How Should Christians Respond to Terrorist Attacks?

Paris

Read: Romans 12:9-21

Seeing the images coming out of Paris in the last 24 hours has been confronting and disturbing. As these events were unfolding, there was an world class cricket match being played at the WACA in Perth. And I thought: what if an attack happened there?

So, I was asking questions: Are we safe? What should we do? What should Christians say and think as they respond to Da’esh sponsored violence?

I want to mention three or four things we must do, and three or four things we must not do. Some of these were inspired by Ed Stetzer’s recent post on The Exchange . I have used Ed’s heading, though written my own content. This message was written late Saturday after I had fully completed a message for the Hope Eternal series – we’ll get to that some other time. So, I am indebted to Ed for the idea… thank you, brother.

So, how can Christians respond to acts of terror?

As this question is framed, let’s remember that his past week saw terrorist attacks in other places, including Lebanon. Earlier this year, after the first attack in France at Charlie Hebdo, a Boko Haram attack in Nigeria saw 2000 deaths. Compared to the press attention on France, these other attacks received little attention in Australian media. Two things: 1) terrorist attacks like e saw in Paris are very common in some parts of the world, and 2) our press is quite selective in what is presented. We don’t have to get all suspicious about that: no news service will cover everything.

These realities serve to show that our response needs to be more than occasional. we need to draw these responses into our everyday living as followers of Jesus.

So, back to the question: How can Christians respond to increasing prevalence of terror attacks?

1.Pray

It is for no small reason that Paul, persecuted and in prison, writes to his Christian friends in Philippi

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4–7, NIV)

More than any other time, when our hearts are full of fear, we must be a praying people. We call out to the One who knows all, sees all, rules all, and we have the assurance that our powerful God will hear us.

Psalm 116:1-6

Get together with people and pray. Pray for our world. Pray for Paris. Pray that Da’esh evil will be brought to nothing and our world will be rid of it. Pray that Christ will rule people through grace, love, mercy and selflessness.

2.Love the hurting

Jesus, in the parable of the Good Samaritan, reminds us that anyone who is in need, anyone who is hurting, should receive our love, mercy and attention.

We know the story: Samaritans hated Jews. Jews hated Samaritans. But Jesus tells this parable to show us that when God rules hearts, hate is replaced with compassion.

when God rules hearts, hate is replaced with compassion

We may not know anyone hurting as a direct result of these attacks. Pray for the hurting anyway. And find some way to express that. If you use social media, Tweet like a Christian and tell people you’re praying for the hurting.

3.Love your enemies

Do you sometimes think we are becoming less tolerant and gracious? I do. And some comments in social media have confirmed that thought for me. I have seen Christians posting garbage on facebook, whipping up a frenzy of clicktivism against Muslims in particular.

Seriously friends, we shake the fist and give the finger way too easily. And it’s ugly. It drags the name of Jesus through the foulest of human mud.

Read the Scriptures: Jesus never said we should get angry or get even. Jesus never said we should talk about lining them all up and shooting them. Remember: that is what they would do to us.

Jesus says:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. …” (Matthew 5:43–48, NIV)

To be honest, I am finding it very hard to pray for the perpetrators of these acts, or Isis/Da’esh. But Jesus commands me to pray for them. So I will pray they will be overcome, by the grace of God. I pray they would see how Jesus transforms people by grace. I pray they will see that fear and terror cannot win.

Think of early Christian martyrs. Thrown to wild beasts. Burned at the stake. Stories of Polycarp being burned, and yet singing hymns as the fire was set around his feet. Think of Jesus, as he was being crucified, praying “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” There’s our model, friends. Let us go and do likewise, and let us do that together.

4.Live good lives

It’s no coincidence that we have been studying 1 Peter in the Hope Eternal series. Peter wrote to persecuted people. They were hated, maligned and misunderstood. His advice? Keep living godly lives in the public square. Don’t retreat to the bunker. Keep doing good. Keep wearing the grace of Jesus on your sleeve.

“Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” (1 Peter 2:12, NIV)

Think about that when terror strikes: Keep living good lives, Gospel hearted behaviour. Let the love of the King be seen in the people of his Kingdom.

How do Jesus’ people respond to terror? To the horror of Paris?

Romans 12:14–21 (NIV)

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;

if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.

In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Jesus’ kingdom, quite clearly, is not of this world, but it is our prayer that, living in his likeness and to his glory, our world will be transformed and evil will be undone.

There are some things to do. Here are a few things not to do:

1.Do not hate people

Do not hate people. It’s a fine line, but when Paul says “hate what is evil” he’s talking about actions and behaviour, not people. Even so, we need to guard our heart here.

Hatred, especially in the face of terror, feels good. There’s something about indignation that will sometimes strangely warm us. But it’s a slippery emotion.

“Hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers over all wrongs.” (Proverbs 10:12, NIV)

The Gospel transforms hatred into a love that seeks Gospel good and Gospel change:

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil…Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21, NIV)

Remember Christian, we know how all this will end. It won’t be with the destruction of the church, or with the Christian faith being eradicated. Jesus’ promise is that the gates of hell will not prevail against his church.

His promise is that a day is coming when

“They will neither harm nor destroy on [the Lord’s] holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” (Isaiah 11:9, NIV)

In the words of 20th century Christian martyr, Martin Luther King Jr,

The arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice

And again

Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive our hate: only love can do that.

Vengeance belongs to God, and he will defend and vindicate his faithful ones. Believe this and make it your comfort.

2.Don’t blame refugees

It did not take long for some to associate the attacks in Paris with the refugee crisis. Seriously! It was not refugees who mounted the attacks. It was Da’esh. The refugees we tend to see, the refugees our country puts in detention camps, are people fleeing what we saw in Paris.

We are one with refugees, friends. All of us run from these attacks. Let’s not allow the uninformed opinions of some be all we see in this picture.

The Bible reminds us ver directly: God has his eye on refugees, and how we treat them. His people were refugees from Egypt, from Assyria, from Babylon, from Rome, from Hitler, from Stalin, from the Iron & Bamboo curtains. His own dear son and his family were refugees from Herod. (A few days after I preached this message, my sister created this meme – great work Jo!) …

Refugees n Christmas

 

Christians should be the first to respond in grace.

“The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:34, NIV)

3. Don’t blame Muslims

Bracketing all Muslims with Da’esh is like saying all Christians are KKK. It’s like saying because some Christian institutions have been places of abuse, that all Christians are abusers of children.

We believe Jesus is the only way to the Father. We want Muslims to come to know Jesus, (and they want us to know the prophet). But we must not answer injustice with prejudice. The Paris attacks were the work of extremists using Islam for their own evil ends.

4. Do not call for war on Islam

To do so is to embark on a Christian Jihad, our own holy war, a crusade. And that is repaying evil with evil, all the worse because we lump all Muslims together. When we do this we do the very thing Da’esh is doing to us.

The truth: everyone needs Jesus

The Gospel is about the transformation of the world under Jesus’ rule.

Jesus’ Kingdom is not perpetuated by fear or violence.

Jesus’ Kingdom is advanced through love, peace and selflessness in his people.

Jesus Kingdom transforms our world one life at a time, as people bow they knee, coming under his grace, and live in his likeness.

The impact of his Kingdom in people is described as fruit:

“…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22–23, NIV)

And when people like you and I come under Christ’s Lordship, we have new life, we are given a new start, and we start to live a miracle of grace:

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV)

As Da’esh shows the world the face of terror, Christians must show the world the face of Christ.

In the day of terror, He is our hope. Christ in us, the hope of glory!

We see the horror, and we weep. But we know, in the end, Christ’s love will win.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails….” (1 Corinthians 13:4–8, NIV)

A Prayer

Compassionate God and Father of all,

We are horrified at violence

In so many parts of the world

It seems that none are safe

And some are terrified,

others grieving lost loved ones, and lost freedom

 

Hold back the hands that kill and maim

Turn around the hearts that hate

Remove the scourge of evil from our cities

And from our world.

 

Grant instead your powerful spirit of peace

Peace won in the cross of Christ our King

Peace that came through persecution and violence

 

Help us remember that nothing can separate us from your love

That you are with us always

That Christ’s life in us is our power to be

A people of good and a people for good

 

Keep us from prejudice, from judgemental attitudes

From superiority, and from living in fear

 

And until Christ returns,

May we live as new creation, fleeing sin

Walking in newness of life

That people everywhere will know

That because of Jesus

Our world belongs to God.

 

 

 

Love One Another Deeply – Group Study Questions

1 Peter 1:22–25 (NIV)

22 Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart. 23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. 24 For,

“All people are like grass,

and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;

the grass withers and the flowers fall,

25 but the word of the Lord endures forever.”

And this is the word that was preached to you.

1 Corinthians 13:1–8a (NIV)

1 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

8 Love never fails.

Discussion questions

1. “Christianity is cruciform. There’s the vertical dimension where we love God with all our heart, soul mind and strength. There’s also the horizontal dimension: love your neighbour as yourself. Love for God demands love for others. Being joined to God in faith means being joined to others in love. When God’s people love one another deeply, it’s like a new reality, new creation is born. It doesn’t get any better.”

  • Where have you see these vertical and horizontal aspects working in harmony together? What were some of the outcomes?

2. “Sincere love for each other is the sole distinguishing characteristic of Gospel community. Not truth. Not doctrine. Not systems of church government. Not your affiliation. Not the level of your commitment or the amount of your tithe. These are all important, but if you do not have sincere love, it’s irritating, useless and ultimately destructive.”

  • What do you think about this statement? What Bible passages might underpin this assertion? What might this mean for how your church or Christian community operates?

