AUSTRALIAN BIBLE CHURCH ... Sermon December 21, 2008
A CONTINUATION OF THE THRUST
AND BASE OF THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH
OF AUSTRALIA ON BIBLICAL LINES Ö
The FILLING of the WILLING
CHRIST NOT IN MASS BUT IN FACT,
Resplendent with the Glory of God
The Gospel of Luke and the Testimony of Christ's Arrival
The Call to Reliance is to be Heard 1:5-25
Before Mary heard of her appointment as mother of the Messiah (not mother of God, of course, since God was her Father, but of the format for the incarnation through the act of God), Elizabeth, a relative of hers, had already found her childless marriage adorned in a spectacular way. First her husband, Zacharias, a priest, had a vision during his temple service. There the coming birth of his son, John (the Baptist) was foretold, so that "he will be great in the sight of the Lord" (Luke 1:15) with various requirements concerning the lack of alcohol and singularity in his calling. Amazingly, this was said of him: "He also will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb." Indeed, "He will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord, their God."
How both of these predictions were fulfilled is no less remarkable. Zacharias was an old man, and told the angel of this fact, enquiring with some dubiety about the forthcoming birth, to be the first for that marriage, old though he was. Indeed, he rather reminds one of Abraham in this, but the result was to be far more than the founding of the Hebrew race and so through promise, of the Jewish people! It was to be the appointment of the lead figure to introduce the Messiah, the founder of the entire double-barreled Church, with its present Gentile and coming Israel components, at the vast influx from Israel foretold in Romans 11:25ff. He, John, was the maestro to introduce His Majesty, the King over all, and the Lord of glory, Jesus Christ, God definitively incarnate!
Gabriel who announced these things, identified himself, declaring that Zacharias would be dumb to the birth, because "you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled." It is the same with modern Israel: it simply does not matter what Arabs or Moslems or UNs or other bodies think, God is determined as He has declared for millenia, after removing a recalcitrant Israel for its sins, to bring them back (Ezekiel 36, Deuteronomy 32, Micah 7), and though the universe should fall first, it will happen! (Jeremiah 33), all He has said concerning them.
The more such adversative bodies try to stop and clip Israel, or even to destroy it, the more they will find the burden of their arrogance oppressive. It is amusing in one way: fancy trying to dissuade the Lord of heaven and earth to detach His word from a tiny piece of this earth, because they lust for it, or for their own contentment. If God says it, you had better believe it. We, all mankind, exist only because God said! (Genesis 1-3).
It is the same with Christian faith. If God promises, believe it. If your pet projects and desires are not granted, be patient, for God is not subject to direction. Faith however is, and it is to be exercised in accord with HIS word, and not our own. Disappointment is often the direct result of giving God directions, instead of taking them. If we disobey and disbelieve, He does not stay His hand, but He may stay blessing. With God, you simply have to rely on Him and apply His promises. There is no second way.
In due course, John the Baptist, then, was conceived (and when born, Zacharias regained at this event, his speech, as some nations may regain blessing when they cease their arguments with God); and when the child was in his 6th month, THEN, the matter now being prepared, the angel Gabriel met with Mary, betrothed to Joseph, who had not physically known her. "Rejoice, highly favoured one" (but he did not say redemptrix or mother of God or allow any such blighting elevation - for what elevates itself, is to fall) "the LORD is with you; blessed are you among women."
She was chosen as the vehicle for the incarnation.
Just as Christ was sent as the agent, core and centre of salvation and John the Baptist had to accept this, though he had inclination to do things his own way. Here was the priest to OFFER HIMSELF! THUS and for this above all, with His accompanying resurrection, was He born. Similarly, we all must accept that Christís own death, when it came, was a thing He had to accept (Luke 22, Hebrews 57), though it cost Him dear as its full awfulness struck Him, in the flesh, anew. We too must accept it, not as a ceremony made by man, but as a work wrought by God, never repeatable, never in the hands of men (Hebrews 9, John 10:18).
Otherwise, says Hebrews, He would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world, but this is not so; and an offering without blood (Hebrews 9:22), is futile, so making one without suffering disallowed. HE really suffered, really remitted, really shed real blood and we must really suffer, not to redeem, but as redeemed, to fulfil the testimony of Jesus to all, in real love while there is yet time.
Without blood, NO remission, it is written! Mass is not so; but a massive deception, and departure from the word of God. Christ is so, and provides a massive acceptance to those who receive Him, not in fiction or figment, or for that matter, in mere formality, but as the meaning and Master of life, whose word rules our hearts, and whose Spirit braces our arms, giving peace to the heart.
Not then in Christ-mas or in any mass, but in Christ according to His word, the word of promise, by His Spirit do we wait for Him, who came as He foretold, and whose return in His SECOND COMING is drawing very near, and has been so since Jerusalem went back to Israel in 1967 (Luke 21:24). There is no substitute for abiding in Him and in His word.
