AUSTRALIAN BIBLE CHURCH ... Sermon December 28, 2008
A CONTINUATION OF THE THRUST
OF THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH OF AUSTRALIA
ON BIBLICAL LINES Ö
THE OLD AND THE NEW -
NOT A POINT OF VIEW, BUT THE PERSPECTIVE FOR ETERNITY
WHEN GOD SPEAKS: REJOICE AND ACT... ACCORDINGLY!
John the Baptist had been a predicted source of great joy: "You will have joy and gladness and many will rejoice at his birth. For he will be great in the sight of the Lord ... He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb." Many of Israel he would turn to the Lord!
Indeed, though last week we considered the rebuke to Zacharias, for not readily believing what the angel said, in being stricken with dumbness till the birth, joy came at length, the child was born and his powers of speech returned. How many, more dumb than Zacharias, and that not till the birth but for their entire careers, appear as
battalions of 'priests' but without truth,
speakers but with no word from the Lord,
mystical blasphemers, saying this or that from the Lord, who has put nothing in their mouths,
which are nevertheless full, for they are not poor (cf. Micah 3:5, Jer. 23:26,32, II Peter 2:1ff.).
It is not from a falsely named 'Pentecostalism' (which misuses the very name, their 'gift' being that of those at Corinth and the PRECISE opposite to that clarifying override at Pentecost, which presented the Gospel as if there were dozens of UN interpreters at work), that you gain fresh revelations of the word of God, when it sails off into the high seas of 'revelation' past Revelation, Far less is it from an Alpha Course, which is not merely satisfactory to Romanists: their their leadership evinces delight in it.
Why is this so ? It is because it sets no limits on what can be added to the Bible, by whatever means such illicit pluses (Proverbs 30:6, Revelation 22:18-19) may seem to come, makes no clear disjunction between salvation by grace with unconditional assurance of eternal life (Romans 5:1-11), and some sort of salvation of a very indistinct kind, to be moved or moulded this way or that, with strange bedfellows to share their lot. Thus it assembles a large array of churches, though these may be as far apart as simple salvationists and Roman renegades, worshipping their mass; and this despite the fact that Christ is reserved in heaven till the restitution of all things (Acts 3), and became true man with one body! (Heb. 2), like His brethren.
Zacharias, being a priest of the Old Covenant in the Lord, was disciplined for his measure of unbelief, but he could rejoice again after he was delivered and re-routed to reality at the due birth of his son John, whom Christ was to call great as a prophet, none surpassing him. The NEW, like the OLD, is very distinct and contradistinct. Dabbling in doubts, indulging in novelties, not facing the practical completeness of what God Himself supplies, many leave Zacharias in his short failure, looking angelic by comparison in their long declines into vague ideas and useless additions of their own thoughts.
God however is always distinct. What He wants He authorises. What He says, He makes sure. Neither can any other but He can speak for Him, nor can any bypass or supplement His divine revelation whether of Jesus Christ (by philosophical plastic surgery or criminal attacks on His face), or the Bible which ends with the same stringency as Jeremiah 23 shows to all would-be additives (Revelation 22:19-20). Thus even when the NEW babe was borne, and Satan (as in Revelation 12) tried to kill him by killing perhaps thousands of other babes around his age, a thorough-going killer like many rulers before and since, there was an astounding command to Joseph given in a dream. GO TO EGYPT! It was clear, concise, adequate, commanding.
He might have expostulated: To Egypt! he might have protested. Here in the end of the waiting after millenia, You send the Child, the Messiah, the anointed deliverer, to Israel, the nation of option, where the symbolic temple sits, bespeaking the entire sacrificial reality He is to fulfil, and you say: TO EGYPT WITH YOU! He might have moaned like Jonah in his weakest hour. But he did not. Indeed, we must realise that even people of the Lord, like Zacharias, even if they err here or there, are CORRECTED (Hebrews 12), just like a child by his father. The sanctions and clarity of God are not to be scoffed at or to become a matter of huff. To be highhanded with God is the ultimate madness. You cannot see past Him, or beyond Him: THERE IS NO BEYOND to Him.
