December 16, 2012
Sermon, Third Sunday in Advent
God Is Faithful
Psalm 99, Jeremiah 1:4-19, Luke 1:57-80
Third Sunday in Advent
December 16, 2012
On the first Sunday in Advent we looked at verses in Luke's Gospel that tell of Zechariah in the Temple. Confronted with the message of God through the angel Gabriel, he was told a son would be born to Elizabeth; a miraculous child who would do wonderful things in the service of God. I said that we miss the point of the story when we focus on the people, for it is what God is doing that is the point of the story. I also said one of the things we see in the passage is that God has a plan. Today's reading in Luke takes us to the birth of Elizabeth's son; the fulfillment of God's promise to Zechariah. I want to draw two points from the passage.
First, God's plan comes to pass. In more theological language we would say there is an unseen hand that guides events and people, such that history is actually the unfolding of the plan of God. Isaiah, the prophet of Advent, shows the truth of this. In the fourteenth chapter he writes of the coming destruction of Assyria. His words make it clear that Assyria's fall is not just something God knows about because He knows the future; it is something that will happen because God has purposed it. It will happen according to God's plan. Isaiah 14:24 says, "The Lord of hosts hath sworn saying, Surely as I have thought, so shall it come to pass; and as I have purposed, so shall it stand." Again He says in Isaiah 46:9-10, "I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure."
If what God plans comes to pass, we need to know what His plan is, and how we fit into it. I think there is probably no passage in Scripture that expresses this as well and succinctly as Ephesians 1:3-12. The heart of the passage is verses 9 and 10, which, after stating that God made known to us the mystery of His will, "according to his good pleasure which He hath purposed in Himself," says, "That in the dispensation of the fullness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ." God's plan is, and has always been, to gather all things together in Christ. This is the purpose for which God created all things. This is the plan laid before the foundation of the world. This is the purpose for which the Lamb of God was slain.
We see God's plan unfolding in the Old Testament. He announced it in the Garden. The Saviour will come. The devil will bruise His heel, but He will bruise the devil's head. From the Garden God moved toward calling and separating to Himself a people through whom the Saviour will be born. We see God's plan unfolding in the call Abraham; "in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed" (Gen. 12:2). We see God's plan unfolding in the rise of Israel, the Temple, the Law, and the prophets, all looking and pointing ahead to "the Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world." Isaiah gives some of the best known Old Testament pictures of it; "a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel" (Is. 7:14). "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way;and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all" (Is. 53:6). One of the fullest Old Testament statements is found in Isaiah 2:1-4:
"And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow into it. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us his ways, and we will walk in his paths; for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more."
In the New Testament we see the birth and ministry of the Saviour. He is the One whose day Abraham saw and rejoiced; the One of whom Moses wrote. He is the One whose sacrifice accomplishes the redemption and purification of His people. He is the One who ascended into Heaven, and will come again to judge the quick and the dead, to bring into completion the new heaven and new earth. When God is ready, He will bring to completion His plan. All who oppose Him will be cast into the lake of fire. All the redeemed will be finally and fully gathered together under Christ and in Christ forever. You and I fit into this plan in one of two ways. We are either among those who oppose God, and whose end is the lake of fire; or we are among those who are with God through faith, whose end is to be in Him forever. Here is what makes the difference. Those in Christ have trusted Christ to save them. They have seen their sin and their unworthiness, yet believe Christ died to pay for their sins and to give them forgiveness and peace with God forever.
The second point I want to draw from our reading in Luke is simply this; God keeps His promises. Looking back at Luke 1:13 we see a promise, Elizabeth will bear a son. In verses 15-17 we read that he, will be great in the eyes of the Lord, filled with the Holy Spirit from the womb, will go before the Lord in the spirit of Elijah, and will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord.
What do we find in Luke 1:57? "Now Elizabeth's full time came that she should be delivered; and she brought forth a son." In verses 60 and 63 his parents are emphatic, "he shall be called John." In verse 76 we read that he is the prophet of the Highest, who prepares the way of the Lord. In verse 80 we see, "the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, and was in the deserts til the day of his showing unto Israel." God keeps His promises.
Yet, as important as it is to see God keeping His promise to Zechariah, it is even more important to see the birth of John as part of the fulfillment of a far greater Promise; a Promise which fulfills all the promises of God in the Bible. God promised a Saviour. God promised One would come who would save His people from their sins, and who would complete the plan of bringing all things together in God. The message of John is this; the Saviour is Coming. God keeps His promises.