, God’s Word sanctifies us. In John 14-16, Jesus promises to send a helper, the Holy Spirit, to be with us forever, and teach us all things. In Acts 1, Jesus says that the Holy Spirit will give us power. In one sense John gives us a job description for the helper in 15:26 “The Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father… will bear witness about me.” The Holy Spirit testifies to the truth of God’s word, and he points to Christ. Everyone who is found in Jesus—a true Christ-follower—has the holy spirit as a guarantee of their inheritance. As Christians, we can know that these promises are true:
  • Palm 119:9 How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word.
  • 11 I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.
  • 105 Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
  • 130 The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple.
This is how we keep the law. Not by rolling up our sleeves. Not (entirely) by New Year’s resolutions. Not by forcing ourselves to do better.

We talked earlier about our own inadequacy. We cannot keep the law on our own. But the truth is because of the new birth, and because of the Holy Spirit, we are new creatures. We have new, living hearts. Our minds are enlightened. Our wills, as slaves to Christ, are more truly free than they've ever been. In light of that reality, we no longer need to wallow in our inability.

Romans 6 makes it clear that we were buried with Christ in his death and raised with him to new life. And given that new life, Paul writes, “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions (verse 12).” Then in verse 13, instead, “present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and you members to God as instruments for righteousness.” Romans 8:13, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”

Now I imagine some of you will feel intimidated even by this point. Remember 1 John 2 “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” Please don’t get this out of order. Sanctification—the process of making you more and more holy—only begins at the new birth. John writing here, doesn't want you to sin any more, but he knows you will. Remember you have an advocate in Jesus, and the fact that your conscience drives you to the cross should be a degree of comfort to you. Let the Holy Spirit drive you to the cross as often as possible. That’s how sanctification works. God’s word sanctifies us.

6. God's Word invites our response

Then finally, God’s Word invites our response. The first response it leads us to is to pray. The whole psalm is a prayer. I don’t know what the Lord is calling you to deal with today. I know how he’s dealing with me. In a moment I’m going to take a few moments of silence before we pray. Take that time and share your heart with God.

Warren Wiersbe notes several other ways from Psalm 119 that we can respond to God's word. We can...
  • Love it (vv. 97, 159)
  • Prize it (vv. 72, 128)
  • Study it (vv. 7, 12, 18, 26-27)
  • Memorize it (v. 11)
  • Meditate on it (vv. 15, 23, 48, 78, 97, 99, 148)
  • Trust it (v. 42)
  • Obey it (vv. 1-8)
  • Declare it (vv. 13, 26)

In the story about the Rich Young Man in Mark 10, I want you to notice two things. First Mark writes that Jesus loved him. Jesus looked on the man with compassion. When Jesus followed up by telling him the one thing he lacked—to sell what he had and give to the poor—he was revealing the man’s heart. He told the man he would have treasure in heaven. He called the man to follow him. The man was disheartened and walked away because he valued his treasure, his great possessions more than the promised treasure in heaven. He didn't see.

How easy it can be to approach the Law like this man did. O, how I hope you've seen a measure of the glory of God today.
  1. God’s word shows us the path to true happiness
  2. God’s word illustrates our inadequacy
  3. God’s Word demonstrates God’s glory.
  4. God’s Word points us to Christ
  5. God’s Word sanctifies us.
  6. God’s Word invites our response
Let's take a moment to pray silently, and I'll close.

Date: 8 February 2015
Text: Psalm 119
Location: Church at the Mall, GAP Connect Group
Series: The 10 Commandments

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Kingdom of Heaven is like a Garden

Here we are. This is advent week three. We have one more week of advent after this one, then Christmas. Can you believe it’s almost here? I feel like week three of any month can go one of two ways. If you’re looking forward to something coming up, like Christmas, then week three can be so slow. When will it end? When will we get there? It’s like you’re a kid on a road trip. “Dad are we any closer?” I remember a few times when I was a child, my family drove to visit relatives in Jacksonville or on up to Atlanta. To an eight-year-old, eight hours in a car is excruciating. Who am I kidding? Eight hours in a car is excruciating no matter how old you are.

On the other hand, if the thing you’re waiting for is something you’re not quite ready for (like a writing deadline) it seems like time rushes ahead at breakneck speed. I sit at my computer to type. I notice my desk needs cleaning, and before I know it the deadline is already here? What happened to the time?

I’m curious about how you’re experiencing Advent this year? Have you had a chance to slow down at all? Have you found the Advent devotional to be helpful?