This then is part of the new and the old alike: YOU find what He has and do it, follow it, believe and it works, because it is His. You neither add nor change; you believe and do, and after that, still esteem yourself an unworthy servant. You await orders. Is there not more to it than this ? Of course there is: Christ is my friend past all autocracy; but when it comes to contest, He is the Lord past all notions! (John 15:7). So is it for all who are His. Let us return however to Joseph and Mary, now in Egypt, with all due speed (SO avoiding death to the child), and now waiting on the Lord once more.
Then after a time, when persecuting Herod was dead, they were directed by God to return to Israel. They might have protested again in some such way as this. First we have to trans-ship our stuff to Egypt, now from it! How can a kid thrive in this! But they did not. They obeyed in the fear of God, and rejoiced in the deliverance of God, living in the will of the Lord. What is so hard about that ? it is better then dubiety, sweeter than ruminating in emptiness, in unwisdom or flaunting flair as if one needed no God, in a world of many evils, and much potential good in His own hand (cf. Psalm 1 in its beauty of truth).
It is nevertheless an unfortunate fact, as you see highlighted in the Exodus and Numbers, that people purporting to belong to the Lord often grumble, mutter, become depressed; and while this is not the same as saying those who ever dos so are not of the Lord, it is nevertheless true that this is not an habitual fault with those who know the Lord, those disciples whom He teaches patience and realism. Jonahs are given their training, sometimes even in the desert! But they learn. Never rely on the man of God, but on the God of man! Then you cannot fail.
Sometimes people do indeed act when God speaks, but they do it on their own, as if His voice were merely a noise. Aaron did so when he took the gold from the people and made a golden calf from it (to be worshipped, like the Mass, or as became the lot of the equally apostate bronze serpent of Numbers 21, II Kings 18:4), once used to serve God as a symbol, then taken as an idol! To worship what God has presented in ACTION role, is the very heart of idolatry. It is GOD you worship, not emblems of His power and action, let alone those which you yourself create, whether these be new gospels made by man, new churches, with completely free moral licence, new commandments or any other added material coming from alleged authority, be it pope or Pentecostalist, sect or sectarian, evil spirit or presumption.
Christ is NEW on the historical scene, but OLD and indeed ETERNAL before His role on earth (Philippians 2), and His ways do NOT CHANGE (Malachi 3:6, Psalm 102:28, Habakkuk 3:6). It is He who was and is Lord (Isaiah 45:22-23, Philippians 2:7-10). When God arrived in infant form, therefore, what a transformation, what an education just to consider it! He did not do it lightly or without vast preliminary prediction in many prophets. Indeed, when He DID come, why it was in the FULNESS of times (Galatians 4:4), but far more than that. This NEW thing was timed from of old.
THE NEW TO FULFIL THE OLD: ON TIME
In fact, Daniel in his ninth chapter had predicted from the 6th century B.C., the date of the death of Christ, and His birth had to be according to this; moreover he had predicted the length of His Messianic ministry, at some 3 and one half years. Further again, priesthood - and Christ was the ultimate priest - required entry level was from 30 years of age; and Christ was about this age when He started. It all coheres with history as shown in SMR pp. 886ff., where a fascinating thing was done. Let us see this new thing, when it was dated by Daniel.
The prophet Daniel had been exiled with many Jews, when Jerusalem fell - indeed a little before that - and rising to prominence through the divine gift of prophecy, possessed in marked degree, and through his godly life, backed by the power of God (without which his career would have been but short!), he learned special features of the Lordís vast plan: invented and backed by God, this project of His will moved over history by vision, right to the end of the prophetic period.
