Sunday, December 26, 2004

The Christmas Miracle: A Baby and A King

Intro: I want to let you in on a little secret.
  1. Six weeks ago, I had no idea what was going into my Advent sermons.
  2. I already can tell you what I am considering preaching on through the beginning of summer – or exactly what passages, but I can tell you that we will have two snippets, if you will, of our walk through Romans. And, during Lent, we will find time to finish our look at the life of Christ in the book of Mark that we started last Fall.
  3. But I really had no idea what I would during the four or five weeks of advent. I was stuck and I had to preach.
  4. Thanksgiving was coming and I was at a lost as to what to preach on.
  5. I really do not remember where the idea came from. It may have been something I read, it may have been something one of you said, or it may have been just thought that past through my head. But it certainly was not something I had planned.
  6. I went to the Internet – and began to look at the Lectionary. The Lectionary is a three year rotating set of readings that many churches use to guide their worship planning. And there it was, five of the most beautiful passages of scripture available from the OT describing the coming or Jesus Christ. All form the book of Isaiah. I had a set of sermons.
  7. For me, it has been fun journey through these five passages of Isaiah – a journey that I could not plan but that I needed to leave in the hands of God.
  8. We have one more passage to look at. We actually read it last Friday night at our Christmas Eve Service – but there it only set the foundation for what followed.
  9. Today it becomes the focal point of the morning message.
Read Isaiah 9:1-7
T.S. The passage begins with a baby, but ends with a king.

I. Our story starts with a Baby.

  1. “For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a son is given.”
  2. Six months ago a baby joined our congregation. Have you taken time to look at Colin Ratcliff recently. He is growing and smiling and observing.
  3. Have you ever stopped to think – Jesus was this small and weak at one time. Dependent on His parents.
  4. (Appl.) The next time you see a baby – in a restaurant, in the line at the store, in the doctor's office – that baby, any baby, is a model of what how Jesus came 2000 years ago. Marvel that God sent his son as a baby – he did not merely drop him here. He did have to grow up. We spend a good deal of time each Easter discussing the suffering and sacrifice that Christ went through in the days and hours leading up to his death. But that baby that was born on Christmas day so long ago would experience hunger, he would stub his toes, he would fall and skin His knees.

  5. We all feel that is unfair when a child gets hurt – it seems particularly unfair that should the same happen to the Son of God. Yet we have absolutely no reason to think otherwise.
  6. But there is something else here. The verse uses two verbs to describe Jesus' coming. We understand what being born means.
  7. But there is another word used in the second phrase of the verse - “A son is given.” The Hebrew work used is natan – the underlying meaning is “to give.” But it has another underlying meaning – natan also means to place into the care of of someone or something. Jesus was placed into the care of Joseph and Mary
  8. (Appl.) Not much different from any of us – God gives us children for us to care. It is a responsibility given to each of us who is a parent. We have a responsibility to God for our children.

II. Our story starts with a baby, but it ends with a king.

(Ill.) The Jews had lots of kings. Most we have never heard of – Pekah, Shallum, Amon. There are others, that we may have heard of, but know little about – Zerubbabel, Josiah, Hezekiah. And then there are three that most of us will know – Saul, David, and Solomon.

  1. If you were to ask a person from the Jewish tradition who was the greatest King, there would be no doubt. It would be David
    1. Humble beginnings– trained to be a shephard
    2. Lots of oppositionon the way to the thrown and after getting there
    3. Seemed like he never finished his self appointed task of building the temple – left to his son to accomplish
  2. Lots of parallels to Christ's life
    1. Humble beginnings– born in a manger, raised as a carpenter's son
    2. Lots of opposition– Scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees -
    3. Seemed like his life was a failureas He found himself hanging upon a cross.
  3. Look at the terms Isaiah uses to describe the child mentioned in verse 7: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
    1. “Wonderful Counselor” - This child will guide those who choose to trust him.
    2. Why – because He is the “Mighty God” - God Almighty. There is no end to what he can accomplish.
    3. And whatever he does do, he does it as a “Everlasting Father” -tender and caring. Unlike earthly fathers that can be abusive or may abandon us, God will serve as a loving father that will never abandon or desert us.
    4. In fact He is called the “Prince of Peace”.

    (Ill.) This past week a comic crossed my desk – another of the rather insightful “Frazz.” It was written as a short poem – it ends “This year my wish is peace, but what if it already showed? And came in parts and we're too dumb to get it on the road?”

    5. Yes the Prince of Peace has come and we're, including me, often too dumb to get it for ourselves.

(Appl.) In 1999 Jim Cymbala, pastor of the Brooklyn Tabernacle, wrote what has become a rather well known book called Fresh Faith. One of the points that he makes is that God is not looking as much at our works, as our willingness to put our faith in Him. More often than not, when scripture talks about how a person is doing spiritually, the question of personal faith becomes more predominate than the size of the church, the works that a person is doing, or the amount of last Sunday's offering. Rather, the question becomes “where is their faith?” Is it growing? Has it been demonstrated in their lives? I don't know what you need for your faith to grow today – but Christ is there to provide it. He is our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. He is the King of Kings.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

The Christmas Miracle: Hope

Intro: Hope has long been symbolized by the picture of an anchor.

  1. Hebrews 6:19 “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” (NIV)

  2. The anchor was used as a tool to kill early Christian martyrs. The best known example was Clement of Rome. Converted under the ministry of Peter and Paul, the earliest known Christian writing following the completion of the NT was a letter Clement wrote to the church in Corinth. Clement was a martyr – after being arrested he continued to preach in prison and won many to Christ. For his efforts the authorities decided to tie an iron anchor around his neck and throw him into the Mediterranean Sea. And yet, the anchor remained a symbol of the hope for believing Christians.

  3. Yet, as I read about the life and death of Christ, I sometimes find it difficult to find a message of hope.

  4. Let me suggest that Isaiah 7:10-16 can help us to understand the message of hope that Christ brings to the church.

Read Isaiah 7:10-16


Tran. As we will see, the roots of hope for the Christian are found in history, in the promise of a messiah, and in the person of Jesus Christ.


  1. Hope is rooted in history

(Ill.) I never liked history. I remember once in seminary even going to a church history professor and asking for permission to write a paper rather than taking the final exam. Though he gave some serious thought to the matter, he could not let me take that option. History was tough.

      1. Yet, one of the reasons we can put our faith in Jesus Christ is because it is grounded in history.

      2. As we take these few Sundays to look at Isaiah and his prophesies related to the coming of Christ, one of the people that we need to be aware of is Ahaz.

      3. Actually our story starts 200 years earlier – after the death of Solomon Israel was spent into separate countries. The country to the north took the name of Israel. During the 200 years leading up to the time of Isaiah, this northern kingdom, the kingdom of Israel, did not have one Godly king. The southern kingdom came to be known as Judah – and they had a series of kings, some good, some bad. But Ahaz was the worst!

(Ill.)To give you an idea of how bad Ahaz really was, II Kings 16 tells that Ahaz required his son to “pass through the fire”. The best scholars suggest that this is an euphemism for human sacrifice.

      1. Now this ungodly man is king of Judah. But God still gives him a chance.

        1. There are two countries that might be considered the super powers of the time – Syria and Assyria.

        2. Israel, the northern kingdom, has allied itself with Syria. Ahaz and the southern kingdom were invited to join this alliance. Ahaz refuses.

        3. That is when Isaiah comes onto the scene – through Isaiah, God challenges Ahaz to trust Him.

      2. Ahaz refuses – and instead decides to align himself with Assyria. History tells us that decision resulted in a century of bondage for Judah – that only ended with the return of Ezra and Nehemiah.

(Appl.) God reached out to this evil man – God also reaches out to each of us. Though we may not be as evil as Ahaz, we do resemble him in one respect – Too often when God reaches out to us, we decide to trust in other resources – events, money, people.

(Appl.) Assuming that God is reaching out to you today – and in some small way he is – who will you trust today? Will you trust God or will you follow Ahaz's example and put your faith in someone or something other than God?

  1. Hope is rooted in the promise

    1. Isaiah offers Ahaz the proof that he might need to show who is in charge. “Ask a sign – from heaven or hell – ask a sign.”

(Appl.) I expect that there are time when we all want a sign. Some proof that God is really there, that he really cares. And then when we mention it out loud, someone is sure to say, “Where's your faith?” It is as if we are not allowed to ask the hard questions. Yet God offers a answer to Ahaz and he refuses it. God can handle the hard questions. Sometimes he is ready to answer before we ask – but we can also give him the hard questions.

    1. Ahaz refuses God's offer – but Isaiah offers him a sign: A virgin will give birth to a son and His name shall be Immanuel – “God with us.”

(Ill.) Martin Luther said, “Everything that is done in the world is done by hope. No husbandman would sow a grain of corn if he hoped not it would grow up and become seed …Or no tradesman would set himself to work if he did not hope to reap benefit thereby.”

(Appl.) Hope for the OT Jew was rooted in the promises – in the word of God. And there lies our hope as well – in all of God's word – both the OT and the NT, in all that he has given us.

  1. Hope is rooted in Jesus Christ

    1. Isaiah's promise would take 700 years to be fullfilled in the person of Jesus Christ.

    2. That stable in Bethlehem 2000 years ago serves as both the answer to hope for the Jew and as the basis for hope for the Christian.

(Ill.) A couple of weeks ago I was walking through Sam's Club on Ridge Road. There was a good-size hour glass on the shelf. It sort of represents what was happening in that baby Jesus Christ. In Jesus all the hope of the OT found its fulfillment. But in this same baby was all the hope of the world.

(Ill.) Robert Treat Paine, one of the original signers of the Declaration of Independence once said, “I am constrained to express my adoration of the Author of my existence for His forgiving mercy revealed to the world through Jesus Christ, through whom I hope for never ending happiness in a future state.”

    1. I don't know what the future holds for me. Much less do I know what it holds for you. I do know this – if I place my faith in Jesus I can have hope. And I will have a future that allows me to spend eternity with Jesus Christ.

Conclusion: Let me conclude my thoughts by reminding you of the connection between “hope” and “faith”. The writer of Hebrews reminds us that “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”

As men and women of faith our hope is rooted history. Our faith is rooted in the promises. And our faith is rooted in Jesus Christ.

I trust that this Christmas season will be a season of hope for you. That whatever the stresses that might come your way, you will find the time to turn to the baby in that manger and acknowledge that He is the hope for the world – He is your only hope.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

The Christmas Miracle: Refreshment

Intro: Story of judge who had “The Holy City” sung rather than fining or imprisoning prisoners one day in court.

Read Isaiah 35:1-10


Tran. Hebrew poetry is different than the western poetry we have come to expect.

  1. Not based on rhythm

  2. Not based on rhyme

  3. Rather, it is based on the parallelism of ideas or thoughts

  4. Verse 1 is a good example of this – ABAB

The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.

  1. or the end of verse 2 AABB

    The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon; they will see the glory of the Lord, the splendor of our God.

  2. We will see more of Hebrew poetry in the future, but realize that we are looking at Hebrew poetry as we read this section of the prophet Isaiah.
  3. We will see more of Hebrew poetry in the future, but realize that we are looking at Hebrew poetry as we read this section of the prophet Isaiah.

T.S. Isaiah 35:1-10 contains three contrasts that help us to understand the importance of the Messiah to the Jewish people.

  1. Contrast #1 - The desert will blossom Isaiah 35:1

      1. I have never spent much time in a desert – but I am not sure that I would want to either.

      2. Yet the Israelites, as a people, had spent their lives living in the desert of Palestine.

(Ill.) In a typical December, there will 11 days of 10 inches or more of rain – the average high temperature will be 53°. That is twice as much precipitation and 20° warmer than Rochester NY. But the summer had three months with no rain and an average temperature of 83°.

      1. But the Israelites knew of areas that were full of flowers – there was Lebanon – an area north east of the Sea of Galilee that had forests famous for their cedar. There was Carmel – a mountain due west of the sea of Galilee. From its top you could see the Jordan River to the south west and the Mediterranean Sea to the west. “No mountain in or around Palestine retains its ancient beauty so much as Carmel. Two or three villages and some scattered cottages are found on it; its groves are few but luxuriant; it is no place for crags and precipices or rocks of wild goats; but its surface is covered with a rich and constant verdure. The whole mountain-side is dressed with blossom, and flowering shrubs, and fragrant herbs.” [Easton, M. Easton's Bible Dictionary. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996, c1897.] And there was Sharon – a eight mile wide plain west of the Jordan River. Today it is among the richest agricultural land in Palestine – but such was not true in the time of Isaiah. The “Rose of Sharon” refers to a group of four red flowers that flower one after the other in the area.

      2. And Isaiah says that a time is coming when the deserts of Palestine will have “The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon.” The land will be blessed. And there are those who argue that these prophesies are being fulfilled today – as citrus groves line the Plains of Sharon.

      3. But it is not only land that becomes dry – there are times in our lives that life seems dry. It will seem that there is little nourishment, little encouragement. Yet, like that desert, God offers us refreshment in the midst of our broken days. He wants to offer a fresh rain in the midst of the dryness in which we find ourselves.

      4. Reach out and take it – it may seem hard, it may seem impossible; but if we will continue, as best we are able at the time, to listen to God, he will respond.

  1. Contrast #2 – The blind shall see and the lame shall walk Isaiah 35:3-6

    1. Look at the specifics here - The blind shall see The deaf shall hear The lame shall leap like deer

    2. Now remember what Jesus did – he gave sight to the blind, he allowed the deaf to hear, he made the lame to walk.

    3. As I age, I become more and more aware of the physical ailments that are part of life. My back hurts, my feet cramp, I am more tired. I suspect that if we were to sit down and chat for any length of time, you could add to this list.

    4. Yet Isaiah offers each believer a promise. A day will come when we too shall see without glasses, we shall shall run and leap with joy. Those ailments we all have will be done with -

    5. At the same time there are limitations that we may not be aware of. You see, we cannot understand God, we cannot see the world as He sees it. We do not hear him as clearly as he speaks. And we can only partially and incompletely do all that he expects of us

    6. And a day is coming when we will see our world like God sees it, a day is coming we will hear God and understand everything he has for us. And with all of our gusto, we will be willing and able to obey him. That day is coming for

      The blind shall see The deaf shall hear The lame shall leap like deer

  1. Contrast #3 – A Highway for the clean

(Ill.) Roads often are used divide political realms. Out in our neck of the county Westside Drive lies almost East-West. On the North side of the road is Ogden township, on the South side of the road is Chili township. Now, I am not sure, but I think that I figured out on a map that West Avenue serves the same purpose between Sweden and Clarkson townships. But Isaiah's highway is different – it is not so much to divide, but to provide a way to God.

    1. But we have a problem. No one who is unclean will be allowed on this highway.

    2. But that is why Christ came – to take our brokenness and make us into holy people set aside for His use.

    3. This road is so straight that even the fool can find his or her way – There is nothing to be afraid of on this highway.

(Ill) Though there are no lions in Palestine today, they did exist at the time of Isaiah's writing. They were not the large mained variety that we are used to describing. But when hungary and thirsty, these Asian lions were as ferocious as the African variety.

    1. And as we follow that highway, we shall find a new life. A new joy will begin to define who we are.

    2. ...“and the ransomed of the Lord will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.

(Appl.) Are you missing the joy? Have you missed the road?


There are those who have never experienced that joy. God calls you to say “Yes” to Jesus.

But there are also those here who have said “Yes” to Jesus who have forgotten the joy. They want what they had – there is a need to say “Yes” again, to renew the fire that began when they first came to Jesus.

Finally, there are those are saying “yes” to Jesus – not just in the past, but with the beginning of each new day.

Are you missing the joy? Say “Yes” to Jesus.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

The Christmas Miracle: A Changed World

Intro: It is hard to wait.
  1. I mean, if I have to wait even ten minutes at the doctors office, I begin to wonder if they have forgotten me.
  2. Or have you ever had to wait for train. My son takes the train from Michigan during his school breaks. The train is scheduled to come in at 8:08 – in the two dozen or so times that he has taken that train, it has been on time only once. The worst case was when he was four hours late – and the Rochester train depot is not a fun place to wait.
  3. I used to make bread. It is kind of fun – kneading the dough is somewhat entertaining as you prepare it for the long wait. I have heard that a watched pot never boils. But you know something, bread is similar – if you sit and watch the bread, it will never rise. Waiting is tough ...
  4. And yet that is what the Israelites were doing. The best research suggests that the earliest prophesy about the promised Messiah was written down about 1500 years before Christ. Isaiah was written about 700 years before Christ.
  5. Oh, there were some who had lost their faith – there would be no Messiah. And there were some who just did not care. They were Jews and they would do what Jews do, Messiah or not. But there were some who, for all those years, continued to believer the promises God gave about a coming Messiah. And there were those who believed that they had found Him, in the person of Jesus Christ.
Read Isaiah 11:1-10
Tran. From the earliest times God’s people anticipated the coming of One who would be Savior, Prophet, Priest and King. Isaiah stressed four points concerning this Coming One. First, Messiah would be of humble origins. At the time of his appearing the royal family of Judah—the house of David son of Jesse—would be reduced to stump-like stature in the world. Out of that stump, however, would come forth a fragile shoot which ultimately would bear much fruit (11:1).
T.S. Who was this promised Messiah? Let's look at three characteristics suggested by Isaiah.
I. The Messiah's Person
      1. The Messiah would have the characteristics associated with God
      2. This is important – because one of the ways in which we support the claim that Jesus is God is to look at His life – does His life demonstrate the attributes of God?
      3. Look at the attributes associated with the Messiah -
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of power,
the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord—
and he will delight in the fear of the Lord. (2-3a)
      1. Isaiah is describing not some future, unknown person. He is describing the Messiah –which the 10th edition of the Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary defines as “the king and deliverer of the Jews”. Come forward about 700 years as the NT is being written. The word Messiah is not found in Greek – the Greek, indeed the whole NT, used the word Christ to refer to the Messiah. In fact, The same dictionary that gave us our definition of Messiah has as its first definition of “Christ” - “Messiah”.
(Ill.) I generally don't like red letter editions of the Bible. These are the editions of the Bible that put the words of Christ in red. The problem is that it tends to make the readers of scripture think that the words of Christ are more important that other parts of scripture. Since all of scripture is God's word, we ought not to over emphasize one part over another. Yet the red letter bible do serve one purpose, they help us to better understand the person of Jesus. It helps us to answer the question – was Jesus Christ who he and others claimed He is or was he a lunatic or a liar. Was Jesus Christ the long awaited Messiah or was he just another of the host of men who wander the world claiming to have the answer to the world's problems.
  1. The Messiah's Task
    1. I don't like to think of God as a Judge. I mean a judge has to make hard decisions. He has to decide whether someone is guilty or not. He has to look at the evidence and to the best of his ability make a decision. And as you always know, judges are perfect – they never make a mistake. They always get it right.
    2. Yeah, right.
    3. There is just one catch – the Messiah will not judge like those judges we know. It will not be what He sees or what He hears that will guide His decisions.
(Ill.) On too many occasions I have heard about parents that have eyes in the back of their heads. On more than one occasion I felt like maybe I did. But I want to let you in on a secret – I don't, never did, but don't tell my kids. It's worth them thinking I do for a few more years.
    1. God does not rely on eyes on the back of his head either – There are three words that describe the Messiah's judgment:
        1. righteousness– no errors
        2. justice– he will insure that when the time comes, those who have no voice have a voice.
        3. faithfulness– God is unchanging – and he will apply the same principles to every one of us
(Ill.) J I Packer has said that “There are few things stressed more strongly in the Bible than the reality of God’s work as Judge.”
    1. Listen to Isaiah's description of the Messiah as judge -
He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist. Isaiah 11:3b-5 (NIV)
    1. This is the God we serve. This is the God that loves us.
  1. The Messiah's Purpose
    1. We live in a crazy world. I pick up the newspaper and I see crisis after crisis. In the middle east there is Israel, Iraq and Iran. A little further east is Pakistan and Afghanistan. But the craziness is not just around the world – it is also here in our own back yard – murders, drugs, fires. I don't get it.
    2. But I do know this - God has sent someone, God has sent the Messiah, God has sent His Son to transform this world.
    3. We have become so use to the craziness of our world, that we have learned to accept it as normal. It is truly a sad state of affairs when we accept that which God never intended to be – as normal.
    4. And God sent His son, His Messiah, to transform that world. It will transform nature, cultures, societies, and individuals.
    5. And that is where it begins. With transformed individuals.
(Ill.) The story of Corrie Ten Boom was well known 20 years ago, but I am afraid that many have forgotten the remarkable transformation that had occurred in this woman's life....This woman had learned to live with the “lions” and “bears” that could have left her an emotional cripple. God had transformed her -
(Appl.) And God can transform you. Many of you have “lions” and “bears” in your lives. Areas where you have so much stress that there seems to be no relief. And that is where God wants to meet you. He will begin with those areas seem so disjointed and stressed that there is no relief – that is where he will begin to meet you. But that is only the beginning. But as Christians we believe that every area of our lives is need of transformation – and once we let him into one area, he will begin to change other areas as well.
Conclusion: Are you willing to let God transform you?
This morning as you come forward communion, let the transformation begin. Let God begin to take you and transform you on the inside so you can face the “lions” and “bears” that may come your way this week.