I have to confess that I don’t think I’ve done a very good job of it this year. I feel like time is marching ahead so quickly. I’ve loved our advent services this year! But still, I feel very hurried. I realize we’re here at one and a half weeks until Christmas, and I haven’t sent any Christmas cards, and I haven’t really thought about gifts. I feel a little like my praying and bible reading have been shoved in between other things.

So I want to take a minute to pray about that. Let’s pray.

If you have Bibles with you, please turn to Isaiah 61.

[1] The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; [2] to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; [3] to grant to those who mourn in Zion— to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified. [4] They shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.

[5] Strangers shall stand and tend your flocks; foreigners shall be your plowmen and vinedressers; [6] but you shall be called the priests of the LORD; they shall speak of you as the ministers of our God; you shall eat the wealth of the nations, and in their glory you shall boast. [7] Instead of your shame there shall be a double portion; instead of dishonor they shall rejoice in their lot; therefore in their land they shall possess a double portion; they shall have everlasting joy.

[8] For I the LORD love justice; I hate robbery and wrong; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them. [9] Their offspring shall be known among the nations, and their descendants in the midst of the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge them, that they are an offspring the LORD has blessed.
[10] I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. [11] For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to sprout up before all the nations.
Two weeks ago, we did an FAQ about advent, but then we started to look at the book of Isaiah, and how the prophets generally, and Isaiah specifically prophesied the coming of a servant of the Lord who would save his people. And then we started to take a glimpse at the character of this servant of God by looking at Isaiah 42. Who is this servant of God? If I could retroactively give that one a title, it would be something like “The character of the King”

Then last week, we read Isaiah 9. Unto us a child is born. Unto us a son is given. The government will rest on his shoulders. I hope we began to see a little bit more about the king and a little about the kingdom he’s going to bring about. We could call that one “Characteristics of the Kingdom”

This week, our reading came from Isaiah 61. We’re going to focus on verse 11. But first I want you to see again where this fits into Isaiah. You have an outline of Isaiah in your handout. If you look at the outline you can where we are. We started by looking at the prophesied servant. We looked at the promise of a messiah. Now we’re reading a section about the prophesied conqueror.

We’ve seen that the Lord has a King. That’s what the word messiah means. Anointed one. That’s how Israel appointed their kings. Saul was anointed. David was anointed after him. But there was a promised anointed one that would come to rescue the people. But not only that, this promised king was a servant. He is a kind and gentle servant—a servant who would endure suffering. He would even be pierced for our sins, by his wounds we will be healed. And now, not only is he a suffering servant, he will also be a conqueror. As we’re waiting to celebrate the birth of Jesus, we’re seeing these aspects of his character.

This servant of God has been given a very happy message for the people of Israel. Their suffering will be ended. You can see that clearly in verses 1-4. The servant will proclaim the year of God’s favor. He’s bringing good news to the poor. Comfort for those who are mourning. Happiness instead of mourning. Praise not sorrow.

The tables will be turned. We see in verse 4 that the old ruins, the cities that had been destroyed will be rebuilt. This servant will repair the devastation of many generations.

These are all themes we should recognize from the last couple weeks. Verse 1: He will proclaim liberty to the captives. Verse 8: The Lord loves Justice.

But today, let’s meditate together on verse 11.

For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to sprout up before all the nations.
Isaiah, inspired by the Holy Spirit, uses the image of a farm—or of a garden—to illustrate something about the coming of this day of the Lord, of his kingdom. Now listen to this. In Mark 4:26, Jesus tells a parable to his disciples. I want you to hear this. It’s called the parable of the seed growing.

[26] And [Jesus] said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. [27] He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. [28] The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. [29] But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”
So how does the kingdom of God come about? We need to notice three things. First, the farmer works the field and sows the grain. Second, the farmer sleeps. Third, God grants the growth.

FIRST, THE FARMER WORKS THE FIELD AND SOWS THE GRAIN. The first thing to notice is how the farmer works the field. The thrust of our passage is that God is bringing salvation. God is promising that he will rescue his people. Reading Isaiah 61, it’s clear that God is the one pulling the weight. We’ll get there in a moment. But he gives us this image of sowing in a garden.

