Journey toward Christmas: God Keeps His Promises
Last Sunday we observed the 1st Sunday of Advent. We celebrated it by lighting 1st candle of the Advent Wreath which commemorates Hope. The 2nd candle of the Advent Wreath commemorates Promise.
As Baptists we have pretty much ignored one of the most important passages in the birth narratives. It’s Mary’s Magnificat – or Mary’s Song. It’s found in the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel, and it ends with a reminder that God, through the miracle wrought in her womb, is keeping his promise to Israel:
"And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers." (Luke 1:46-55, NIV)
I am struck every time I read this passage that a simple peasant girl from Nazareth rejoices in God’s fidelity of His promise to Abraham. God promised to be faithful to Israel, to be Israel’s God, and to send them The Anointed One. The New Testament writers are firm in their convictions that Jesus is The Anointed One spoken of by the Old Testament prophets.
I. THROUGH THE PROPHETS, GOD ANNOUNCED THAT HE WOULD BRING LIGHT TO A PEOPLE IN DARKNESS
- Isaiah 9:1 "Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress.”
- when Isaiah wrote these words, Judah was about to be plunged into the shadow of captivity
- Ahaz, one of the most wicked kings that ever sat on the throne, was ruling the kingdom
- under his leadership the Temple doors had been closed
- the worship of the pagan god, Baal, was reintroduced
- ILLUS. Baal worship was a hideous religion that involved the sacrifice of children to appease the god. There are indications in the Scriptures that Ahaz, himself, may have sacrificed several of his infant sons to this pagan deity.
- you might call it ‘trickle-down morality’ – as goes a nation’s leaders, so goes the nation’s people
- there’s a lesson to be learned there!
- there is always danger when the people of God place their trust in worldly powers and national alliances instead of the power of God
- Isaiah’s message to Judah is that of impending doom
- Isaiah 8:6-8 “Inasmuch as these people have rejected the gently flowing waters of Shiloah, And rejoice in Rezin and the son of Remaliah; “Now therefore, behold, the Lord is about to bring on them the strong and abundant waters of the Euphrates, Even the king of Assyria and all his glory; And it will rise up over all its channels and go over all its banks. “Then it will sweep on into Judah, it will overflow and pass through, It will reach even to the neck; And the spread of its wings will fill the breadth of your land, O Immanuel.” (NASB)
- 1st, whenever men place their confidence in things other than God, they will walk in darkness and distress
- 2nd, whenever men place their confidence in things other than God they will eventually be held captive by forces beyond their control
A. WITHOUT CHRIST, MEN LIVE IN DARKNESS AND DESPERATION
- the bible tells us that men actually love darkness!
- John 3:19 “And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; . . .” (NASB)
- why do men love darkness?
- the last part of John 3:19 tells us: “ . . . for their deeds were evil.”
- in the murkiness of spiritual gloom, lost men are anxious about the future
- in the quiet moments of life they wonder, “Is there not more to life than this? Is their life after death? What happens when I die?
- the world offers a host of counterfeit solutions to their problems and issues
- they can numb their problems with drugs and alcohol
- they can ignore their problems through materialism and hedonism
- they can rationalize their problems through psychoanalysis
- they can sooth their problems with false spirituality and religion
B. GOD GIVES MEN THE PROMISE OF HOPE AND LIGHT
- Isaiah 9:2 "The people who walk in darkness Will see a great light; Those who live in a dark land, The light will shine on them." (NASB)
- verse 2 begins a royal birth announcement
- a child will be the hope of the nation of Israel
- this child will grow up to be a king, and will bring light to a people whose lives are overshadowed by desperation and death
- Isaiah tells us that he will be a great light that will illuminate the lives of his people
- ILLUS. One of my favorite stories is about the author Robert Louis Stevenson. He grew up in Edinburgh, Scotland during the mid-nineteenth century. As a boy, he was intrigued by the work of his neighborhood’s lamplighter. He was an old man who went about with his ladder and a torch, setting the gas street lights ablaze each night. One evening, as the young Stevenson stood watching the lamplighter through the front window in childish fascination, his parents heard him exclaim in wonderment, “Look mother, look!. There is a man out there punching holes in the darkness!”
