Category: Gospel


. . . in Him you have been made complete . . . (Col. 2:10)

This statement comes in the context of Paul’s encouragement to the Colossians regarding Christ’s triumph on the cross. In the role of our Savior, Jesus was crucified and, in that act, the justice of God was satisfied and the demands of the Law were met. Our sins were paid for, our souls were redeemed, and we no longer live under the condemnation of God.

The fact that Christ represented us, the apostle explains, means that we gain the benefits that He secured. Every charge pending against us was nullified and every need was met in Christ. His atonement was perfect; consequently, there is nothing lacking, nothing to be added, and nothing to be modified. The resurrection of Jesus Christ was the definitive declaration from God that the Son’s sacrifice was accepted and all those on whose behalf the sacrifice was made were eternally secure.

This is our position before God today—no guilt, no fear, no debt, no judgment. We are free in the purest and most magnificent sense of the word. We are free to live in peace, we are free to enjoy what we have been given, we are free to rejoice in God and express our gladness to Him. We are free to sing and praise and pray. We are free to set aside every concern we once had about winning God’s favor. We are free to be who we are in Christ and pay no attention to what others may want us to be. We are free to follow the Word and ignore man-made rules and regulations, and we are free to live in hope of that coming day when we will join our wonderful Savior in heaven.

All of this is what Christ has provided. This is what Paul meant when he wrote: “in Him you have been made complete.” We pay Christ a great honor when we live out our days as a free, sanctified, and confident people. If there is any area in your life in which you are in bondage to the dictates of man, you may cast off those shackles at this very moment in the name of your Savior. If there is any aspect of your life in which fear of condemnation is present, you may reclaim it right now in the name of your Deliverer.

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The Gospel in Psalm 130

July 19, 2015

 

Introduction

Psa. 130:1 A Song of Ascents. Out of the depths I have cried to You, O LORD. 2 Lord, hear my voice! Let Your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications. 3 If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? 4 But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared. 5 I wait for the LORD, my soul does wait, and in His word do I hope. 6 My soul waits for the Lord more than the watchmen for the morning; indeed, more than the watchmen for the morning. 7 O Israel, hope in the LORD; for with the LORD there is lovingkindness, and with Him is abundant redemption. 8 And He will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.

Based on the text of this Psalm, it seems appropriate to begin with some questions. How many transgressions of all the principles and commandments and precepts that are found in Scripture did you violate last week? What would the list look like if all of your sins, up to this moment in time, had been recorded? How would you like to appear before God and see such a list displayed before Him?

The truth is, you don’t know how many times you’ve violated the holiness of God just since you opened your eyes this morning. Even if we attempted to record all of our sinful thoughts and words and actions for just a day, we would miss most of them. We don’t go through life thinking in terms of cataloging our sins—and for good reason. We don’t have to live like that. But that shouldn’t stop us from considering how often we violate God’s standard and that shouldn’t stop us from meditating, at times, on all the ways in which we sin against God. Such times of reflection can be most beneficial, as we are about to see as we turn our attention to Psa. 130.

This obviously is a prayer offered by a worshiper of God; it is a prayer expressing anguish, to a degree, and relief as the writer acknowledges certain facts about God. These facts, as they are recalled, provide him with a much needed encouragement and corrected perspective on whatever it was that drove him to describe himself as being in the “depths.”

I would note that the first truth that stands out is this writer’s apparent conviction that the LORD establishes the standard by which we are judged, the standard by which our lives are measured. This critical truth comes after the writer’s introductory remarks in which he expresses his distress and his desire that the LORD would hear his supplications. In v. 3, the writer asks a question that carries such momentous implications that I fear we will not be able to grasp them all. The writer of this Psalm asks: “If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” Before I talk about the most sobering aspects of this question, I want you to notice that the writer automatically assumes that it is the LORD’s place to decide what is and what is not an iniquity; he assumes that the LORD is the One who sets the standard to which all are held.

The writer does not suggest that if the LORD were to be the One with the authority or right to mark iniquities, we might find ourselves in trouble; he assumes that the LORD is the One whose nature is such that He determines that which constitutes acceptable thinking, speaking, and conduct. This fact, in itself, declares to us something vital concerning God’s nature—His nature is the standard of morality. Whatever God is, that is what it means to be morally upright; whatever contradicts what God is, that is what it means to be morally corrupt and fallen.

With this tremendously important assumption operating, the writer asks his question: “If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” If God, whose nature is the standard of judgment in this universe, were to “mark iniquities,” no one would survive, the writer asserts. Let me define two words at this point before we continue. First, the word translated “mark” (shamar) means “to keep” as it to preserve something for an indefinite period of time. Second, the word “iniquities” (avon) means “perversity, depravity, sin.” Now, look again at the question: “If You, LORD, should keep or preserve a record of sins or acts of perversity or thoughts of depravity, O Lord, who could stand?”

I already noted that the writer operates with the assumption that the LORD has the authority to determine the standard by which we are judged. Another assumption, which is obviously held by this writer, is that we are a people characterized by that which qualifies as iniquity. He doesn’t speak as though iniquity is a rare thing; he speaks as though everyone on this earth is characterized by enough iniquity to render them worthy of destruction were the LORD ever to decide to call them to account. This Psalm tells us that God sets the standard and it tells us that He is not like us; we are different from God because we are characterized by various elements that are contrary to His nature; therefore, we deserve judgment—that is a clear message from this writer.

We deserve judgment because we commit violation after violation of God’s standard, and yet we do not perish. Why is this? It is because the LORD is pleased not to mark our iniquities, and He is pleased not to keep a list of our sins current right up to this present moment in time is a running count of accusations against us. He is pleased not to call us to account for our transgressions. Now the writer has revealed a truth about God that should leave us astounded —we are creatures of depravity, but the LORD chooses not to hold our sins against us. He chooses not to mark our iniquities. If we could simply comprehend this one primary point, we would have an understanding of the gospel that would change us forever; we would understand the power of the gospel, the beauty of the gospel, and the comfort of the gospel. The LORD does not mark our iniquities because “there is forgiveness with [Him], that [He] may be feared.” (v. 4)

Forgiveness—that is the explanation. We are characterized by iniquities, but the LORD doesn’t hold on to those transgressions and He doesn’t bring them against us time after time because He forgives us. It’s not that we learn to do better and it’s not that God cares less about His holy character as time goes by and it’s not that our offenses are any less offensive the tenth time we commit them as opposed to the first time. The answer is forgiveness. God forgives us, which means, as the writer’s word structure indicates, that forgiveness is the very opposite of marking iniquities. Knowing that God forgives, the writer states, leads us to fear Him. He uses a Hebrew term (yare) that refers to the deep reverence we have when we stand in awe of something. This word is used extensively in the Old Testament to describe a proper attitude toward God. This fear is not that He will harm us, the fear is reverence, respect, standing in all of the magnificent God of the Bible. To meditate on the forgiveness of God leads to this worshipful attitude; it is an attitude of humility and thanksgiving.

The only way for you to understand the richness of your salvation is to first grasp the enormity of your sin. This is the idea here in our text. The enormity of our sin is revealed when the writer says, in essence, that if we had to answer for our conduct, we would perish; the richness of our salvation is revealed when he says that, instead of being called to account for our sins, God forgives us—which explains, by the way, what forgiveness is; it is relating to the offending party without regard for his sins. Here I must make something absolutely clear; what I want to make absolutely clear is how this kind of situation can exist. I want to make clear how it is that God forgives the guilty.

If anyone ever had a doubt regarding the presence of the gospel in the Old Testament, here is a prime example of how the Old Testament reveals the nature of redemption without speaking as directly about Christ as is the case after the incarnation. We know why the LORD doesn’t mark our iniquities; it is because He forgives us. But we also know that God’s holy nature makes it impossible for Him simply to overlook transgressions. The kind of statement found in this Psalm would have led any pious mind to thoughts about what was taught in the Levitical system, namely, that sins are forgiven on the basis of a substitutionary atonement. If there is forgiveness with God, as this writer says, it is because something has been done about our sins—and that “something” is that God has provided Another to bear the consequences of our iniquities.

As I said before, we do not escape answering for our transgressions because God forgets about them or because He knows that we are “doing our best.” We escape because our Savior takes our place. That is the underlying truth of this portion of Psa. 130. Here is a brief, but truthful reminder of what God had been promising for ages; and the writer of this Psalm relates in a simple fashion the reality of redemption.