Have you ever planted a garden? I remember when I was a child, my dad planted a garden in our back yard. I was very small at the time—maybe five or six or seven. I remember that we grew summer squash among other things. I love summer squash. It makes me think something special is happening, because whenever we had a big family meal, like thanksgiving or Christmas, you could be sure squash in on the menu. When you plant a garden it takes a lot of work. Either you till the soil (if you have soil) or you build a raised bed and put soil in it. Then you make rows in the soil. Then you plant seeds. Then you water the garden. And when the plants start to grow, you do what you can to make sure that pests don’t eat all your vegetables. There’s a lot of work to do, if you want to move from just the idea of planting a garden to the reality of bringing in squash at the end of the season.

In a similar sense, the people of Israel here are at least reminded of the work they will be doing. Verse 6—you shall be called priests of the LORD; they shall speak of you as the ministers of our God. Verse 4—they shall build up ancient ruins, they shall repair ruined cities.

This actually started to happen when they were delivered from Exile in Ezra and Nehemiah. Ezra and his people rebuilt the temple and restored biblical teaching and temple worship. Nehemiah and his people rebuilt the walls around Jerusalem, and instituted a list of reforms. You have it in the history of the people of Israel that when they were delivered from Captivity, they would make a covenant with God and they would be priests and ministers of the Lord. They would also work to rebuild. That’s exactly what they did.

What about us? Christ has saved us, bringing us out of slavery to our sin, and saving us from the death sentence we rightly deserved for breaking God’s law. We are just like the people of Israel in that sense. What sort of work do we need to go about doing? There are essentially two things we can be doing. We can share the gospel, and we can engage the world through our jobs, through our communities.

We can share the gospel. God calls us as Christians to be a kingdom of priests. God says that about Israel in Exodus 19, but he says it about you and me, too, in 1Peter 2:9 “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Jesus commissions us to share the gospel in Matthew 28 “[19] Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, [20] teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” We are also called to be ready to give an answer to people. 1Peter 3:15 “always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you”. We are called to proclaim the good news to people around us.

But we’re also called to engage the word. There are so many ways that we can be, in a sense, radically ordinary. One way is very simply to do a good job at work. Ephesians 6-“Bondservants, obey your earthly masters…as you would Christ... rendering service with a good will as to the Lord.” Did you know that by the various jobs God has given us, he uses us to answer the Lord’s Prayer for other people? We pray “give us today our daily bread” and God ordinarily answers that prayer by calling some people to be farmers and others to be delivery drivers and others to be grocers. When you do a good job at work, the Lord is using you to answer that prayer for someone.

When you do your job to the Glory of God, you’re taking something ordinary and seemingly inconsequential—I know that’s how my job seems to me in the moment, when I’m doing data entry—God takes the seemingly inconsequential and makes it a revolutionary kingdom-conquering action. It’s revolutionary because he’s moving you to love your neighbors.

When you share the gospel and when you love your neighbors well through your job, or through volunteering in the community, or through respectful political engagement, or whatever he’s calling you to, then you’re participating in God’s answer to the prayer “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” That’s actually happening when you do the simple, radical, ordinary work God’s called you to. Farmers put in the hard work.

SECOND, THE FARMER GOES TO SLEEP AT NIGHT. After the farmer has tilled the soil, after they’ve planted the seeds, watered the crops and spread the fertilizer, the sun goes down and they go to sleep. There’s only so much the farmer can do. A farmer cannot make the plant sprout. As we see in Isaiah 61.11, the garden itself causes that to happen. Jesus says in Mark 4 that by itself, the seed sprouts and grows. The farmer doesn’t know how it happens, only that it happens. I’m sure agricultural scientists could probably tell you something about how that works, but if you ask me, it looks an awful lot like deep magic.

Have you seen the time-lapse videos of a brand-new plant growing out of the ground, moving around to point its leaves at the sun? Absolutely miraculous!

The point is that the farmer doesn’t do that. After she’s put in her work, she goes to sleep at night. The plant won’t grow for a month, and won’t be ready for harvest for another month. That’s a lot of waiting, especially for something that makes up a farmer’s livelihood. How does the farmer sleep? She has to trust the fact that this crop will grow. The garden will cause the crop to grow the same way it has year after year.

Remember the story of Ezra and Nehemiah? Seventy years after the people went into exile like God promised, God moved King Cyrus’s heart to send the people back to Israel to rebuild the temple. God moved the king’s heart.

[1] The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will. (Proverbs 21:1 ESV)
So, having dedicated ourselves to whatever work God has called us to, our second job is to rest and trust God to bring about his plan. The difficult part about this is that it often seems like it takes a long time. An entire generation died in the wilderness when God was bringing Israel to the Promised Land from Egypt. Again, another entire generation died while Israel was in exile in Babylon. After that, it was four hundred years before the birth of Jesus. And then after Jesus ascended to heaven it has been nearly two thousand years.

