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Martyred for the Gospel

Martyred for the Gospel
The burning of Tharchbishop of Cant. D. Tho. Cranmer in the town dich at Oxford, with his hand first thrust into the fyre, wherwith he subscribed before. [Click on the picture to see Cranmer's last words.]

Collect of the Day

The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany.
The Collect.

O LORD, we beseech thee to keep thy Church and household continually in thy true religion; that they who do lean only upon the hope of thy heavenly grace may evermore be defended by thy mighty power; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Daily Bible Verse

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Consolation of Israel: A Sermon Outline

(This sermon is an outline and does not necessarily contain all the remarks I made during the delivery. The sermon was preached on December 28, 2008 at Christ Episcopal Church, Longwood, Florida).


The Consolation of Israel

Texts: Psalm 132; Isaiah 40:1-11; Luke 2:22-40

Introduction:

A preacher, who was "humor impaired," attended a conference to help encourage and better equip pastors for their ministry. Among the speakers were many well known and dynamic speakers. One such speaker boldly approached the pulpit and, gathering the entire crowd's attention, said, "The best years of my life were spent in the arms of a woman who wasn't my wife!" The crowd was shocked! He followed up by saying, "And that woman was my mother!" The crowd burst into laughter and he delivered the rest of his talk, which went over quite well. The next week the pastor decided he'd give this humor thing a try and he would use the same joke in his sermon. As he with confidence approached the pulpit that Sunday, he began to rehearse the joke in his head. Suddenly it seemed a bit foggy to him. Stepping to the microphone he said loudly, "The greatest years of my life were spent in the arms of another woman who was not my wife!" The congregation inhaled half the air in the room. After standing there for almost 10 seconds in the stunned silence, trying to recall the second half of the joke, the pastor finally blurted out, "...and I can't remember who she was!"

In the modern world we have everything figured out and demythologized. We can recognize even the revealed secrets of the masters of illusion and magic. Moreover, we have a hard time acknowledging that there is a supernatural origin for the universe and our very being. The idea of God's providential guidance of all things seems a bit harsh to us. For example, in September of 1996 Baylor University did a somewhat biased survey asking people how they viewed God:

The survey asked respondents to agree or disagree with any of 10 descriptions of their "personal understanding of what God is like," including phrases such as "angered by my sins" or "removed from worldly affairs." They could check off 16 adjectives they believe describe God, including words such as "absolute," "wrathful," "forgiving," "friendly" or "distant."

When USA TODAY asked people similar questions, it found views as varied as those of self-described fundamentalist Brian Snider of Madison, Ala., and Marilyn McGuire, who says she sees God in every sunrise and sunset, flower and kitten at her home on Orcas Island near Seattle.

Snider, 46, says God is "involved in the affairs of men at all times and he does judge us. ... We still believe he is angry at sin."

McGuire, in her late 60s and once an active Episcopalian, now rejects all dogma. "I have my own system of what I think is true and sacred. I try to keep myself peaceful and keep myself in a loving state.”


Today individual men and women no longer see themselves at the mercy of God or the natural environment. We have come to see ourselves as in control of our own lives and our environment. In essence, we have made ourselves into little gods (See Psalm 82:6-8).

However, in the past humanity saw the supernatural everywhere and even acts of nature were seen as actions taken by the hand of God (Isaiah 45:7). While I would not advocate returning to a premodern world-view of superstition and ignorance, neither would I advocate a world-view where we think we have everything figured out. As Christians we must believe that God does reveal Himself through the natural universe in a general or natural revelation (Romans 1:18-20). But we also believe that God reveals Himself in special revelation through Jesus Christ and the Holy Scriptures (Hebrews 1:1-3; 2 Timothy 3:15-16). Moreover, there exists a great deal of mystery and awe in the world even in modern times. Particularly at the birth of a child we are naturally drawn into a sense of awe and wonder at the miracle of life. However, in the case of the baby Jesus we see God working in many mysterious and supernatural ways which are totally unique. Especially as Christians we ought to see that God providentially works through the history of salvation and through the OT nation of Israel to bring to us the Messiah, Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world.

