Inscription: Writing God’s Words on Our Hearts & Minds
Part 98: The Generosities of God
December 23, 2012
END OF INSCRIPTION
After three years and 98 sermons, we are finally at the END of our INSCRIPTION series. I know that I have a far deeper UNDERSTANDING and APPRECIATION of the Bible than when we began and I hope you do as well.
* The big surprise for me was the RICHNESS of the OT.
I understand God better, his love for us, and what it means to be a follower of Christ.
On the other hand, it has been EXHAUSTING having to study a NEW BOOK of the Bible for each sermon. I look forward to our next series – we will send 2-3 months in GALATIANS.
* I want to end as we started, looking at the BIG PICTURE, the grand story, and CHRISTMAS which stands at the very center.
IN THE BEGINNING
So we start at the BEGINNING:
Genesis 1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
This tells us everything we NEED to know, but not everything we WANT to KNOW. It doesn’t answer one of the biggest questions:
Q WHY did God create? Why did he make us?
Scripture doesn’t explicitly say “This is THEE reason I made you.” It speaks of his GLORY and his LOVE. One thing is clear, he did not make us out of any NEED.
* He gave us life from the OVERFLOW of his GOODNESS, GREATNESS, and LOVE
CREATION was act of GENEROSITY, in no way prompted by a hole in himself. He was COMPLETELY COMPLETE in himself.
GOD DOES NOT NEED
This stands in STARK CONTRAST to ANCIENT MYTHS, where the gods CAME OUT of the primordial soup (rather than creating it) and then NEEDED HUMANS to feed and serve them.
And is it also stands in contrast to our MODERN NOTIONS that God somehow NEEDS US; that we are doing him a FAVOR by being GOOD or HELPING others, and that we put him in OUR DEBT by being good.
Q How many of you remember the band “SIXPENCE None the Richer”?
There name came from a CS Lewis quote:
“Every faculty you have, your power of thinking or of moving your limbs from moment to moment, is given you by God. If you devoted every moment of your whole life exclusively to His service you could not give Him anything that was not in a sense his own already...
It is like a small child going to its father and saying, ‘Daddy, give me sixpence to buy you a birthday present.’ It is all very nice and proper, but only an idiot would think that the father is sixpence to the good on the transaction.” Mere Christianity, Chapter 11
Q Don’t we ALREADY KNOW this?
I suppose, but it is a good reminder that God made us OUT of NOTHING, NEEDING NOTHING.
* Not until he CREATED did he SUFFER; when he chose to create, know that creating would bring pain.
We know how the story goes – God says to Adam and Eve, “All of this yours – enjoy it, enjoy each other. But DON’T EAT of that one tree.” Then they ate from that tree.
Q Have you ever wondered WHY God made that TREE?
Part of me thinks, “These must have been your FIRST KIDS...I’ve learned better than to leave something that TEMPING.”
* As a child, I decided that if I were Adam, the first thing I’d invent would be an AX, solve the problem nicely.
But that misses the point: For OBEDIENCE to be OBEDIENCE, there must be an option to be DISOBEDIENCE.
* A child in a STRAIGHTJACKET may be better behaved, but that does not mean he is a BETTER CHILD.
God wants us to love him with all of our HEART, SOUL, STRENGTH, and MIND. He didn’t want us to be MERE ANIMALS, acting out of instinct or programming.
THE GOD WHO FEELS
And with the Fall comes one of the GREAT MYSTERIES – the all-sufficient God EXPERIENCES PAIN. He who LACKS NOTHING HURT for our sake.
* We ALMOST CASUALLY talk about God MOURNING the tragic SHOOTING in CT, but forget how PROFOUND that truth is.
That God should care at all is AMAZING. I spoke last time about the greatness of God in all his GLORY, that this entire cosmos is less than a MARBLE in the PACIFIC OCEAN.
* By comparison, God should CARE LESS for the entire population of earth than we care for a FLY SPLATTERED on our windshield.
That God not only CARES, but LOVES, DESIRES, LONGS for, and MOURNS for us is a PROFOUND MYSTERY that should bring us to our knees in WORSHIP, AWE, and GRATITUDE.
And because he is the God who cares, within the HOUR of our FALL, God started the rescue plan:
Genesis 3:14-15 NIV So the LORD God said to the serpent, “... I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”
Theologians call this “PROTOEVANGELION,” first good news, God’s plan to defeat Satan and restore us.
* This seems vague, but notice: “Your OFFSPRING” and “HE”; not people in general, but a SPECIFIC person, the Christ.
Throughout the OT, God continued to CONFIRM and CLARIFY this promise of a MESSIAH who would DIE to pay the penalty of sin and RESTORE what was lost.
* Not just RESTORE, but redeem and MAKE BETTER than before.
The INSCRIPTION SERIES has taught me that the events and writings are far MORE than FILLER until the birth of Jesus, but because it is Christmas, I NEED to SKIP ahead to that.
THE DARKEST DAY
As most of you know, DECEMBER 25TH almost is certainly not the day Jesus was born. We don’t know because birthday were not something people kept track of, except for kings.
* Based on AGRICULTURAL CLUES, late October/early November is the most likely.
But in another sense, December 25th is very appropriate.
By the 4TH CENTURY, the early CHURCH, decided to celebrate Christ’s birth on December 25th, which had been PAGAN FESTIVAL called “The Feast of the INVINCIBLE SON,” one of the many MIDWINTER FESTIVALS in the ancient world.
* In the ANCIENT CALENDAR, December 25th was the WINTER SOLSTICE, the shortest day of the year.
Said another way, the birth of Jesus is MEANT to be CELEBRATED when the WORLD was at its DARKEST. And that is a very APPROPRIATE time to celebrate Christ’s birth.
* In the CENTURIES leading up to Christ’s birth the world was DARKER SPIRITUALLY than it had ever been.
FOR THE GENTILES
The GENTILES, that’s us, lived in IGNORANCE of the TRUE GOD. We worship the CREATION rather than the CREATOR. We were trapped in futile thinking and FALSE IDEAS of God.
Man lived in FEAR of the ANGRY GODS and sacrificed ANIMALS and HUMANS to keep them happy.
* Nearly every CULTURE had a MIDWINTER FESTIVAL and ceremony meant to HELP the forces of LIGHT and FERTILITY win.
God had called his people, the JEWS, to SPREAD the news of the one true God to the WORLD, but they had FAILED to REACH OUT to their neighbors.
FOR THE JEWS
And to the JEWS of that day, the world was also very DARK. They had never been BLEAKER. The Jews knew that they were God’s CHOSEN PEOPLE, but it seemed that he had ABANDONED them.
They had basically been SUBJUGATED to different FOREIGN NATIONS for the past 700 YEARS.
* One of the DARKEST DAYS in their history was in 168 BC when a Greek EMPEROR sacrificed a PIG in the TEMPLE.
And to make things even DARKER, God has NOT SPOKEN to his people through PROPHETS in 400 YEARS. Four hundred years without hearing from God.
* So in years LEADING UP to Christ birth, the world was VERY DARK indeed; a winter solstice of despair.
A CHRISTMAS STORY
The people WALKING in DARKNESS saw a great light, the promised MESSIAH. But even with all of the prophecies and promises, they could not CONCEIVE how GREAT the fulfillment would be.
* They’d hoped God would send a DELIVERER, but GOD HIMSELF came.
Here I would like to switch from EARTH’S VIEW, to HEAVEN’S view, through my favorite Christmas passage, which I read last week.
This passage is UNIQUE; we are pretty sure it was ORIGINALLY a POEM or a song because of its structure and vocabulary.
* It is to be EXPERIENCED more than DISSECTED.
Philippians 2:5-11 (NIV)
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death –
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Take a MOMENT for that to sink in: We have already looked at some pretty profound thoughts:
1. Our God NEEDS NOTHING, he created out of the OVERFLOW of himself.
2. Our God experienced NO PAIN, UNTIL he created.
3. Our God CARES about us, though we don’t merit it.
This is no less profound. In fact, it may be the mystery that TIES all of it together:
* Our God, CREATOR of the universe, all-powerful, all-knowing, became a HUMBLE SERVANT.
* In doing so, he did not become LESS GOD, but showed us what GOD is LIKE.
Throughout history, the gods had to be APPEASED, BRIBED, or TRICKED into helping man. SACRIFICES were offered to FEED the gods, INFANTS SLAUGHTERED to APPEASE them, CEREMONIES designed to TRICK them into caring for us.
* But in Christianity, our God HELPS and LOVES because it is in his NATURE.
As one commentator said: God humbled himself precisely because he is God. Jesus showed us what GOD is LIKE.
* When Jesus WASHED the FEET of the disciples, he wasn’t STOOPING to our level; he was RAISING us to his level.
To put it another way, God is the ONLY BEING that CANNOT be SERVED. Because he is entirely self-sufficient, we can’t really give him anything.
One of my many favorite Lewis quotes is when SCREWTAPE is describing the difference between God and Satan:
“We want CATTLE who can finally become FOOD; He wants SERVANTS who can finally become SONS. We want to SUCK in; He wants to GIVE OUT. We are EMPTY and would be filled; He is FULL and flows over.”
This UNITES all the other mysteries, but is no less profound – he is FULL and OVERFLOWS. Creation is the OVERFLOW of his GLORY. His LOVE for us is the OVERFLOW of his GLORY.
* Being a SERVANT is the most NATURAL thing he should do because he OVERFLOWS with GLORY.
When Jesus said “The GREATEST among you is the SERVANT of all,” he was giving a glimpse into how HEAVEN WORKS.
“Your ATTITUDE should be the SAME as that of Christ Jesus.”
Over the past six months, I have been amazed by our church’s GENEROSITY and SERVANTHOOD. We have cared for the modern equivalent of the “widow and orphan” in amazing ways.
* By doing so, we are ACTING like our LORD and SAVIOR.
I am HONORED to be a part of it. In the coming months, I look forward to even GREATER SERVING in even more ways.
THE OFFENCE OF BEING SERVED
Q If God CANNOT be SERVED, does that mean that the BEST CHRISTIAN is the one who SERVES without BEING SERVED?
No. That is the FURTHEST THING from Christianity. That belief is MORE SATANIC than attempt to only suck in and never give out:
* God is FULL, but we are EMPTY and must be FILLED; we are FAMISHED and must EAT; we are PARCHED and must DRINK.
The story of CHRISTMAS is not pleasant display of God’s love, but a DESPERATE RESCUE MISSION to get us desperately need supplies before we die.
Philippians 2:7-11 ...but [he] made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!
As I said last week, Jesus came to do for us what we COULD NOT DO for ourselves. Even at the VERY BEST of everything we wish we could be (which is what super heroes are all about), we CANNOT SAVE ourselves from the mess we’ve gotten into.
* Only GOD, DYING for us, could save us from our sins.
We don’t have the time to talk about WHY that is true, but the MOST OFFENSIVE thing to modern humanity is not why it is true, it is that it IS TRUE.
* We RESENT that we CANNOT SAVE ourselves, that we desperately need to be served.
This what we mean by GRACE: God has given us that which we CANNOT EARN and done for us that which cannot do. There can only be TWO RESPONSES: GRATEFUL ACCEPTANCE or REBELLIOUS REJECTION.
See, this is NOT SIMPLY the BIBLE’S STORY, the 10,000 ft. view of the Bible, it is also my story and YOURS.
YOU were CREATED by God out of LOVE and OVERFLOW.
YOU REBELLED against him, “for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”
When YOU were at your own “WINTER SOLSTICE,” your own dark night of the soul, EMPTY and in DESPERATE need of filling, CHRIST CAME.
YOU now chose to GRATEFULLY ACCEPT or REBELLIOUSLY REJECT.
That is not simply for the NON-CHRISTIAN; it is the ongoing STRUGGLE of each of us to continually live in ACTIVE DEPENDENCE on God’s GRACE and GENEROSITY.
THE END OF THE STORY
Of course, that is NOT the END of the story. In REVELATION we saw Jesus as the exalted Lord, which is how we see him in Philippians as well:
Philippians 2:9-11 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Perhaps this is the finally mystery: Jesus is both SERVANT and LORD; God is both the ETERNAL GIVER and the OBJECT of all our GLORY is that is both servant and giver and lord and master to whom all glory is due.
* He is the one WE WORSHIP today.
When we praise, we do NOT ADD to his glory but EXPERIENCE it.