Australian Bible Church December 25, 2005
PROSPEROUS AND RUINOUS PROGRESS
Tidings from Luke Chs. 1-2: Not a mere Christ Mass or Festival, but the Divine Master Himself
Progress ? What is it ? A movement in any straight line where you have more of anything than you did before ? such as in cancer-based wastage, or ruinous profligacy ? Certainly a disease may be said to progress! but not prosper if it does...The world is progressing without Christ, but not prospering. Some live richer than ever, in millions, some die in vast numbers, aching in anguish, listless in starvation, fraught with disease, and that gets worse. It is not ultimately an economic matter, or a medical or a political, though all of these results of sin for the whole race, are finding their mark progressively!
The cause of pain, suffering and evil is sin, iniquity and disbelief, sundering into squalor the spirituality which could have been, the help, the holiness and the deliverance, the pardon and the peace, the empowerment and the provision. The cause of progress in pain, suffering and evil, such as the world eagerly demonstrates, like some unfeeling child, is progress in rejection of redemption, the devil working with passionate enthusiasm to enfeeble man by feeble ideas and ideals, like humanism, evolutionism, socialism, and militant communism, Romanism, Mohammedanism, mouthing great words of folly, as Peter predicted would be the state of the propaganda art in the last days (II Peter 2).
Trusting in ideas, in wealth or dollars, in medical provisions or social ones, in themselves and their self-esteem, or their psychological routines - such as a nine year old now publishes! man becomes like flotsam and jetsam, cast about by many currents, going nowhere. Nowhere ? nowhere that matters. It is to the garbage that the gush of fallen man's destiny proceeds, like a stream of hot lava moving down into an appalling abyss. THAT ? it is ruinous progress, progress in wars like sores on the body of the race. Yet there is another progress which this day brings to our attention. It is prosperous progress.
For this, we consult the report of Luke in the first two chapters, to consider the birth of Christ and its surrounds, with emphasis on the PRELUDE, the POWER, the PROCEDURE, PERSPECTIVE, the PROXIMITY, the PRINCIPLE, the PERMANENCE, the POOR, the PROGRESSION, the PAIN, the PENETRATION and the PLACEMENT OF PANOPLY.
I THE PROGRESS IN CHAPTER ONE - PRELUDE to PERFORMANCE
We notice first 1:5, the prelude in John the Baptist, who was to provide a messenger's voice in the wilderness, to which in turn large crowds many would go, instead of using the current I-pods. Here was a living witness to One to come who would baptise with fire and the Holy Spirit. Form would be progressing into the felicity of finality. God Himself would dwell in man direct, beyond all priestly ministrations, and God Himself would dwell among mankind as ONE of them (Isaiah 7:14, Micah 5:1-3). Thus there would be POWER (1:35 - that of the supernatural God), and indeed a kingdom which would never end, being PERMANENT (Luke 1:33). The PROCEDURE was that of deity instilling creation in the womb of a woman so that the Eternal God came to be IN FLESH (Luke 1:35). The PRINCIPLE was clear, at the human level, as Mary put it: "Let it be to me according to your word!"
Again, the angelic PERSPECTIVE confirms this, with the word from the Lord declaring: "Blessed is she who believed; for there will be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord." FAITH and PERFORMANCE then, are intimate friends. Why grumble if you do not first use faith then! It is not PEER formance, being formed in the manner of your peers; it is performance, things done when by faith as waiting in obedient spirit on the Lord your Saviour (Luke 1:47), your receptacle is ready for them.
In Luke 1:46ff., the Magnificat, in which Mary shows the grandeur and greatness of God, she marvels with great joy that He chose for this splendid task, not of being the 'mother of God' as some blasphemously put it, but being a mother in Israel who would be a transit station for His coming, not the great, but what ? Why the POOR, disregarding the rich (1:48), to such His great deeds here have come and there there has this miraculous PROXIMITY arrived! He came where not disregarded in apparent human strength, His coming is prized; for He needs not the might of the mighty but the reception of the meek. As Paul points out in I Corinthians 1:27-28, few of the mighty are to be saved, and while poverty is no password, often do riches arrive where truth departs.