3. Do you agree with the statement that we tend to underestimate God’s power to bring new life to expression in our lives (See Romand 6:1-4)? What are the common ways we do this?

4. “Christian you are not the same as the unsaved, powerless, sinful person you were before Jesus entered your life! Just as Christ was raised from the dead to the glory of the father, we too may live a new life (Romans 6:4). God is saying: here’s my prescription, I have saved you for this very purpose, and you can do this, I will do this through you, you can obey my call in my power! Jesus frees us to be a community of sincere love, deep love, because the God of love has redeemed us with the precious blood of his son!”

  • Discuss this statement
  • Assuming you are in agreement, how would applying these truths impact on how your church or Christian community goes about its mission and ministry?

5. What specific actions will you take to love your brothers and sisters in Christ more sincerely?

6. What specific steps does your church need to take to be a more intentional community of sincere love?

Love One Another Deeply

Hope-Eternal---MM

1 Peter 1:22-25

I bet there isn’t a single person here who has not received an email from someone in Africa, claiming to be the wife of a recently assassinated national figure. She has access to millions, and despite the existence of Swiss banks and Fort Knox, out of every person on the face of the earth, she thinks the best person to trust with all her millions is actually you. You will have looked at that email and said “Is this for real?”

Or you go down to the car yard, and the salesman offers you more for your trade in than you know you can get in a private sale. You’ll think about that and ask yourself, “Is this for real?”

Or you’re down at the Fremantle markets, and you’re looking at the watches. They have all the great brands Tag Heuer, Rolex, Casio. The prices are unbelievably cheap. You’ll be wondering, “Are they for real?”

Now, people look at the church, they hear words about life, a fresh start, and transformation, and you know what are they asking?

“Is this for real?”

The Prescription

If you’re wondering how to spot authentic Christianity, Peter’s words are just what you need to hear. They open our eyes to the very thing that shows whether Christians are genuine.

“Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.” (1 Peter 1:22–23, NIV)

Love is the mark of the Christian. Love identifies true community from false community. Love strengthens relationship and authenticates witness.

Of course, love can be a variety of things: Altruistic love. Brotherly love. Erotic love. The love commanded here, however, is a sacrificial, selfless love. This is the love of decision. A commitment. A covenant to love despite the cost, despite rebuke, despite rejection. It is unconditional, and in many ways, unconventional. It’s a love demonstrated in God’s saving acts in Jesus. A love that goes to rebels, to enemies. It restores relationship. It builds togetherness. It develops oneness where there is division. It makes friends out of sinners.

Peter is saying to his readers: now that you are purified and holy through Jesus, there is one core reality to operate in. One central behaviour to show Christ is living in you. One thing that matters above all: love one another.

As Jesus had said some years before

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34–35, NIV)

See, Christianity is cruciform. There’s the vertical dimension where we love God with all our heart, soul mind and strength. We believe him. He honour him. We trust him. We love him.

There’s also the horizontal dimension: love your neighbour as yourself. We’re compassionate, friendly, considerate, gracious.

Here’s the deal: love for God demands love for others. Being joined to God in faith means being joined to others in love. When God’s people love one another deeply, it’s like a new reality, new creation is born. It doesn’t get any better.

We also know the fall is still around us and in us. Christians fail each other. Communities of love can become contexts of pain and hurt. And then it’s easy to pull away, and just seek to do faith on our own. And that’s an easy option these days. If you listen to podcasts, you can have Tim Keller one day, John Piper the next, followed by John Ortberg, Matt Chandler, David Platt – your whole week can be immersed in the world’s best preachers. You can bail out of church and do it all at home. But the problem is that on your own, all you’ve got to love is yourself. And that is far from what the Lord calls you to in these verses. Loving God is never merely an individual thing. You can’t be a lone ranger in the kingdom of Jesus. Life with Jesus cannot be lived apart from Jesus’ community. Additionally, if we withdraw when we’re hurt, the hurt is never healed, it’s multiplied. Dragged deeper within, it becomes bitter and ugly.

Yet, when Jesus’ people love each other deeply, Christian community becomes the context of growth and healing where hurt and resentment can become a catalyst for growth and restoration. So: Love one another deeply, from the heart.

It’s your purpose

Second: we need to love deeply because it’s a core purpose of God in saving us. Loving others deeply is not an option. It’s not something that some people are good at or gifted in, while others aren’t. It is core behaviour for the followers of Jesus. Check out that first section of v.22:

“Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other…” (1 Peter 1:22, NIV)

Christ has purified us so that we can love sincerely. Christ is doing a work in you. He’s making his love overflow. A love that is active, persistent and practical. It’s expressed in relationships, in what we think about one another, how we help one another, how we bless one another, how we serve one another.

I started the sermon with the question of authenticity. How do we know if it’s the real deal? How do you spot the true church? Surprisingly, sincere love for each other is the sole distinguishing characteristic of Gospel community. Not truth. Not doctrine. Not systems of church government. Not your affiliation. Not the level of your commitment or the amount of your tithe. These are all important, but if you do not have sincere love, it’s irritating, useless and ultimately destructive.

God has chosen the church, us, to show the world what sincere love really is. At Gateway Church we have just renewed our commitment to grow healthy Gospel community.

GCC Vision Template

We want to be a church where there’s sincere love, where the Gospel is seen. A place where we both live and proclaim Christ’s love for sinners. Where that love is expressed as his people love each other. Where it’s reflected in their love for their world.

Where this sincere love is seen the Gospel is more easily heard and believed and accepted. Where sincere love exists, every anti Christian argument, every attack on the church, is blunted. Where that sincere love persists in the face of attack, those attacks are neutralised. When sincere love thrives, anti Christ is overcome and the flaming arrows of the evil one are extinguished.

I saw last week that Richard Dawkins tweeted an article from the Economist suggesting a religious upbringing diminished generosity.

Screen Shot 2015-11-07 at 6.05.11 PM

What ahistorical piffle. Dawkin’s thought bubble doesn’t even have a rim. It’s nothing. It’s air.

History shows us that sincere love drove the church to mission, to compassion, to cultural advancement. Churches started hospitals, churches developed public education. Christians like William Wilberforce worked to abolish the trans atlantic slave trade. Christians continue today, through the work of organisations like International Justice Mission, to repair broken systems of justice, to stop the violence that perpetuates the poverty of the developing world.

Why do they do this? Because when Jesus rules people, when they are purified through his precious blood, all they can do is love sincerely! That has to be the outcome. It has to work. It cannot not work.

It’s God empowered

Hang on, you say. It cannot not work? Is this for real?

I look at myself and I acknowledge my weakness. We are imperfect. And look around, we can see plenty of contexts where it does not work well. True: this sincere love is not going to be perfect this side of heaven, but we do need to think through what Peter is saying.

First, as we’ve already seen, this love is purposed by God. And what God purposes will come about. Second, this love is commanded by God to people he lives in by his Spirit.

God never commands his people to do an impossible task. When he commands us to “love one another deeply, from the heart” he’s only enjoining what he already empowers. Check it out:

“For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For, “All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.” And this is the word that was preached to you.” (1 Peter 1:23–25, NIV)

Love one another deeply, from the heart (why?) … You have been born again or imperishable seed…

The Perth summer is fast approaching. Coming Saturday the temperature will be some 37C. For the last few months we have been working on our lawn. Enriching it with water retention material. Organic material. Other substances that retain goodness. Keeping the water up. Because if we don’t, we know the harsh summer is going to transform our green lawn into crunchy brown nothingness.

Peter wants us to know people a like grass. Soft and green one day. Brown and crunchy the next. People don’t last. Their efforts often come to nothing.

But when God acts savingly in people’s lives, he begins to transform human weakness – your weakness – by the power of his risen son.

Christians don’t just bear fruit. With Jesus living in them they bear fruit that will last. When God saves people, they move from the realm of the mortal, to the realm of the immortal.

““I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” (John 5:24, NIV84)

There’s no denying: we’re not in heaven yet. We still fail, and fall, and our love is imperfect. (That’s obvious, otherwise it wouldn’t have to be commanded.) By the same token, I think we underestimate the power of our great God in us.

It’s why in our tradition we’re often short on prayer (which times do you gather specifically for prayer?). It’s why we get worried and anxious when things don’t work out – we think we’ve got to do it all. We react as if God is not in the picture. It’s why the most discussed half of the glass can often be the empty half…

But God is saying, loving this way is not about your limitations. It’s not about you being fallen. It’s not about you perishing. It’s about my living and enduring word doing the very thing that I purposed it to do. It’s about the love and grace and mercy of Jesus doing the very thing I intended it to do in you! It’s about the word that has not only been proclaimed to to, you’ve received it, believed it, it has taken root, and it is bearing fruit.

Christian you are not the same as the unsaved, powerless, sinful person you were before Jesus entered your life! Just as Christ was raised from the dead to the glory of the father, we too may live a new life (Romans 6:4)

God is saying: here’s my prescription, I have saved you for this very purpose, and you can do this, I will do this through you, you can obey my call in my power!

Jesus frees us to be a community of sincere love, deep love, because the God of love has redeemed us with the precious blood of his son!

“Love one another deeply, from the heart”

People talk about body language. You look at how a person is sitting and you can gauge their level of interest. If someone is in the meeting and they lean back with their hands on their head, we all know they think they’ve got the whole thing down and they may be feeling pretty superior. Body language. You can look at body language and get a reasonably accurate idea if what’s going on inside.

Guess what: Sincere love is the body language of the people of God, those who have been born with the imperishable word of God. You observe the sincere love of the people of God and you know what’s happening on the inside! God is at work, and they have been born again with imperishable seed! They are loving each other because they both love God and have been loved by him through Jesus.

Challenge:

So: is there enough sincere love here? Are we maxed out on love? Didn’t think so.

And the question, therefore, is what specific action will you take to start loving your brothers and sisters more?

I know: There’s always stuff that others can do more of, or less of. But this is about you. You and God. He has purposed this love to overflow from your life. So, what steps will you take to make that happen?

You in a home group? Discuss this question. Wrestle with it. Ask yourselves: do what you can to show more love in that context? Who’s on the sideline? Who’s fragile? Who’s in need? Speak into that. Love into that. Do something in love for them.

You’re not in a home group? Best reconsider. How can you love your brothers and sisters if you’re limiting the contexts where that love can be seen and felt and demonstrated? You’re too busy? Too tired? Best reconsider. We all get the same number of hours, and many are time poor. Instead of adjusting contexts of sincere love out of your schedule, adjust other components of your schedule to develop contexts of sincere love. Others will be the better for it, and so will be your heart.

Your church: what specific steps will you take to make your church more a place of love? Where people go out of their way to love? Where they forget about their own interests, and look to the interests of others? How will you start to do that, or extend that?

What will you change to better enfold people on the fringe? People in need? Sincere love says I can do something about that. Visit some people. Ask them around for a  BBQ or a Coffee. Steak and caffeine – what a wonderful ministry of love! See, it doesn’t have to be hard.

Like the eternal seed that started it all in us, the love and mercy of Jesus, such acts last forever.

When it gets tough, when things fall apart, the fact that God’s imperishable seed is at work in us will be our only hope, our only comfort, and our one reason for bringing glory to Jesus.

When that sincere love is good, it will be very good fruit. Those actions and events will be tasty kingdom morsels. We’ll taste them and instead of saying ‘Is this for real?’ we’ll say to ourselves ‘This is great, let’s have some more.’

DEEP – Thirsty

Deep promo sm banner

Read: Psalm 42:1-5

Last weekend I spent four days on a fishing charter. So that I would not succumb to sea sickness, I decided to take some motion sickness medication. These things are great, but one of the side effects is that you get an incredibly dry mouth. I found this out when one morning I took a piece of cake for morning tea and I found that I couldn’t taste it and it was very difficult to swallow. That’s what happens when your mouth is dry.

What about when you’re dry on the inside? What happens then? Are you even aware of it when your soul is thirsty?

As the deer pants

Israel, where Psalm 42 is written, is an arid environment. Most of the year there is very little rain, and most streams are nothing but gullies. Stories around water are prominent throughout Israel’s history. One of their formative experiences was 40 years in a wilderness. At one stage people were so dry that Moses prayed to the Lord, and he provided water out of a rock – an event celebrated every year during the Feast of Tabernacles.

Generations earlier, Patriarch Jacob dug a well which is still present today, in the West Bank city of Nablus. Generations later, Jesus’ own teaching reminded his people of how blessed it is to give even a cup of water to the thirsty.

Psalm 42 speaks about thirst. But it’s not physical thirst which is in view. It’s a deeper thirst. A dryness of soul. A withering thirst of one’s entire being.

“As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?” (Psalm 42:1–2, NIV)

This man is thirsting for God. How come?

In the OT times, the only place people could meet with God was in the temple in Jerusalem. The problem was that the psalmist was nowhere near Jerusalem. Something has happened, and he’s acutely aware that he’s a long way from God’s presence.

How do you know when you’re dry on the inside?

Apparently, when you’re dying of thirst: you lose your taste, your tongue swells, you become disoriented, you have a terrible headache, you lose strength.

What about spiritual thirst? Sometimes, it seems, we end up in a wilderness of soul. Spiritually dehydrated. God seems remote, far away; there’s no taste for God, no sense of his presence, faith seems weak; no desire to read; no heart for prayer; the things of God seem abstract and foreign; your soul feels dry and withered. Faith, love for Jesus, desire to praise, love for the church just seem to have evaporated in the dry heat of life’s harsh realities.

The interesting thing about spiritual thirst is that it tends to come when conditions are adverse. Trouble, trial, pressure, stress, tension. Spiritual dryness can creep in. Dryness of soul can invade slowly and imperceptibly – and all of a sudden you realise “I am so thirsty inside…” How does this happen?

Part of the problem is our lives are so busy. Diaries are chock full, work demands are high, spouse is doing this, kids are doing that, we’re bombarded by stimuli like email, the internet, iPhone, the iPad, who knows what else. And you know, we don’t sense the dryness of our soul. We are so busy with life’s demands that we scarcely notice how thirsty we are. In relation to the baptism vows we make about our children, we must think carefully about the lifestyle we lead, the sheer busyness we accept, and ask if that is the best way to lead our children to spiritual health.

Me? Thirsty?

So, when was the last time you took stock of your heart? Listened to your soul? Are you thirsty? Thirsty inside? Has your taste for God waned? Jaded with worship? Your spiritual life dull, grey, and you’re wondering where the sweetness of grace has gone?

“My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go to the house of God under the protection of the Mighty One with shouts of joy and praise among the festive throng.” (Psalm 42:2–4, NIV)

Sometimes these feelings come because we’re living in disobedience to God. Thirst, then, would be hardly surprising. But sometimes we just kind of end up in the wilderness.

Earlier this week I was thinking: maybe we’re all feeling that a bit? After planting Hope Community Church, maybe we’re feeling a bit depleted? A few people move on, home groups change, worship changes, church changes, and we feel a bit down about that.

Isn’t that a kind of thirst? For the way it used to be? Maybe so.

Interestingly, I read this week that the early church fathers, and even John Calvin himself, spoke of a ‘spiritual desertion’. It’s bit of a surprising term. Not that God deserts us, for he doesn’t ever forsake his people. But sometimes he allows us not to feel his presence – like the jaded Footprints writer – who wondered where God was in his toughest and hardest times. Sometimes God allows us to get thirsty. Perhaps at those times he’s changing things to alert us to something: that we haven’t quite been trusting him as we should. Might that be part of our thirst? Worth considering, isn’t it?

Maybe God is allowing us to feel that emptiness, to sense that thirst, so we realise we can’t put our hope in people, or things, or experience, and that we can only trust him. Only when we are with God, when we trust God alone, the living God, will our thirst be quenched with his living water.

Living water

So, how do we do that? The Psalmist knew if he pulled more away from God his deep thirst would only get worse. Even if he didn’t know how God would help him, even if he didn’t know all the answers, or he couldn’t resolve his problems, he knew it was good to be near God:

“Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” (Psalm 42:5, NIV)

Centuries later, at Jacobs Well, a woman came along, and she was thirsty. Sure, she was thirsty for water, but she was more thirsty for God – though like most, she didn’t know it. She wanted water from the well. Jesus said what she really needed was living water, water that was like life itself. Life. which like water, would become part of her and enliven her entire being. Jesus said he would give this life, so freely, so abundantly, that not only would her inner thirst be slaked, but his grace and life and love would overflow from her into others, powerfully, satisfyingly, eternally.

You: Thirsty? Dried out?

Jesus is calling you to drink deep from his life. You don’t have to go to some Temple, like the psalmist, or to Jacobs Well, like the woman from Samaria. Jesus, the Son of God has come to us, and he has come full of grace and truth! His death on the cross and his rising again is the cure for your inner thirst. Through his death, Jesus forgives all your wrongs. Jesus cleanses all your sins. Jesus has borne all your guilt and punishment. His death and rising has conquered your inner darkness so comprehensively, so powerfully that his living water will flow into you, and you will never be the same.

“… “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”” (John 7:37–38, NIV)

Jesus is your water of life. Don’t push back. Don’t walk away. You have to drink. Step up, and drink deep.

Here’s a few things to do to drink deep his water of life:

  • Acknowledge your thirst: Lord, I am so thirsty: I don’t know how I got here, but I am so dry, and I am asking you to pour your water of life into me. Jesus, I trust you. I know you can do this. I know my failing and acknowledge my sin and my need. I don’t deserve your grace: but I know your water of life is what I need. Please, Jesus, quench the thirst of my soul!
  • Drink! That is, accept and believe in Jesus! If you’ve already done this, or you’re already there, just do it again, say it again! I believe you, Jesus! My water! My life! Pour your water into me, break my spiritual drought, moisten my withered heart with your loving grace
  • Trust! Follow the Psalmist’s example! Despite all his thirst, despite his agony and the taunting of his foes (Ps 42:10), he still said, “I will yet trust you! I put my hope in you, my Saviour and my God!” So you can say: Don’t let me trust in your things or your people – no matter how good! Lord, I need you! You, in me; you, one with me; you, like water in my soul’s belly. I trust your life, your grace, your forgiveness through Jesus, your faithfulness
  • Finally (and related to the above): Reconnect. Don’t wait to feel great to start praying. Don’t wait to feel healthy to get into worship with God’s people. Don’t wait to feel better to read your bible. Think about it: how will God speak to you and pour his life into you if you’re not listening? If you’re dehydrated, you don’t wait till you’re no longer thirsty to drink, right? You start drinking before you feel better. So, if you’re spiritually dry, turn around, repent, reconnect with God! Don’t wait until you feel spiritually healthy: do it now!

There’s a wonderful section in the letter to the Hebrews. We don’t really know who wrote this book, but we can see easily enough that the people addressed in the book were going soft on their faith in Jesus. They were in danger of given up. They were thirsty. Look at the advice they receive:

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:19–25, NIV)

The confidence to reconnect is grounded squarely in the person and work of Jesus Christ. He has opened the way. He is our great priest. He has cleansed us and purified us. On that basis, because of him, we can hold unswervingly to the hope we profess for he who promised is faithful.

Are you thirsty? Then acknowledge, drink, trust, and reconnect.

  • Just open his word and ask him to speak you, to quench your thirst, to pour his Spirit water into you, to refresh you.
  • Go deeper into prayer, into worship, into community – your Home Group.
  • Let others pray for you. Let them be a channel of God’s grace, let them share God’s love.

God wants you deep in his living water. Come to Jesus, drink deep, and have him pour his living water into your life.

God’s Plan to Address Injustice

t43069-parable-of-the-good-samaritan-wynants-jan

Read: Luke 10:25-37

It seems you don’t have to talk about Christianity for too long before someone says, ‘One of the issues I have with God is that there is so much evil in the world: Why isn’t he doing something about it?’

Does God have a plan to address injustice?

We’ve been looking at issues surrounding injustice for the last four weeks, and the question we’re dealing with today is that very question: Does God have a plan to address injustice?

On the road to Jericho

One day, a lawyer asked a question of Jesus: What must I do to inherit eternal life? Jesus asked him what the law taught, and the lawyer’s response is well known:

‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Luke 10:27, NIV)

‘Great answer’ says Jesus. Do that and you’ll be fine. But the lawyer knew that giving an answer and living an answer were two very different things.

Think about it: ‘love your neighbour as yourself.’ Who can do that perfectly? So The law expert wanted the matter clarified: ‘and who is my neighbour?’

The parable of the Good Samaritan is Jesus’ answer to his question. And while we might not realise it, this parable is also the answer to our question: what is God doing about injustice?

But before we get into that, Let’s observe that there are two aspects answering the question of what God is doing about injustice. First, there is what we call the ‘not yet’ aspect: The ‘Judgement Day’ aspect.

He will wipe every tear from [our] eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. (Revelation 21:4, NIV)

Rev 21 & 22 tell us a day will come when every evil act, every abuse, every agent of oppression, every person who does injustice or turns a blind eye to it will answer to the living God. On Judgement Day God will forever end all injustice. But we are not there yet.

Second, there is a ‘Now’ aspect. The parable of the Good Samaritan shows us what the ‘now’ aspect is. We read,

…“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.” (Luke 10:30, NIV)

The victim was a Jew. A priest and a Levite, both brother Jews to the victim, to our surprise pass by on the other side. Then along comes a Samaritan. Jews hated Samaritans. Samaritans hated Jews. Typically, neither would have regarded the other as their neighbour.

Do you see what Jesus is doing? See where he’s pushing?

The lawyer wanted to justify himself. That is, he wanted Jesus to say ‘your neighbour is your brother’; or at worst: ‘your neighbour is your countryman’. But Jesus does not do that. Jesus says your neighbour is anyone, anyone who needs your mercy. Anyone in need.

In this parable, a great injustice has been committed. A man is beaten, robbed, and left for dead. His own countrymen ignore him. And the question that interests us right now is: What was God’s plan to address that injustice?

Well, of course, God’s plan was that the Levite address that injustice. And his plan was that the priest address that injustice. But they both rejected God’s call. And then along came this despised Samaritan. Like the others, he was the plan. Unlike the others, he obeyed, showed mercy, used his donkey, spent his money.

your neighbour is anyone, anyone who needs your mercy. Anyone in need

What is God’s plan to deal with injustice? His plan is to use us! When injustice is going on, and you know it, and you see it, you are the plan to deal with it.

God’s plan has not changed

God’s plan is to deal with injustice by using his people. His plan has never been any different. The oft quoted Exodus manifesto reveals how when God’s people obeyed him and kept his covenant

“…then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation …” (Exodus 19:5–6, NIV)

Jeremiah 22 and Isaiah 1, show the Lord expects his people to address injustice around them. It was his plan for his people then. The question is does the New Testament teach it is his plan for his church, for you, for me, for his church to do it now? Does Jesus clearly teach this?

Let’s cover some of that data:

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” (1 John 3:16–18, NIV)

It’s clear: Christians know God’s love, and this places them under an obligation to help a brother or sister in need. In doing this we clearly follow Jesus’ example.

“Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (1 Timothy 5:8, NIV)

It’s clear: Because you are a Christian, you have an obligation to assist family and relatives in need.

“In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”” (Acts 20:35, NIV)

As Paul farewells the Ephesian elders, he does not just tell them about their responsibilities to guard the flock from false teachers. He clearly says they have an obligation to help the weak.

“Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” (Galatians 6:10, NIV)

Here we see how the circle of responsibility widens: it’s not just fellow Christians in need that the church has to care for, nor to their responsibilities extend only to their family. God’s people are called to do good and to address the needs of all people.

Can you see the emphasis? You are God’s plan to address need inside the church. You are God’s plan to address need outside the church.

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,” (Matthew 25:35, NIV)

Christ’s people don’t just render assistance to the ones they know and love, but even to those who are strangers. As one scholar observes:  to ‘those who were enemies politically and religiously.’

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:13–16, NIV)

You are the salt of what? Your Family? You are the salt of your friends? You are the salt of the people you know and love? You are the salt of people who are like you? No. None of that. You, church, are the salt of the earth. It’s hard to think of a context wider than that. You are God’s plan on the earth.

“Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” (1 Peter 2:11–12, NIV)

Peter writes to this church, people who are salt and light, and he says “be this kind of people, do good, live good lives, even amongst pagans. In the context of 1 Peter, God’s people were called to live good lives toward those who were persecuting them. That is an astounding command.

So: What is God’s plan to address injustice? You and me. Us. Church, together. We are the plan. We see from the above that this teaching is consistently reflected and embedded in the witness of the New Testament. And when it comes the the emphases in Jesus’ ministry, I can do no better that quote Timothy Keller. In Generous Justice he writes:

While clearly Jesus was preaching the good news to all, he showed throughout his ministry the particular interest in the poor and the downtrodden that God has always had.

Jesus, in his incarnation, “moved in” with the poor. He lived with, ate with, and associated with the socially ostracized (Matt 9:13). He raised the son of the poor widow (Luke 7:11–16) and showed the greatest respect to the immoral woman who was a social outcast (Luke 7:36ff). Indeed, Jesus spoke with women in public, something that a man with any standing in society would not have done, but Jesus resisted the sexism of his day (John 4:27). 51 Jesus also refused to go along with the racism of his culture, making a hated Samaritan the hero of one of his most famous parables (Luke 10:26ff) and touching off a riot when he claimed that God loved Gentiles like the widow of Zarephath and Naaman the Syrian as much as Jews (Luke 4:25–27). Jesus showed special concern for children, despite his apostles’ belief that they were not worth Jesus’s time (Luke 18:15). Lepers also figured greatly in Jesus’s ministry. They were not only sick and dying, but were the outcasts of society. Jesus not only met their need for physical healing, but reached out his hand and touched them, giving them their first human contact in years (Mark 1:41; Luke 5:13). He called his disciples to give to the poor in the strongest and most startling ways, while praising the poor for their own generosity (Mark 12:42–43). His own mother prophesied that he would “fill the poor” but turn the rich away empty (Luke 1:53). Yet Jesus also showed true justice by opening his arms to several classes of people who were not just poor. He ate with and spoke to tax collectors, the wealthiest people in society, yet the most hated, since they acquired their gains through collaborating with the Roman forces of occupation. The first witnesses to Jesus’s birth were shepherds, a despised group considered unreliable, yet God revealed the birth of his son first to them. The first witnesses of Jesus’s resurrection were women, another class of people so marginalized that their testimony was not admissible evidence in court. Yet Jesus revealed himself to them first. The examples are too many too enumerate.

So it is very clear indeed: Jesus’ teaching and ministry shows the absolute depth of His commitment to address the injustices of his day and reflect the compassion of his Father.

The How and the Why

In fact, Christians have no way of understanding God’s plan to address injustice, or their own part in it, outside of Jesus.

We need to remember this. Too often the church and Christians have been guilted into compassion. But guilt is such a lousy motivator. It may lead people to conform, but it never changes the heart. All guilt gives is more brokenness.

we take responsibility for God’s plan because in God’s plan, Jesus has taken responsibility for us

So, what is our motivation to join this plan of God? To be his means to address our world’s injustice? Well, we take responsibility for God’s plan because in God’s plan, Jesus has taken responsibility for us.

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6–8, NIV)

The Gospel ends every argument about whether people will accept compassion in the right frame of mind, whether they deserve it, or whether they will abuse the grace extended to them.

Because

  • I was not in the right frame of mind for the love of God in Jesus.
  • I did not accept him as I should have.
  • I regularly abuse the privilege of grace.
  • Only in Jesus do I become the righteousness of God.
  • Only through Jesus does my status move from rebel to regenerate.
  • The Gospel gives me the only motivation I need to engage with God’s plan.

But Jesus is not only our motivation. Jesus is our means, our capacity, our ability to respond. He lives in us through his Spirit, the deposit guaranteeing what is to come. Christ in us! Do we need more? It’s no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me! This incredible reality means we have Jesus’ resources at our disposal as we engage with God’s plan!

“I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13, NIV)

Jesus is my motivation. Jesus is my means. And Jesus is my message. As we are God’s plan to address injustice, let us remember that we cannot divorce what we do from who we are in Jesus Christ. Faith and actions go together. Gospel work with Gospel words. It’s not enough to aim for mere changed circumstances. What we’re presenting is that God changes people through the grace of God in Jesus Christ. The greatest agent of change in the world is the human heart ruled by Jesus Christ.

The greatest agent of change in the world is the human heart ruled by Jesus Christ.

Now that doesn’t mean that before we help anyone we have to share the gospel, or get them signing off on ‘two ways to live’, or something like that. But as Jesus himself did, the works become a context to speak his words.