Without controversy Christians should understand that the Old Testament predicts the coming of Jesus Christ.

  1. The book of Isaiah is perhaps the longest book of the Bible and is probably the most quoted in the New Testament and the New Testament has more allusions to Isaiah than any other book of the Old Testament. In particular, we ought to recognize that the Jews of Jesus' time were most familiar with the Septuagint Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, which Luke and Paul quote extensively.
  2. The Book of Isaiah was written by the prophet of the same name who lived in the 8th century before Christ and was a witness of the siege of Jerusalem in 701 B.C. During the reign of Hezekiah. Sennacherib of Assyrian came against the southern kingdom of Judah at that time. Surely Isaiah would have known about the fall of the northern kingdom of Samara to the Assyrians in 722 B.C.
  3. While some scholars would question the unity of the book of Isaiah, the overwhelming evidence is that it is the work of Isaiah, the son of Amoz. When the Babylonians sent envoys to investigate Judah, Hezekiah foolishly allowed them to see all the national treasures (Isaiah 39), prompting Isaiah to predict the fall of Jerusalem over 100 years later in the year 586 B.C. Thus, the second half of Isaiah from chapter 40-66 deals with Isaiah's vision of the fall and exile of Judah to Babylon.
  4. In Isaiah 40:1-2 we commanded to comfort the people of God. And in verse 2 we are told literally to speak to the heart of Jerusalem. “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins."

In modern times we have a problem acknowledging the sovereignty of God.

  1. In both the OT and in the NT God is represented as both loving and kind and as angry with sinners because of their rebellion against Him.
  2. However a constant theme of the OT is God's judgments against Israel when His people departed from obedience to God and His moral law. The ten tribes of the Northern Kingdom of Samaria fell to the Assyrians in 722 B.C. because of idolatry when Jeroboam erected two golden calves to be worshipped in the place of God at an alternate temple built there (See 1 Kings 12:26-33). However, Judah, under the rule of Solomon and later his son Rehoboam was no less guilty of idolatry and had also worshipped other gods: “because they have forsaken me and worshiped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, Chemosh the god of Moab, and Milcom the god of the Ammonites, and they have not walked in my ways, doing what is right in my sight and keeping my statutes and my rules, as David his father did.” (1 Ki 11:33).


The prophet Isaiah accurately predicted the fall of Jerusalem to Babylon and the Babylonian captivity and exile over 100 years before the actual events took place.

  1. It would have been these prophecies in Isaiah 40-66 of which Simeon and Anna would have been thinking when they were waiting so patiently for a deliverer to arise and to redeem Israel from its current state of captivity to the Roman Empire.
  2. When God punished Israel in the past He always kept a remnant of faithful believers because of His promise to David that he would always have an heir on the throne. At the time of the dividing of the northern kingdom of Samaria from the southern kingdom of Judah, Jeroboam is given the 10 tribes of the north but the promise made to David is to be preserved through Judah and its capitol city, Jerusalem:

1 Kings 11:32-39 (ESV) 32 (but he shall have one tribe, for the sake of my servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem, the city that I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel), 33 because they have forsaken me and worshiped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, Chemosh the god of Moab, and Milcom the god of the Ammonites, and they have not walked in my ways, doing what is right in my sight and keeping my statutes and my rules, as David his father did. 34 Nevertheless, I will not take the whole kingdom out of his hand, but I will make him ruler all the days of his life, for the sake of David my servant whom I chose, who kept my commandments and my statutes. 35 But I will take the kingdom out of his son’s hand and will give it to you, ten tribes. 36 Yet to his son I will give one tribe, that David my servant may always have a lamp before me in Jerusalem, the city where I have chosen to put my name. 37 And I will take you, and you shall reign over all that your soul desires, and you shall be king over Israel. 38 And if you will listen to all that I command you, and will walk in my ways, and do what is right in my eyes by keeping my statutes and my commandments, as David my servant did, I will be with you and will build you a sure house, as I built for David, and I will give Israel to you. 39 And I will afflict the offspring of David because of this, but not forever.’ ”

  1. So in the time of Isaiah the Assyrians besiege Jerusalem and take vast amounts of tribute. But because of God's promises to David Jerusalem does not ultimately fall, even though only a small remnant survives the siege. It is because of these promises that Jerusalem does not fall in the lifetime of Hezekiah who foolishly revealed the remaining national treasures to envoys from Babylon. (See Isaiah 39:1ff).
  2. But because of this foolish act on the part of King Hezekiah, Isaiah rightly predicts the fall of Judah and Jerusalem to the Babylonians over 100 years later. See (Isaiah 39:1-8; 40-66).


