PastorRodney’s Weblog

Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

Nativity-God With Us

12/27 Don’t put Jesus Away with your Nativity!; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20151227_god-with-us.mp3

So Christmas is over. For some of us, that is a relief. The preparation and shopping and traveling and decorating and baking and busyness are behind us. We can take a deep breath, clean up the mess, eat through the leftovers, pack up the decorations and store them away for another year. Many of us have a nativity scene, a set with figures of Mary and Joseph and shepherds and wise men and sheep and a donkey and the baby Jesus in a manger. We set this up in our homes, not as an object to be worshiped, but as a visible reminder of what we celebrate, something we can use to teach our children, a reminder to keep Jesus central. In the coming weeks, we will be packing that up, along with all the other Christmas decorations and putting it in a box in the basement or attic for another year. I want to caution you; Don’t put Jesus away! Don’t put him in a box and store him out of sight and out of mind for another year! Don’t wrap Jesus up in tissue paper and bubble wrap and put him on a shelf!

I’m not saying that you can’t put away your nativity set. I’m not saying that you can pack up all the sheep and wise men and even Mary, but you must keep the baby Jesus out all year. No. Put it away. But Jesus is not the porcelain or wooden figure laying in the hay. Jesus is Immanuel, God with us! Don’t set Jesus aside as if he were a holiday decoration.

The nativity doesn’t tell the whole story. Jesus was a born in a stable to a young virgin mother, placed in a manger, a real baby. But Jesus was so much more. Jesus is the Eternal Creator God, the only Son of his Father, the great I AM. I’ve not seen a nativity display that can capture that! Jesus was born in humble circumstances, but Jesus didn’t stay a baby. He grew to be a man. He became an itinerant preacher. People left their jobs to follow him. He got himself in trouble with the religious authorities, and got himself crucified. In that act, he took my sin upon him and before God the Father he paid my price in full. I’ve never seen a nativity set that can communicate the whole story of who Jesus is or why he came.

Matthew 1:18-23 says:

Matthew 1:18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).

Jesus is the Only Begotten Son of God

Jesus is the only begotten Son of God. Joseph was understandably troubled that his betrothed bride to be was pregnant. But the angel assured him ‘that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit’. The angel told Mary:

Luke 1:31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. …

…35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy— the Son of God.

John’s gospel says that Jesus, the Word, was with God and was God, and

John 1:14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

This is no ordinary baby. Jesus is Eternal God become flesh, the only begotten, unique, one-and-only son of the Father. Jesus, who is fully God, who eternally existed with his Father, at a moment in history his divine nature was united to human flesh. He became a human embryo. The Creator God was born a human baby. This is something no manger scene can convey.

Jesus is the Savior

The angel told Joseph ‘you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins’ (Mt.1:21). John introduces Jesus

John 1:29 … and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’

Jesus is the sin-bearing substitute. Jesus himself said:

Mark 10:45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Peter teaches that ‘you were ransomed …with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1Pet.1:18-19). And he says:

1 Peter 2:24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.

Jesus paid the price for our sins. He died in our place. He took the punishment we deserved. He came to save his people from their sins. He came to give his life a ransom for many.

To look no further than the manger is to miss the meaning of the coming of the Son of God.

Jesus is Immanuel, God with us.

Matthew 1: 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).

The baby in the manger is to be called Immanuel. God with us. Take note of this. Jesus is God, fully God, eternal God, omnipotent sovereign creator God, the great I AM. Jesus said

John 8:58 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” 59 So they picked up stones to throw at him…

The author of Hebrews says of Jesus:

Hebrews 1:3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,

Colossians says of Jesus:

Colossians 1:15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Jesus is God. And he is God with us. Not God against us. Not God distant, afar off.

Isaiah 59:2 ​but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.

We sinned. We rebelled. We caused a rift in our relationship. We became his enemies. We deserve just retribution for our willful disobedience. But God came down.

Romans 5:8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.

Jesus said:

John 12:46 I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. 47 …for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.

Jesus did not come as judge to punish, but as a lamb to bear a punishment not his own. Jesus died to bring us near.

Job lamented:

Job 9:33 There is no arbiter between us, who might lay his hand on us both.

He longed for a mediator who could go between a holy God and sinful man. Jesus is that longed for mediator. He lays his hand on us both. He died to bring us near.

1 Peter 3:18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God…

That he might bring us to God. Jesus is Immanuel. Jesus made a way for us to be with God and experience his affection rather than his retribution. Jesus said:

John 14:6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Jesus is the only way for us to be reconciled to the Father. Jesus is Immanuel – God with us. Jesus came to bring us to God, to reconcile us to God, to restore our relationship with God.

So don’t put Jesus in a box! Don’t put Jesus away in storage! Let every heart prepare him room! Enjoy your blood bought relationship with Jesus. Savor him every day. Enjoy his presence with you!

At the close of Matthew’s gospel, after the resurrection, as Jesus appeared to his followers,

Matthew 28:17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

He commissions his disciples to make disciples, and he gives them his promise. I am with you always, to the end of the age. Jesus is Immanuel, God with us. He promises to be with us, to never leave us. Jesus said in John 14:

John 14:23 Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.

Jesus and his Father love us and come to make their home with us! Don’t put Jesus away after the holidays are past. Seek to foster an awareness of his presence with you every moment of every day. Allow his presence to shape your attitudes, your your actions, your reactions, your identity. Hebrews says:

Hebrews 13:5 …be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Enjoy the presence of the God who has made a way to be with you forever!

Jesus is not Fragile

As a wedding gift, we were given a white porcelain nativity set that was made at the Carmelite Monestary in Seattle. It is fragile, so we wrap it up carefully each year and pack it away. Both horns on the ox have broken off and are missing, and one year, one of the wise men tipped over and lost his head, so I had to glue it back on. We have since bought a little plastic resin nativity set that is more durable so the younger kids can play with it without having to worry. Even on that most of the points on the kings crowns have broken off.

Jesus is not fragile. Jesus does not need to be packed away, insulated from the real world. Jesus does not need to be protected like a fragile decoration. He is durable, resilient, you can interact with him, bring him in to the dirty messy situations. We don’t need to worry that we will break him or tarnish him. Jesus wants to interact with us. Jesus wants to be accessible.

He is real. He understands what real life is like. He knows what we are like. He is not surprised by our sin. Jesus did not hesitate to interact with the worst sinners. Prostitutes, tax collectors, adulterers, demon possessed. In fact he says

Mark 2:17 …“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Jesus came specifically for sinners, for the broken, for the hurting, for those who knew they were helpless and needed his help. He shocked the religious leaders by pronouncing sins forgiven.

1 John 1:8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Jesus does not get stained by sin.

Isaiah 1:18 “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.

Jesus is not defiled by contact with sinners. Instead the sinner is cleansed, washed, transformed, made new!

In Matthew 8,

Matthew 8:2 And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” 3 And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.

Jesus did not hesitate to touch lepers and the unclean. He did not get infected; they were made whole!

Jesus is the lion of the tribe of Judah! He is strong and fierce. Don’t pack him away, turn him loose! Don’t shield him from evil, allow him to overcome evil with good! Turn him loose in your neighborhood! Turn him loose among the broken, the hurting, sinners.

Jesus has strong shoulders. He invites us to come weary, come heavy laden, come burdened and find rest. He invites us to cast our anxieties on him, because he cares for us.

Matthew 6:28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

I invite you to open the box. Experience Jesus all year round. Acknowledge his presence, because he promised to never leave or forsake you. I invite you to enjoy his presence, for he is Immanuel, God with us. He is with you in your joys and in the deepest sorrows of life. He is strong enough to overcome your failures and flaws. He will carry you through the most trying times. Treasure his presence with you. He will clothe you with boldness to advance his gospel in spite of your fears and inadequacies.

Isaiah 41:10 fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

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December 28, 2015 Posted by | occasional, podcast, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Hope of Christmas

12/13 Hope of Christmas; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20151213_hope-of-christmas.mp3

Out in the fields around Bethlehem, to unsuspecting shepherds who were keeping watch over their flocks by night,

Luke 2:9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

Good news of great joy! Christmas brings a message of good news! Christmas brings great joy! Great joy for all people! Good news of great joy that casts out fear!

So how are you doing this Christmas season? Is your heart overflowing with great joy? Are you free from anxiety and fear? Has the good news totally replaced all the bad?

Great Joy and Great Suffering

If it has, may I suggest to you that you are living in a bubble? Do you watch the news? I don’t, and I am still aware of things like the presidential campaign, the national debt, devastating earthquakes, suicide bombings, school shootings, ISIS beheadings, the war on terror. We live in a world that is messed up and broken. Do you know anyone that is sick? Injured? Fighting a disease? I spoke at two funerals this year. One was a very dear friend who degenerated from a debilitating disease. Good news! Great joy! Fear not! How do we bring together the joy of Christmas and the sick and broken world we live in?