The Lack of Limits with the Lord 1:41
This was the way for Mary, as it was for John and it is for us all who are His. We treat Him as our Father because HE IS. When Mary, her pregnancy now advancing, came to the house of Zacharias in the country and Elizabeth heard her greeting, the child (John, to be) leapt in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. The child itself was now exposed to a special divine action, and was soon to be born, and to become the famous John the Baptist to whom masses of Israelites would stream in the desert, as he fulfilled the word of Isaiah 40, "The voice of one crying in the wilderness, 'Prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.' "
Indeed, John's faithfulness in doing what he was told, enabled him to have the opportunity to baptise Jesus, some 30 years later; and though he did not want to do this, saying, I have need to be baptised by YOU! yet to "fulfil all righteousness", that is to anoint Christ as priest to end priesthood (Numbers 5:7, Hebrews 7:25-28), he did it, sprinkling Him, the Lord now about the prescribed age for such service. This was with water (the normatively prescribed method with blood as with water, but with Christ, it could be water only, a thing that was only part of the preparation for Levites).
At this, the Holy Spirit descended on Christ, and His Father was heard to say, "You My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased!" (Luke 3:22). Imagine, then, being John the Baptist, baptising others for cleansing from sin, and being asked to baptise the Messiah! but it was a modified baptism, being not the norm but a specialty, to anoint and appoint the Messiah for his priestly task, as the time for His mission was fulfilled. How closely we must follow the Lord, not baulking like some frightened horse, at something different, but DOING IT, when so constrained by the commandments, and so led by the Lord in our own life's work!
The Joy of No Reservations 1:44
Indeed, the whole account and record of Christ's incarnation and the preparation of His way through John the Baptist, all precisely as predicted, is a pageant of obedience, a gala of faith and a massif of fulfilment. Think back to Mary's country visit. Elizabeth is waiting with expectation for what the Lord is going to do, having no doubt heard from Zacharias, and when Mary, bearer of the Messiah through her womb, arrives at the country home, the very babe LEAPS! Elizabeth is filled with the Spirit.
The babe, we hear, was filled with the Spirit from the womb (Luke 1:15). It is no use deciding that people have to make 'decisions'! You may decide, but first of all, every Christian is CHOSEN BY GOD (Ephesians 1:4, John 15). It does NOT depend on us, this salvation (Ephesians 2:5-8), but on God. To be sure, He would LIKE all to be saved, and FOREKNOWS His own, but though our wills are known to Him, our lives are not in our own sinful hands, and it is He who knowing the truth, neither forces in love nor aborts entry. From first to last, Christianity involves TRUSTING God, not arguing with Him!
Unreservedly waiting on the Lord, we find unexpected things; and must not limit the Lord (Psalm 78:41). There is a joy in abandon, as on a horse galloping; but it is not careless abandon, just total commitment and utter trust. The results make doubt that dismal and sick thing that it is.
The Channels of Faith 1:45
Indeed, let us revisit that meeting in the country home of Elizabeth, with Mary. As both women were abiding in the Lord, open to His will and doing it, it was Elizabeth who said this to Mary: "Blessed is she who believed; for there will be a fulfilment of those things which were told her from the Lord." Notice here two points.
Firstly, there is a BLESSING in believing the Lord in PRACTICAL things, where faith is tested; and secondly, God will DO what He says, whatever man declares. You may co-operate with blessing or frown in disfavour; He ACTS (Isaiah 64:5), and how justly blessed are those who rely on Him, from Abraham on (Genesis 12).
The Cost and the Joy of Being a Christian
It is not hard to see that certain things are required, that relate to that the joy of the knowledge of the Lord, of actually having GOD HIMSELF as our background, basis and keeper (cf. Nehemiah 8:10). These include three elements: that one be patient, personal and have penitence. Even Mary had to go like all the rest at the episode of birth, and offer up a sin offering, for ONLY CHRIST is without sin among all mankind (Luke 2:22-24, Leviticus 12:2,8). Indeed a SIN OFFERING had to be made, and the priest had to make an atonement, a cover for her as for others as we see in the law prescribed from Leviticus.
It is not enough to expect special treatment so that one can be haughty, or have a harrumph. Be peaceable with the Lord, be patient for the expression of His own will, TRUST in Him, indeed delight yourself in Him and "He will give you the desires of your heart" (Psalm 37:3-4). Chagrin is merely a burden and an ache! Dismiss it and wait upon the Lord; for such will never be ashamed. Indeed, there is glory in such trust and waiting, for patience is not merely a virtue, but a blessing, actively teaching us to have that aura of expectation and reliance which is the vital cord between man and God. Through this, He can do wonderful things, but without faith, a person CANNOT even please God (Hebrews 11:6). It is IMPOSSIBLE, we read. Why should anyone tempt impossibility ? it is not even a bet! It is doomed in advance...
As this is the mode of blessing, so it is a cost. Remember Zacharias and do not indulge in the errant and erratic luxury of 'qualified unbelief'. There is no quality of unbelief in faith; and hesitation in believing was precisely, in the practical event of the announcement of the great thing accorded to the family of Zacharias, just what blighted his tongue for months, as if to say: In view of your doubt, YOU now cannot speak until what the Lord has spoken, in fact happens. Never tempt the Lord; and indeed why bother to do so ? HE is so utterly reliable, but does not suffer substitution for love and faith and abiding and imbibing His Spirit and His ways. With God, there is no alternative course: when you know God, there is not only no need, but no desire for one.
Let us then rejoice in His illimitable grace, His personal concern and the individuality of His dealings, whose love is not some generalisation, but the very nature of His personal relations with His people, and the very heart of His call to ALL: COME, come and receive the Lord, the only Saviour and the giver of eternal life, not for a season only, but through the events of a season, for eternity. If you are His, rejoice and relish this world-wide impact of the season as a focus for His entry to this world, as a man. Just as it leaves no excuse, so it leaves no gap.