God, being merciful and loving toward His people Israel, always keeps His promises and never finally and completely rejects His people.

  1. Even though Israel deserved punishment because they had committed idolatry by serving other gods, the Lord still promised restoration and a pardon for all her sins: Isaiah 40:1-2 (ESV) 1 “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. 2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.”
  2. In the time of Nehemiah and Ezra Israel is restored to the land after being exiled in Babylon. However, this was not to last and the kingdom of Judah would be dominated by the Greeks of Alexander the Great's time and then the Romans would rule over them.

But Israel is never without hope.

  1. Today the OT nation of Israel is no longer the sole means of redemption for humanity. The OT nation of Israel is in fact a foreshadowing of the coming of the Holy Spirit to institute the NT church which began on the day of Pentecost (See Acts 2).
  2. Rather, as the Apostle Paul tells us in the closing to the Epistle to the Galatians, the church has become the means by which God pardons and accepts both Jews and Gentiles alike:

Galatians 6:15-16 (ESV) 15 For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. 16 And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.

Today our sole hope is in Jesus Christ.

  1. The church being today the "Israel of God", like the nation of Israel in the Old Testament, has often gone into apostasy and error. However, God's promises to David are still in effect through the NT church and God has promised that He would not forsake His people forever.
  2. Even when the vast majority of the churches go astray God promises to keep a remnant for himself:

Romans 11:1-7 (ESV)1 “I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel? 3 “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.” 4 But what is God’s reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” 5 So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. 6 But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace. 7 What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened,...”

I believe that this is precisely why the Nunc Dimittis (Luke 2:29-32) has such a prominent part in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and is included in practically all subsequent versions in the Evening Prayer service. It is precisely because God has promised salvation through Jesus Christ to both Jews and Gentiles who will believe that He is the promised Messiah. Nunc Dimittis means, “Now I can depart...” The phrase comes from the first part of Luke 2:29 in the Latin Vulgate.


Conclusion:


Today the consolation of Israel is a promise of pardon for the sins of the church, the Israel of God. It is a promise of reconciliation and restoration for God's election. When Simeon and Anna entered the temple and saw the baby Jesus at the time of his mother's purification they knew immediately by the supernatural revelation of God that this was the promised Messiah who would bring consolation and peace to the nation of Israel, foreshadowing the New Testament church. It is no accident or coincidence that Simeon and Anna entered the temple at the precise time of the arrival of the baby Jesus and His mother, Mary. Rather, it is the providence of God directing their steps so that they would know that God had indeed answered their prayers. Likewise, it is no accident that you are here this morning. God has brought you here to worship Him and to hear His word.


Jesus Christ truly is the hope of all people who will believe in Him. He alone can pardon and redeem us from our sins before Almighty God. God loves us so much that He sent His Son Jesus Christ as a tiny baby who had to grow up just as we do. He had to learn to walk and talk. He was weaned from His mother and later went to school with the other children to learn to read and write. He was both fully human and fully divine, though He gave up the free exercise of His divine prerogatives. Yet it is this tiny child, who was revealed supernaturally to the two witnesses of Simeon and Anna at the temple, who was predestined from before creation to be the Savior of His people Israel. Today Israel has become the church of Jesus Christ and He is the light of salvation for both Jews and Gentiles who will understand that He is tenderly calling us to repentance.

Luke 2:29-32 (ESV) 29 “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; 30 for my eyes have seen your salvation 31 that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost; As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

2 comments:

Dizma said...

Amen. And thank you for sharing this sermon with us.

Billy said...

Billy loves a good sermon!

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