Do we compartmentalize? We have a tree with lights and presents, and we live in relative safety. All is well with me, my family, my friends, my church, and that’s all I really care about? Turn a blind eye to our brothers and sisters around the world who are being killed for their faith in Jesus? Turn a blind eye to the pain and despair in our own community?

Or do we despair? The Prince of Peace has failed to bring peace on earth. The Great Physician didn’t heal my friend, my loved one, me. This good news of great joy hasn’t brought me joy. God has failed.

Let me suggest to you that there is a better way. The good news of Christmas is big enough to bring light and joy into the darkest sickest corners of this broken world. The good news is big enough to embrace all the pain and despair in our hearts and infuse life giving hope.

Notice, for a moment, that the Christmas story didn’t exempt its participants from hardship. The angel announced to the shepherds:

Luke 2:12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

What?! Shepherds knew what a manger was. A manger is a stone watering trough for animals. Saturated with stable animal slobber. You don’t put fragile newborn babies in unsanitary mangers! Why was the promised Messiah, the Lord, in an animal watering trough?! Because there was no room for them in the inn. Why an inn? Why Bethlehem? Why not back home in Nazareth? Because the Emperor had imposed a tax. Tax? The Emperor? What Emperor? The Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus. Israel was under Roman occupation. This doesn’t sound like good news of great joy for Joseph and Mary! No longer free. Forced by the Roman Emperor to register. Forced to travel right at the time of delivery. Unable to find lodging. Seeking shelter like refugees in a cave.

God didn’t exempt Mary, Joseph, and his only Son from trouble. He could have. But he intentionally sent him into a troubled situation to bring peace in the midst of anguish. A year or two later, after Magi from the East arrive bearing gifts, the young couple have to flee for their lives with the baby to Egypt, and the tyrannical Herod slaughters every male child two years old or under in the whole region of Bethlehem. Good news of great joy? Try to tell that to all the mothers in Judea, weeping, refusing to be comforted (Mt.2:18).

Simeon and Consolation

Let’s learn a lesson from an old man. 40 days after Jesus was born, Joseph and Mary brought him to the temple to offer the sacrifice for purification according to Leviticus 12. There was a man in Jerusalem, Simeon, to whom the Lord had revealed through the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah (Lk.2:25-26). It is said of him that he was ‘waiting for the consolation of Israel’. He was waiting. He was filled with anticipation, longing, eager expectation, hope. He was waiting for consolation, encouragement, solace, comfort. He knew the prophecies. He was waiting. He had hope.

Isaiah 40:1 Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. 2 ​Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins. 3 A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4 ​Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. 5 ​And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

God will come down and bring comfort to his people.

Isaiah 61:1 The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; 2 ​to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; 3 to grant to those who mourn in Zion— to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified.

Jesus would bind up the brokenhearted. He would bring comfort to those who mourn. He would bring beauty from ashes.

Isaiah 66:10 “Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice with her in joy, all you who mourn over her; 11 that you may nurse and be satisfied from her consoling breast; that you may drink deeply with delight from her glorious abundance.” 12 For thus says the LORD: “Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the nations like an overflowing stream; and you shall nurse, you shall be carried upon her hip, and bounced upon her knees. 13 As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem. 14 You shall see, and your heart shall rejoice; your bones shall flourish like the grass; and the hand of the LORD shall be known to his servants, and he shall show his indignation against his enemies.

God will console and comfort and satisfy his people as a mother comforts her child. Have you seen a hungry infant, frantic, frenzied, demanding, inconsolable? And then satisfied, slumped in peaceful rest against his mother, with a trickle of milk running down his chin? This is the picture of comfort and satisfaction he paints for his people. This is what Simeon was longing for, eagerly expecting, anticipating.

Hosea 6:1 “Come, let us return to the LORD; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up.

Anna and Redemption

Learn a lesson from an old lady, Anna, a prophetess, a widow who continually worshiped God with fasting and prayer. We are told:

Luke 2:38 And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.

Just as Simeon finished thanking God and pronouncing a blessing, Anna began to give thanks to God. Fasting and praying continually are indications that you are earnestly seeking something from God. She must have heard Simeon declare ‘my eyes have seen your salvation’. She began to speak of Jesus to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. Again we see waiting, eager expectation, longing, anticipation. And she was not alone in this waiting. She began pointing all those who were longing for redemption to Jesus. They were waiting for redemption, for ransom. To ransom is to buy back something that once belonged to you, or someone that was sold into slavery to pay a debt (Lev.25:29, 48), or to pay for the release of something that was set apart to be offered to the Lord. (Num.18:16). We have sold ourselves as slaves to sin, and we are powerless to escape.