When the message comes without actions, it will lack traction. When actions come without the message, people will not understand the gracious God who is reaching out to them through his son.

God has a plan to address injustice. God has made it clear: through Jesus we are the plan, and God does not have another plan. So, how do we do this? What will we at Gateway Community Church actually do to engage with God’s plan? Do we have a plan? That is what I will get specific about next week.

For now, for this week, pray this

“Lord, open my eyes to how I can be part of your plan.

Open my eyes to how we at GCC can engage with your plan.

Open our eyes and our heart to

the people we need to see,

to the situations we need to address,

to the dark places,

the broken lives,

where the light of your Gospel needs to shine,

and where the love, grace and forgiveness of your Son will bring healing.”

God Hates Injustice: Group Study Questions

Read Isaiah 1:10-20

  1. Discuss some of the things we typically say we hate. How many of those things are on the same level as injustice? What conclusions can you draw about this?
  2. Looking through this passage, what sort of actions and behaviour from God’s people lead to this strongly worded complaint to his people?
  3. Any worship anyone brings is only ever acceptable through the grace of God in Jesus. Can such grace overcome the situation outlined in Isaiah 1? If so, what explains Yahweh’s strong words to his people? Why doesn’t he just forgive and be done with it?
  4. “It is impossible to have orthodoxy without orthopraxis: impossible to have right doctrine in isolation from compassionate and just practice.” – Discuss
  5. Share a few stories of people who have seemed to get the balance right between great theology and compassionate practise
  6. Share your thoughts on the significance of Isaiah 53:4-6 and 1 John 3:1 for your pursuit of justice in your local context

 

These questions are relevant to “Time for Justice: God Hates Injustice” from Gateway Community Church, March 08, 2015

 

 

 

 

Time for Justice #3 – God Hates Injustice

Reading: Isaiah 1:10-17

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Before we get underway, I’d like to recommend a couple of books to challenge and extend you:

The Just Church – Jim Martin Martin begins with a few stories which underscore the need for Christians to think seriously about justice issues. Martin’s approach is deeply rooted in Scripture, and he takes good time to step us through the Bible’s teaching on justice related matters. The final section of his book is a very helpful strategy for a church to commence their justice journey. Martin is sensitive to the unique context of every local church, and rather than impose a series of outcomes, his generalised strategy will enable each local church to use their unique resources and context to advance the Kingdom of Christ.

Generous Justice – Timothy Keller Wow! This book. If ever you wondered how, and whether the Old Testament injunctions could be properly and graciously applied to churches in the 21st century, you will hungrily and gratefully devour Keller’s book. Keller’s characteristic well reasoned, deeply scriptural approach motivates the reader to respond to injustice in the light of the Cross of Jesus. I am so thankful for this book!

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What can’t you stand?

I can’t stand rap music. Some love it, even thrive on it. Not me. Can’t stand it.

I can’t stand tepid, weak, insipid coffee: like Starbucks. I was kind of happy when Starbucks folded in Australia. There seemed to be something good and right about that.

I can’t stand it when Perth drivers don’t know how to merge. Despite a speed limit of 100 kmh on most freeway onramps, some people – typically Honda drivers – dawdle along at 70kmh down the onramp, and then when it comes to the merge point they get the jellies and slow down even more. What is it with that anyway? Can’t stand that.

This week, I saw that one of my Facebook buddies had been in the habit of packing noodle snacks for the little bloke’s play lunch. One night as she was emptying the lunchbox she found this note:

No guessing where this little guy is coming from...

No points for guessing where the little bloke was coming from.

So, yes, there are a number of things I can’t stand, and I find them really irritating. But when you hate something, your response is one of intense hostility and deep aversion. You hate. You abhor. You are appalled. You detest.

All my kids will tell you that whenever they said they hated something, I’d caution with: ‘hate is a strong word.’ I’d encourage them to verbalise their feelings differently. And I think that when I use it of stupid drivers, or rap music, or pathetically coffee, I was either cheapening the word, or elevating pathetic coffee to a status it clearly did not deserve. So, I wonder how often in life we have actually felt things strongly enough to really hate them in a way that would do the word some justice.

What’s going on?

Surprisingly, right here God says there are things that he hates. And most astonishing of all, back in Isaiah’s day, he hated his people’s worship:

“When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations— I cannot bear your worthless assemblies. Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them.” (Isaiah 1:12–14, NIV)

How can this be? What is going on?

Valid question. And what makes it all the more pertinent is the apparently lavish nature of this worship from God’s people. There are thousands of sacrifices! Rams, and bulls, and lambs, and goats, and fattened animals! All considerably more extravagant that what was required. So some impressive worship going on. Awesome worship. Everything looked right, powerful, and awe inspiring.

But things are not always as they seem. For with all this impressive worship there is a dark and sinister reality:

“…Your hands are full of blood!” (Isaiah 1:15, NIV)

“…evil deeds …doing wrong.” (Isaiah 1:16, NIV)

v.17 Justice is not sought, oppressed not defended, fatherless ignored, widows neglected

v.21 murderers dwell in Jerusalem, once a city of righteous

v.29 pagan gods worshipped

The Lord looks down on his once loved city, his treasured people, his own possession, his Kingdom of priests (see Exodus 19:6). He sees their worship, the reality of their lives. And he can’t stand it:

“Bring your worthless offerings no longer, Incense is an abomination to Me. New moon and sabbath, the calling of assemblies— I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly.” (Isaiah 1:13, NASB95)

Notice that last phrase: “I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly.” This is the point of this entire passage: On the one hand they were presenting what looked to be glorious worship. But at the same time God’s people were

  • ignoring the vulnerable
  • oppressing the weak
  • siding with the violent
  • neglecting God’s commands to live in right-ness as his treasured covenant people

And God’s word was clear: I cannot endure the fact that you allow iniquity to coexist with the worship

How ignoring injustice affects God

What the Lord says here is actually some of the strongest language we ever hear from his lips. And in a similar vein to last week, the level of divine emotion is off the charts:

  • I have had enough, I have no pleasure (v.11)
  • Stop this, It is detestable to me, I cannot bear it (v.13)
  • I hate it with all my being, I am burdened, I am weary (v.14)
  • I hide my eyes when you pray (v.15)
  • I am not listening, I will not listen (v.16)

Let that sink in.

There is what appears to be awesome worship in the house but in the eyes of God it is appalling and offensive and detestable. These people, this worship is nauseating to God. He cannot bear it. It’s an atrocity. An outrage. Have you ever thought such responses could be possible of God?

Think about it. You can have:

  • the best worship band
  • the most powerful, competent, and passionate preacher
  • the most accurate exegesis
  • a theological heritage of the finest pedigree
  • an auditorium seating thousands, filled several times each week
  • giving and tithes to the extent that hundreds of thousands of dollars come in every week

But if that church, those Christians, are neglecting the vulnerable around them, if they are allowing injustice to thrive, all that good looking ministry and worship becomes odious to the Lord. Friends, God hates injustice. And one thing he hates more is when his people wilfully and purposefully ignore injustice around them:

“Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations— I cannot bear iniquity mixed with the assembly. Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them.” (Isaiah 1:13–14)

It is interesting to look at other places where God says he hates things. And really, there are not that many places. Here’s a sample:

“You must not worship the Lord your God in their way, because in worshiping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the Lord hates. They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods.” (Deuteronomy 12:31, NIV)

– God hates human sacrifice

“Do not set up any wooden Asherah pole beside the altar you build to the Lord your God, and do not erect a sacred stone, for these the Lord your God hates.” (Deuteronomy 16:21–22, NIV)

– God hates the worship of false Gods

“The Lord examines the righteous, but the wicked, those who love violence, he hates with a passion.” (Psalm 11:5, NIV)

– The Lord hates it when people love violence. The Lord hates what ISIS is doing, right?

“For I, the Lord, love justice; I hate robbery and wrongdoing. In my faithfulness I will reward my people and make an everlasting covenant with them.” (Isaiah 61:8, NIV)

– He hates robbery and wrongdoing

And here in Isaiah 1 he says he hates it when injustice lives in the midst of his people.

We may sometimes think that injustice is the kind of issue that only some churches and some Christians need to deal with. Maybe those who have special insight, or special skills. Or we guess instances of injustice need not be a concern for the whole church. For our church.

But would you say the same about robbery? Or idolatry? Or violence? Or ritual sacrifice of children? God detests all these things. The same word for ‘hate’ is reserved for them all, injustice included.

God hates injustice. He hates it so much that when he looks down on this worship – and remember, it may have looked great to the observer at the time – The Lord didn’t see the response of a beloved Covenant people. It was so repulsive, such an offence to his holy character, he saw something else:

“Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom; listen to the instruction of our God, you people of Gomorrah!” (Isaiah 1:10, NIV)

When God’s people ignore the cries of the vulnerable, when they neglect the doing of justice, it is as appalling and heinous as pack rape, multiple incest and paedophilia. Because that’s what was going on in Sodom & Gomorrah.

The Challenge

Now, maybe it’s the same with you: the clear implications of this teaching leave me very uncomfortable. I spoke a few week’s ago that for a long time in my ministry, God’s call to justice was not even on my preaching radar. I thought it was enough to have responsible theology, good exegesis, a healthy church, an evangelism program, and do things decently and in order. But this passage, and the many, many other passages in the Old and New Testaments, where the Lord calls his people to be a people of justice and righteousness and compassion simply cannot be ignored.

And – this passage in particular – is a sobering reminder that if God’s people neglect this call, pretty much everything else they do moves from what might appear to be awesome to what is actually appalling. Last week we saw the confronting reality of how denying justice was to deny the covenant.

That’s why it’s time. Time for justice to become part of our DNA, a recognised mark of a healthy church. To be a people of compassion and justice is simply part of what it means to reflect Christ, to build disciples, to develop healthy community, to mission our city. It’s part of God’s desire for his church.

But – you might ask – can these passages about Israel in 700BC be applied to the church in 2015? Can we really just transfer that command and application into a totally different time, place, and culture? We’ll be looking at that more closely next week…

The truth is, we cannot look at our theological pedigree and divorce it from our ethical responsibilities. We cannot lean on our confessional heritage in isolation from expressing compassion and seeking justice. It is impossible to have orthodoxy without orthopraxis: impossible to have right doctrine in isolation from compassionate and just practice.

we cannot expect our theological pedigree to relieve us from our ethical responsibilities. We cannot lean on our confessional heritage in isolation from expressing compassion and seeking justice

We in the reformed evangelical family need to learn this. Perhaps our doing so might even be the beginning of a new reformation, a powerful Word driven, Spirit empowered renewal of the church and of ourselves (more about that in the next weeks).

For now, let me ask you:

Are you hungering for a faith that is alive? For an expression of Christianity that overflows with life, with love, with Gospel reality, with God’s power? A faith and life that God would regard spot on and wonderful? It’s no secret: God has already told us how to find that:

“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8, NIV)

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27, NIV)

Church, a living faith is grounded in and remains faithful to the Gospel. We must honour our heritage, and guard the good deposit handed down to us by the apostles in the Word. But if we leave it at that, at our beliefs, at faith, and do not allow Christ’s Spirit to reform us, renew us, and shape our lives, we might get some great worship going down, but we’d be in danger of making the same grave mistake, committing the same repulsive sin as God’s people in Isaiah 1.

To me, that would be unthinkable. And to our gracious Lord, unimaginably abhorrent.

Who are we, really? Aren’t Christians people who, through the dying and rising of Jesus, have been reconciled to God? Who once were not his people, but have now through the blood of Christ become the people of God?

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21, NIV)

What glory! We have received untold compassion of Christ, true? He shed his precious blood for us!

“… he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5, NIV)

John the Apostle’s words are a glorious punch in the air, right? “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! …” (1 John 3:1, NIV)

His Spirit has opened our hearts, and our eyes, and our minds. This Jesus lives in all who call on his mercy and look to him in faith. And he calls us to express his mercy, to have it overflow from our lives into the world around us. This Risen Jesus has a plan to address the injustices in our world and around us.

In the coming weeks we’ll be listening to the Word as it leads us from the Cross of Christ to a compassionate response to the injustices around us.

Christmas: ATime To Receive & Share the Good News

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Read Luke 2:8-20

Our fascination with Christmas time will often have its roots in our childhood memories. I have so many memories of childhood Christmases:

• Waking up at the crack of dawn, and often to my parents frustration, before, the crack of dawn to see what was under the tree

• The fragrance of the real pine Christmas tree, or the eucalypt one that sometimes took its place. The warmer it got, the better the aroma

• Christmas Dinner: it didn’t matter how hot it was, there’d be roast lamb, roast pork, roast chicken, fast vegetables, gravy, appelmoes.

• The desserts: Aunty Margaret’s Trifle was a culinary feat of architectural proportions. A layered affair of jelly, cake, custard and cream. Aunty Margaret had perfected her weapons grade custard to such an extent that it could repel any spoon. The cake layers had been immersed in enough sherry to the extent that it could send you over the blood alcohol limit (not that there was one back then). There was, of course, an adults trifle, and another for the kiddies.

When I think about those things, I have no trouble thinking that Christmas is the best time of year!

But wouldn’t it be odd if you would ask someone how their Christmas has been, that they would say “it’s been ordinary.” Ordinary food. Ordinary presents. Ordinary company. When we say something is ‘ordinary’, it is not a compliment.

Ordinary people

But consider this: The announcement of Jesus birth was made to shepherds. In that culture, shepherds were worse than ordinary. They were regarded as dumb, dirty, and dishonest.

Dumb: because they were uneducated. Dirty: because their constant handling of animals and all that entailed rendered them ceremonially unclean. Dishonest: because many shepherds had a healthy taste for mutton, and they tended to stow a few too many of the master’s jumbucks in their tucker bag.

“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night…” (Luke 2:8–9, NIV)

These are the people chosen to make the first announcement of the coming of the King. This is where God starts. God starts with ordinary people.

It makes sense: If Jesus’s coming was announced to academics, only a minority of the human species would be able to penetrate the metaphysical implications of the incarnation or comprehend the potential consequences for one’s Sitz im Leben.

Imagine if it were announced to politicians: they would take way too long to say it, and still not get to the point or answer any questions, and then they would tax you for the privilege of listening.

But God announced his Christmas good news to ordinary people so that ordinary people might live by it

There’s some Christmas take home right there: Christians should be normal, ordinary people. We should get rid of all our holy jargon, all our look down your nose religious expectations.

Instead, Christians should be people who show that new life comes to expression not only in faith, but in changed behaviour and gracious attitudes. Isn’t worshipping Christ the new born King and honouring Jesus the normal life God has created us for?

It may be so that many Christians seem removed from the rest of society. It is not uncommon for Christians to be isolated and somewhat aloof. General society does not regard Christianity as something people would normally be engaged with.

But when you think about this passage, and the shepherds, and how ordinary they were, We see that Christians should be the most ordinary people of all. Living a normal life. A transformed and reformed life, and that their life, attitudes and behaviour should be seen by others and most desirable, most normal of all.

Why? Because God has entered poured his grace into their lives and opened their eyes to his glorious plan in Jesus.

Extraordinary News

This is what happens here: To these ordinary people came an extraordinary announcement:

“Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” (Luke 2:11, NIV)

“The Town of David” signified the child would be a king in the line of King David.

“Saviour” meant he would be a rescuer, a redeemer, like Joshua and Samson, that he would lead his people to a great victory.

“Messiah” or “Christ” said he would be a mighty ruler who would bring the new age of the Lord and return Israel to her former glory.

“Lord” signified that this child to be born was the covenant Lord, Yahweh, himself. God in the flesh. The Holy One. The Ancient of Days who had come Himself to uphold His holy covenant of grace.

 

Admittedly, the shepherds and the people back in the day probably would not have well understood what these things meant. They would have expected the Saviour/Messiah to win a military victory and to get rid of the Romans.

Little did they know that Jesus would defeat the darker power of sin and the fall which bound the human heart, darkened the human mind, and brought death to the human soul.

Jesus’ extraordinary birth did not fit the typical expectations or royalty. No royal robe. No Prime Ministerial limousine. No red carpet. No security detail (unless you count the chickens the donkey, and the all too prevalent octopus).

All we see is a young mother. A confused father. A stable. A manger. And a mob of dumb, dirty, dishonest shepherds.

Would you entrust your newborn to that environment? No, you would not.

But this is what Jesus did for you. To become your King. To become your Saviour. To become your Messiah.

At Christmas we celebrate a profound reality: the Triune God sent his eternal son to take on a human nature. Almighty God, lying in a manger. The creator, born in a shed. This Christ child would grow up and become the lamb of God, who would take away the sin of the world.

The birth of this little baby Jesus is a breathtaking statement of grace, isn’t it? Jesus is the Christmas gift which towers above them all, doesn’t it?

Any gift you receive today was bought with money. The gift of life Jesus brings can never be paid for.

It’s a gift of forgiveness, promised in his birth and secured in his Cross.

It’s a gift of grace: this love of God comes freely. You cannot pay for this kind of grace, all you can do is receive it in thanks.

It’s a gift of new life: this Jesus still enters human hearts, and starts his work of transformation. No one is beyond the pale.

It’s a gift of new beginning. For even the worst, Jesus grants a fresh start.

The gifts we have received today, even the best, will not last forever. This gift of Jesus is the best because it’s a gift of life that lasts forever! Money can’t buy you that kind of love, friends. All you can do is receive it.

The only ‘ordinary’ response

How did these ordinary shepherds respond?

First up: they believed the angel. They received the announcement of Jesus’ birth in faith, and they hurried off to Bethlehem to see the baby Jesus.

Secondly: They run off to Bethlehem to find the baby in a manger. After they find him, and tell their story to Mary and Joseph, they are filled with worship, they praise God, and glorify him for what they have seen and heard.

This is what happens, right? When God reveals his glorious grace to people they cannot stop themselves from worshipping! When people see who Jesus really is: they have to worship!

Check it out: One of Luke’s favourite concepts is how people marvel and are amazed at Jesus. Shepherds were amazed. Mary and Joseph were amazed when Simeon prophesied about Jesus (2:33). The teachers in the Temple were amazed at Jesus’ understanding as a 12 year old (2:47). The people are amazed in the synagogue when Jesus speaks to them as he starts his ministry (4:22) … and on it goes.
Jesus just keeps amazing people with his grace, his love, his selflessness and his life.

Sometimes I think we have lost our ability to be amazed at the Gospel? Does anything amaze us anymore?

I think when we actually stop to think about the reality of the Christmas Gospel, the humility he has willingly adopted, for us, all we can do is be amazed at the grace of God in Jesus.

But here’s the thing: they don’t merely hold this as a personal and private truth. The shepherds worship by telling others:

“When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.” (Luke 2:17–18, NIV)

When we know the depth of God’s love, and how he has lavished this love on us in his son, we just have to share the good news.

I know: You will say to yourself that you can’t do it, that you don’t know enough, you will worry that you won’t have the answers.

But remember these shepherds. What were they? Dumb. How did people view them? Dirty and dishonest. But 2000 years later, we are still reading their words.

The Bible tells us spreading the word is not just what we say. What we say must work with how we live. The world yawns at Christians who say much but live little. God spews at that kind of hypocrisy. But he is delighted when his people live out the fullness of their faith, even in the most trying circumstances:

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” (1 Peter 2:9–12, NIV)

That’s the Christian life God delights in. That’s the Christmas message he wants us not only to speak, but also to live.

Today, more than ever, our country needs a Christmas like that, and Christians like that. People who speak and live the good news.

Ordinary people, living and speaking the extraordinary message of God’s grace, love and life in Jesus.

This is what God calls us to be this Christmas: people who believe the message of Jesus. Place your trust in the one who came to ordinary people. Receive the life and grace he brings to you. Receive it as a gift.
Allow yourself to be amazed at this gift of life in Jesus. Let the wonder of God in the flesh, the Saviour, the Messiah, the Lord wash over you.

This was done for you, for all who call on his name. Amazing grace!
And this Christmas, spread the good news. When you get together with others, talk about Jesus’ birth. Talk about the wonder of it all at the supermarket, at school, with your friends, at the pub. Share this extraordinary news with the people God has placed around you.

And may the good news of the Saviour, Christ, The Lord, resound all through the earth.

A Time for Rescue

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Reading: Matthew 1:18-23, focussing on Matthew 1:23

People think carefully before naming their children. We tend to go by how a name sounds, and what’s popular at the time. Back in the days of the NT, people chose names that were more like a prayer.

Nathaniel: gift of God.

Simon: God has heard

Jesus – or Yeshua (the Aramaic name we have anglicised into Jesus) is not such a common name in our part of the world. But it certainly was at the time Jesus was born. The name ‘Jesus’ expressed a parent’s prayer of hope and expectation that God would purify his people and save them from oppression.

Parents who used that name remembered a great deliverance from Pharaoh in Egypt, and they prayed something like that would happen to free them from the domination of Rome, and return Israel to its former glory.

‘Jesus’ expressed a parent’s prayer of hope and expectation that God would purify his people and save them from oppression

So the name ‘Jesus’ was a common enough. What was uncommon was the events surrounding his birth. Gabriel had appeared to Zechariah and Elizabeth, not only announcing the miraculous birth of John the Baptist, but also that he would prepare the way of someone even greater.

Interestingly, with Elizabeth and Zechariah, and Mary & Joseph, their children were not named by the parents, but by God.

“She 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)

Give him the name “Jesus”. It was more than a prayer: it was a profound revelation. A statement of divine truth. A proclamation of God’s action:

‘…he will save his people from their sins’

It is as if God pulls back the curtain on our little world, and reveals his plan to Mary and Joseph. God has been at work since the beginning of time to bring this moment to pass. God’s reality was about to break into our world and nothing will ever be the same.

Call him ‘Jesus’. He will save his people from their sins.

There is a problem…

That single sentence helps us make sense of Christmas. It brings us to the nub of the problem with our world, with us, with humanity. This is the issue: sin is a reality. But who wants to know about that? It’s like we are in some form of cosmic denial.

Look at it this way: Back then, the people of God saw their biggest problem as contextual. Like Israel in Egypt, they thought that if they could just get rid of the latest Pharaoh, Caesar, and if they could just follow God’s law, everything would be OK.

So there were zealots, ancient religious fundamentalists, who did whatever they could to get rid of the Romans. They never succeeded.

And there were the Pharisees: religious leaders devoted to the law of God, who believed that if only God’s people would respect and obey the law, God would then intervene, defeat Rome, and return Israel to her glory.

Neither of these groups were dealing with the core issue. Both of them had missed the point that the problem was more insidious and deceptive.

sin is a reality

All through the Old Testament, Israel seemed consistently to miss this point. They often neglected the reality of personal and corporate sin, and externalised the problem.

If we could just get out of Egypt.
Then, if we could just go back to Egypt.
If we could just get rid of the Canaanites.
If we could just have a King like the other nations.
Then, if we could just get rid of this King.
And on it went.

Had they missed what the Lord had said all along? The problem has its root in the human heart. There was an uncleanness of heart and soul which needed to be removed, symbolised in the ancient act of circumcision:

“Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer.” (Deuteronomy 10:16, NIV)

That this was something God would do for them:

“The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.” (Deuteronomy 30:6, NIV)

Hundreds of years later, he was still calling them to return to him and change their lives:

“Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, circumcise your hearts, you people of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, or my wrath will flare up and burn like fire because of the evil you have done— burn with no one to quench it.” (Jeremiah 4:4, NIV)

Surprisingly, they never did it. Sin had made them so blind to their own fallenness that they were incapable of dealing with it themselves. But this faithful God stuck by his word, and promise a rescuer who would come and save them completely:

“Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” (Isaiah 40:2, NIV)

The Lord himself was promising to do the most astonishing thing:

“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” (Ezekiel 36:25–27, NIV)

He Himself would act to save, to cleanse. He would do something which could change a person at the very core, the damaged core, of their being. Jesus would save his people from their sins.

You know why? You know why he was always calling his people away from sin, and promising that he would deal with it?

Because God hates sin.

He hates it because it turns people away from him.
It wrecks lives.
It destroys families.
It makes people addicted to their own pride.
It wrecks his world.
It brings alienation and separation to every sphere of life and relationship.

But such statements are not popular in our day and age.

So, how do we respond to the idea of sin today?

I think our response is much like the people at the time of Jesus’ birth, or of Israel in Egypt. We think all we need to do is educate people better. Develop better policy. Change a government. Earn more. Eat less. See what we’re doing? We externalise our problems just like Israel. And no one wants to know about the sin of their heart, or a fallen humanity in open rebellion against God.

Many people laugh at those who are serious about sin. They say it’s an oppressive idea. A hangover of some Victorian morality. A relict medieval spirituality. But they cannot account for the fact that after all our advances, all our technology, all our opportunity, things are still a mess. And even amongst the most well educated, the best provided for, those with all the capacity, relationships still fail, people are still violent, their world is still a mess.

This is sin: the arrogant determination of humanity to live without God, independent of him, indifferent to him, and be their own master. Our world is in open rebellion against God, and his justice needs to be satisfied.

Jesus is the rescuer

This is why the Christmas message is good news! Jesus is the Rescuer! The Saviour!

But could Mary possibly have known how this would come about?

Who would have expected God to become a human being, to take on the human nature?

Who would have expected him to make himself vulnerable, powerless, and dependent on the very people who were his enemies?

Yet, in taking on the human nature, Jesus submitted himself to people who hated him. I know, it sounds harsh to speak that way about Mary, but she and Joseph were as fallen, and in need of rescue, as anyone else.

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6–8, NIV)

Isn’t that remarkable? Jesus was born with a mission: to save his people. To redeem his people. To do what needed to be done to bring people back to God and deal conclusively with the sin which had bound the human heart.

Jesus was not merely going to rescue from some foreign oppressor, a Rome, an Egypt. This little child to be born would rescue people from the sin that bound their heart. This Jesus would break the dominion of the evil one over the people of God.

This is how much God hates the sin that controls the hearts and minds of people. He hates it so much, so powerfully, so profoundly, that he would send his one and only Son as a tiny helpless baby to be the rescuer. Your Rescuer, your Saviour, and mine.

Give us a wave!

That’s how we make sense of the silly season: we see it as the Saviour’s season! We see it as the annual announcement that Jesus saves people from their sin! His incarnation and birth leads to his crucifixion and death! The manger leads to the cross!

Jesus has come to rescue you from the sin which binds your heart, from the brokenness in relationship with God, from the guilt all this brings, from the wrath which God has for it all. Jesus is your rescuer!

Anyone here ever been rescued? Here’s my story:

I think Catherine, our oldest daughter, was about 10. We were at Dodges Ferry in Tasmania. There’s a huge inlet to the north east, with a tiny mouth into Frederick Henry Bay. We were in a kayak, and the tide was running out. We were only a few hundred meters from the shore, when I noticed that even though we were paddling toward the beach, we were actually slowly getting further away. I worked my incredibly toned and sculpted arm muscles harder… but to no avail. And then, behind us, I heard a motor boat…

What do you think I did?

I put my hand up and signalled that we were in some trouble. They approached us and threw us a line, and towed us safely to the beach. That was just the greatest gift. It saved a father and his daughter an unelected trip to Antarctica…

See, you only start thinking about rescue when you run out of options. When you have nothing. When everything you are doing is not helping at all. You only need rescue when you’re powerless. It’s then that you put your hand up, and call for help.

Surely we have seen enough of human history, of the newsfeed, of our own experience to know that we need help. We need rescue. We need Jesus to save us from our sin.

Isn’t it time to put your hand up?

Call to the rescuer?

No other options will work.

Now is the time: To Call out to Jesus, who will save you from your sin. To acknowledge your own need. Your own brokenness. He’s here! He’s here! He’s here to rescue!

It’s serious. You are in the kayak, and you’re going backwards. You’re in the rip, and you can’t fight it. You’re powerless. And if you don’t get rescued, if you don’t get saved, you will die. (There is a whole other side to this: what response he requires from you beyond asking for his rescue – that is next week…)

For now: Put your hand up!

Put your hand out!

Give us a wave!

Your Saviour is powerful.

Your Saviour is capable.

Your Saviour is keen.

And on the cross, his selfless sacrifice did everything necessary to rescue you. And today He promises to enter your life, cleanse you from your sin and guilt. To give you a new heart. A new beginning so powerful it is called a new life. And he calls you to return to him, to confess your sins, and your need of his grace and rescue, to come under his rule, to walk his way, to live his life, to follow and obey.

A Time to Trust

Read: Luke 1:26-38

When you arrived here this morning, you probably greeted a few people with a ‘G’day’ – or a more formal ‘good morning’… You might have asked talked about the past week, or the weather, or commented how busy the shops are becoming, bemoaned the problem of local parking, etc.

And there are things that we do not easily talk about. One of them would be our fears. Fears about our health, our job prospects, a relationship issue.

Fear

While this passage covers a number of areas, I want to start by talking about fear.

Our passage says the Lord sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth to reveal his plan to Mary. Gabriel was a mighty angel. He had appeared to Zechariah, father of John the Baptist, a few months before. Around 500 years before that he appeared to the prophet Daniel.

Daniel, Zechariah, and Mary were very different people. But they had one thing  in common: when Gabriel appeared their response was one of fear and dread.

Daniel: “As he came near the place where I was standing, I was terrified and fell prostrate. …” (Daniel 8:17, NIV)

Zechariah: “When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear.” (Luke 1:12, NIV)

Mary: “Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.” (Luke 1:29, NIV)

Why is Mary so troubled?

Well, she is probably somewhere between 12-14 years old, and she’s being told she will have a baby. That bothers us a lot, but in that culture it was common for girls that young to be married. Also, Mary was a virgin. She had never slept with a man. Even though this was an ancient community, everyone of knew how babies were made. And Mary had done none of that – so, what were people to think?

This turn of events created a social and moral problem for Mary and Joseph. In today’s Nazareth, this situation would mark a young woman as a target for an honour killing. So even though there have been many social changes between now and then, this news would have been enough to bring dread into any young woman’s life.

The most obvious reason, however, for Mary’s deep trouble, for Zechariah’s fear, and for Daniel’s terror is the reality of their own fallen humanity coming face to face with the messenger of the Living God.

Such fear has a long history.

The very first book of the Bible tells us when Adam and Eve rebelled against God and decided that they and all humanity should live independently of him, they ended up cowering in fear. The very last book of the Bible, Revelation, tells us of the Apostle John, who fell down like a dead man when met the risen Christ (Rev 1:17).

The many pages in between show a consistent pattern: when people come face to face with the living Lord, they are gripped with dread. This fear does not simply have its origins in the fact that we are mortals and the Lord is divine, but in the more uncomfortable truth that we are sinners and he is holy. The holiness of God provokes terror in fallen people. As the Scriptures say, “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews 10:31, NIV)

But Mary’s fears are grounded in more than the state of her fallen soul before the messenger of a holy God. They’re also grounded in the astonishing content of Gabriel’s message:

“You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” (Luke 1:31–33, NIV)

Mary was probably illiterate. But she knew enough to know that Gabriel’s words described only one person: the promised Messiah, the Saviour the people of Israel had been longing for for thousands of years. Gabriel was saying God was going to do something directly in her life. Do something to her.  Is it any wonder she was deeply troubled?

But notice Gabriel’s response: “Do not fear, Do not be afraid…” (v.30).

Notice also that when Zechariah was startled and gripped with fear, Gabriel said, “Do not be afraid…”

When John the apostle came face to face with the Risen Christ: “he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid” (Rev 1:17, NIV)

So, this is what the Lord says to people gripped with terror: “Do not fear, Do not be afraid.”

Do you know this?

Do you know that God seeks to take your fear away?

Your dread of his presence? Your fears about his work in your life?

That’s what happened with the prophet Isaiah. He saw the vision of the living Lord, and he cried out in fear. But an angel cleansed his lips with a coal from the altar. All pointing forward to the day when a greater cleansing would be won. When the Jesus here promised would go to the Cross,

where his blood would be shed,

where the sins of all who trust him would be cleansed,

where the guilt of God’s people would be purged,

where the condemnation we deserve would be conquered so completely.

The Easter story explains why we have a Christmas story.

“Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” (Hebrews 2:14–15, NIV)

This past week many Australians have been thing about death. We have seen a young cricketer cut down in his prime by a freak accident. Phillip Hughes’ death shows us how fragile we are. How quickly life can be snuffed out. It reminds us that death is our enemy, and a fearful one at that.

But the good news is that Jesus, the child who would be born to Mary, is now the end of fear because his death was the end of sin. We have to engage in a little mental ‘time travel’ but the reality is  Gabriel can confidently say ‘Do not be afraid’ because

Mary’s own fear

will in years to come 

be driven out 

as the nails 

are driven into 

the one she would soon 

bring into this world.

Faith

But there’s more here than ‘do not fear’. Those very words are a call to faith. Gabriel explained how Mary’s pregnancy would come about:

…“The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.”” (Luke 1:35–37, NIV)

There must have been much that Mary did not understand. From how it would all happen to what it all meant. Even so, she displays a beautiful faith and humble submission:

““I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.” (Luke 1:38, NIV)

Mary’s humble faith finds its ground in Gabriel’s last words: ‘no word from God will ever fail’, or as some translations say, ‘nothing is impossible with God.’ Here, God’s ‘word’ is more than mere information. His ‘word’ is his declaration, a statement, an assertion, a pronouncement, a promise. It cannot fail because the Lord who speaks this word is the One who is Sovereign Lord who reigns over all.

For us, the sovereignty of God’s is a core belief. But it still challenges us. We are challenged, not merely by Gabriel’s appearance, but by what he reveals: Mary will conceive miraculously and her child will be the Son of the Most High God.

It challenges us because it runs against what we call the laws of nature. But as one writer says

The laws of nature are not chains which the Divine Legislator has laid upon Himself; they are threads which He holds in His hand, and which He shortens or lengthens at will. [Van Oosterzee]

This all powerful, all sovereign God has nature conform to his will. It is not the other way around. This God has all reality and its processes at his disposal. So Mary’s humble acceptance of his will for her can be explained in the context of his love and his almighty power.

Follow

And this is where the rubber meets the road for us, who thrive on the predictable. We expect everything to happen today just the way it happened yesterday. We think we live in a closed system where nothing can ever change. And we go through life looking at all the things that bother us believing it will never be any different.

We might believe God is out there, but we imagine he’s locked out of our reality, and cannot change anything. Or us. Too easily we have bought the lie that God and how he works must conform to nature and its laws.

So we tend to imagine that when things get bad for us, there’s nothing that can be done. Like we’re stuck in a system, and we can’t get out. What we forget is that this sovereign God works beyond our situation. We forget that he can use our circumstances beyond our limited vision. And so we tend not to think about how his sovereignty impacts on our fears.

But here’s the thing: that our most enduring growth happens in contexts which are the most difficult and trying?

Think of Saul, on the road to Damascus. A michelin star Pharisee. Zealous for the Lord. A persecutor of the church. But on that road he is met and saved by Jesus Christ. Jesus drew him into the very church he was persecuting. More: Jesus then commissioned him as apostle to the non-Jewish peoples: the very people whom that morning he had regarded as lower than dogs. Think of the sideways glances he would have received from the Christians he now sought to join. Think of the trust that needed to be built. Think of the rejection he may have felt in those early days. Think of the shame he must have felt for persecuting the Christ he now loved and worshipped. Didn’t his most enduring growth came in his most difficult days?

Or think of Peter. Out on a boat in the middle of the sea when he saw Jesus walking on the water toward them. He called to Jesus, and Jesus called him to come to him, walking on the water. Peter was pushed to he point where he had to decide whether to stay safe, or to get out of the boat and obey Jesus. Whether this all powerful God would stop him from sinking. Did you know: if you want to walk on water, you have to get out of the boat? (Ortberg) Perhaps his most enduring experience came as he walked, then sank, then grasped the hand of Jesus.

Or think of his vision, some years later. He had followed the scrupulous food laws of the Jewish people as a sign of his faith all his life. One day God confronted him in a dream, revealing all food was good, and in the process that non-Jewish people were as much loved by God as the Jews.

So, this context of difficult and incomprehensible news for Mary also become the context for her to display faithful, trusting acceptance of God’s word. Her response tells us a lot about trust. It reminds us that Christmas is about trust. Whether we accept the word of the Lord to be with us, and hold us, wherever he might lead us.

So, no, we might not speak that much about our fears. But maybe we should. Maybe we should acknowledge them, and commit ourselves into the Lord’s hands, like Mary. I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.

This is important because here at Gateway God is calling us to a deeper trust.

A trust that he is with us as we follow Jesus.

A trust that he will hold us, even in situations which are difficult and trying.

We sometimes think it would be easier for us if Gabriel were with us to assure us. Gabriel is not here, of course. But the One whose birth he announced is!

Jesus is here! Do you trust him? Do you trust him as he calls you to step out in faith? The one who calls you is the powerful, almighty omnipotent Lord!

But like Daniel, Zechariah,  Mary, and the cloud of witnesses, the thing he is calling you to will probably not excite you. It will not be what you want. More than likely it will be something that you don’t want. Something hard. Something difficult. Something you would rather not do.

Are you with me?

You probably know what I am talking about:

That conversation you don’t want to have.

That ministry you’d rather not do.

That confession you don’t want to make.

That mission, church, that fills us with fear and dread.

Here’s the question: will you trust God? Will you respond as Mary responded? “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.”

Will we step up and allow ourselves to step down?

You can trust Jesus, friends. You can trust him, and say, “I am your servant. We are your servants together. Let it be to us as you have promised.”

There are two reasons. One:

“For this is what the high and exalted One says— he who lives forever, whose name is holy: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.” (Isaiah 57:15, NIV)

God’s grace is gentle. You can trust him. You can obey. And you can follow.

Two: because this little child promised to Mary, is now the King of all the earth. Wherever he asks you to go, whatever he asks us to do, he is with us.

“…All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”” (Matthew 28:16–20, NIV)