II THE PROGRESS in 2:1-34
Now, the child born, and his circumcision rite having come near, we find there is a sacrifice required to go with it. Hence, as Christ is THE sacrificial offering to end all such, it is apparent that circumcision would have to go after He had borne the pain, and penetrated to perfection with His vicarious death and gift. What would then happen? Why there would now be a PROGRESSION in the progress, for from the covenantal and required signal of divine presence and ownership in circumcision, there would now be a new Head to the family, and in Him ALL would figure so that both boys and girls could be similarly marked with the covenantal seal. Thus PENETRATION was made clear, to all who come, not regression but embracement of the totality, from the first. It was as before, but now more broadly.
Hence all the HOUSEHOLD is baptised in the case of the Philippians gaoler, since as Paul puts it in Colossians 2:11-12, if you are baptised, then you have been circumcised. The one embraces, fulfils and furnishes the other; and now it is for ALL of the household, not merely males.
PEACE and PANOPLY alike are seen in Luke 2:29ff., for here aged and saintly Simeon, eagerly looking for the "consolation of Israel" (2:25) as we look for His return (Hebrews 9:28), being led by the Spirit, came and found the babe just as that moment when, according to the law, He was in the temple for the rite just described. NOW, he cried, did the LORD let this His servant depart in peace. Simeon was now ready to go. Notice that it would be incredibly complex for him to find the babe, but the SPIRIT LED HIM (cf. Psalm 32, Acts 8), and he DID find Christ just at that moment, just as your own impossible needs may be met by the God for whom NOTHING shall be called impossible (Luke 1:37). If He resolves to do it, regard it as done.
Two more things are noted with Simeon. First he makes it clear, referring to Isaiah 42 and 49, that Christ was to be a light to the Gentiles, and in fact to BE the salvation to the end of the earth. In HIMSELF would this be, not some abstract idea, but as in Isaiah 42, the very focus in Himself, the ineffable and the undisplaceable. This reminds us of the parallel word of the angel in 1:33, where the kingdom to be His is NOT TO END. Thus it is for ALL and for EVER.
III THE PROGRESS in 2:35
If however the penetration to girls as well as boys was to become manifest, there was far more to be found. In Luke 2:35, that pregnant verse, we find that Christ is set for the rise and fall of many (yes, and incidentally, a sword will pierce to Mary's heart), so that the "thoughts of many hearts may be revealed."
There is a penetration to the heart, which lies exposed before the testing light of the Lord.
The thoughts will be revealed, and no cloud of pretence or sanctimony will be able to obscure the plain fact that many are God's enemies, who masquerade as friends, and many who are seemingly almost too lowly to notice, are His friends indeed: not trumpeting, not spiritual strumpets, but serving. So the highest of the high in the priesthood appeared little better than sanctimonious Mafia, stooping to anything, stopping at nothing, so that their plans, displacing God in reality, might be seen for their true worth: DEICIDE! No cover is left for them as none for Judas! Rich dreams do not become unceremonious reality, as with the case of the rich young ruler, who coming running, left in sorrow from Christ! All is tested and desire and design being one thing, performance and faith are another.
With this is PAIN, as if from a sword, as Mary feels the horror of death for the One placed in her womb, as if so smitten. Indeed, many are the parents who feel as if a sword had stricken them, when in Christ's service, they find their children murdered on the field, as in the famous case of the Auca Indians, where Elizabeth Elliot, her husband murdered, returned to the tribe responsible and with startling results, preached the Gospel. Moreover, this word in Luke 1:35 is preceded by the fact that Christ would be a sign spoken against; and again, some of the greatest, like Stephen, are indeed indicted or killed, professionally, financially, physically or in reputation, by the spiritually intoxicated toxins and murderous intent of those who envy them. Frauds find themselves exposed within them, as they seek to delay or even delete the testimony of truth on this globe, that it may be theirs, and for their descendants.
If pain is the penalty imposed on faith by this world, yet the Spirit of grace and of glory rests on those who are suffering for Him (I Peter 4:14), strengthening their minds, for He has come, His kingdom comes and soon now, He returns.
PAIN requires PATIENCE, and PATENT REJOICING when it is suffering for the Lord, as in Acts 5:40-41.
Thus does the Christmas season, commemorating properly the BIRTH of Christ, remind us of the WORTH of Christ and the WAY of Christ, even from birth, when it led early to the Massacre of the Innocents, and His movement to Egypt. That way brings to the birth, both exposure and opportunity for you, and as you trust and follow the Lord, the light from the dayspring from on High (Luke 1:78), is YOURS! Not candles but hearts are lit, and spirits and lives.