This Psalm tells us that God determines the standard to which we are held, that He does not count our transgressions against us even though we violate His standard, and that in the place of destruction God provides forgiveness. Consequently, as the writer goes on to teach, God becomes the focus of his hope (cf. v. 5). Because he knows what the LORD has done, because He knows that the LORD forgives and restores, the writer found great comfort for his soul as he faced hardships. We’ll see in a moment the manner in which he describes this hope, but for now the important point is that the way in which God treats His people makes Him the object of their trust and hope.

This Psalm is a wonderful assertion of some of the primary truths of the gospel. Sinners who are condemned and deserving of destruction are forgiven by the very God against whom they have committed innumerable acts of transgression. Imagine the God who would operate in this manner! Imagine His love and His mercy and His patience.

Clearly, as we’ve seen in many of the other Psalms in this current series, this Psalm tells us that these were people who quickly and confidently turned to the LORD in times of distress. Routinely, these Psalms have given testimony to the fact that the worshipers sought guidance, comfort and confidence from the LORD in the many adverse circumstances they encountered. In this case, the writer describes himself as crying to the LORD “out of the depths.” (v. 1) Whenever this word (“depths”) is used in the Old Testament, it normally refers to the deepest parts of the ocean. Figuratively, therefore, it is used to express a state of great anguish and despair.

Although the writer doesn’t provide specific details concerning his situation, we do have some indication of what was bothering him. After expressing such anguish, he begins speaking of iniquities. It is possible, therefore, that the writer was deeply troubled by his transgressions or those of the nation. For some reason, sin and forgiveness were on his mind when he wrote this song. Rightly, as I noted, he turns to the LORD and pours out his distress in those few words found in vv. 1 and 2. This writer is in a position where only the LORD can help him and it is to the LORD that he directs his cry for assistance.

Those who, along with this writer, worshiped the LORD at this point in history knew the fundamental truth that God is the one to whom we turn in times of distress, especially if that distress is caused by the contemplation of our sin. Where else can we turn to find relief for our troubled soul when, upon the contemplation of our depravity, we find ourselves near despair? The very act of meditating on one’s fallen state quickly leads to the conclusion that there is no help to be found in self—self is the problem! We are sinners and when sinners think soberly on their condition, they certainly do not conclude that deliverance from condemnation and the torment of guilt is to be found in their own devices. It is to the LORD and to Him only that we turn in such moments and it is that perspective that is recorded in this Psalm.

This apparent deliberation on his condition led this writer to a sobering conclusion: “If you, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” (v. 2) Realizing, even to a slight degree, how unfit he was to stand before the LORD, this writer confesses the truth that if the LORD were to require an accounting from him for his transgressions, he would be doomed. And, in fact, the way he states the question makes it obvious that he held this same opinion about all of his countrymen. If the LORD were to keep track of our sins, he says, and then require a reckoning from us, we would be lost. We could not possibly stand before the LORD were He to produce a list of our sins.

Imagine knowing that the LORD was, in fact, marking iniquities, was keeping a record and would demand an accounting. This would be enough to unravel any pious person, or any person who truly wanted to walk before Jehovah in faith. But just as such disturbing thoughts occurred to this writer, he adds that astounding statement in v. 4: “But there is forgiveness with You…”

These worshipers were not free of sin and they were not free of guilt before the LORD, but He was not relating to them based on their sin because with Jehovah there is forgiveness. With Him, there is a remedy for sin—because there is forgiveness with the LORD. What a change of perspectives! If the LORD should mark iniquities, these worshipers knew that they could not endure before Him, but the LORD did not keep a record of their sin in order to bring it against them. Instead, He offered them forgiveness; instead, the LORD, the holy One, the offended One, made a provision for their deliverance.

It’s no wonder that the writer goes on to express how he eagerly waited for the LORD (vv. 5 and 6). As he considered his sin and the fact that the LORD forgave him, he wanted nothing more than to be with the LORD who loved him so. The truth of God’s forgiveness was the hope to which this man held as he made his way through life. It was communion with God that brought this man joy and comfort.

The word translated “wait” (qavah) is interesting (cf. v. 5). It’s a term that refers to remaining or abiding in a specific state as you anticipate something beneficial. When the writer says that he waited for the LORD, he doesn’t mean he was expecting the LORD to show up at some point. He means that he was resting in the LORD. And from that perspective, he was anticipating a time of communion with God, perhaps through worship or perhaps through his departure from this life into the presence of God.

In this frame of mind, the writer could urge his fellow-worshipers to “hope in the LORD.” (v. 7) He could assure them that they served a God who is known for His lovingkindness. In Him, the writer declares, there is “abundant redemption.” He presents a picture of the LORD that is completely uplifting and perfectly suited for those who were on their way to worship Jehovah.

At some point, this writer was made aware of his transgressions or something caused him to pause and think about the fact that he was a sinner and his sins were committed against a God of purity and holiness. And as he was going through this thought process, he realized that he deserved destruction. But there he was—alive and well and able to worship the LORD. The contemplation of his sin led, of course, to the contemplation of God’s forgiveness of his sin. Those two realities—his sin and God’s forgiveness of his sin—overwhelmed him and he had to exclaim praise for the LORD.

If God marked your iniquities, if He kept a record of your sins and called you to account, would you be able to stand? If God took note of your transgressions and preserved a list of them, would you be able to appear before Him with confidence? You know the answer to those questions. Our problem is that we don’t face these kinds of questions often enough. We rarely consider the implications of such a question as: “If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?”

Meditation on such questions leads inevitably to the conclusion that God forgives—otherwise, we wouldn’t be here and we wouldn’t have a life and we wouldn’t know the LORD. Meditation on what God has done for sinners is where God-honoring worship begins.

When the writer of this Psalm thought on such things, he was moved to fear the LORD. How about you? We don’t hear much talk about fearing the LORD these days. To fear the LORD means that you relate to Him as God, as a holy and righteous God. It means that we look to Him with thankful hearts realizing that He is the One who saves us and who watches over us. To fear the LORD is to stand in awe of Him.

These kinds of thoughts come much more easily when we keep before us the fact that God has forgiven us. It was that truth that caused the writer to find hope in spite of his sins. He knew that God had provided for his forgiveness. As I said before, the gospel is portrayed in Psa. 130. There is the undeniable teaching of atonement in this Psalm. There is recognition of sin and there is recognition of forgiveness—the two key elements in redemption.

Therefore, we cannot study this Psalm without being directed to Christ. There is no way to read this Psalm and even begin to have the slightest understanding of it without turning our eyes to Christ. It is impossible for us to think about our transgression and breathe a sigh of relief knowing that they have been forgiven without turning our minds to Christ. He is the explanation for sins forgiven. The Messiah is the explanation for this writer’s conclusion that, although he was a man of iniquity, there was forgiveness with the LORD. Amen.

May God richly bless the hurting in Charleston. May His peace be upon you in abundance. May His strength be your stay and His shadow your refuge. May His Word be your hope and His Spirit your Comforter.

As I have come to understand the nature of the gospel more completely over the years, one of the aspects that inspires, excites, humbles, and encourages me most is found in the depiction of the Body of Christ given in the Book of the Revelation. In the fifth chapter, there is a description of the Church of the Savior that is breathtaking and comforting, especially during these days of unrest. I often remind myself that this is what the people of God look like from heaven’s perspective. This is what I preach for, pray for, and long for. This is what should be in our hearts and this is what we should strive for in our personal lives and ministries.

All travelers, one final destination. All people, one supernatural Kingdom. All races, one shed blood. All sinners, one glorious Savior.

Rev. 5:6 And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth. 7 And He came and took the book out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne. 8 When He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9 And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. 10 You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.”

This great nation may very well become little more than a footnote in a book at some point in the distant future. It will be yet another testimony to the glory of God and what happens when a nation so blessed by His manifold kindnesses and favorable Providence turns its back on Him.

 

Churches may, indeed, soon face more vicious forms of government sanctioned persecution in this country. This is not something new, nor should it surprise us. (Matt. 5:10-12; John 15:20-23) Let us be sure of one thing, however: the Church of Jesus Christ, over which He is Head (Eph. 1:18-23), will never cease to exist on the earth. (1 Cor. 15:22-28) The people of God do not have to have buildings and public meetings to carry on the work of the gospel, which is the one unique and glorious thing about this message– it does not deal only with external behavior, but is the power of God to penetrate to the very soul and no opposition, seen or unseen, will ever succeed in stopping it. (Rom. 1:16; Heb. 4:12, 13) You can forbid people to meet and you can destroy our buildings and you can threaten us all you want, but the gospel will continue to be applied to the human race according to the sovereign decree of God and then it will be over–and not a millisecond before God has done whatsoever He pleases with this world. (2 Pet. 3:3-10) Rave on God-haters. He who sits in the heavens is laughing at you. (Psa. 2:1-4) You are only storing up wrath for that great Day. (Rom. 2:5-8)

The Gospel

2014

 

Introduction

Several years ago, on the first Sunday of the new year, I began a tradition, which I have repeated each year since. I spoke on one particular doctrinal issue in order to set the course for the coming year and remind us all of what really is the most important matter we handle as a congregation (All Saints Parish Church in Vancouver, WA). All that we believe, practice, and hope to become is grounded in one issue. It is essential, obviously, and due to the essential nature of this subject, I want to revisit it this afternoon as we begin a new year. I’m referring, of course, to the gospel.