Psalm 49:6 those who trust in their wealth and boast of the abundance of their riches? 7 Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life, 8 for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice, 9 that he should live on forever and never see the pit.

We are powerless to do anything about our own situation, and we cannot pay the infinite price for another. Even the riches of the richest man are insufficient to change the eternal consequences of his actions. Jesus said:

Matthew 16:26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?

But God says:

Isaiah 44:21 Remember these things, O Jacob, and Israel, for you are my servant; I formed you; you are my servant; O Israel, you will not be forgotten by me. 22 ​I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud and your sins like mist; return to me, for I have redeemed you. 23 Sing, O heavens, for the LORD has done it; shout, O depths of the earth; break forth into singing, O mountains, O forest, and every tree in it! For the LORD has redeemed Jacob, and will be glorified in Israel. 24 Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, who formed you from the womb: “I am the LORD, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself,

Our Creator is also our redeemer. He can pay the infinite price to blot out the debt of our transgressions and sins.

Psalm 130:1 Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD! 2 O Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy! 3 If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? 4 But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared. 5 I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; 6 my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning. 7 O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption. 8 And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.

This world is sick and dark and twisted and broken and it is our sin that made it so. We rebelled against a good God and chose to go our own way, and sold ourselves into slavery to sin.

There were still some in Israel who understood the depths of their desperate situation, who cried out to the Lord as their only hope, who expectantly waited and hoped in and watched for the Lord, for his ransom, his redemption.

Good News For All

Christmas is about good news of great joy for all people. No one is beyond the reach of God’s redeeming love. When we look around at all those who are desperately sick and evil, murderers, predators, perpetrators, we need to see an opportunity for God’s magnificent grace. No one is too sick, too twisted, too broken, too far gone, that our good Lord cannot reach him or her. The good news of Christmas is that God sent a Savior, a Rescuer, a Redeemer, his only Son, God in the flesh, come down to pay our price in full.

My Need

Christmas is about recognizing our own desperate need and his infinite sufficiency. We must stop pointing fingers at God or at others and own our own guilt before God, recognize that what is wrong with the world is me, and God has set out to rescue me and purchase me and transform me and make me his own.

Receiving The Gift

Christmas is about accepting a free gift. God gave us the infinite gift of his own Son. Gifts cannot be earned. Gifts are to be received. We can do nothing to merit the gift, or to pay the gift back. A genuine gift is in a completely different category than a paycheck. Paychecks are earned; gifts are given freely, generously. Have you received God’s great gift to you? Have you believed?

Titus 2:11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

Already and Not Yet

Christmas is about anticipation, longing, hope. This world is not as it should be, not as it was meant to be, not as it will one day be. Christ has come, he has paid for our sins, he has begun a good work in us, but it is not yet complete. The expectation of Anna and Simeon has begun to be fulfilled, but it is not yet complete. God will one day make all things new. The grace of God has appeared, but we are still ‘waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ. In the mean time we will sin against others, and be sinned against. Romans 8 tells us:

Romans 8:32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised— who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

In this life we may experience tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, sword, we may be killed, we may be regarded as sheep to be slaughtered. We should not be surprised at suffering, we should expect suffering. But even in the midst of this, we can be free from fear. Even in the midst of this we can experience great joy. Can any of these things separate us from the love of Christ?

Romans 8:37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

This is good news indeed. This is the hope of Christmas.

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

December 15, 2015 Posted by | occasional, podcast | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Holy Holy Holy God

12/06 Holy, Holy, Holy God; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20151206_holy-holy-holy-god.mp3

What is God like? When we think of God, what characteristic defines him? How does he define himself? If we could say only one thing about God, what would most capture his nature? Think for a moment, what word would you choose? This is really an unfair question, because God’s attributes cannot be separated or isolated from one another, and God’s characteristics are not in conflict with one another. Everything God does is an expression of all his attributes. I think many people today would say ‘God is love’ or ‘God is grace’, and that is true. We might choose love because we can think of a Bible verse that says ‘God is love’ (1Jn.4:8). And we might choose love or grace because that is how we want God to respond to us. We are rightly grateful that he is loving and gracious toward us. But at the root we want to elevate these characteristics of God because we are really all about ourselves. We know he is just and righteous, but we would rather experience his love and grace. That is what we want from him. But what is the emphasis in the Scriptures? What does God highlight for us about himself?