- Jesus came to punch holes in the darkness!
- Jesus is our hope because he is the light of the world
- John 8:12 "When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." (NIV)
- ILLUS. J. C. Penney was a man of advanced years before he committed his life fully to Jesus Christ. He had been a good man, honest, but primarily interested in becoming a success and making money. In his biography, he writes: "When I worked for six dollars a week at Joslin's Dry Goods Store back in Denver, it was my ambition to be worth one hundred thousand dollars. When I reached that goal I felt a certain temporary satisfaction, but it soon wore off and my sights were set on becoming worth a million dollars.” After going into business for himself, Penney and his wife worked hard to expand the business. Their business grew and prospered. But one day Mrs. Penney caught cold and developed pneumonia. She died a short time latter. Her death devastated J.C. It was then that J. C. Penney realized having money was a poor substitute for the real purposes in living. Again, quoting from his biography, he writes: "When she died, my world crashed about me. To build a business, to make a success in the eyes of men, to accumulate money – what was the purpose of life? What had money meant for my wife? I felt mocked by life, even by God Himself" After several more severe trials, J. C. Penney was financially ruined and felt deeply distressed. It was then that God began to deal with his self-righteous nature and his love for money. After his spiritual conversion Penny testified of God's working in his life. "I had to pass through fiery ordeals before reaching glimmerings of conviction that it is not enough for men to be upright and moral. When I was brought to humility and the knowledge of dependence on God, sincerely and earnestly seeking God's aid, it was forthcoming, and a light illumined my being. I cannot otherwise describe it than to say that it changed me as a man."
II. THROUGH THE PROPHETS, GOD ANNOUNCED THAT HE WOULD BRING JOY TO A PEOPLE IN MOURNING
- Isaiah 9:3 “You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as men rejoice when dividing the plunder.” (NIV)
- in his prophecy, Isaiah announces that the tribes of Zebulun and Naphatali would be the first to feel the oppression of the Assyrian captivity
- their cities and villages would be conquered and ravished
- their land would be confiscated
- their people would be taken into captivity
- that captivity would cause them to mourn
- the 137th Psalm is a lament of that captivity
- Psalm 137:1-3 “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, "Sing us one of the songs of Zion!" (NIV)
- to them the new-born king would come first
- isn’t it interesting that the city of Nazareth is located in the tribal territory of Zebulun and most of the Galilee area belongs to the tribe of Naptali?
- Nazareth was where Jesus grew up and Galilee was the place where He began His public ministry
- it will be the joy of a farmer who harvests an abundant crop
- it will be the joy of a soldier who is victorious in battle and plunders his enemy’s camp
A. ALL THOSE WHO ANTICIPATE THE BIRTH OF THIS KING WILL HAVE JOY
- in those countries that have monarchies, there is always great joy at the birth of a monarch’s first child
- it means that royal succession will continue because a new king has been born
- in some cultures, holidays are declared, and celebrations take place
- as Christians, we too have a king, in whose birth we rejoice
- 1 Peter 1:8 “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy,” (NIV)
- ILLUS. Jerry Rankan, the President of our SBC International Mission Board, tells a really neat story from the mission field in India: A Hindu trader in India once asked a missionary, "What do you put on your face to make it shine?" With surprise the missionary answered, "I don't put anything on it!" His questioner said emphatically, "Yes, you do! All of you who believe in Jesus seem to have it. I've seen it in the towns of Agra and Surat, and even in the city of Bombay." Suddenly the Missionary understood, and his face glowed even more as he said, "Now I know what you mean, and I will tell you the secret. It's not something we put on from the outside but something that comes from within. It's the reflection of the light of God in our hearts.”
III. THROUGH THE PROPHETS, GOD ANNOUNCED THAT HE WOULD BRING DELIVERANCE TO A PEOPLE IN BONDAGE
- Isaiah 9:4 “For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor.” (NIV)
- isn’t that verse exciting?
- what does it mean?