Indeed, he was told as he prayed about the 70 year exile which God through Jeremiah (25) had predicted for Israel, one near conclusion, that there was to be a most important period to come. This time, it was not a span 70 years (as for that exile of Israel in Babylon), but of 70 times 7. This use of the exile (from which they were returned through Cyrus as foretold by name - Isaiah 44-45), shows the wisdom of God who speaks, and it is done, whether in creation or in regeneration of the human heart, as shown in II Corinthians 4:6, I John 5:11ff.. Thus its 70 years became an arithmetic base for history, an intriguing show.
Specifying a starting date for this span of history, from a command to restore and rebuild Jerusalem (fulfilled in the royal command of Artaxerxes noted in Ezra 7:18,25-26, dated 458 B.C.), it laid out this vast period which focussed prediction of the death of the Messiah. That was to be after 69 of the sevens, and half-way through the next, meaning as you calculate, a death around 30 A.D. as in fact happened in precise fulfilment. From the word 600 years before He did it, the Lord who made time, duly acted on time as specified, like an engineer of history.
In the divine authority, He would then bring an end to the daily sacrifices (Daniel 9:27), the only reason for this being that He would at that time have become THE SACRIFICE in Himself; and whatever more would be attempted, this would become mere disobedience, for Christ then had FULFILLED all that sacrifice meant.
To continue, as Israel did, would become a meaningless chatter, like a car engine which insists on going on for some time, even after you turn off the key. With the crucifixion of Christ, the rest of the prophesied period would become HIS, finishing whenever He should come, at the Father's will, as He made clear (Acts 1:7-8). Seeking to end the work of God, Israel the nation would find no end till He pleased, whose visit they ruptured: thus the last section of the final seven would last at His pleasure, whether in reference to tens of years, hundreds or more. THEN He would return to rule and at length to judge (Acts 17:31). What however of the cessation of the sacrifices at the death of the Messiah ?
Until that time, the power of God by His Spirit was to be - as it was - accorded to His people to implement His will (Luke 24:49, Matthew 28:19-20). The time of His return would be kept from man, not ministered by Him who would find not a few even nominal servants of His, fecklessly disobedient and not ready at His coming: unexpected by many (Matthew 24:36ff., I Thessalonians 5, Acts 1:7-8). Indeed, when the time for His rule arrived, many would mourn (Revelation 1:7) rather than rejoice. Light has that effect: some who hide in darkness, it dazzles, some it enlightens.
What however of the cessation of the sacrifices at the death of the Messiah ?
Continuing the Temple rites, then, was not by the commandment of God, for what did not abide in this coming King, would be cut off (Deuteronomy 18). Fidgetting without saving faith many continued right up till AD 70, only to have temple and city ruthlessly destroyed by Rome. The temple was to be replaced by a Moslem mosque, a mockery of their failure to receive the end of sacrifices with the beginning of Him who is first and last, Jesus Christ. There it sits to this day, rebuke to their lack of faith in Him as a nation. Other false worship foci mislead more millions.
THE BEGINNING WITH AN END WHICH TERMINATES SIN, BUT NOT LIFE
That, then, was not the end of a NEW beginning, but the beginning of the COMING END. The next major port of call, after (1) the world-wide spread of the Gospel of His atoning death and glorious resurrection, which thrills every Christian heart, with its account of the body that moved and was raised from the dead, and (2) the power of His Spirit to spread the news of His divine saving action throughout the world: it is HIS RETURN. This waits like an actor, for the call to enter the stage. Jerusalem's recovery by Israel means this is now quite close (Luke 21:24 cf. Zechariah 12 -13).
There is a saying: Christ was born to die; but this misses much. Born also to DECLARE the name of the Lord IN PERSON, to DEFINE the glory of God as a man, DISTINGUISHING deity from humanity as a human expositor, He used the power of God without restraint (John 3:33-34) to show the world that the format of man, so far from being meaningless or a muddle, is as the Lord in the Bible has declared. Man is made in the image of God. Christ, fresh from divine eternity (Micah 5:1-3, Psalm 45, 102, John 8:58, Isaiah 48:16, Zechariah 12:10) was born in due course to die for and with sin, even that of all who are His, weeping for the recalcitrant (Matthew 23:37), offering what the knowledgeable and the sharp, the acute and the self-serving among men NEVER understand: eternal life.
This was new in intensity, in immensity, in definition, in fulfilment, and above all, in having God take feet and walk amongst us. Here was the kernel of Christianity, Jesus Christ, the anointed Messiah for so long and so accurately foretold. It was however not NOVEL: for it had been foretold in great depth and detail for millenia, as the centuries passed and the prophets, in perfect agreement as if they were one, passed on ever new information until the sound was finished.
He was born to live and to open the door direct to heaven. Thus even death and resurrection adorned the birth with worth unspeakable. What a result! But what a cause! When GOD becomes a babe, when LIFE becomes formatted for man as man, in the humility of a babe to become the majesty of the One who He is, then there is simply no limit to the results. Just as it focusses the Cross of loss, so it defines the life of the Christian by the power and through the peace of God.
BORN, WORN, TORN, TRIUMPHANT -
THE CODE FOR CHRISTIANS
NOT AS REDEEMER BUT REDEEMED
I often see young people, whether 4 or 14, and marvel at the slope or droop of their shoulders, mirroring that of the father, or girls, with a mouth and mood and personal mode of expression on their faces, almost an image of that of the mother. How much more was Christ the definitive image of HIS Father! Therefore in services indescribable because of their multitude (cf. John 21:25), and wonder, in words of pity, of pungency, of reproof, of endorsement, of correction, of tenderness (as in Luke 19:42ff. as if Jerusalem were His child!), He acted, till crushed with brutality, He was forced to yield the Cross, on which He was about to hang, another needing to carry it.
If anyone thinks that this means that the professing Christian can hand his cross over to another, pope, or monk, or minister, 'apostle' or sister or fellow traveller, prophet past, present or future (and there is one vastly deceptive one to come - Revelation 19:20), then that person could not be more mistaken. The truth is personal, it is potent and it is impassable. From the first, the insidious tests have come to man like vast breakers in their surf, pounding the headlands. Rather then than frowning or complaining, it is necessary to face them and not to fall. Jesus stood, until they slowly extinguished the body of the incarnation.
We too must be worn, and if need be torn, and certainly will be persecuted if we are His (II Timothy 3:12), while not seeking to AVOID it but facing it as soldiers must (II Timothy 3:10, 4:3-5). Our task is not to be seeking our own will or comfort, but the will and work that God has set before us (John 17:1-30). If you do not KNOW your boss, how could you know His orders ?
In the Bible is His will but here we find He promises to give you wisdom in trial and travail if you need and ask in faith. How have faith in One whom you do not know; or how receive the precise and particular wisdom in view, if you do not know by His Spirit, who He is! Did Paul guess the direction to Macedonia, or did God show it ? Read Acts 16 and see. Indeed, in the entire book of Acts, it is clear that the living God makes living children who, though terrified at the thought of adding to or subtracting from the Bible (Deuteronomy 4, 12, Revelation 22:19-20), yet by faith in love, knowing God, find the APPLICATION of its promises in their hearts!
So work for the night is coming in which no man can work! For "the time will come" - and it now has come "when they will not endure sound doctrine ... they will turn their ears away from the truth and be turned aside to fables."
The New Year, 2009 arrives, with the same old challenge in a new wave of circumstances, fulfilments and faith: in this, with increasing joy let us meet what it offers, not foundering, but founded on the living, ineffaceable, changeless Christ. For faithlessness it offers its own reproof, but to faith it offers the glory of God in heart, mind and conscience and vast and glorious opportunities to serve Him. These like His mercies, are new every morning (Lamentations 3:33).