The beginning of a new year is a time for reflection. People think about the state of their lives, what they wished they had accomplished, what they hope to accomplish, and so forth. The gospel is the heart of the Church’s life and, therefore, serious reflection on the gospel and the state of our ministry is both edifying and advisable.

I want to explain what I mean by the term “gospel.” When I use this term, I have in mind what God has revealed to us about our redemption. Therefore, I’m using the word “gospel” in a broad sense to include all that the Bible has to say about our restoration as a fallen race. The manner in which the gospel is understood and taught is the life-blood of any congregation, as I’ve already stressed. What is believed about this subject determines the spiritual character of a church; in fact, it determines whether we really are a church of the Lord Jesus Christ.

If a church believes and teaches what the Bible proclaims on this issue, then that church is bound to have a good apprehension of everything found in God’s word. On the other hand, if a church does not understand, believe and teach what the Bible says about man’s salvation, that congregation is bound to have defective doctrine across the board. Command is illegal

First, we will consider the necessity of the gospel. If the gospel, broadly defined, has to do with the restoration of man, we must know what it is about man that requires a restoration. Second, we will look at the provision of the gospel. Under this point, we will see what God has done in response to man’s need. The third point will be the exclusivity of the gospel. Here, I will concentrate on the unique nature of God’s provision for our need.

01. The Necessity of the Gospel

We are all aware of the event that occurred early in the history of our race which unalterably established our need of redemption. I’m referring, of course, to the fall of Adam and Eve. This is such a familiar portion of Scripture that I’m sure I could just mention it and proceed without much elaboration. Nevertheless, for the sake of completeness, I will review this story briefly.

As we know, the Biblical description of man’s origin is composed of two primary elements, his creation and his disobedience. The Scripture tells us that God created the first man and he was perfect. In addition, because this creature was made in the image of the Creator, he was morally upright. In the beginning, therefore, Adam, the first man and father of our race, existed in a state of innocence.

All was harmonious in this setting. God was recognized and served as the almighty Creator; man recognized himself as one that came from the hand of this almighty Creator and was, therefore, bound to relate to God as the thing made should relate to the sovereign Maker. In this state, Adam enjoyed communion with God and was at peace and able to pursue his calling.

In this original environment, God designed a circumstance in which Adam would be tested regarding his willingness to abide by the implications of the Creator-creature relationship. God granted Adam access to all that the Garden of Eden had to offer with one exception. Adam was forbidden to eat the fruit that was found on one particular tree.

This was a simple arrangement, yet one with profound implications. This circumstance declared that this was God’s world and, therefore, His will was supreme. It taught Adam that he had to submit to the Creator in all things. The point of this test was not the fruit of that particular tree, but Adam’s willingness to abide by the command of the Creator.

After receiving instructions, Adam also received Eve, a creature like him. Together, Adam and Eve were commissioned to multiply, subdue the earth and rule it under God. Together, as man and wife, our first parents were to serve the Creator and thus enjoy His blessings.

As we know, however, things changed drastically:

Genesis 3:1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; 3 but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, lest you die.’” 4 And the serpent said to the woman, “You surely shall not die! 5 For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

These few verses record the most tragic event that could be imagined. Here is the ruination of our race! That which was perfect is perfect no longer. The relationship between the Creator and the creature is horribly disrupted and the narrative hardly reveals the devastation which resulted from this episode. It is this one incident which determines the nature of our existence from that point forward. This act forever changed all of creation.

Consider the manner in which this story is given to us. The writer records the facts in a simple, straight-forward manner. I have already rehearsed the background for this story. We know that this was a perfect environment; we know that God and man existed in harmony; we know that all of God’s creation was what He intended it to be; and we know that Adam had been given a command that epitomized his relation to God. But into this picture came the deceiver, the enemy of righteousness.

The woman was questioned by the serpent: “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” (v. 1) And the woman captured the essence of the command when she repeated God’s prohibition (v. 2) Clearly she knew that the Creator had forbidden her to eat from that particular tree; she was not ignorant of the law that governed her relationship with God. Nevertheless, instead of ceasing contact with the serpent immediately, she continued and heard these words: “You surely shall not die!” (v. 4)

And, as we know, Eve considered the words of the deceiver and “when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.” (v. 6)

If we ask, “What happened in the Garden of Eden?”, the uncomplicated answer is that the command of God was broken—and this is the fundamental definition of all sin. Perhaps this is why this important event is recorded in such a simple fashion. Perhaps it is so that any child can read this account and understand what happened. God gave a command and it was not obeyed. Anyone can listen to these words and know that Eve and then Adam disobeyed the Creator.

This brings me to a second question: What is the meaning of this event? We get a symbolic answer to this second question in our passage: “7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings. 8 And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.”

Consider how awful it was for the creatures made in God’s image to sense the need to hide themselves from Him! Clearly, something horrible occurred. When they broke God’s commandment, they immediately sensed that what they had done was unnatural; they immediately realized that the peace of the Garden had been disturbed.

For Adam and Eve, the repercussions began with their instant realization that they were transgressors and could no longer appear in God’s presence without shame and guilt. Adam and Eve attempted to avoid confrontation with God because confrontation with God would require them to own up to their disobedience. They did what they could in those circumstances to evade the Lawgiver.

Adam and Eve did what they were forbidden to do and, as a result, their relationship with God was ruined. This is the story of the beginning of our race. From this time forward, Scripture teaches, every descendant of Adam and Eve is conceived in the state of alienation; every descendant is born in that state of estrangement from God. At its core, the action of Adam and Eve was rebellion. They both substituted their will for God’s will; they both ranked their wisdom above the wisdom of God.

We know from later revelation that the transgression of Adam and Eve had a most extreme impact upon their natures. Soon, we are told about the banishment of our first parents from this place of fellowship with God. Life in the Garden meant fellowship with God; it meant that all was right and that all relationships were what they should be. Banishment from the Garden meant just the opposite; it meant that fellowship with God had been broken and that things were not right and all relationships had been adversely affected.

From a blessed existence to a cursed existence; from peace to disorder; from fellowship to antagonism. Now man is at odds with God, now he is God’s enemy, now he struggles under the weight of guilt for having disobeyed. Man comes into existence now with a rebellious heart and throughout his miserable life, he gives continual expression to the corruption of his soul.

This is the doctrine of man’s total depravity. Every facet of his existence, every faculty of his soul, is marred by sin. Depraved man will not and cannot restore what has been lost; he knows only the way of defiance because his soul carries in it the seed of corruption. This is fallen man; this is man before the gospel.

Returning to the Genesis record, we know that something else was said between God’s cursing of the parties involved and the banishment of Adam and Eve from the Garden. When God came to Adam, Eve and the serpent, each party was cursed and bound to live with certain temporal consequences of this incident. And the consequences went well beyond temporal considerations; the very nature of man was affected.

However, following His denunciation of the serpent, the woman and the man, God gave that wonderful promise of a coming restoration: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.” (v. 15) Here is the first indication that God, the One offended, would undertake the rescue of His special creatures.

This is the promise that unfolds throughout the rest of the Bible and throughout the rest of history. This is the first announcement of the gospel and it comes here in Genesis, in the midst of man’s ruin. The gospel that we love and cherish cannot be rightly understood, believed or taught apart from an understanding of its origin. A plan of restoration was necessitated by the events that transpired in the Garden of Eden.

02. The Provision of the Gospel

We have seen what necessitated a plan of redemption; now we can see what God meant by His promise to send a Deliverer. What must be kept in mind is fallen man’s need. Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden, that spot which symbolized fellowship with God and harmony in relationships. After disobeying God, they lacked the quality of moral uprightness, which is defined by God’s character alone.

Man’s need, then, is great; it is almost beyond comprehension. However, God’s provision is also great. The provision of God in the gospel centers upon one concept: substitution. For fallen man to be reconciled to God, two things had to happen: one, fallen man had to render unto God a perfect life and thus do what Adam failed to do; two, fallen man had to provide a payment for his sins. The problem, of course, is that fallen man is incapable of providing what is absolutely necessary for his redemption.

Without going into great detail, let me state that one aspect of man’s total depravity is his inability to do anything about his condition. Man was not just wounded, spiritually speaking, he was killed. A sinner is a walking dead man when it comes to spiritual matters. He can do nothing about his circumstance and does not care to do anything about his circumstance. What, then, is the solution? It is what I mentioned earlier. The solution, the only solution, is substitution.

In his letter to the Colossians, Paul writes: “2:13 And when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, 14 having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” Here is the substitutionary payment for our sins; here is the satisfaction of our debt before God. Notice that Paul reminds us that we were “dead” in our fallen state; however, God made us alive in and with Christ.

Jesus Christ is the provision for our salvation. He is what God had in mind when that glorious promise was made in the midst of the ruin of the Garden of Eden. According to these verses, God was willing to let Jesus Christ take our sin-debt to Himself and bearing it, be nailed to a cross where He gave His blessed life in our place. So great was the quality of that life, Paul teaches, that the debt we owed to God is “taken out of the way.” It is not forgotten nor is it ignored for a time—our sin is paid for by Christ’s sacrifice of Himself in our place.

When Christ paid for our sins, that was one component in our restoration. The second component is something I mentioned already, namely, a righteousness of our own. Having our sins paid for does not, at the same time, make us righteous in the eyes of God. Therefore, a second component in man’s restoration—or the sinner’s justification—is the provision of a righteousness. Once again, let us hear from Paul:

Phil. 3:8… I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ, 9 and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith…

After his conversion, Paul understood that the needed righteousness cannot be earned, but must be imputed. The sinner’s hope is not only that Christ will pay his sin-debt, but also that Christ will credit to the sinner the perfect life He lived while on this earth. Therefore, Paul rejects the notion of self-justification or any idea that the sinner can restore himself. Instead, Paul embraces and teaches the idea that the righteousness that the sinner must have is not his own and cannot come from himself.

The needed righteousness must come from One able to provide it and that One is Jesus Christ. Not only does Christ become our Substitute in His death, He also becomes our Substitute in His life. All that is required of the sinner is supplied by the sinner’s Substitute. Payment for sin is made and righteousness is given and both things are grounded in the Savior.

This brings me to the third point of this sermon, which has to do with an aspect of the gospel that needs to be stressed frequently. Man’s need necessitated a particular provision, which God supplied in Christ. This means that the manner in which fallen man is restored to God’s favor is singular, narrow and restricted.

03. The Exclusivity of the Gospel

By this heading, I mean that there are not many avenues to restoration; there is only one and that is the one designated by the offended Party, namely, the God of this creation. The fact that the way of reconciliation for sinful man might be singular should come as no surprise. Therefore, I will not spend a great deal of time on this third point. Let me refer to a definitive statement made by Paul in 1 Tim. 2: “5 For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony borne at the proper time.”

In the context of these verses, the apostle is urging believers to pray for all who are in authority, regardless of rank. His reasoning is that God would have all classes of men, the rulers and well as the ones ruled, to come to the knowledge of salvation (cf. v. 4). Then Paul makes a restrictive, intolerant declaration: “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”

Two parties are envisioned here, God and fallen man. Standing between the two, as it were, is a Mediator, One who is able to bring the two together. To be more precise given all the Biblical data, this Mediator is bringing the one party, man, to the other, God. It is man who needs reconciliation and this reconciliation is achieved by One and only One Mediator, Jesus Christ. He is the One, Paul notes, “who gave Himself as a ransom” for all men.

The need of men, all men, was determined in the Garden. The singular provision of a Substitute for those in need was determined by God. That provision was His Son and that provision is exclusive in the sense that it is the only provision given and accepted by God. As Paul implies here, if a man is to have fellowship with God, it must be by way of the Mediator, Jesus Christ. The sinner cannot go to God on his own, nor can he devise some way that might gain him access to God’s blessed presence.

What Paul teaches here is repeated throughout Scripture. God promised a Deliverer at the time of Adam’s fall. That promised Deliverer was the focus of all prophecy and expectation. No other means of restoration for fallen man is ever mentioned in God’s word because no other means of restoration exists. God accepts sinners in His Son and only in His Son. Since all men are in a state of condemnation, this means that all men either have Christ as their Mediator, and therefore enjoy God’s saving favor, or they remain in their fallen condition and await the day of God’s wrath.

To all sinners, Christ declares: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.” (John 14:6) This is not a debatable issue! There are sinners and there are saved sinners in this world and the only thing that separates one category from the other is the Substitutionary mediation of Jesus Christ. There are not many gospels, there is only one gospel and this one gospel is from God and makes known to us our need, God’s provision and the exclusive nature of that provision.

Application

One purpose I had in mind in preparing this sermon was to declare the essentials of the Biblical gospel. While much more could have been said about the gospel, I do believe that an outline of the gospel has been presented and in this outline, I have touched upon the primary elements. Explaining the gospel consists of two chief facts: man’s need and God’s provision.

The gospel is a simple message; it is one easily understood by all who hear it. We were in need and God provided what we needed. In a day when the churches of Christ are dabbling in so many things unrelated to the true ministry of the gospel, we would do well to meditate upon the gospel as it is found in the Bible.

Another purpose for this sermon was my desire to “go on record” regarding my own beliefs and the beliefs of this church where the issue of salvation is concerned. What I have related to you is what I believe Scripture teaches. I believe that man is conceived in a state of alienation from God and that his only hope is the substitutionary life and death of Jesus Christ.

Further, I believe that fallen man is incapable of doing or desiring any good whatsoever as far as his restoration is concerned. He is a creature absolutely dependent upon the grace of God. This is what I believe and this is what this church believes, by which I mean that this is the doctrine that we hold and teach.

As I noted, these convictions about the nature of man and the nature of salvation will influence everything you will hear taught from this pulpit in the coming year. You will hear statements indicating our utter dependence upon God in all things; you will hear statements ascribing all glory to God and statements urging complete devotion to God and His holy will.

All these things and more are grounded in what the Bible teaches about our need as fallen creatures and God’s response to our need in Christ. Whether we are talking about salvation or our ethical obligations or our vocations, all that we are to know and do is traced back to man’s fall in the Garden and God’s merciful restoration of man in Christ.

And a final purpose for this sermon was my desire to encourage you to consider anew the glorious work that God has done for us. Let us begin the new year with a fresh perspective on what God has accomplished for us. In connection with this purpose, I want to emphasize to our young people their responsibility to consider the gospel of our salvation. You are privileged to be growing up in an environment in which we all are attempting to serve God and communicate to you the knowledge of the Bible. Understand, however, that the gospel that I have described is just as relevant for you as it is for anyone else.

When the Bible describes the miserable state of fallen man, it is describing your state apart from Christ. When it speaks of the condemnation of all who are descendants of Adam, it is speaking of you. Give thanks to God that He has placed you in the community of believers—this is no small privilege—but also know that you are a sinner and you must own Christ as your Substitute if you are to escape the inevitable end of God’s enemies.

Living in Peace

In my recent Advent devotionals, I have been concentrating on the concept of peace, which is closely associated with the coming of the Savior. This is not the kind of peace we normally think of in this world. This term describes the state of being free of condemnation before God and, therefore, enjoying all of His blessings in this life and the next through His Son, Jesus Christ.

We considered the promise of peace made by the prophet Isaiah in which he describes a cosmic transformation of the nature of this fallen world. And one of the issues on which he concentrates in his prophecy is the piece that Christ will bring to mankind when He arrives. That peace, in fact, will dramatically affect the way in which people treat one another and, in time, have significant influence on the whole human race.

In the second devotional, we looked at the declaration of peace found in Luke’s Gospel. As he reported on the birth of Christ, Luke included a wonderful story about shepherds who were visited by an angel out in the fields one night. The culmination of that announcement, during which the single angel was joined by a myriad of others, was that declaration of peace on earth as a result of the Baby’s recent birth. Once again, the worldwide impact is emphasized in the announcement made by the heavenly beings.

In the third devotional, we looked at the means of peace, also described in Luke’s account. Through an obscure figure, a man named Simeon, and for the first time in the birth narrative, the coming struggle between good and evil, between heaven and hell, was mentioned as this man spoke a short word regarding the future of the Baby Jesus. His coming would result in building up and tearing down, in salvation and condemnation. By declaring the Word of God to the world and offering Himself as a sacrifice for the sins of His people, the Savior would bring about the peace promised by Isaiah in the peace declared by the angels.

Today, we want to look at some statements from Jesus Himself concerning this matter of peace. We’re going to consider one statement made by Him before the cross and one made by Him after the cross.

John 14:27 “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.”

Before commenting on this statement, I want to establish the context. At the end of chapter 13, Jesus has a brief exchange with the apostle Peter. The Savior has indicated to His disciples that He soon will be leaving them. Jesus commands His disciples to distinguish themselves by their love for one another. He declares that “all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (13:35) Peter’s mind, however, seems to be focused on the coming departure of the Lord. Without commenting on the Savior’s admonition regarding love for one another, Peter asked: “Lord, where are You going?” He is told that he cannot follow the Savior, yet Peter insisted, “Lord, why can I not follow You right now? I will lay down my life for you.” At that point, Jesus predicts Peter’s denial that will take place when the Savior is arrested.

This is the background going into chapter 14 where the tone of the Lord’s remarks changed immediately to that of great comfort and encouragement. He knows that His disciples are troubled as they contemplate what He has just revealed to them. He urges them, nevertheless, to remain faithful. And He promises that He will go to prepare a place for them and, one day, receive His disciples to Himself so they might be with Him forever.

As this dialogue continues, Jesus assures His disciples that they are destined to do great things in service to Him and His kingdom. He again asserts the necessity of love manifested between them so that they might prove that they are, indeed, His followers. It is then that Jesus makes them aware of the Helper that will be sent from heaven to dwell with them and enable them to serve honorably and effectively. Immediately after the promise of the Holy Spirit, Jesus speaks the words found in verse 27.

Imagine how anti-climactic this statement from Jesus would be if He were simply referring to peace as the world typically thinks of peace. He is not promising the end of their personal struggles with one another, nor is the Savior promising that they will have a life of political tranquility. He is declaring to the disciples that they will live and serve within the context of a loving and eternal relationship with Him and His Father in heaven. This spiritual peace, as we have seen in previously, is directly tied to the fact that their accounts will be settled with God. They will be able to live out their days knowing that they are part of God’s redeemed family and that truth would provide them with confidence, determination, and purpose. They will be able to do wonderful things, just as Jesus predicted before, because they will be servants of the Most High. They will know His benevolence, mercy, provision, protection, and forgiveness.

With this truth firmly established in their hearts, the disciples could go forth and live triumphantly regardless of obstacles that they might encounter in the days and years to come. No matter what they face, they will be forever secure in the hands of God. Knowledge of this would be the source of contentment and courage as they set forth to build the kingdom of Christ. Nothing they encounter will shake their standing before God and nothing will be able to change the bonds of love between them, the Savior, and the Father, which Jesus will soon attain.

During this past year, how many times has your heart been troubled? How many times have you been fearful due to unpleasant or unexpected circumstances? Listen to what the Savior says after making this promise of peace to His disciples: “Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.” This was not just wishful thinking on Christ’s part. He was not simply trying to rally His troops in light of the coming ordeal of the cross. Jesus is telling His followers that they will know spiritual harmony and they will know the kind of security with God that is based in His sovereign nature and omnipotence. And they will live with this knowledge regardless of what this world throws at them, regardless of what challenges come their way, and regardless of what the enemies of the Savior might threaten or do.

When your heart is troubled, when your heart is fearful, this is where you turn. You turn to these wonderful declarations of our peace with God in Christ Jesus. You turn to these promises made by Jesus Himself before He went to the cross to pay for your sins and to remove the enmity between you and God. The peace that Jesus attained for us is a magnificent gift that we so desperately need to grasp and cherish in this sinful world. We will not escape trials, nor will we escape many painful episodes during our lifetime. But there is nothing, regardless of how painful or ferocious or cleverly designed by our adversary, that can disrupt our peace with God. This is a truth to which we should turn frequently, especially during those times when we grow weary or feel like we are going to be undone even as we attempt to live lives of honor and glory before God.

John 20: 19 So when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 And when He had said this, He showed them both His hands and His side. The disciples then rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”

Once again let’s give our attention to the context of these verses. The 20th chapter of the Gospel of John records the event of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. John begins his report by telling us that Mary Magdalene made her way to the tomb of the Savior early that Sunday morning. While it was still dark, she arrived and discovered that the stone covering the entrance to the burial site had been removed. Mary’s assumption was that someone had taken the body of the Lord. This prompted Peter and John to run to the tomb to investigate what they were been told. They too found that the body of Jesus was no longer there.

Just as Mary explained to two angels that she was weeping because her Lord had been taken away, Jesus appeared before her. At first, Mary did not know it was Jesus, but when He called her by name, she recognized the voice of her Savior and began clinging to Him. After that, Mary made her way to the disciples and announced that she had seen the Lord and that he had sent a message to them, which she repeated. This is where our passage appears. Jesus has been to the cross, has suffered, has surrendered His life for the sake of His people, and has now been raised from the dead in triumph over death itself.

Still coping with the astonishing developments of that Sunday morning, John tells us that toward the end of the day, the disciples had taken refuge and were, in essence, hiding for fear of the Jews. Obviously, the disciples suspected that the Jews might now begin rounding up the followers of Christ, especially if they could use the excuse that these men had stolen the body of Jesus. The boldness and the discernment that will come to characterize these men soon enough is not yet present. But as they pondered recent events, “Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’”

What is the one thing that the frightened disciples needed at that very moment? They needed to have their hearts calmed the by the manifestation of God’s peace. And that is what Jesus announced to them. He had accomplished His mission and the peace that He promised was now theirs to enjoy. How strange it would be to continue in the fear of man when your Savior has just overcome death itself! The disciples needed to hear Jesus make that declaration. They needed to know that He was no longer dead, which meant that no earthly power or spiritual authority could bring Christ into subjection. On the contrary, He has just demonstrated that He has all power and all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, the only acceptable state in which His disciples could now exist was that of peace—peace with God.

Having pronounced peace upon them, the text says that Jesus then “show them both His hands and His side.” He proved to His disciples that He was indeed their Master, the One crucified upon the cross, taken down after giving up His life, and laid in the tomb. That tomb was now empty because He lived again. Realizing that this was, indeed, their risen Lord, the disciples rejoiced, John tells us. Can you comprehend the astonishment that must have filled the heart of the disciples? They must have been gloriously perplexed as they processed the truth of Christ’s victory over death. They must have believed and yet continued to wonder how such a thing could be. Their souls overflowed with gladness even as they continued to gaze upon the Savior in elated amazement.

John tells us that Jesus spoke again: “Peace be with you; as a Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And here we see another dimension of the peace that Christ attained for His disciples. They will soon go forth, not to return to their previous lives, but to continue the work of the Savior. The peace that Christ has established between them and God will now allow them to become His servants on the earth. Because of the atonement, these disciples are fit to become instruments in the hands of God as He continues to reveal His plan of redemption to the world.

Once they were enemies of God and doomed, but now they are children of God and destined to spend eternity in His comfortable presence. That which made such a dramatic alteration of their standing before God was the death and resurrection of Christ, facts that had now been confirmed before their very eyes. Before they faced the wrath of God, but now they will be enveloped in the love of God. Before they were worthless to the cause of truth and righteousness, but now they are going to become the heralds of God’s truth and righteousness.

Let me assure you, that it is no different for you. Because of what Christ did for you, you are no longer at enmity with God, but are now His beloved son or daughter. Because of what Christ did for you, you are no longer unable and unwilling to serve God, but are now able and eager to honor God with all your mind and all your strength. Because Jesus has made peace between you and God, you not only can serve Him, but you can serve His purposes for the rest of your days. Jesus took that which was dead and gave it life. Jesus took that which was spiritually corrupted and made it pure. Jesus took that which had no use in the kingdom of God and made it a precious treasure in the eyes of the King. That is what Jesus did for you and that is the truth in which you must ground your thinking day after day so that you are not undone by self-doubt or criticism or failure or fear.

Do not live a life full of apprehension, live a life characterized by confidence. Do not live a life that is unsteady and wavering, live a life that manifests stability and certainty. In other words, as you continue through this season of commemorating the birth of our Savior, commit yourself to a life grounded in daily evidences of that which He secured for us, even eternal peace with God.

The Means of Peace

This is the third study in my Advent Devotionals. First, I examined The Promise of Peace as presented by Isaiah; second, I looked at the Declaration of Peace, as recorded by Luke in his account of the shepherds visited by the angels; and now, I consider The Means of Peace, also found in Luke’s account of the birth of Christ.

In a recent study, I mentioned that one of the primary themes associated with the coming of Christ is peace. We considered one of Isaiah’s prophecies in which he said the Child to come would bring peace, restoration, and reconciliation to the whole world. In another devotional, we looked at a passage in Luke’s Gospel in which angels announced the birth of that Child; and one of the truths they emphasized was the arrival of peace in the Person of the Savior. In fact, everything associated with the birth of Christ carries this same encouraging tone—peace, relief, return to God, forgiveness of sins, and hope. Both before He came and after He was born, the Savior’s arrival was interpreted as the dawning of an age of peace and gladness.

After finding the Child and relating their experience, the last thing we read about the shepherds in Luke’s account is that they went on their way “glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen.” (2:20) And this is where Luke jumps ahead a week in his report and records that the Baby was given the name “Jesus,” according to the instructions of the angel who visited Mary. In our retelling and rehearsals, this is where the recounting of the Savior’s birth often stops.

At this point, all who know of the Savior’s birth are thankful and happy. But there is a bit of news about to be introduced into this story and it will completely change the tone. Some news is going to be announced that will require people to rethink the future and the ultimate reason for this Child’s birth.

In vv. 21 and following, we find Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus coming to the temple where they encounter a man named Simeon.

Luke 2:21 And when eight days had passed, before His circumcision, His name was then called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb. 22 And when the days for their purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “EVERY firstborn MALE THAT OPENS THE WOMB SHALL BE CALLED HOLY TO THE LORD “), 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what was said in the Law of the Lord, “A PAIR OF TURTLEDOVES OR TWO YOUNG PIGEONS.” 25 And there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.

Simeon was a Jew who faithfully attended to his religious duties. He is introduced in such a manner that his spiritual devotion is highlighted. (v. 25) Notice that Luke says that the “Holy Spirit was upon [Simeon].” This statement is made of few people in the Bible. The fact that it is made of this rather obscure figure in Luke 2 is intriguing. Simeon obviously walked with God and knew fellowship with God. In the plan of God, Simeon had one primary task to perform and that task was associated with the birth of the Messiah. Simeon was appointed to make a declaration that would provide balance to the world’s understanding of the Messiah’s mission. He is going to speak words that point to something else that is to come, something beyond the birth of the Messiah.

Given this description of Simeon, we are not surprised to hear that he was concerned for the spiritual condition of his people. Luke writes that Simeon “was looking for the consolation of Israel.” This phrase has a particular meaning; at that point in history, it referred to the redemption that would come with the dawning of the Messianic era. The “consolation” would be the Messiah’s arrival and rescue of the Jews. This brief statement tells us that the chief desire of Simeon’s life was to see the arrival of God’s promised Redeemer. He was one of the devoted Jews who continued to believe God’s promise of a Deliverer. He hoped it would come in his day, of course, and so it did.

The most unusual element of this story is revealed when Luke tells us that “it had been revealed to [Simeon] by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” (v. 26) Simeon knew, therefore, that the Messiah would appear soon; he knew for certain that the redemption for which his people had waited was about to be manifested. We have no idea how long before this event Simeon had received this information. We can be sure, however, that his life had been affected by it.

At the time when Joseph and Mary came to the Temple, Simeon was moved by the Spirit to enter as well:

27 And he came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to carry out for Him the custom of the Law, 28 then he took Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said, 29 “Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace, According to Your word; 30 For my eyes have seen Your salvation, 31 Which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 A LIGHT OF REVELATION TO THE GENTILES, And the glory of Your people Israel.” 33 And His father and mother were amazed at the things which were being said about Him. 34 And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed– 35 and a sword will pierce even your own soul– to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

This was, of course, a Divinely-arranged encounter and the purpose of this encounter, as I indicated, was so that an announcement might be made that would complete the prophesied picture of the Messiah’s ministry. Simeon, as I noted, is going to reveal an aspect of Christ’s ministry that is emphasized elsewhere, is certainly discernible when we consider Christ’s work, but which is, nevertheless, frequently overlooked when it comes to commemorating the Messiah’s arrival. This announcement has to do with how this Savior will bring peace to the earth. Isaiah promised the peace, the angels announced the peace to the shepherds, but so far, the means of that peace, or how that peace will be achieved, has not been revealed.

It appears that Simeon recognized the child of Joseph and Mary as the promised Messiah. Luke records that Simeon took the boy into his arms, blessed God and began to praise Him (v. 28). The very issue that had occupied Simeon’s thoughts and prayers, that being the consolation of his people, now had become the focal point of human history with the arrival of the Christ-Child.

Having taken the Child into his arms and having realized that this was the Messiah that God promised and that the people of God had looked for throughout their history, Simeon declares that he now is ready to depart from this world because God had fulfilled His promise and his eyes had seen the Christ (v. 29). As God’s servant he had witnessed the arrival of the Savior. He was ready to rest in death assured that redemption had come.

Luke tells us about the reaction of Mary and Joseph; they were “amazed at the things which were being said about [Jesus]” (v. 33) As had happened before, they heard unusual remarks made about their Baby. Simeon understood the advent of the Messiah as a glorious event for which he offered praise to God. The things that he had said up to this point caused joyful amazement in the hearts of Joseph and Mary. However, Simeon’s tone changes and he paints a distressing picture of Christ’s destiny. From Simeon’s perspective, not only did the Messiah’s birth mark the beginning of salvation, it also signaled the beginning of turmoil: “Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed—and a sword will pierce even your own soul—to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” (vv. 34, 35)

Earlier, I referred to the prophecy of Isaiah. That prophet predicted that a revolutionary process would take place in the world. He said it would begin with the birth of this Child. The world would come under His increasing dominion until He ruled over the whole earth, the prophet taught. Obviously, the coming of the Messiah represented a disruption of sin’s dominion and influence in this world. This disruption and realignment would, by necessity, involve human beings and would mean that their lives would be disturbed, to put it mildly. This aspect of the Messiah’s coming is what Simeon mentions in his last few words.

Simeon declares, “This Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel; and for a sign to be opposed…” (v. 34) The coming of the Messiah manifested the love of God as His plan of redemption continued to unfold, but it also marked the beginning of a process of separation. Some in Israel would be attracted to the Messiah while others would reject Him. Christ would be the cause of a division in the nation and, ultimately, of course, in mankind.

What Simeon predicted is precisely what has unfolded in history. Some have found forgiveness and everlasting life in Jesus, and others have encountered condemnation and everlasting death. There is no neutrality where Jesus Christ is concerned. The Scripture plainly declares that “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” (John 3:36) For some, therefore, the arrival of the Messiah meant condemnation.

This is Simeon’s message in Luke 2. The coming of the Messiah meant joy, of course, for those who longed for His coming and for those who had remained faithful to God; but the coming of the Messiah meant judgment for others who took pleasure in sin. Without Jesus, the day when we all stand before God to take responsibility for our lives will be a day of absolute horror. To stand in the pure light of Deity without Jesus to shield you will scorch a man down to the very center of his soul. No one will escape and no one, except those standing with Jesus, will receive mercy.

That elderly man was predicting that some men would oppose God’s Messiah and work against Him. What Jesus Christ represented and what He had to say would cause many to despise Him. He would cause the true intent of men’s hearts to be revealed. For the first time in the birth narrative, the coming struggle and suffering of Jesus Christ are mentioned. The fact that these elements are mentioned even at the birth of the Christ-Child emphasizes that a significant portion of His ministry would be concerned with disrupting mankind.

Simeon concludes his remarks with a special word for Mary: “and a sword will pierce even your own soul—to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” (v. 35) She would experience deep sorrow over the treatment given to her Son. His coming would cause there to be a revelation of the hearts of all. As we know from a later Biblical record, Mary did, indeed, live to see her Son hated and rejected and nailed to a cross upon which He died.

We know that the Messiah has come. All of the prophecies made concerning Christ’s arrival have been fulfilled and we are living in the days envisioned by the prophets. The coming of the Christ no longer is a promise, it is an accomplished fact of history. His work in this world has begun and the Church is evidence of the progression of that work. The coming of the Messiah means salvation. It means that a payment for our sin has been made and we are reconciled to God. These truths are cause for excitement, optimism, and thanksgiving. Give thanks to God for your salvation even as you pray for the world to embrace the Savior.

If you have a hymnal handy, you might enjoy the following short study I put together for Christmas Eve.

 

Isa 9:6 For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah gives us an amazing description of the nature of the Child who is to come. He will have an authority that will encompass all rule, all dominions. He will mean light to a sin-darkened world and He will bring order to a world thrown into moral chaos by the fall. Then the prophet lists names/titles that describe what this coming One will be to mankind.

This description should be kept in mind when we think of Christ’s work today and when we consider what the future holds for the work of the Savior through His Church.

Isaiah 40:1-5  “Comfort, O comfort My people,” says your God.  2 “Speak kindly to Jerusalem; And call out to her, that her warfare has ended, That her iniquity has been removed, That she has received of the LORD’S hand Double for all her sins.”  3 A voice is calling, “Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness; Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.  4 “Let every valley be lifted up, And every mountain and hill be made low; And let the rough ground become a plain, And the rugged terrain a broad valley;  5 Then the glory of the LORD will be revealed, And all flesh will see it together; For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

This passage comes at the beginning of Isaiah’s extended commentary on the Servant of God. Chapter 40 marks a point of transition in which the prophet’s primary focus is on Christ, rather than Israel. This Servant will do what Israel as God’s servant failed to do.

The hymn Comfort, Comfort Ye My People is based on Isaiah 40:1-5. Many of the prophecies from this point in Isaiah express consolation and hope that Judah’s exile in Babylon is almost over. Isaiah 40: 1-5 is a passage with words of comfort that forecast a new reign. The passage also calls for preparation or repentance in light of what God is going to do.

The author of this hymn is Johannes Olearius (b. Halle, Germany, 1611; d. 1684). The hymn was written in honor of John the Baptist and published it in 1671. It was part of a collection of 1200 hymns, 300 of which were written by Olearius. Olearius came from a family with several Lutheran theologians. After his education, he was ordained as a Lutheran pastor himself. Although Olearius wrote a commentary on the entire Bible and a number of devotional books, he is best remembered for his hymn collection.

Micah 5:2 But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity. 3 Therefore, He will give them up until the time when she who is in labor has borne a child. Then the remainder of His brethren will return to the sons of Israel. 4 And He will arise and shepherd His flock In the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD His God. And they will remain, because at that time He will be great to the ends of the earth. 5 And this One will be peace.

Other prophets, such as Micah, supply details regarding the circumstances of the Messiah’s birth. Roughly 700 years before the event, Micah foretold the place of the Savior’s birth; and he says something about the beneficial effect of His coming. The people of God will begin to be united under Him and He will be great and He will be peace—peace with God and peace among men.

The hymn O Little Town of Bethlehem was written by Phillips Brooks in 1868. At one point, he spent a Christmas Eve in Bethlehem at the Church of the Nativity, which made a tremendous impression on Brooks. Three years later, while pastor of the Holy Trinity Church in Philadelphia, Brooks was searching for a new carol for his children to sing in their Sunday School Christmas program. He then wrote the words of this hymn. The church organist, Lewis H. Redner, was asked to compose a melody that children could sing easily. On the evening before the program, Redner came forward with the tune that has become most familiar. He claimed that he was awakened from sleep with the turn running through his head.

What is predicted and described in the Old Testament is fulfilled at the time of the birth of Jesus Christ. This event is recorded at length by Matthew and Luke.

Matt. 1:18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows. When His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. 19 And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her, desired to put her away secretly. 20 But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for that which has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins.” 22 Now all this took place that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying, 23 “BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD, AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL,” which translated means, “GOD WITH US.”

“Jesus” is the Greek equivalent of “Joshua,” which means “Jehovah saves.” This is the designation given by the angel to Joseph. Jesus would be God the Savior in human flesh. The angel declared that the birth of Jesus was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy that Immanuel (“God with us”) would come.

The hymn O come, O come, Emmanuel originated in the medieval Church of the 12th century. It began as a series of Antiphons—short “back and forth” statements sung as part of worship services during the Advent season. Each of the statements uses one of the many titles ascribed to Christ in the Scriptures. Today, most hymn books have only five statements, although there were more in earlier versions of the song.

Luke 2:1 ff. (Luke narrates the birth of Jesus) 8 And in the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields, and keeping watch over their flock by night.9 And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. 10 And the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people; 11 for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths, and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

Luke, of course, tells us the most about the birth of the Savior. In this passage, he describes the appearance of angels to a group of shepherds outside Bethlehem. To these ordinary men the announcement came of the birth of the One who would perfectly exemplify meekness and self-sacrifice.

The hymn While Shepherds Watched was written by Nahum Tate in 1700. This hymn is one of the most popular ever written. It is found in nearly every Protestant hymnal. It is a simple narrative account about the shepherds and is written on a level that allows it to be easily understood. The music for the hymn was adapted from a work of Handel.

Luke goes on to say: 15 And it came about when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they came in haste and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. 17 And when they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child.

Silent Night was authored by Joseph Mohr who, according to his own testimony, intended to write “the perfect Christmas hymn.” The church organist, Franz Gruber, supplied the tune in time for a Christmas Eve service in 1818. The first performance of this song involved both Mohr and Gruber singing, while Gruber also played the guitar.

Our last selection, also reflecting the significance of the words of the angel to the shepherds, is Joy to the World, written by Isaac Watts. Watts said he did not intend this song to be a Christmas carol. Rather, it was a part of a work in which Watts paraphrased the message of many of the Psalms that spoke of the day of the Messiah’s reign.

 

One of the most interesting periods in history, I believe, is the period of silence between the close of Old Testament revelation and the incarnation, at which point revelation continued. After giving so much information about the coming Savior, information about His character and accomplishments, God stopped speaking. As just indicated, the last prophet to speak before this silence commenced was Malachi.

The people of Malachi’s day were steeped in sin. Some of the most serious charges ever made by God against wayward people are found in the book of Malachi. God accuses them of robbery—they were robbing God by withholding His tithe; perversion of justice—they were calling evil good; mistreatment of the needy—they were taking advantage of the poor and defenseless among them; showing contempt for God—they were offering to Him blemished animals in their sacrifices. And, in the midst of it all, God tells them He knows what they are thinking; they are thinking that God didn’t care about their wicked behavior or despicable lack of regard for Him. But they were wrong.

To say that the sin of Israel had been costly would be a massive understatement. The visitation of God’s covenant curses had decimated the nation, that nation that once had such a glorious future. About 100 years before the time of Malachi, the people had returned from the Babylonian captivity. Eventually, under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah, the temple and city walls of Jerusalem had been rebuilt. But instead of gratefully and humbly living out their lives in service to Jehovah, the people continued their unfaithful ways.

When Malachi came upon the scene, the people were far from God in heart, in devotion, and in faith. The time for God to exhort Israel to obedience and the days when He would patiently receive them back after periods of rebellion were coming to an end. One of the last things they hear, however, has to do with that message that has been given again and again, that promise of God upon which the nation was founded, the promise that the majority of the people counted as insignificant. The last words spoken to them are about God’s intention to save our race from the misery of sin:

3:1 “Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming,” says the LORD of hosts. 2 “But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. 3 He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to the LORD offerings in righteousness. 4 Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years. 5 Then I will draw near to you for judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers and against the adulterers and against those who swear falsely, and against those who oppress the wage earner in his wages, the widow and the orphan, and those who turn aside the alien and do not fear Me,” says the LORD of hosts.

Interestingly, although he is speaking of the coming day of the Messiah, this prophet focuses attention for the first time on another character—not the Messiah Himself, but one who will appear at the time of the Messiah to serve as a herald of the Savior’s arrival. Speaking through Malachi, the LORD describes one He calls “My messenger.” The task of this messenger will be to “clear the way” before the LORD. We know, of course, since we have additional information, that this messenger is John the Baptist, the man who preached repentance to the Jews and called them to prepare themselves for Christ’s arrival.

In reference to the coming of God in the flesh, the LORD asks: “But who can endure the day of His coming?” This question sets the mood for what follows, which is a warning that the Messiah will come to purify the people of God; His arrival will mean judgment. He is not coming to accept the people as they are, but to make them into what they should be—and that is part of the wonderful story of our salvation

The people of Judah and Jerusalem, which is a way of describing those who follow the LORD in the day of the Messiah, will be made pleasing to Him once again (v. 4). The Messiah will ensure the acceptability before God of all who are found with Him. Those who break God’s laws, however, will have every reason to fear, the LORD adds (v. 5).

So, Malachi is the last to speak and his message is both encouraging and disturbing. As I noted already, after this, there is silence from God. And this silence was not short in duration. It lasted for more than 400 years. The faithful and unfaithful alike who were alive with Malachi went to their graves with those final words of the LORD ringing in their ears.