- the Assyrians would soon become the captors of the people of Israel
- under the Assyrian yoke, they would experience a cruel bondage
- but the day will come, says Isaiah, when the new-born king would shatter the yoke that burdens them and the rod that lashes their backs
A. JESUS CHRIST DELIVERS MEN FROM THE BONDAGE OF THEIR SIN
- the Bible is very clear – the lost man is a slave to sin
- the lost man has no choice but the serve the world, the flesh and the devil
- as Christians, we should never be surprised when lost men act like lost men!
- Galatians 3:22-23 "But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe. 23 Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed." (NIV)
- ILLUS. Just as Hosea bought back his adulterous wife out of the slave market, so Christ has purchased us from the slavery of sin by atoning for our sin by his own death on the cross.
- Romans 6:17-18 “But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. 18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.” (NIV)
B. DELIVERANCE COMES TO ALL THOSE WHO RESPOND TO GOD’S OFFER OF GRACE
- someone once said that grace if free, but it ain’t cheap!
- deliverance from sin comes at a high price
- Jesus paid that price
- Isaiah 53:5-6 “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (NIV)
- 1 Peter 2:2424 “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.” (NIV)
- 2 Corinthians 1:9 "Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us,"
IV. THROUGH THE PROPHETS, GOD ANNOUNCED THAT HE WOULD BRING A KING TO REIGN OVER HIS PEOPLE
- Isaiah 9:6-7 “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David''s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.” (NIV)
- how can we know for sure that Jesus of Nazereth is the promised Messiah?
- others have made the claim
- so how can we definitively point to Jesus and say with assurance, “He’s the one?”
- the law of probability is on our side
- in the Old Testament, there are 332 distinct predictions concerning the coming Messiah
- of those 332 predictions, 61 are considered major Messianic prophecies
- ILLUS. Peter Stoner, in his book Science Speaks computes the probability of one man fulfilling just eight of the major prophecies as one in ten to the 17th power. That’s a one with seventeen zeros behind it. How big a number is that? To illustrate that incredibly large number, and the possibility of Jesus meeting the probability of being the one man to fulfill just eight of the 61 major prophecies, Stoner writes: "Suppose that we take ten to the 17th power of silver dollars and lay them on the face of Texas. They will cover the entire state two feet deep. Now mark one of these silver dollars and stir the whole mass thoroughly, all over the state. Now, Blindfold a man and tell him that he can travel as far as he wishes, but when he bends over to pick up a silver dollar, he must choose the one that is marked. What chance would he have of getting the right one? Just the same chance that the prophets would have had of writing these eight prophecies and having them all come true in any one man, from their day to the present time, providing they wrote them in their own wisdom.”
- what do you think?
- Isaiah says of Him . . .
- HGe is Wonderful
- He is Counselor
- He is Mighty God
- He is Everlasting Father
- He is Prince of Peace
- He is a King over a kingdom that shall never end
- Because Light Has Been Given to a People Living in Darkness
- Because Joy Has Been Given to a People in Mourning
- Because God Delivers Those Who Trust in the New-born King from the Bondage of Sin And Penalty of Death
- Because We Have a Power King Who Reigns
God keeps His promises. In Christ alone, God has fulfilled His promises of a Messiah spoken of by the Old Testament Prophets. "But the things which God announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ should suffer, He has thus fulfilled.” (NASB)
So what is our response to this message? Several centuries before Christ, Alexander the Great came out of Macedonia and Greece to conquer the Mediterranean world. He didn't know it, but God was using him to prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah--for it was as a result of Alexander's conquests that Greek was established as the common language of the Grecian and later even Roman Empire. On one of his campaigns, Alexander received a message that one of his soldiers had been continually, and seriously, misbehaving and thereby shedding a bad light on the character of all the Greek troops. And what made it even worse was that this soldier's name was also Alexander. When the commander learned this, he sent word that he wanted to talk to the errant soldier in person. When the young man arrived at the tent of Alexander the Great, the commander asked him, "What is your name?" The reply came back, "Alexander, sir." The commander looked him straight in the eye and said forcefully, "Soldier, either change your behavior or change your name." This story has a lesson for each of us. When we call ourselves Christians, we are identifying with Jesus Christ. When we wear a cross, or ICHTHUS, or put Christian stickers on our cars, we are being a witness for Him. We are being identified with the name of Christ. Is your behavior compatible with that name and with the symbol that shows that you are a Christian?