Advent – Prepare to Meet Your God ~ 20111204 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~

12/04 Advent – God comes in judgment; prepare to meet your God

We are in the season of Advent, traditionally the four weeks leading up to Christmas. Advent is a Latin word that means 'coming.' This is a time for reflection, reflection on the First Advent, or the coming of God into the world in the person of Jesus, the baby born of the virgin. It is also a time for us to anticipate and prepare for the Second Advent, the second coming of Christ in power and glory when he returns to rule in righteousness. Last week, Tyrone served you well by turning your eyes toward Jesus in worship. For the next few weeks, I would like to continue to focus our attention on Jesus by looking at different aspects of who he is.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor and martyr under Hitler's regime, wrote as Christmastime of what he called an un-Christmas-like idea:

When the old Christendom spoke of the coming again of the Lord Jesus, it always thought first of all of a great day of judgment. And as un-Christmas-like as this idea may appear to us, it comes from early Christianity and must be taken with utter seriousness. The coming of God is truly not only a joyous message but is, first, frightful news for anyone who has a conscience. And only when we have felt the frightfulness of the matter can we know the incomparable favor. God comes in the midst of evil, in the midst of death, and judges the evil in us and in the world, and in judging it he loves us, he purifies us, he sanctifies us, he comes to us with his grace and love. He makes us happy as only children can be happy. We have become so accustomed to the idea of divine love and of God's coming at Christmas that we no longer feel the shiver of fear that God's coming should arouse in us. We are indifferent to the message, taking only the pleasant and agreeable out of it and forgetting the serious aspect: that the God of the world draws near to the people of our little earth and lays claim to us.” [Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Coming of Jesus in our Midst (from God is in the Manger, week 1 day 4; audiobook MP3 track 5)]

In preparation for Christmas, I want to look soberly at this aspect of God's Advent; the issue of our sin in the light of God's presence. Christmas is all about Jesus, and Jesus is Emmanuel - God with us, but we are sinners and God is just, so God's presence with us is a terrifying prospect. If what Bonhoeffer said is true, and I believe it is, that 'only when we have felt the frightfulness of the matter can we know the incomparable favor', then a serious look at the terrifying prospect of God's presence will actually serve to increase our real joy this holiday season.

John and Malachi: Prepare to Meet Your God

Let's start by looking at the ministry of John. It was prophesied to John's father Zechariah that:

Luke 1:16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, 17 and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”

John's mission was to prepare people for the coming of the Lord. Our Lord Jesus pointed back to his cousin John as the fulfillment of this Old Testament prophecy:

Luke 7:27 This is he of whom it is written, “‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’

John's role is to prepare people for the coming of God. Jesus is quoting from Malachi 3, the last book of the Old Testament. Let's look at that passage together to get the big picture:

Malachi 3:1 “Behold, I send my messenger and he will prepare 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 refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the LORD. 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. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the LORD of hosts. 6 “For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.

The God of the Old Testament is speaking in the first person. He says “I send my messenger and he will prepare the way before me.” God is coming to visit his people. His people must be prepared. And he asks the question “who can endure the day of his coming and who can stand when he appears?” Then he says “I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against... [those who] do not fear me, says the LORD of hosts.” John's message was a message of repentance (Mt.3:2,8,11; Mr.1:4,15; Lk.3:3,8). 'You are sinners and you need to turn away from your sin and turn back to the Lord.' John said things like this:

Matthew 3:7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 10 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Those harsh words are about Jesus!

Amos: Prepare to Meet Your God!

As I was reading in Amos, these words caught my attention: “Prepare to meet your God, O Israel!” I stopped to look back at the context, and I found God claiming to send famine and drought and blight and mildew with the repeated refrain “yet you did not return to me declares the LORD” He continues:

Amos 4:10 “I sent among you a pestilence after the manner of Egypt; I killed your young men with the sword, and carried away your horses, and I made the stench of your camp go up into your nostrils; yet you did not return to me,” declares the LORD. 11 “I overthrew some of you, as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and you were as a brand plucked out of the burning; yet you did not return to me,” declares the LORD. 12 “Therefore thus I will do to you, O Israel; because I will do this to you, prepare to meet your God, O Israel!” 13 For behold, he who forms the mountains and creates the wind, and declares to man what is his thought, who makes the morning darkness, and treads on the heights of the earth–– the LORD, the God of hosts, is his name!

Because Israel refused to pay attention to all of God's warnings and refused to return to him, God would come to them in judgment. This is a terrible prospect: meeting the God who created all things, who has repeatedly threatened and warned and invited, yet you did not return to me; meeting this God in judgment is a terrifying thought.

Making Good News Good

This is what makes the good news so good! Jesus said:

Luke 5:32 I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

Jesus did not come for those who do not feel the weight of their sin. Those content with their own righteousness will meet the full force of God's wrath against their arrogant self sufficient pride. Jesus came to bring hope to those who knew how desperately short they fall of God's perfect standard. This is why the Bible talks about repentance as a gift (Acts 5:31; 11:18; 2Tim.2:25). It is a gift for me to recognize my own self justifying self sufficient pride in my own goodness as sin that I need to repent of (Heb.6:1). It is God the Holy Spirit that convicts me of my sin (Jn.16:8; 1Thess.1:5) and my need for a Savior. When I come like the tax collector in Jesus' story and cry 'God be merciful to me, a sinner!' then I am accepted.

Luke 18:9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

The Beauty of the Cross - Justification

Justified. This sinner went down to his house justified. This is a legal declaration. God the judge declares this sinner not guilty. This is a problem – how can God justify the ungodly (Rom.4:5)? How can God justify by his grace as a gift (Rom.3:24); how can God justify apart from works of the law (Rom.3:28); how can God be just and the justifier of him who has faith in Jesus (Rom.3:26)? This is what makes the cross so beautiful! We can be 'justified by his grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood … to show God's righteousness' (Rom.3:24-25). Jesus' death on the cross is my redemption – he paid the debt I owe in full. Jesus' death on the cross is propitiation – he absorbed and satisfied the just wrath of God against my sin. Jesus' death on the cross is a staggering display of the righteousness of God. God, who is holy, righteous and just, can be forgiving, merciful and kind to a sinner without compromising his own righteous character because Jesus satisfied all the demands of justice by taking my sin and giving me his righteousness. The sinner who humbles himself, acknowledges his sin before God and throws himself on God's mercy is fully absolved of all his sin and credited with all of Christ's righteousness. “Only when we have felt the frightfulness of the matter can we know the incomparable favor.”


But this is not all. It does not end here. It cannot end here. God does not justify sinners and leave us in our sins. God does not declare us righteous and leave us as we are. No. God's love for us is a transforming love.

Romans 6:22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.

We who have been justified by grace are now being sanctified by God's grace as a gift.

Philippians 1:6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

2 Corithians 3:18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

2 Corinthians 5:14 For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. ...17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

1 Thessalonians 5:23 Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Prepare to meet your God. Jesus has come. Jesus is coming again. Jesus told us to watch, to stay awake, to be ready (Mt.24:42-44; Lk.12:40; Rev.16:15), to invest what we have been given (Lk.19:23), to hold fast to the truth (Rev.3:11; 22:7). Prepare to meet your God!

1John 2:28 And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming.