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 to Reconnect: a Prelude to Christmas

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This sermon was originally preached by David Groenenboom at Gateway Community Church on Sunday December 19, 2014 as part of the Making Sense of the Silly Season series

Reading: Matt 1:18-25

It was only a few weeks ago that I started my sermon talking about how the world seemed more of a dark place. I referred to riots in Ferguson, MI, and I talked about the ISIS terrorists.

And now we come out of a week where

• three are dead after the Sydney siege
• 132 children – children mind you – are butchered in a Pakistani school
• 8 children from one family are murdered in Cairns

How do we celebrate Christmas after a week like that?

Immanuel

Matthew’s advice is to remember that Jesus is God with us.
“…an angel of the Lord appeared to [Joseph] in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 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.” All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).” (Matthew 1:20–23, NIV)

It wasn’t just that Jesus’ birth was a miracle, as Mary was a virgin, or that both she and Joseph were fallen people. It was more that Jesus was born into that world.

There were terrible things happening in the day Jesus was born. Herod the Great was a wicked ruler, killing all the male children in Bethlehem under 2 years old in pursuit of the infant Jesus. Those in authority, typically, were not seen as people who were on your side. Routinely, they were people to be feared.

We read that people were waiting for the consolation of Israel. This was largely because there was a lot to be consoled about. The world was not an easy place. But this is the world Jesus came to.

And it is why the Christmas message is good news:

God is not waiting for you to become holy,
To read your bible more
To live a better life
To love perfectly
To have stronger faith

Jesus’ birth expresses a comforting truth: God is with us! For God’s people, no greater blessing can be conceived than for God to dwell with them.

Hundreds of years before Jesus was born, the prophet Isaiah saw this coming to pass. Speaking of the day Jesus would be born, he wrote:

“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.” (Isaiah 60:1–3, NIV)

A bit over a century later, Ezekiel had a vision of a gloriously restored Israel, and a holy city, whose name will be ‘The Lord is there.’

Then, some 60 years after Jesus’ death and rising, the Lord reveals the same vision to the Apostle John. He sees a new heaven and new earth, a new Jerusalem, and the defining characteristic of this restored world is that

God’s dwelling will be among his people,
and he will dwell with them,
they will be his people,
and God himself will be with them and be their God.

So, when Gabriel says ‘they will call Him Immanuel’, it is not so much another name, but a statement of fact. It was a sign that the words of the prophets and the expectation of the people that God would dwell with them would at last find their fulfilment in Jesus.

Immanuel, Jesus himself, is the greatest proof that God has not forsaken his world. God had not forsaken them. God has not forsaken us.

The Divine Motive

Isn’t that a comforting thought? God has not left us alone! God has come into our world in the person of Jesus Christ! Wat we want to do us understand the purpose of his presence. And on that, the Bible gives us two very succinct statements:

“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners…” (1 Timothy 1:15, NIV)

Secondly,

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:16–17, NIV)

Do you ever find yourself wondering what God is like? What he is really like?

There’s reason to say, of course, because we are mortal human beings that we will never be able fully to understand God or plumb the depths of his nature. But on the other hand, while we cannot fully know, we can truly know. And e can truly know the things God reveals things about himself.

Jesus came to save: God’s nature is about saving those who are undeserving. God is about grace.

And Jesus came as an act of divine love. God is about love. Loving a world where people are perishing, where they deserve condemnation.
He sent his son as an atoning sacrifice for sin, to save the world, not to condemn it. This has always been God’s intention.

You can tell a lot about a person by how they use their energies. Steve Smith, Australia Cricket Captain, when he’s not hitting Indian batsmen all around the cricket ground, spends a lot of his waking life training. Sharpening skills, improving fitness, he focuses all his energies toward that time when he’s out in the middle. Everything he does is directed toward that one great goal.

Think of the way God spend his energies. From the very first thing we read in Genesis, to the very last thing revealed in Revelation, we see God causing life to abound, and after the fall, restoring his creation.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. He gave of himself to bring his world into existence. Like grace before its time, he was happy to spend his divine energy bringing life and beauty to light.

Then, when Jesus was born as Immanuel, we see him expending his energy reclaiming his world, bringing love and rescue to undeserving people.

And on the day Jesus returns to consummate the new heavens and the new earth, he will again be bringing life, love and grace but then so perfectly and eternally that all evil, and everything that opposes his rule, will forever be cast out.

Immanuel: God with us

We need to know what this means, and what it doesn’t mean.

What it means is that Jesus as Immanuel was not an afterthought.
Immanuel is the revelation of the Lord’s one plan to love his world,
to save his people by grace, and restore his creation through this child whose birth we celebrate at Christmas.

Christianity is, simply, good news. It is the news that something has happened as a result of which the world is a different place [NT Wright].

The something that has happened is Jesus: God with us.

What it does not mean: we should not understand the birth of Immanuel to mean that God thinks everything is OK with our world, for God knows, everything is not OK. And we should certainly know that after the events of this past week.

God is grieved and angered at the sin of those who not only live outside of faith in Jesus, but who bring violence, bloodshed and untold grief to our world.

The events at Martin Place, Peshawar, and Cairns are profoundly confronting and distressing. They show the depth of the fall, the reality of human rebellion. How we weep when we see these things, yet as we do, we remember that God will call all who bring evil and violence and death to account when he judges all the earth.

This is why God calls everyone to turn to him, to have faith in him, to love him and trust him.

When they do, they will meet him not as Judge, but as a loving Father who has already had the claims of his justice satisfied through Jesus Immanuel.

“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us. My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 1:8–2:2, NIV)

Responding to Immanuel

When Gabriel said Jesus would also be called Immanuel, he was declaring God’s plan, right from the beginning, to dwell with his people. This Jesus, God With Us, enters this world as it is, but he is not prepared to leave it that way. The life, birth, sacrificial death, and rising again of Jesus Immanuel demonstrates that.

In days like these people will sometimes wonder whether God cares or knows what is happening. You know, you cannot conceive of the birth of Jesus Immanuel without knowing the love, grace, and saving heart of God, the deep love that he lavishes on people. You cannot celebrate the bible’s message of Christmas without being deeply moved by Immanuel.

The God who is with you.

Even before you knew it.

Even before you had any idea.

Since the beginning of time, God has planned to dwell with you. And now it’s time for you to respond to him. Here’s how:

Repent: that is. Come under Jesus’s rule. He is your King, Lord and Master. Turn around and start walking his way. Acknowledge the wrong in your life, and ask him to live in you, rule your life, and restore you.

Reconnect: Worship God with all you are, and in all you do. Love him with all your heart soul, mind and strength. Love your neighbour as yourself. Obey him every day. Bring his new life to expression. Commit to Worshipping Him with his people more than you do at present.

Trust him: when terrible things happen, remember he is with you. He’s Immanuel, he is with you always, even to the end of the age. There’s much we don’t understand about this, but we are comforted that he is with us and we are not alone.

Pray: Lord, help me bring your life. Help me believe. Help me trust. Help me bring the comfort of the Gospel to others. When there is much darkness, let your word be a lamp to my feet and a light to my path

Love: Show grace to all, even your enemies. Let Jesus’ Spirit move you to compassion. Help the broken. Befriend the lonely. Protect the scared. Bring his grace and love to all who are in need.

Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with your God.

Jesus, Immanuel, is for you. Who can be against you?

Jesus, Immanuel is with you, you are never alone.

Jesus, Immanuel, is in you, dwelling with you. Now in his power and by his grace, bring his good news to your world.

“Then Jesus came to them and said, “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 28:18–20, NIV)

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)

Making Sense of the Silly Season – Intro

As we move into the Christmas season for 2014, I want to develop series of sermons which draw us into the reality of Jesus’ coming into our world. These will be preached at Gateway Community Church in Cockburn Central in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

Increasingly, Australia’s Christmas centres around the commercial aspects: presents, gifts, parties, leisure, holiday, family, food. Nothing wrong with any of that per se. More than ever, though,  churches need to reclaim not just the Christmas celebration, but the Christmas message.

So it’s even a bit cheeky that I mention the ‘silly season’ in this series. I don’t want to add to all the ‘noise’ which makes it hard to hear the message. But I do want to say Christmas is something very different from ‘silly’. In naming the issue, I hope to reframe it, and cast these weeks in their true Gospel context.

Jesus’ birth is the coming of God, Immanuel, into our world. It is a message of grace, hope, and divine initiative. It is a message we need to embrace. It is a message we need to hear. It is the message we need to take into our world.

I hope in the coming weeks Jesus the Saviour will be the focus of your celebrations.

The Myth of Mr/Ms Right – The Relationship Challenge #2 (Group Questions)

Discussion Questions

Intro:

Did you/Do you ever dream of Mr/Ms Right? Describe this person to your group.

Lawrence Crabb describes the desire for someone to meet all my needs as parasitic. Do you agree with his assessment? Why/Why not?

Read:

Ephesians 4:25 – 5:2 and Ephesians 5:21-27

Ephesians 4:29 says our word should be directed to the needs of the other. In Philippians 2:3-4 we are called to value others above ourselves.

  • On what basis are these commands given?
  • To what extent is this call realistic for relationships?
  • If you are a Christian, how has this worked in your life and relationships?

Does Jesus really demand that you be prepared to do all the bending?

  • What responsibilities belong to other person then?
  • Is there a point where you say, “I’ll go this far, and no further”?
  • Tim Keller writes, “All Christians who really understand the Gospel undergo a radical change in the way they relate to people.”

  • What has enabled this change in your life?
  • What still needs to happen for this change to come to greater expression in your life?
  • How could your church community better support people seeking to make these changes in their relationships, marriages, and families?
  • The Myth of Mr/Ms Right – The Relationship Challenge #2

    Read: Ephesians 5:21-27

    2 peas in a pod 300x203

    Not sure if it has happened to you, but as one who goes to his fair share of weddings, some of my worst wedding experiences have not been with bride or groom, or the in-laws.
    The worst times are when you are seated, next to someone’s obnoxious relative.

    They have probably only been invited because they are the filthy rich, or they’ve whinged their way onto the guest list, or they own a beachfront villa which the happy couple are hoping to nail for the honeymoon.

    I remember one experience where we’d been making small talk over a not too shabby main course when Uncle Bruce leant right in and said, eyeball to eyeball, ‘can I talk about something with you?’ For the next hour or so lectured me on the evils of food additives, conspiracy theories about supermarket domination, and underhanded government policies of diet control. What was I supposed to do? I realised I was trapped. I started hoping someone would ring me with news of a tragedy and I would have to leave…

    I walked away thinking, ‘don’t worry about food additives, the conversational style (which I call ‘the Tsunami’), was enough to give me hives!

    The last thing you want is to get stuck with someone you can’t stand.

    That’s why we talk about compatibility when it comes to relationships. People dream of Mr or Ms Right, who will come along and steal their heart. Behind that whole dream is a belief that if you find the right person, compatibility will just follow.

    The Myth of Compatibility

    This dream of Mr Right involves the idea that there’s one person out there who will make all my dreams come true. But look at what’s happening there:

    It’s all about “me”.

    I will have fun.

    I will be happy.

    I will find true love.

    Tim Keller, in his book ‘The Meaning of Marriage‘, identifies some problems with this ‘me centred’ view. The first is that the other person will probably also be operating with the same “me centred” view of relationship.

    Keller’s pretty right: Just about everybody out there is hoping for someone who will make them happy, who will sweep them off their feet, who will be the man or woman of their dreams.

    The next problem is that when two people are both operating from a ‘me centred’ perspective, they both come with a relational vacuum. And when you add one vacuum to another vacuum, all you get is a stronger vacuum. A great big sucking sound.

    Christian counsellor Lawrence Crabb uses a different image. He says, people who are looking for someone else to change their lives and meet their needs have a parasitic view of relationship. He calls it a ‘tick on a dog’ relationship. And then he adds, ‘the only trouble is that you have two ticks, and no dog.’

    This doesn’t mean we should jettison all hope for compatibility. Neal Warren says
    “The most stable marriages are those that involve two people with many similarities.”

    And some will know, when two people go through pre-marriage counselling here at Gateway, we use a questionnaire which, while it does not determine compatibility, it does identify areas of agreement: where a couple have similar views and expectations. Compatibility is important. But what’s more important is that compatibility rests on the best foundation.

    Christ’s selflessness

    The Bible says the best way to build compatibility in your relationship is to share your relationship with Jesus. That’s what we read about in Ephesians 5.

    We read about submitting to one another.

    About loving one another.

    About giving up oneself for another.

    These words come in the context of what has gone before:

    “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 4:29–5:2, NIV)

    In other words: you are in relationship with Jesus, let his relationship with you define all the others. Let the character of Jesus’ relationship with you define all your other relationships. And the first way we see that is in a call to selflessness.
    To give up your rights.

    Are you thinking about relationships? What kind of relationship you might have in the future? As a Christian you need to understand that the Gospel of Jesus is a direct challenge to the ‘me first’ view of relationship, so common in our culture.

    In Jesus’ culture, his alternate culture, his new life, it is ‘them first’, ‘the other first’.

    Are you really saying I should let them go first? Put their needs before mine?

    Not a popular notion, is it?

    In a world where people are taught from an early age to be themselves, that their wants matter, that they are important, this idea of serving another is confronting and disturbing. People think it’s humiliating. Condescending. ‘Why do I have to think less of myself?’

    Keller has the sound bite here: “It’s not thinking less of yourself. It’s just thinking of yourself less.”

    When Christ calls us to submit to one another, he is calling us to put the needs of the other first.

    “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:21, NIV)

    Now I know someone will point out that in v.22 the word ‘submit’ is used for what the wife must do, and in v.25 ‘love’ is used for what the husband must do. As if the husband does not have to submit to the wife.

    What we need to understand is that in the original, the word ‘submit’ does not occur in v.22. Verse 22 is really a run on sentence from v.21, and translators borrow the verb ‘submit’ – quite properly – from v.21.

    What all this means is that submission, as defined in v.21, is essentially a mutual thing. And this idea of mutual submission as expressed in v.21 defines what follows.
    It is misusing this passage to assert that submission is what the wife has to do, and love is what the husband has to do.

    So understanding that submission is something for both husband and wife, we understand this is a call to both of them to place the needs of the other above their own. This can only come at a considerable cost to the giver.

    We see this in Philippians 2. Jesus submitted by placing the needs of his people, their rescue, above his own claim to glory, honour and power. He made himself a servant of the church. He made himself your servant. Your slave.

    We read about submission in 1 Cor 13. In that great chapter on love, a whole lot of things are said about love. And one of the things said is this:

    “Love… is not self-seeking…” (1 Corinthians 13:5, NIV)

    Can you see what this would do to our quest for compatibility? It totally reverses the typical direction.

    We move from “I’m looking for someone to meet my needs and make me happy” to “I’m looking for someone I can serve, someone whose needs I can meet. I want to do whatever I can to make them happy.”

    The words “I want” are replaced with “I am here to love you and serve you – your needs matter more than my wants. I want to help you thrive. I submit everything I am and everything I have to your needs.”

    Christ’s sacrifice

    Can you can see why this is such a challenge? Here we are, thinking that it’s all about us, and then in the Gospel we learn it is not actually about us at all. Tim Keller is right to say:

    All Christians who really understand the gospel undergo a radical change in the way they relate to people

    A radical change, friends. A change the penetrates right to the heart, right to the core of who we are and how we live.

    How does this change happen?

    Well, it is not simply using Christ as a model. It is being in relationship with Jesus as Lord and Saviour. It is having His Holy Spirit poured into your life through this relationship with Jesus.

    “… be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18, NIV)

    “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:1–2, NIV)

    This change comes to those loved by Jesus, those whom he has given himself for. To those who bow the knee to his rule, who bow to the transformation of their life and their values, who are empowered and enabled by His love.

    Once again, Keller:

    Without the help of the Holy Spirit, without a continual filling of your soul’s tank with the glory and love of the Lord, such submission to the interests of the other is virtually impossible to accomplish for any length of time without becoming resentful. … It is impossible for us to make major headway against self-centredness and move into a stance of service without some kind of supernatural help.

    Did you catch that last sentence? “It is impossible for us to make major headway against self-centredness and move into a stance of service without some kind of supernatural help.”

    You want relationship grounded in compatibility?

    It can only happen, you can only do this with Jesus’ supernatural power, his redeeming grace, his enabling Spirit empowering you.

    Imagine that! Through his death and rising, Jesus enables a change, a complete change of life direction. A complete change!

    From me first, to them first.

    From my wants, to their needs.

    From my happiness, to their growth, to them thriving.

    I stop thinking about myself first, and I make their needs more important than my own.

    For those of us who are married: think about how this would change your relationship.
    Think about the areas of tension or disagreement in your relationship. That argument. That disagreement with your wife. That clash with your husband.

    Jesus says to you, right here, right now, “I want you to be prepared to do all the bending here.”

    Are you listening?

    “I want you to be prepared to do all the bending here.”

    Jesus is saying: “I want you to be prepared to do all the giving, all the letting go.”

    The emphasis becomes ‘how can I make myself, my interests, my behaviour, my love, compatible to theirs. How can I direct my entire self to serving them?

    Isn’t this revolutionary?

    You may ask, how far do I have to go with that? Do I really have to bend that much? Give up that much? Go that far?

    Well, how far did Jesus go? God’s word is crystal clear:

    “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:5–8, NIV)

    This revolutionises relationship, doesn’t it? To count myself as nothing. Take the nature of a servant.

    It changes the whole sense of waiting for Mr Right, and exposes it for the myth it is.

    Single people: It’s not true that there’s only one person out there for you. There are any number of people out there with whom you could form a healthy relationship.

    Relationship is not about you finding the right person. It’s about you – through Jesus, like Jesus, in the power of Jesus’ selflessness and sacrifice – being the right person.

    Mission (Foundations #6) – Group Questions

    Discussion Questions relevant to Foundations #6 – Mission

    Starters: What is the first thing you think about when you hear the word “mission”?

    Read: Isaiah 42:6, Matthew 28:16-20

    What do you think about the assertion that all efforts of every Church should serve the mission of God?

    “It is not the people of God who have a mission in the world, but the God of mission who has a people in the world” [Martin Robinson]

    Read Exodus 19:3-6 and 1 Peter 2:9-12, and discuss “God has always been focussed on his mission.”

    The mission God has given to the church has two components: announce the good news, and anticipate the new good. Which component receives more attention in your church? Should this be corrected? If so, what would need to happen?

    What aspects of life in your local community would benefit most from Christians announcing God’s good news and anticipating God’s new good more effectively?

    What concrete steps can your group take to bring these things to expression?

    Mission (Foundations #6)

    Read: Matt 28:16-20

     

    When I was growing up in the mid 1970s, I used to love watching Mission Impossible. The signature theme would play, and the opening scene would be Mr Phelps receiving a secret message on an audio cassette, “God morning Mr Phelps, your mission, if you choose to accept it, will be to …”. The message would close with “this tape will self destruct in 5 seconds” – and sure enough, it did.

    Curiously, we never found out the real purpose of the secret organisation Phelps worked for. We guessed it was the overthrow of evil in the height of the cold war, but we were never told. All we had to go by was this series of exciting episodes.

    Thankfully, God’s big picture has not been scripted by Hollywood. For God has a mission: to restore all things under Christ. And this mission of God shapes everything he plans, everything he does, and everything he is yet to do.

    We have looked at God’s ‘big picture’ in this Foundations series: Creation, Rebellion, Promise, Redemption, Repentance, and eventually, Restoration of all things.

    click to enlarge

    What’s missing?

     

    What’s missing in this picture? What’s missing is that the whole world needs to know this good news of God’s plan to restore his creation under Christ.

    This is not something that God embarked on after the earthly ministry of Jesus. When Jesus said ‘make disciples of all nations’ he wasn’t inventing something new. When Israel was in Egypt, one of the functions of the plagues and Israel’s subsequent deliverance from Egypt was that Pharaoh, then, by far, the most powerful man on earth, would know God.

    “Then the Lord said to Moses, “Get up early in the morning, confront Pharaoh and say to him, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me, or this time I will send the full force of my plagues against you and against your officials and your people, so you may know that there is no one like me in all the earth.” (Exodus 9:13–14, NIV)

    “Moses replied, “When I have gone out of the city, I will spread out my hands in prayer to the Lord. The thunder will stop and there will be no more hail, so you may know that the earth is the Lord’s.” (Exodus 9:29, NIV)

     

    Some 700 years later, at the dedication of the Temple, Solomon prayed that the Lord would hear the prayers, even of those who were not Israel. Why? So the whole earth might know the Lord’s name and fear him.

    “As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of your name—for they will hear of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm—when they come and pray toward this temple, then hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your Name.” (1 Kings 8:41–43, NIV)

     

    Some 300 years after that, as Isaiah spoke of the Servant of the Lord, he defined God’s mission as his role.

    “I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles,” (Isaiah 42:6, NIV)

     

    A few hundred years after that, Nebuchadnezzar the great King of Babylon, fell into delusions and insanity. The Lord God of Israel healed him, so the King announced the good news throughout his empire:

    “…so that the living may know that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth …” (Daniel 4:17, NIV)

     

    The clear reality throughout all Scripture is that God loves his world, and has a wonderful plan of restoration. He wants the whole earth to know about this plan. He wants the effects of the curse to be overcome over all the earth.

     

    The question that interests us today is How will he do this? How will he let the world know what he has done in Jesus, and what he is yet to do? Scripture gives us the answer: he will do this by his Mission. The Mission of God.

    God’s Mission

    Straight up, we need to be careful, and take time to understand what God’s mission is, and what it is not. Mission is often understood as what we do.

    Everyone seems to have a mission. Companies. Banks. Australia Post. Churches. Community organisations. I have even read several CVs where people record their own mission statement, hoping to make an impression on prospective employers.

    Here at Gateway Community Church, we are no exception. You’ll find our mission statement on our website: Equip, Reach & Grow.

    So, more often than not, when we talk of mission we refer to what we do in order to work towards our desired future. That’s all fine. It’s good to be focused about what we do, and it’s good to use these statements as filters for future plans and current processes.

     

    But we must also recognise that in the scriptural sense, God’s mission is not primarily what we are about, or what we do.

    God’s mission is about what God is doing and intends to do in his world.

     

    God’s mission is not primarily what we are about, or what we do.

     

    It is not the people of God who have a mission in the world, but the God of mission who has a people in the world.

    [Martin Robinson, Faith of the Unbeliever Conference, 2007]

     

    God is redeeming his people through Jesus. God is restoring his world through Jesus. This is God’s mission. And in his sovereign grace and wisdom he uses his people to pursue his mission.

    Mission is “the outworking, in the power of the Spirit, of Jesus’ bodily resurrection, and thus the anticipation of the time when God will fill the earth with his glory, transform the old heavens and earth into the new, and raise his children from the dead to populate and rule over the redeemed world he has made”

    [NT Wright. Surprised By Hope p.277]

    So, when we talk Mission, we have to start here: The Mission of God to redeem and restore his world through Jesus.

    The Church’s role

    That being so, we need to ask, what then is the church’s role?

    The church’s mission is everything God sends us into the world to do and to be:

    Every life change that flows from repentance.

    Every Sunday service.

    Every word of witness.

    Every deed of compassion.

    Every ministry.

    Every service.

    Every pastoral care visit.

    Every management team discussion.

    All of it – everything the church does – must serve God’s mission.

    And if it does not serve the mission of God, we must either stop it, or change it so that it does serve the mission of God.

    I know this is a challenge. There are some who insist that mission is not everything, and many things the church must do have nothing to do with mission. Such people operate under a gross misunderstanding of Scripture and of God’s plan to restore all things under Christ (Colossions 1:20). This is where all history is headed. This is the singular focus of God’s redemptive effort. And everything we do as Christians or churches must serve that mission of God.

    Let’s have a look at this in more detail. The mission the church has received from God is twofold. These two things are not separate entities. They are hand in glove. Two sides of the same coin. Stress only one at the expense of the other, and you have an aberration. You will eventually end up with either a deformed message and/or a deformed church.

    So, what are to two indivisible aspects of God’s mission?

    First: make disciples. We recall the words of Jesus as he ascended to heaven:

    “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 28:18–20, NIV)

    We could sum this apsect in one word: announce.

    Announce God’s victory over rebellion, death and all its punishment in Jesus! Announce: Spread the good news! Announce: Let people know about God’s plan, his glorious big picture!

    As the old hymn reminds us

    Sin’s bonds severed, we’re delivered; 
    Christ has crushed the serpent’s head. 
    Death no longer is the stronger; 
    hell itself is captive led. 
    Christ has risen from death’s prison; 
    o’er the tomb he light has shed.

    This call to announce the love and mercy of God to his world is nothing new. In creation, God commanded Adam & Eve to multiply and fill the earth. In re-creation through Jesus – the second Adam – his people multiply and fill the earth. We are a people called by God to announce his good news!

     

    The second aspect of God’s mission to the church: we are called to anticipate.

    Anticipate, in the sense of foreshadow. God calls us, gives us life in Christ, lives in us through his Spirit, empowering us to show what is coming, foreshadowing the restoration he is bringing through Jesus. We anticipate the future life of the new heavens and the new earth in our here and now. As we pray in the prayer the Lord taught his followers, our task is to do his will on earth, as it is done in heaven. As John Ortberg says, to bring ‘up there down here’.

    This is the second aspect of God’s mission to his church: to anticipate the new good of God’s restored world. The first aspect, announcing, is about proclamation. This second aspect is about transformation. It is not so much about us saying something, but about us being something: Light of the world, and salt of the earth.

    bringing ‘up there down here’ – Ortberg

    As before, we see how this aspect of God’s mission was not added after Jesus’s return to the Father. It has always been there: Just before God gave his law to his people (Exodus 20), he made a proclamation. The Lord declared his hand, as it were, as to how he would become known among the nations. And it would not come about through mere announcement. And you guessed it: it involved him working through his people:

    “Now if you obey me fully and keep my 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.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.”” (Exodus 19:5–6, NIV)

    God’s people would live out this mission as they lived his commands. They were to be his contrast community, showing all the earth what life was like when lived with Yahweh. Jesus did not come to negate this law, but to fulfil it. To show its true meaning and purpose.

    So, as God’s people live under the Lordship of Jesus, they bring his new life to expression. They anticipate the restoration he is bringing.

    “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:1–2, NIV)

    The church is people of God. They are his temple. So we are not surprised to see how the calling given to Israel back then is placed on Jesus’ church today:

    “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.” (1 Peter 2:9, NIV)

     

    We anticipate, we foreshadow, we show what the new heavens and the new earth will look like. We do this by living the life of new creation now:

    “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” (Romans 6:4, NIV)

    the mission of God for the church is to announce his good news and to anticipate his new good

    Now, we also need a reality check: we are still on earth. Even as Jesus’ repentant and repenting people, we are still part of a fallen world. We still exhale the breath of sin. We still smell of the fall. We anticipate, yes, but the great day of restoration is not yet here. Any reflection of this coming restoration will be imperfect. Perfection will come completely when Jesus returns. Until that day, even as people who live the new life of Christ, we remain pilgrims and strangers, looking for a better city.

     So, the mission of God for the church is to announce his good news and to anticipate his new good.

    God’s Heart

    Now, we need to acknowledge something here. Apart from some rare and notable exceptions, we have not been good at pursuing God’s mission. The church in general has not been that good at it. And our church has not been good at it. We have not well understood God’s mission, we have not well pursued it. And it’s worth thinking about why that might be the case.

    Perhaps there are many reasons:

    we are comfortable people in a peaceful country.

    We are doing OK.

    We enjoy our life and our comforts.

    We don’t want anything much to interfere with them

    …even if it’s God’s call.

     

    We can talk about life pressures,

    about being time poor,

    about resistance and unbelief in the world,

    about the rank individualism which infects our culture,

    so that our world revolves around what we think,

    about how our future is directed toward what we want.

     

    In our culture, the idol of self will neutralise any zeal we might have for God’s mission. But there is another reason why we have not well understood or pursued God’s mission. And I think it is because we have not well understood the gracious, loving heart of God.

    How do we see God’s loving heart? It is captured most perfectly in the birth, life, and death of Jesus Christ. Think about that: God loved the world so much that he sent his one and only Son.

     

    Luke captures this poignantly in the story of a woman. She is distraught at losing a coin from her necklace. So much so that she turns the place upside down and will not rest until she finds her lost coin. And when she finds it, there is rejoicing and celebration!

    Or a shepherd, so passionate about finding one lost sheep, that he secures the remaining ninety nine, then climbs over hill and dale to find that one lost sheep. And when he finds it, there is rejoicing and much celebration!

    Then we read about a father, broken over a lost son. The son who threw his love back in his face. The son who did unimaginable wrong. Who threw away his precious inheritance with utterly offensive behaviour.

    Interestingly, we never read about the father’s anger. We are sure his hurt is profound, and his grief crippling. But we don’t hear actually about that.

    What we see is his longing. His love. His heart, even for this most broken and wayward son. Though torn with his son’s waywardness, the father waits on the balcony every afternoon. Thinking about his son. Scanning the horizon. Praying, weeping, longing for the return of that rebellious boy. We know about the lavish celebration with the whole village on the lost son’s return.

    But the important question for us at this point is, do we ever look at the offensive behaviour of people in our world with the eyes of the father? Do we allow ourselves to sense the brokenness, to be burdened with the hopelessness, to see the reality of the lostness of those around us who are far from God? Do you need to look at the broken people on your street and in your city with different eyes?

    Do you need to see the Mardi Gras marchers with the heart of God who seeks the lost?

    Do you need to see the crack heads who have thrown their life (and often their sanity) away, do we need to see them with the heart of God instead of the cold eyes of judgement?

    What about the ‘bludgers’, the ‘leaners’ the ‘losers’? Do we perceive their reality with the heart of God?

    The broken? The lonely?

    This is most disturbing question: Have I ever felt the heart of God for all those people who refuse to love his Son or live his life?

    isn’t it time we asked whether the things that are important to Jesus are important to us?

    If it was so important to God to send Jesus into a lost world, and if it was so important to Jesus to find the lost, isn’t it time we asked whether the things that are important to Jesus are important to us?

    Whether the things that burn within the heart of Jesus burn within ours?

    Whether the things that matter to God matter to us?

     

    Or as Tim Keller said this week:

    If the preaching of our ministers and the practice of our parishioners do not have the same effect on people that Jesus had, then we must not be declaring the same message that Jesus did.

     

    I have been a pastor for almost 30 years, and I fin this very confronting. I have to ask myself whether the kind of churches I have worked for have ever tasted the passion of God for the lost in my ministry. And if they have not, isn’t that my responsibility? Have the things that are important to God been important to me over those near 30 years? Lord have mercy.

    How is that for you?

    Maybe you’re not a preacher, but do people sense in your life, your ministry, your engagement with your church, that the things that are important to God are important to you? Do your neighbours sense this? Your workmates? Would your friends say that about you, that the things that are important to God are obviously important to you?

    Could there be a more important question for you and your church community to answer?

    God’s mission for the church, for this church, for you is to announce his good news in Jesus and to anticipate his new good in Jesus. Listen carefully: we will only step into God’s mission and make it our own when we allow ourselves 1) to see the brokenness of our world, and 2) to feel God’s burden in Christ his son to put it all back together.

     

    So, let us repent of our self centred pre-occupation with maintaining and perpetuating our own comforts.

    Let us embrace, in the Spirit of Christ and through the Spirit of Christ, God’s mission in our world.

    And in the same power that raised Jesus from the Jesus, let us rise into the calling that Jesus himself is praying for us to embrace: To be one with him and with one another in his work, so all the world may know that He has been sent by the father (see John 17:20-21).

    Let us be people who announce his good news and who anticipate his new good!

    What better life is there? What greater good is there? What more perfect calling for the church and all who God by the name of Jesus!

    And let us do this until his Kingdom is so perfect and complete, that in it he is all in all (Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 123).

    Redemption (Foundations #4) – Group Questions

    Read 2 Corinthians 5:11-21

    Discuss

    What makes the church in the western world so resistant to the message of weakness and sacrifice so clearly displayed in Jesus’ ministry?

    What reasons would we have to say that the manner of Jesus’ sacrificial ministry should be reflected in the church’s ministry and mission today? What challenges does this present to your church or your Christian community?

    The redemption God has worked through Jesus impacts on three key areas of existence: People and their relationship with God; People and their relationship with others; People and their relationship with their environment/creation. How does this challenge how you see your world? What specific changes does it demand in your life?

    “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV) – in your opinion, which Christians or Christian movements have been the best expressions of this truth?

    2 Cor 5:21 says your sin, guilt and rebellion have been laid on Jesus, and his righteousness has become yours. What does this mean to you personally?

    Christians have been very influential in the development of western culture. Which areas would most benefit from Christian leadership and challenge in your part of the world?

    What particular attitudes or behaviours is God calling you to change as a result of these truths?

    Spend some time praying for one another, or praying for your Christian friends, asking that God’s new creation in Jesus might come to beautiful expression in their lives.