|Via Wikimedia, Isaiah describes the return of the Jews from exile in Babylon|
Now is right around the time of year when I start looking forward, and I start thinking about Halloween, Thanksgiving, and of course Christmas. We center our lives on a 365 day year. And interspersed in that year are various celebrations and holidays that help us ground our lives. As Christmas approaches, I start to think about Jesus, and the mystery of his coming into the world.
I start to think about how Christ changed my life, and how he changed my story. The mystery of Jesus Christ is the mystery of divine personality. The mystery of Jesus Christ is the story of creation itself. It tells us about the lands we live upon, about the Earth we reside on, it tells us about the sky, the stars, and the galaxies. The coming of Jesus Christ is the saga of humanity itself.
Even before I knew Jesus I sought out heroes in my life.
I looked to cinema, to media, and to books. I looked to characters in movies like the Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and Star Trek to emulate. I looked to superheroes like Batman and Spiderman to understand what it meant to rise above the 9 to 5. We search for transcendence around us, we search for meaning that rises above our own little lives.
In the pages of the Bible we find the saga of mankind, and an expression of ultimate transcendence. The Bible is the #1 best selling book in human history. The Bible is a historical book, a book of poetry, it includes eye witness accounts, prophecies, letters to churches, and accounts of the creation of all things. The writings in the Bible were written down by people, people who were inspired by the Spirit of God to write down the knowledge and wisdom of God. The writings of the Bible flow together seamlessly, spanning over 3 thousand years. There is no other book like the Bible.
We can trust the Bible. Historians trust the Bible. Archaeologists use the Bible to unearth ancient treasures. Scientists have trusted the Bible all the way back to Galileo and Isaac Newton. The body of Christ trusts the word of God as our unquestionable guide to knowing Christ.
In Bible study we’ve been reading through a book of the Old Testament called Isaiah. Isaiah is a book that seems to bridge the gap between the Old Testament and the New Testament. Isaiah’s revelation time and again points to the future coming of Jesus into the world.
Listen to this scripture from Isaiah chapter 53 verses 1-6:
“Who has believed our message?
To whom has the Lord revealed his powerful arm?
My servant grew up in the Lord’s presence like a tender green shoot,
like a root in dry ground.
There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance,
nothing to attract us to him.
He was despised and rejected—
a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.
We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.
He was despised, and we did not care.
Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;
it was our sorrows that weighed him down.
And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God,
a punishment for his own sins!
But he was pierced for our rebellion,
crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole.
He was whipped so we could be healed.
All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.
We have left God’s paths to follow our own.
Yet the Lord laid on him
the sins of us all.”
Do you believe this? Do you believe the message of the gospel is for you? Do you have a personal intimate relationship with our Lord and King Jesus Christ?
Each of us will see Jesus face to face. We could reach out and touch his hand. Jesus is alive right now. Jesus is alive right now. He is seated on his throne, ruling and reigning in heaven. He is also here with us right now. And he knows your name.
He knows my name. Yet he has given me a new name, and put my name in the Book of Life. Is your name in the book of life?
Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian anymore than being in the garage would make you a 72 Chevy.
Either we believe in Jesus, or we are lost in our sins. I know what it means to be lost. And so did Israel. Time and again in the Old Testament books we read about the struggles of Israel, how they would come to the Lord, turn from their sins, and then a generation later they would turn away. In the wilderness they saw the miracles of God first hand but it didn’t matter, they still complained and fell away, they failed to grow.
In the book of Isaiah is God’s description of coming judgment to Israel. Isaiah describes the coming Babylonian captivity, yet he also describes how they will be set free. Isaiah decries the misdeeds of Israel, yet also points forward to coming of Jesus. And his words rejoice for the coming of the King. Every book of the Old Testament points forward to Jesus. Even all the way back to Job, one of the oldest books of the Old Testament, it was written and recorded that Job prophesied the coming of the Christ when he said, “I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth.” -Job 19:25
The trees will clap their hands. Much the palm branches as Jesus came into Jerusalem. I get chills when I think about the triumphal entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem. He got onto a donkey and rode into Jerusalem, and the people cheered his entry. This was a revolutionary moment in history. It seems so many times in our society the rich and the powerful control everything that happens. They manufacture evil and keep good people from the lime light, they keep the message of purity and truth down in the pits. And in the same way the Pharisees fought Jesus every step of the way, but Israel was bursting at the seams, and finally the revolution had begun, and Jesus Christ was cheered by the whole city as he triumphally entered, the king of kings, Satan couldn’t shut down the crowd, they had to cry out in joy for the coming of the messiah into the city of God. It makes your heart sing when the outsider finally achieves victory over the entrenched establishment and moneyed elite.
As Jerusalem rejoiced with the coming of Christ, so we too rejoice when Jesus enters our heart, when His Spirit draws us into close relationship with him. Isaiah prophesied the joy of turning to Christ in these words, from Isaiah 54 verses 4 to 8:
Don’t be afraid; there is no more disgrace for you.
You will no longer remember the shame of your youth
and the sorrows of widowhood.
For your Creator will be your husband;
the Lord of Heaven’s Armies is his name!
He is your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel,
the God of all the earth.
For the Lord has called you back from your grief—
as though you were a young wife abandoned by her husband,”
says your God.
“For a brief moment I abandoned you,
but with great compassion I will take you back.
In a burst of anger I turned my face away for a little while.
But with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,”
says the Lord, your Redeemer.”
The grief of life on Earth is real. The weight of sin is real also. I can still remember the heaviness on my back, on my soul, as I walked around dragging my sins behind me. Those are not illusions. The grief is real, when I was 16, forced to be a sports star by my dad, bullied at school everyday to then come home to my parents screaming at each other in the hallway, and crank up the heavy metal music and cry on my bed. To begin to experiment with prescription drugs, and wake up in a mental hospital, being told you threatened to blow up your high school, you’ve been expelled, and all of your former friends are afraid of you, and won’t talk to you. To become self destructive, to feel abandoned, to feel the lack of the presence of God.
And also, to cry out to Jesus for help, to throw my hopes upon Jesus and the cross, to have all the shame of my sins lifted off and tossed into nothingness. To have daily communion with God our Father. Is an honor, a blessing, a humbling incredible revelation so wonderful, so transformative, so expansive and wondrous I can hardly come to grips with the fact that it happened to me.
Jesus, God with us, gave himself at the cross for me. He was nailed to the wooden cross for my sins. It was as if I sat in a court room, and a list of my sins was being read off. We all have that list, of things we’ve done, harmed women, lied, hurt our parents, stolen things, make bad choices, and committed evil deeds. Or been selfish. And that list is being read off in the court room, and I’m guilty. I know I’m guilty. I deserve to be sent out from God’s presence, to outer darkness, and my spirit tells me that, within I know that. God is so holy, so perfect, and I want that so badly, but I know internally that my sins are too much.
Or as Isaiah wrote in chapter 59 verses 1-3:
Nor is his ear too deaf to hear you call.
It’s your sins that have cut you off from God.
Because of your sins, he has turned away
and will not listen anymore.
Your hands are the hands of murderers,
and your fingers are filthy with sin.
Your lips are full of lies,
and your mouth spews corruption.”
The judge declares me guilty, and I know he’s right. But Jesus walks over to this judge and says no, all of those sins, I’ll take the punishment for him. I’ll receive the sentence that he deserves, I’ll remove those sins that are destroying him, I’ll take them all into my being, and receive the death penalty for him. And Jesus sets me free. He went to the cross to take my punishment and set me free from all my sins. That’s how great Jesus is. But even further, he gives me eternal life, he comes with me on the journey of life, helping me along the way. That’s the power of Jesus. And he did it for me, if I’ll just believe that its’ true, that Jesus lives, he resurrected for me, and is my King forever. For me! Even for me, foolish little Justin.
I like many here was never a lucky man, nor was I ever a smooth criminal. I was blunderous, and slow to learn a new thing. Just ask major ralph how quickly I learn stuff on the job. It takes me a while to learn anything. I’ve never won a prize drawing in my life. Yet me, silly old Justin Steckbauer, the junkie, the loser, the clumsy kid with the nerdy glasses, the druggy, the drinker, the despicable liar and cheat, that such a thing would happen to me, that Jesus would happen to me, is simply the greatest thing ever. Jesus Christ is the greatest thing that ever happened to me. Jesus Christ is my Lord, my savior, my friend, my brother, and my King. I love him.
Do you know him? Have you really personally made that commitment? Step forward and make that commitment today.
Isaiah wrote: “Seek the Lord while you can find him.
Call on him now while he is near.
7 Let the wicked change their ways
and banish the very thought of doing wrong.
Let them turn to the Lord that he may have mercy on them.
Yes, turn to our God, for he will forgive generously.” -Isaiah 55:6-7 NLT
As we once again approach pasty week, kettle season, and Christmas, keep the wonder of the coming of Jesus Christ at the center of your mind. Meditate on the child born in Bethlehem 2000 years ago, and the journey ahead. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” -Isaiah 9:6
|Thomas Cole’s Angel of Bethlehem via Wikimedia Commons|
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