Sometimes, it seems like we’re making no difference at all. It appears that the world is no better off. And we look around and find wars and rumors of wars. We hear reports that wars are getting bloodier. We hear reports of increasing religious persecution of Christians. We look around and it seems like the world doesn’t see evangelicals as particularly nice people.

But the truth is, all the while, we have to understand that God is working out his plan. In Africa, China, South America, India, the Middle East, around the world, world evangelization is happening. Since 1900 practicing Christians went from about 3% of the world population to right around 12% in 2010. Half of that growth happened since 1980. I included the chart in your handout. It may look like nothing is happening—like the world isn’t getting better, but we know—we have to trust—that god is working out his plan.

Galatians 4 says

[4] When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, [5] to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. (Galatians 4:4-5 ESV)
When Christ was born, he was born in what Paul called “the fullness of time.” Again in Ephesians 1—

[7] In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, [8] which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight [9] making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ [10] as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. (Ephesians 1:7-10 ESV)
Even now, God is working out his plan. He’s bringing the kingdom into existence. He’s saving countless numbers of people right now, and every single one of them are committing radical, revolutionary, ordinary acts of love, by putting in a full day of work for their bosses and inviting their neighbors over for dinner, and paying their taxes.

Do the work God calls you to, and go to sleep. Rest well, knowing that God is actually working it all out.

THIRD, GOD GRANTS THE GROWTH. While we’re preaching—that means all of us—while we’re giving reasons to our neighbors of the hope we have in Christ, and while we’re faithfully engaging the world around us, and while we sleep soundly at night, the Lord is actually changing the world. Remember what we read in the first half of Isaiah 61? Jesus is proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor and he’s proclaiming the coming of the day of the Lord. One day when people from every tribe and tongue and nation are worshipping God, he will come back again and usher in the new world—the bible calls it the new heavens and the new earth. Hear this passage from 2 Peter, and we’ll close. 2 Peter 3:9—

[9] The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. [10] But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.

[11] Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, [12] waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! [13] But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. (2 Peter 3:9-13 ESV)
The Lord is taking his time in order to be patient with us, giving us all the time we need to turn to him in repentance and faith. He is granting the gift of repentance and faith left and right in the world today. As an aside, what an exciting time to be involved in international missions! Talk to Blessing this week if you want to know how you can participate. One day soon The Lord will come back and he will bring to completion the kingdom he started to build when he rose to heaven and that he promised here in Isiah 61. This is good news for the poor and liberty for the captives. The Lord will cause righteousness and praise to sprout up before all the nations. He is doing it even now.

There’s no need to feel so much pressure this advent. We have freedom to make the space, take the time to praise God for what he’s doing around us.

Date: 14 December 2014
Text: Isaiah 61
Location: Church at the Mall, GAP Connect Group
Series: Advent

Friday, December 19, 2014

Characteristics of Christ’s Coming Kingdom

I’d like to direct your attention to Isaiah 9. We’re going to read verses 2 through 7. Verses 2 through 7.

This is the second week in our Advent series. As we said last week, Advent is a time of preparation for Christmas. We prepare by our scripture readings and by the songs we sing, and the devotions we do, and so on. And we prepare for Christmas morning—for the birth of Jesus. We remember the people who, as Pastor Jay reminded us, had been waiting to hear from God for about four hundred years since Malachi’s prophecy. We want to build in ourselves that kind of joyful anticipation for the coming of Christ. And now, even though for us, Christ has already come the first time, we can still identify with the longing they experienced before Jesus was born. Jesus promises us in his word that he’s coming back soon. This very second, he’s preparing a place for us.
John 14 says “[2] My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? [3] And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”
So we’re looking into the manager at this child who was born a king. We want to look at his character and at his kingdom, so that we can long for Jesus to return. So we can feel that same longing for his return that the people between the New and Old Testaments felt about his first appearing.

Let us read Isaiah 6:2-9 together, shall we?
(Isaiah 9:2-7) The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. [3] You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder. [4] For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. [5] Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire. [6] For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. [7] Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.
With that passage in mind and keeping in mind our goal for this short series, I would like to take a closer look at several characteristics of Jesus Christ and his Kingdom. In this passage, we get a prophetic look at the child that will be born to us on Christmas. First we’ll look at four titles this passage gives for the messiah: Wonderful Counselor, Almighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. Then, I want briefly to observe a few characteristics of the government that will rest upon his shoulders. Let us begin.

Wonderful Counselor

The first title given for Jesus in this passage is “Wonderful Counselor.” How does he inspire wonder? How is he a counselor? This is what it means when we say the Messiah is wonderful. It means that there is something in Christ that is more excellent or more glorious than in all other of God’s works. Another way to say this is Colossians 2.3: “In Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”

The name wonderful is given to Christ and that means he is more wonderful and more glorious than any other thing. Even more than the very miracles of God. All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ.

How many of you have looked at the night sky, maybe if you’ve been camping, and you see countless stars in their constellations? A sight like that is enough to inspire wonder in us. Why? Because it is a grand and vast display of God’s handiwork. It’s a great display of beauty. It inspires awe in us because it’s probably not often that we look up to a night sky that isn’t obscured by street lights or other obstructions. It’s probably not often that we look up at the sky at all. And when we look up at the sky, unobstructed, in its glory, it’s so much bigger than ourselves and our lives and our television shows. It’s so much greater that it inspires wonder.

The grace of God in the Person and Work of Jesus exceeds all other miracles. That’s why he’s called wonderful.

He’s also called counselor. What this means is that in Jesus, we find perfect and complete wisdom. And the wisdom we find in Jesus is not merely secret knowledge. It’s not just that Jesus understands and keeps in himself some mysteries of God. No, it means that he is a perfectly wise teacher. He shares that wisdom with us.

1Cor 1.24 says “To those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” Paul continues in verse 30: “And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption.”

Ephesians 1:17 says “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him.”

Colossians 1:9 says “And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.”

This is the reason that Jesus is called wonderful counselor. In his person, he is both the most glorious revelation of the love and justice and will of God, and not only that, but he is the most perfect teacher of true wisdom. This is who he is and how he rules in his kingdom. Jesus is called wonderful counselor.

Almighty God

The second title given to Jesus in this passage is almighty God. It is clear, I think, that Isaiah meant to tell us that the messiah would be called Almighty God. Jesus would not be merely a human, although he would be fully human. He would be more than that. He would be God with us. If Jesus is anything less than very God, how can we trust in him? How can we trust him to forgive our sins, much less exercise a government that will have no end?

Jeremiah writes in 17.5 “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord.”

The psalmist writes in Psalm 20.7, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.”

God doesn't want us to put our trust in men, or in the power that men can amass in their armies. God wants us to put our trust in Him. But then the whole New Testament makes no uncertain claims to the Divinity of Jesus. We can trust in Him because he is fully God, in addition to being fully man.

Ephesians 6.12 tells us that God fights with and for us against the spiritual forces of Evil. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

The truth is that we can trust him in this. He’s rightly called almighty God.

Everlasting Father

The third title given to Jesus in Isaiah 9 is everlasting Father. Jesus is called a father because of the way he takes care of and preserves his church. He loves his church with the kind of love that will go out to find one lost sheep, even when he has ninety nine lost sheep already accounted for. He will turn up the whole house to find a lost coin.

Luke writes in 12.32, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

This is the way our passage speaks about Jesus as a Father. He loves his people so that he shepherds them, he cares for them. He moves them from death to life.

John 5:24 says, “Truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”

1John 3.14 says, “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers.”

And in addition, that very fact—that Jesus moves us from death to life—is what it means that Jesus is called everlasting father. He is eternal, and he moves his people from being dead in their sins, to being free from sin and death entirely. For those who believe, as John 3:16 says, they will not perish but have eternal life. Jesus is called everlasting father

Prince of Peace

The fourth title Isaiah applies to Jesus is prince of peace. Maybe more than any of the other titles, this one begins to hint at the nature of this coming kingdom of Christ, or the government that will rest on his shoulders. In a sense, Isaiah is saying something similar to John in 16.33, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have trouble. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Isaiah was preaching to a people who were about to be conquered by the Assyrians. A conquering army is going to come to town and completely bowl everyone over. But Isaiah is assuring the people that one day, there will be this king who will be born who won’t operate that way. He will be a prince of peace.

What kind of peace is it? We find the answer to that question in Romans 5, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

This peace is brought about by reconciliation to God. It’s founded on justification by faith. We put our faith in Christ’s work for us on the cross, and Christ takes our record of sin on himself and grants us his own record of righteousness. This peace is peace with God—reconciliation with God.

One important implication of all this, is that when Christ’s kingdom is fully present—that is, on the last day, after Christ returns, when the kingdom is fully present in every respect, there will be no more war. Our generation is not unique. Just like generation after generation before us, we’ve witnessed war—more than a decade of armed conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq and other places. Nations and kings tend to put their trust in horses and chariots, so to speak. We enforce our domestic policies through the police and the FBI and agencies like the IRS. We enforce our international policies though our military.

Speaking about the coming kingdom, though, Isaiah writes in verse 5, “For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire.”

In chapter 2, Isaiah writes, “He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”

The point is that in the new kingdom, these clothes and these weapons of war will no longer be needed, because the king will bring a true and lasting peace by reconciling the world to God. Jesus is called the prince of peace.

Christ’s Kingdom is an upside down kingdom

Now, let’s turn to a few observations about the nature of Christ’s Kingdom. First, Christ’s kingdom is an upside down kingdom. Let me explain what I mean. In Christ’s kingdom, authority is not exercised by lording it over people. As we’ve just seen a moment ago, there will be no need for weapons of war when Christ comes back. So how does the kingdom work? The answer is counterintuitive.

Let me read to you a passage from Mark 10.
And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
That’s the kind of Kingdom Jesus presides over. It’s a kingdom where Jesus teaches us not to retaliate but to trust God and pray. Love your enemies, he says. Pray for those who persecute you.

And all of this is true because of who Jesus is. He is a wonderful and wise counselor. He is also the holy and just almighty God. He is eternal. He brings true peace to the world. Because of who Jesus is we can trust him to make thing right. We can love and serve one another. We can even love and pray for our enemies, because Jesus has the power, the understanding, and the will to make things right. Christ’s kingdom is an upside down kingdom.

Christ’s Kingdom will last forever

Two more and we’re done. Second, Christ’s Kingdom will last forever. This one will be quick. I just want you to see this and it will set us up for the next point. Christ’s kingdom will last forever. Look at verse 7.
Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.
This is pretty simple. When Christ returns, his kingdom—which he’s already starting to establish now in our hearts and displayed in our churches—will never end. That’s a promise. And I don’t think that’s an unfamiliar idea for us here. I think we understand that heaven is forever. Or a better way to say it, this Kingdom of Jesus—which we’ll see fully in the new heavens and new earth—will last forever. There won’t be any breaks in this kingdom. No wars. No conquering armies.

Christ’s Kingdom is a place of changed hearts

This leads me to the last point because my question has long been, how could that even be possible? Adam and Eve fell in the garden, what’s to prevent someone in heaven falling again? This is why Christ’s Kingdom is so much better than the garden, even. This is why God’s plan in the world is ultimately glorious. This is why we can be confident that Jesus’ work on the cross was absolutely God’s plan A, and not just some slapdash fix for a broken Garden of Eden. The point is Christ’s Kingdom is a place of changed hearts.

Jesus Christ turns us from people who are dead. Wholly and completely dead. Slaves to sin. Unable to fix ourselves. Unable to get ourselves out from under our own sins or even our “hurts, habits, and hang-ups. Jesus turns us from that into a person who loves God’s law, like the psalmist in Psalm 119.
[47] I find my delight in your commandments, which I love. [48] I will lift up my hands toward your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on your statutes.
“I love your commandments.” The psalmist says that a dozen times in the psalm. He continues:
[103] How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!
In the New covenant through Christ, which you can see in Jeremiah 31 and Hebrews 10, God writes the law on our very hearts. When Christ saves us, we can now come to truly love the Law of Christ. We can hear the Lord’s teaching on the Sermon on the Mount and no longer see it as impossible, but as an ideal that the Holy Spirit is helping us pursue.

And of course my point is not that the gospel is simply a means for us to pursue the law harder. My point is that the gospel—our justification by faith, our free forgiveness we receive when we humble ourselves and repent of our sins—this is a free gift that God works out in us. We love God’s law or God’s instruction because we have come to love God. We have seen Jesus Christ. Through the cross and the Spirit’s work in us, we see God and know God and love God and his ways.

So how can you know the kingdom will last forever? Because if you’re in Christ, God has given you a new heart. He gave you a heart of flesh where there used to be a heart of stone. Now I know most of your stories, but if you need to do business with God today, now’s the time. The bible says now is the favorable time. Now is the day of salvation. If you have questions or want to talk. Please pull me aside—I’ll be glad to listen.

Date: 7 December 2014
Text: Isaiah 9:2-7
Location: Church at the Mall, GAP Connect Group
Series: Advent