Advent – Prepare to Meet Your God ~ 20111204 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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.
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.
We who have been justified by grace are now being sanctified by God's grace as a gift.
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!