There is only one characteristic of God that is repeated three times consecutively in worship and praise to him. In Isaiah 6, the prophet is given a vision of the presence of God.

Isaiah 6:1 In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. I3 And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”

These six-winged seraphs surrounding God’s throne are continually crying out ‘holy, holy, holy’. They are not crying out ‘love, love love’ or ‘gracious, gracious, gracious’. God is not heralded as ‘righteous, righteous, righteous’ or ‘eternal, eternal, eternal’ or ‘almighty, almighty, almighty’.

John, in his revelation of the presence of God, witnessed a similar scene around God’s throne.

Revelation 4:2 At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. 3 And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald. 4 Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads. 5 From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God, 6 and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal. And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: 7 the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like an eagle in flight. 8 And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!”

Holy, holy, holy. They never cease to say ‘holy, holy holy’! Throughout eternity, the praise of God’s holiness reverberates around his throne.

When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, he began by teaching them:

Luke 11:2 And he said to them, “When you pray, say: “Father, hallowed be your name…

The first thing we are to pray is that the Father’s name be hallowed, or treated as holy… on earth as it is in heaven. The third commandment is:

Exodus 20:7 “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.

God’s name is to be treated as holy. It is not to be used in vain, in a worthless or common or ordinary manner.

God says in Leviticus 22:

Leviticus 22:32 And you shall not profane my holy name, that I may be sanctified among the people of Israel. I am the LORD who sanctifies you,

And in Ezekiel 39:

Ezekiel 39:7 “And my holy name I will make known in the midst of my people Israel, and I will not let my holy name be profaned anymore. And the nations shall know that I am the LORD, the Holy One in Israel.

God’s name is holy, and his name is not to be profaned or made common. He calls himself the Holy One.

What does Holy Mean?

God declares that he is holy, and demands to be recognized as holy. What does it mean to be holy? Fortunately, the Bible gives us quite a clear picture of what it means to be holy. In these verses in Leviticus and Ezekiel, we see that to be holy or to sanctify, is contrasted with to profane or treat as common. The basic meaning of holy is that which is set apart. To sanctify is to set apart. There are clear instructions in the Old Testament law about how to set things apart to God. Something or someone who was to be holy was cleansed and removed from common or ordinary use, and through some ritual or process was dedicated or consecrated to be used in the worship or service of God. There was a negative and positive aspect to holiness or sanctification. Negatively, it was cleansed and removed from circulation in its ordinary use. Positively, it was dedicated or consecrated to be exclusively used in the service of God and to bring him glory. So when a priest was sanctified or made holy, he left his ordinary daily routine, came to the tabernacle, he was washed, clothed with different clothes, and anointed to serve as priest. He was set apart to the service of the Lord. He was not allowed to participate in common activities for the time he was appointed to serve. When someone dedicated a gold bracelet or earring to the Lord, it would be melted down, reshaped into something for the worship and service of the Lord, and then washed and anointed, never to be used for common purposes again. Whatever it came in contact with would also become holy, set apart exclusively to the Lord’s use. The specific blend of spices used as anointing oil and incense to the Lord (Ex.30:22-38) was to be holy. No one was to make any like it or to use it for any common purpose.

I The Lord Am Holy

Leviticus 19:2 “Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.

Leviticus 20:26 You shall be holy to me, for I the LORD am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine.

We understand what it means for us to be holy. We are no longer to be involved in that which is common, ordinary, we are to be cleansed and set apart exclusively for the service and worship of God. We are to do all that we do to the glory of God (1Cor.10:31) But what does it mean for God to be holy? If holiness is being set apart, what is God set apart to or for? What is higher or more worthy that God must dedicate himself exclusively to?

What if what it means for God to be holy is very similar to what it means for us to be holy? For us to be holy is to turn from that which is common, and be dedicated exclusively to that which is most valuable and worthy of praise, which is God. For God to be holy means that he is exclusively dedicated to valuing that which is most valuable and worthy of praise, which is himself. Holiness in us is to seek the glory of God above all else. Holiness in God is to seek his own glory above all else. Might this be what God means when he says that he will not share his glory?

Isaiah 42:8 I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.

Isaiah 48:11 ​For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.