The Jews of Malachi’s day were under the authority of the Persians who had conquered the Babylonians, the ones used by God initially to disperse His people in response to their unfaithfulness. For the first 60 years of this period of silence, the Jews remained under Persian rule. Then, as Daniel had predicted many years before, the Greeks, under the leadership of Alexander the Great, subdued the Persians. Eventually, the Jews came under the Syrians who were the political descendants of one of Alexander’s generals. The Syrians took over Judea and the region was divided into various provinces, including Judea, Samaria, and Galilee. This period of Syrian rule was one of much calamity for the Jews.

Antiochus the Great, the leader of the Syrians at the beginning of this period, was harsh in his treatment of the Jews, but his successor, Antiochus Epiphanes began a campaign of terror against them. In 170 BC, Antiochus marched on Jerusalem under the pretense of quieting various Jewish factions He promptly destroyed the city and committed unspeakable acts against the Jews. Thousands were killed; women and children were sold into slavery. The temple was invaded and the Holy of Holies desecrated. Jewish religion was outlawed and a foreign governor was appointed. All copies of the Law that were found were burned or otherwise mutilated; those in whose possession copies of the Law were found were executed. After offering a pig on the altar of God, Antiochus erected on that spot a statue in honor of the pagan god, Jupiter Olympius.

If we understand the significance of the temple and the Holy of Holies within the temple, then we understand the stunning implications of this event. The temple represented the presence of God in Israel; the Holy of Holies was the place where He appeared to the high priests. God has left His people. This event, like few other events ever could, signaled the breach between God and His covenant people. The year was 168 B.C., and still, no word from God.

Three years later, a resistance movement emerged under the capable leadership of Judas Maccebeus, or Judas “the hammer.” The movement grew and, in time, Jerusalem was retaken from the Syrians, the temple was refurnished and on the 25th of December, three years to the day after Antiochus sacrificed that pig on the altar of God, the sacrifices of the Jews were offered once again. This resistance movement, however, was greatly hampered by fighting between the orthodox Jews who wished to preserve their heritage and those who wished to continue the assimilation of the Jews into the surrounding culture. In time, the Maccabean family died out and a rival family, the Herods, moved into a position of power. The Herods secured the support of the Romans who were, at this time, conquering that territory. From 63 B.C. onward, the Romans were in control. The Jews had passed from under the authority of the Persians to the Greeks, and from the Greeks to the Syrians, and from the Syrians to the Romans.

In about 3 B.C., Herod the Great died and his son, Herod Antipas, became king over the region in which the Jews lived. Now, God began to speak once again:

Luke 1:5 In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord. 7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both advanced in years. 8 Now it happened that while he was performing his priestly service before God in the appointed order of his division, 9 according to the custom of the priestly office, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And the whole multitude of the people were in prayer outside at the hour of the incense offering. –by the way, let me note here that the people had been taught to pray for the Messiah during this particular incense offering– 11 And an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense. 12 Zacharias was troubled when he saw the angel, and fear gripped him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John. 14 You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. 15 For he will be great in the sight of the Lord; and he will drink no wine or liquor, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb. 16 And he will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God. 17 It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, TO TURN THE HEARTS OF THE FATHERS BACK TO THE CHILDREN, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

In this familiar story, we are told about Zacharias and Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptist. Elizabeth and Zacharias are introduced as “both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly” before Him (v. 6). This phrase does not mean that they were without sin; it means that they were true worshipers of Jehovah. We also are told that they were childless and “advanced in years.” (v. 7) Luke means to indicate that although they wanted children, Elizabeth was barren and, at this point in their lives, the two were beyond the time of having offspring. Luke states further that Zacharias was chosen to perform a particular act during temple worship (vv. 8, 9). He was to enter the temple and offer the incense that was associated with both the morning and evening sacrifices. The interesting element here is that there were so many qualified priests at this time, that a man had an opportunity to perform this task only once in his lifetime.

We know what happened while Zacharias was in the temple. An angel of the Lord revealed that he soon would become a father (vv. 11 ff). This child, the angel explains, “will be great in the sight of the Lord.” (v. 15) And the angel applies to this child the prophecy of Malachi, that prophecy we just considered—those words that were among the last spoken by the LORD before His voice fell silent (vv. 16, 17). That prophecy, you’ll remember, told of a figure who will appear just before the Messiah, and his task would be to announce the Savior’s coming. Here, the angel adds that this messenger “will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God.” This quotes from the very end of Malachi’s book where the LORD again emphasizes the ministry of the coming Messiah.

Now that the silence is broken, the news that had been anticipated for so many generations is being broadcast by God to His servants. For over 400 years, God had said nothing, but now He is speaking again and what He is saying is the most wonderful message our race could hear. The day of redemption has arrived; the day of the Messiah, promised in the Garden of Eden and longed for by the faithful, is dawning.

Elizabeth conceived and gave birth; Zacharias, having been made deaf and dumb by the angel, insisted that the boy be called “John.” His ability to communicate was restored and we are told that “Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied.” His words are found in Luke 1:68-79. For four centuries, the people of God have had no communication, no assurance that God would keep that promise He made, no revelation telling them to remain hopeful. But now the Spirit moves upon Zacharias in the same way He did upon the prophets of the Old Testament. Their words were the words the Spirit wanted communicated and the same is true in this instance.

As he begins, Zacharias blesses the Lord God of Israel because the birth of his son meant that God was coming to visit His people and accomplish their redemption (v. 68). Zacharias believed that the birth of John means God is worthy to be praised—not just because John is born, but because of what is going to happen in connection with John’s birth. Additionally, two things stand out in this prophecy. First, Zacharias ties together many of the ideas and themes that are part of the story of redemption from Adam through Isaiah. The overall theme, of course, is mentioned immediately: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people.” This is what the promise given by God was all about for those many centuries. God promised to save the faithful and deliver them from sin.

Zacharias says, the Lord “has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of David His servant.” (v. 69) This is a common metaphor in the Old Testament. It is a symbol of power and victory. In this case, Zacharias is connecting the birth of John to the Messianic prophecies concerning the house of David. The Messiah would be a descendant of David and would come to occupy David’s throne to rule over the people of God. In vv. 70-75, he refers to God’s previous promises of redemption spoken through the prophets. The events unfolding had been foretold long ago and had been anticipated by the faithful. Above all, as Zacharias says, the coming of the Messiah would mean that we would be able to serve God without fear, serve Him in holiness and righteousness all our days. This is what the faithful longed to see generation after generation; they lived for this day, they prayed for this day, they knew that the day of the Messiah would mean salvation for the world.

The second element that stands out in this prophecy is the specific information given about John, the son of Zacharias. After tying together many of the Messianic strands in his prophesy, Zacharias adds information not yet given. The ministry of John would be unique among all the prophets who ever spoke for the LORD. He is the last prophet to appear before the Messiah, who Himself is God’s final Prophet. John will be “the prophet of the Most High” and he will “go on before the Lord to prepare His ways.” (v. 76) Zacharias shows the association between John’s coming ministry and that of Christ when he says that John will “give to the people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of sins.” (v. 77) John will declare to the people that the way of redemption has come and that in Jesus Christ, there is forgiveness and reconciliation—the very things needed by fallen man.

Notice how Zacharias closes his prophecy: the Messiah will come “to shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (v. 79) This is a partial quote from Isa. 9 where that prophet characterized the people as being in spiritual darkness. So John’s ministry would be to announce that the One spoken of in such prophecies had come and with Him had come deliverance from the darkness of sin.

Here again we see how the message of hope has been one. John would not predict the Messiah’s coming, like all his brethren before him, he would announce that their predictions were realized and now the time had come to receive the Messiah, not just long for Him; now the time had come to embrace Him instead of hoping for Him; now, that which had been the focus of attention throughout history was a reality. God was no longer silent, but had come in the flesh and was preparing to save His people.

From this story of the breaking of God’s silence, we should come to an important realization: God does not ignore sin. This is one of the ironies of this season. Much of the world is celebrating its condemnation. If Christ has come, it means that sin is real and the fall of our race is real and our condemnation before God is real and our alienation from God is real. For those not found in the Savior, His arrival means judgment. His coming means deliverance for those who love Him, but just as assuredly means judgment for those who do not embrace Him.

Throughout history people have often mistaken the supposed silence of God to indicate that He is not there or, if there, cares little about the behavior of those on the earth. When God is not speaking or striking down His enemies, the wicked assume there is no accountability. They ridicule those who warn them about the coming day of judgment. Christians alone have reason to celebrate. The coming of Christ meant our deliverance from condemnation, not our confirmation in condemnation. Keep this in mind as you interact with people this season. Spend some extra time, perhaps, praying for the salvation of a friend or relative.