If God were to dedicate himself to anything other than himself, he would become an idolater, worshiping and serving something that is less than God, and by that act he would communicate falsely that there is something higher and more worthy of worship than God.

Isaiah 6:13 …Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”

God’s holiness is his utter separation from valuing anything above himself, and his complete dedication to promoting the praise of his own glory.

We are to be holy because God is holy. We are to treasure God above all else, because he values himself above all else. We are to have no other gods beside him, because he honors no gods outside himself. We are to love the Lord our God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength, because God loves himself completely.

This idea that holiness in God means that he loves himself above all and seeks his own glory at first sounds uncomfortable, and we might even recoil from it, because it seems we are attributing to God something that is sinful. For me to love myself and seek my own glory would be arrogant, narcissistic and sinful, because I would be robbing God of the honor due to him and taking it for myself, when I do not deserve it. But for God to fail to love himself and seek his own glory would be sinful. For God to love or seek the glory of anyone above himself would be for God to become a liar and an idolater. It is right for God to treasure that which is most valuable, which is himself.

Delighting in God’s Holiness

I think this will become clearer as we look at some of the passages that talk about God’s holiness. Exodus 15 speaks of the incomparable holiness of God.

Exodus 15:11“Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?

God is unique in his holiness. God does wonders, he is awesome in glorious deeds to demonstrate that he is most worthy to be praised. David’s song of praise when the Ark was brought to Jerusalem in 1 Chronicles 16 says

1 Chronicles 16:8 Oh give thanks to the LORD; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples! 9 Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wondrous works! 10 Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice!

We are called to delight, to rejoice, to glory in the holy name of God. We seek the Lord and delight ourselves in him because he delights in himself.

1 Chronicles 16:23 Sing to the LORD, all the earth! Tell of his salvation from day to day. 24 Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples! 25 For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, and he is to be feared above all gods.

God’s salvation, his marvelous works, his glory is great and worthy of praise.

1 Chronicles 16:28 Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength! 29 Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; bring an offering and come before him! Worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness;

God’s name deserves glory. The splendor of his holiness deserves to be worshiped. God is right and good to display his greatness and worth so that we will respond with appropriate worship.

1 Chronicles 16:35 Say also: “Save us, O God of our salvation, and gather and deliver us from among the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name and glory in your praise.

We glory in his praise. We give thanks to his holy name. God is worthy to be praised, and he holds up his own name and his glory to be adored.

Psalm 29 says:

Psalm 29:1 Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength. 2 Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness.

Psalm 96 says:

Psalm 96:8 Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; bring an offering, and come into his courts! 9 Worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness; tremble before him, all the earth!

We owe it to God to glorify his name. Angels owe glory to God. His holiness is splendid!

Psalm 33:20 Our soul waits for the LORD; he is our help and our shield. 21 For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name.

His holiness of putting himself first in everything increases our gladness in him. He is our everything. We wait for his help and protection. We trust in his holiness, because he values what is most valuable. Our hearts are glad in him, because he is delightful!

Psalm 138:2 I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness, for you have exalted above all things your name and your word

God exalts his own name and his own word above all things. He is holy. He puts that which is most worthy of praise first, namely himself.

In Psalm 89 (and also in Amos 4:2) God swears by his holiness.

Psalm 89:35 Once for all I have sworn by my holiness; I will not lie to David. (cf. Amos 4:2)

God can use his own holiness as the basis of his oath to bind himself because he will consistently uphold his own worth. He swears by something he holds dear, something that will require him to keep his word.

Holiness Inclines Toward Humility

Proverbs 9:10 ​The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.

We gain insight, wisdom by fearing the LORD, by knowing the Holy One. To know God as holy, zealous for the honor of his own fame is wisdom.

Listen to Isaiah 57:

Isaiah 57:15 For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, …

His name is Holy, and he dwells in the high and holy place. This seems to put him out of reach. He is entirely separate, other, inaccessible. But listen to what God says:

I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.

God’s holiness inclines toward humility. The holiness of God must crush the proud, to demonstrate that he alone is worthy, but to those who are contrite and lowly, he is favorable.

After the angel announced to Mary that she would carry the coming King,

Luke 1:46 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 ​and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.

His name is holy, and he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.

We can join in praise to God that he treasures that which is most valuable, himself. We must humble ourselves and acknowledge his surpassing greatness and delight ourselves in the splendor of his holiness. May we glory in his holy name!

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

December 6, 2015 Posted by | Knowing God, podcast, Theology | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment