A Better Christmas Than We Thought - Hope 103.2

A Better Christmas Than We Thought

I saw a cartoon in a Magazine a few days ago with a man at a Christmas Party talking to a lady, and on his T-Shirt, it says – “Peace on Earth, Goodwill to All Men”. What do you think the caption was underneath the cartoon? His T-Shirt days “Peace on Earth, Goodwill to All […]

By Simon ManchesterSunday 25 Dec 2016Christian Growth with Simon ManchesterFaithReading Time: 18 minutes

I saw a cartoon in a Magazine a few days ago with a man at a Christmas Party talking to a lady, and on his T-Shirt, it says – “Peace on Earth, Goodwill to All Men”. What do you think the caption was underneath the cartoon? His T-Shirt days “Peace on Earth, Goodwill to All Men” and the caption is him saying to the lady “I know it’s silly, but it does make people laugh”.

And I thought to myself – that is a very very honest cartoon because the language of Christmas is just losing its meaning and looks as though it is lightweight and empty and vacuous and we come today and sing some bright Carols, and yet behind the scenes things can be pretty dark, and we are either playing a delusional game, or there is something more significant.

And I want to suggest to you this morning in my few minutes that if we look carefully at the passage just read; we will see exactly why there should be great joy, and there should be great peace and that’s my hope this morning.

I want to talk, therefore, about Darkness, Disillusionment and Divine intervention.

Darkness

First of all Darkness. If you look at the reading that was just read for you, the very beginning (this is Isaiah chapter 9 written about 700 BC) and this is what this prophet says. He says – if people tell you to consult mediums and read occult – why consult the dead for the living – says the prophet – not a bad question to ask in any Century. And he says – if they ignore God’s Word, there will no light. You won’t get any answers. It will get more distressing – says the prophet and people will start to get angry with God which is happening and in the short term, things will be dark and in the long term they will be totally dark.

I don’t think something written 2700 years ago could be very much more up to date.
The prophet is simply saying – if you like the dark side, don’t be surprised if things get darker.
If you turn to the bright Word of God, the promises of God – there may be some light and hope for you.

I am no longer the groovy guy that I once was although I know some of you would refute that very strongly! But I thought Halloween took off in a big way this year – certainly took off in a big way in my street and you know call me dull or you will tell me it was a lot of fun and I should “get a life” – but looking across from my little home and seeing the severed heads on the fences and the axes and the blood and the enormous spiders plastered around – I thought it was a bit creepy – I may be weird but I thought it was a bit creepy – and it’s coming fast, isn’t it?

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What we have in our world today is a kind of a split or a fork or a separation where there is a declining number of people who are looking at God’s Word, and I especially mean the great promises of God’s Word and there is a growing number looking almost anywhere else. And I have noticed that God blesses the community that looks at his Word – so this is actually my 27th Christmas, and I belong to a community in this building (we are not perfect by any means – we are far, far from perfect and we are not particularly proud) but it is as if by looking at God’s Word that there is a Father who greatly cares for us and provides for us and protects us.

Whereas I notice the community which is steering away from God’s Word is getting darker and I am saying this because of the suicide levels, and because of the addiction levels and because of the attack levels that are going on in our town – and especially the hostility to Jesus. There is something very odd about our city or our world if you would hate the best person who has ever lived. There is something strange about that and especially the idea that it is a “plus” to say that you are not a Christian – as if you are saying “you are not a Nazi or something like that” – it’s a very, very strange phenomenon.

So our society is dividing, and 2700 years ago the prophet Isaiah said this is exactly the way the world is going. And if you go against the Word of God there will be darkness, and if you turn to the Word of God, there is the great hope of light.

Now I wouldn’t mind if people who are not believers got their New Testament and read and thought about the argument very carefully and then took all the alternatives and read them very carefully and said “now I have made my careful decision – I have weighed it all up, and I am making a decision based on integrity, and I am going AGAINST Christianity. I would feel as though that that was a responsible decision – not a good decision but a responsible decision because you had weighed up all the evidence. But I cannot find intelligent people today (even people who claim to be great readers) to look at the evidence for Christianity – what is the fear – or to read some of the excellent books outlining Christianity – just seems to be a great resistance.

In the past 12 months I have read a book called “The Age of Nothing” written by a Professor called Peter Watson, and it is 600 pages long and what he has done – he has pulled together all the arguments of the atheists of the last 100 years with the purpose of explaining that there is a perfectly good way to live with God out of the way. So I read these 600 pages, and I thought – I am open to being told that my Christian faith is a canoe with a hole in it and perhaps I have made a big mistake and I should go down the other line.

But when I get to the end of the book with 600 pages, I seriously kid you not, the author says ‘in the end, you’ve either got to live for the moment or read more poetry or take a bigger interest in the leaves on the trees’. That’s the thrust of it. And I found myself unpersuaded. That’s why I read the Quran as well – I wanted to make sure that I understood the argument of the Quran and so I read it carefully to see whether it was a good rival to the New Testament – a better rival to the New Testament. And I find both books “Age of Nothing” and “Quran” empty and unpersuasive and I go back to the New Testament and there is factual, historical and reassuring foundation. It’s like coming to Aladdin’s cave – I am so grateful for it.

There is a divide, and you have to work out for yourself whether you’ve spent a long time before you have every looked at the wonderful promises of God’s Word and the reasons for them or whether you are just putting your mind on other things.

Disappointment

Now I want to think about Disappointment. Isaiah begins chapter 9 like this – these are words that are so familiar we tune out as soon as we read them.

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.”

At that point you know I read the passage, and I thought where is this great light? Where is this great light? I mean there are lots of smart human lights around the place but where is the GREAT BIBLE LIGHT? The chapter begins (verse 1) by announcing that the North of Israel is going to change from being decimated which it was to being enlightened by this person who is the light. And it’s interesting that when Jesus came as a baby his parents chose to move North and so he grew up in the Galilee area. He didn’t live in the South in Judah – he went North which is exactly what Isaiah said would happen. This person, this light would come, and he would transform the North of the land – that’s where he began. So if you match up this chapter of Isaiah talking about this light and you match it up with Jesus, which is a very reasonable thing to because it goes on to talk about –

A CHILD
A SON
A KING

Isaiah has notched up I think an amazing prophesy. 700 years before the coming of Jesus Christ he said ‘somebody would come to the North of the land and bring the light of God to the land’, and that’s exactly what Jesus did.

You know that predictions are very risky. At the Melbourne Cup this year (I wasn’t at the Melbourne Cup) but I decided this year I get both papers each day that I would collect all the predictions of all the experts to see who could pick winners 1, 2 and 3. You probably know nobody went near picking winners 1, 2 and three because prediction is a very risky business.

Think of predicting the weather
Think of predicting the economy
Think of predicting the politics of this country

It’s a very risky business. Isaiah sitting in the middle of the Old Testament ignored and despised by the majority of our countrymen has notched up prediction after prediction after prediction.
“Someone would be born of a virgin.”
“They will grow up and live a perfect life.”
“They will live in Galilee.”
“They will get crucified.”
“They will get raised.”

Isaiah deserves to be given very very great attention.

But where is this Light? This is the disappointment. If you had been in the 1st Century and you had seen Jesus – we are told in the Bible that he had no beauty and no majesty – you wouldn’t have been impressed by looking at him. If you had watched his miracles like many, you might have dismissed them. Where is the great light? Where is the great light today? Christianity has been around for 2000 years. Has it lit up the world? It has not! It has made a tremendous impact on the world, but it has not turned the world from darkness to light. The world is getting darker.

So I wonder whether we can be disappointed that the writer of Isaiah the Prophet says “A great light has come into the world” – and we will be disappointed if we don’t look at what he says. Or he goes on in verse 3 with another disappointment. He says there is going to be massive joy, it’s going to be the kind of joy, and he says, that you get at the harvest or you have won a battle, and you are taking in all the loot and the plunder.

You just think of the farmers when they have a bumper crop – how exciting that is – this elation – this happiness.
Or think of the people who have won a victory and then start to collect all the stuff that is lying around for themselves – this tremendous excitement.

And Isaiah says that’s what it will be like with Christ and I have to say “where is this – where is this attractive joy?” I mean we don’t want to fake it in the church. The world won’t be impressed if we fake it. But where is this great joy?

And the other disappointment is that he says in verses 4 & 5 that there will be a great peace – no more need for soldiers’ uniforms. All the uniforms that have been spattered with blood you can burn them, and you can throw them away – the boots the soldiers have been wearing, throw them away because there is going to be a great peace. And I want to say again – where is this peace?

Battles all over the place Wars, griefs, losses so where is this great peace? Christianity has had 2000 years to produce it so Where is it?

We are again going to be very disappointed if we don’t look carefully and see what Isaiah says.

Another cartoon in the same Magazine – it was a Christmas Special Magazine – had this as the caption underneath –

‘NOW DASHER
NOW DANCER
NOW PRANCER AND VIXEN
ON COMET, ON CUPID, ON DUNDER AND BLIXEN’

And the picture above was seven fighter jets. That’s the reality, isn’t it? Not seven reindeer changing the world and making it all peaceful. So to borrow a fairly blasphemous comment of Woody Allen – he said: “I think the best we can say about God is that he is an under-achiever”.

And you can only think like that if you shut your eyes and block your ears.

I look at the cosmos with my eyes, and I think that is an achievement.
I look at the world in which I live, and I think that is an achievement.
I look at the people in this city, and I think each one is a remarkable achievement of God.

And if you block your ears you will miss the promises of God, and so you will miss what he has achieved, and you will be disappointed.

Divine Intervention

That’s why I come to my third point this morning which is I want to talk to you about Divine Intervention. The only way that you and I are going to be saved from darkness and disappointment and probably cynicism and scepticism and pessimism as well is as if we look at God’s says.

It’s no good you opening your kettle this morning and hoping that it will wash dishes. You need to look and see what it’s going to do.
It’s no good you opening your phone or your new mower and hoping that it will make beds. You need to look and see what it will do.

So I want to ask you to just take that little sheet of your and look with me at the end of the passage – these very familiar words “This child, this son who is going to be born is going to have his government on his shoulders, and he has got these four titles.”

WONDERFUL COUNSELOR
MIGHTY GOD
EVERLASTING FATHER
PRINCE OF PEACE

I do not know anybody in the Old Testament who could pick up those four titles. I do not know anybody normal in the New Testament who could pick up those four titles. I don’t know anybody in history who could claim those four titles except Jesus Christ. And these four titles fit with Jesus Christ well.

First of all – WONDERFUL COUNSELOR – which means he is going to be perfectly wise. He will not be dumb. He will not be dull. He is going to be the perfectly wise person. When you turn to Jesus in the New Testament, and you see him dealing with people, often at the cuff at the last second as a whole group of attackers have come to trip him up – he answers with absolutely breathtaking brevity and power. Again and again, the wisdom, the counsel, the beauty, the replies of Jesus and you begin to realise that his critics were of course completely confounded and the people around thrilled to pieces – WONDERFUL COUNSELOR.

And then – MIGHTY GOD – this means he is going to have perfect power. He won’t be feeble; he won’t be weak, he will do what he wants to do. He is not going to have his plans blocked. He is MIGHTY GOD. And when you see Jesus in the New Testament, you see him talking like God “I will forgive you” “I will judge you” We see him acting like God bringing people out of the grave, calming the storm and eventually, of course, the disciples say to him:- “My Lord and My God”. They get it – MIGHTY GOD.

And he is going to be – EVERLASTING FATHER – He is going to be perfect in love. He is not going to be a destructive personality. He is not going to be a difficult accusative sadistic personality. He is going to be an EVERLASTING FATHER. This doesn’t mean that Jesus is the Father, but it means that all the qualities of compassion, care and decency and protective power are going to belong to Jesus.

And then he is going to be – THE PRINCE OF PEACE – This means he is going to be the perfect bridge-builder. He will build a bridge from heaven to earth which is perfect for YOU. In other words, he is not going to be ineffective.

Now why should we need a bridge? Because there is a barrier. Why should there be a barrier? Because if we commit one disobedience against a perfect God, if I do or you do in our attitude or our speech or our secret lives, we are out of fellowship. There is a gulf. And we could multiple that disobedience by thousands in my life and yours, couldn’t we? We have created a gulf which we cannot bridge. And that disobedience or thousands of disobediences are the fruit of an inward disposition which says to God – “I am in charge”.

And that is a piece of insanity, isn’t it? When you consider, we are saying this to somebody who has all the power and all the wisdom and all the love and all the might and all the effectiveness. It’s a piece of insanity.

So the identity of Jesus is extremely important. Somebody has come into the world who has got it all. We would be crazy to turn our back on him and change the subject and say we want to talk about anything else. We would be crazy to think like that.

The other thing to notice about Jesus is his role. What is he come to do? You will see this in verse 4. It’s an unusual verse – but stay with me half way down the main paragraph it says:-

“As in the day of Midian’s defeat, You have shattered the yoke.”
(the bar, the rod)

Now Midian’s defeat was a battle in the Old Testament where 300 were used by God to defeat hundreds of thousands of people. In other words, it was a battle where small beats big. And this is what the writer, Isaiah is saying. There is going to come a time where somebody small (think Jesus, think beaten, think crucified) is going to win a massive battle, a massive, massive battle. And the battle is going to be shattering the yolk, breaking the bar and destroying the rod. What does this mean?

Well it means that he is going to lift off our backs the danger that we are in and the terror so that we can move closer and closer to God as we are every day and meet him (and some of you here today are closer than others) without fault and with great joy because he will lift that yolk, that bar or that rod away from you. And the reason that he will do that is because he arranged at Calvary to take that on himself so that it might be lifted off you.

And if you don’t think you need to have that lifted off you just think as I can this morning of the disobediences of thought, word and deed.
Think of the ways we have turned our back on Christ.
Think of the ways we have ignored light who has come into the world.
Think of the ways we have turned our deaf ears to the Word of God.

No, no, no we need this help urgently. There is going to come a day where we will come face to face with our Maker, and our only hope is arriving there forgiven. It will be an absolutely piece of lunacy to arrive Unforgiven and have God look at you and say ‘why are you here unforgiven?’ You say ‘I didn’t think it mattered that much’ and he says ‘I sent my Son so that you might face me safely’.

Well, how is that going to happen? It happens when we turn and kneel before him, and we say to him ‘you are the King and I am not and you are the Saviour and I need you’. It’s pride which will keep us from doing that. For many, many people, it’s not their minds that are keeping them from Christianity – it’s their knees – the difficulty and the refusal to kneel.

Therefore if you see this what Isaiah is talking about, you begin to see why the great light is not a disappointment at all, but there is a new morning which has begun for people like us. And you will see the joy (it’s not a disappointment) but Jesus has bridged the gap which was impossible for us, and he has done the incredible.

And there is great peace (not disappointing peace) because he has made possible a relationship with God through himself which will never end which will begin in this world, heavenly Father and go on to the future and never, ever end.

This is very big, isn’t it? Isaiah finishes his little section here by saying “the kingdom is going to get bigger and bigger because millions are responding every day”.

And his rule is going to be a rule of love which will never finish, and his kingdom is going to be marked by justice and godliness – things that we long for and look for. And it’s all underwritten by the Word of God and it’s all underwritten by the power of God, “The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this”.

Now I want to finish this morning by humouring you as I just finish with sort of absurd scenario because the question is: – Why do we do?

We walk out of here. We forget everything. We turn up at our family feasts (that’s great), and then we wait for the time to walk in.

I want you to imagine this – I want you to imagine a great and good king who sends an Engagement ring to a poor peasant girl and he puts the box on her doorstep, but her brother opens the door – sees the box and decides to wrap it. And so he wraps it with a piece of paper which says “BE GOOD”. And the girl picks up the box and she says “Be Good – that’s a good idea – Santa is coming – I had better be good”. And all day she walks around with the piece of paper and leaves the box on the doorstep.

So the next day the brother gets another piece of paper, and he writes on it “BE HAPPY”. And the girl tears off the piece of paper, and she says “that’s a good idea – be happy – yes, I’ll get the family around and be happy – that’s the most important thing” and she misses the box with the ring.

The next day he puts another piece of paper on it, and he writes “BE BUSY”. The girl says ‘that’s a good idea – we need to have lots of activities.

The next day he puts another piece of paper on it, and he writes “BE GENEROUS”. The girl says ‘that’s a good idea – I need to buy gifts for everybody’.

The next day the piece of paper says “BE FULL”. The girl says ‘Yes I need lots of food and drink – that’s a very good idea’.

The next day he puts a piece of paper around it which says “BE YOURSELF”. The girl says ‘exactly I don’t need anybody’. And all day she walks around with a piece of paper.

Now that foolish picture is to tell you that she at no point opened the box, saw the $10M engagement ring and the little note inside that said BE MINE. Is not that the tragedy of Christmas? That for some reason God has sent the most simple, generous, clear and lovely message to the people of this world who he has made and said “BE MINE” and the bulk are walking around with pieces of paper with instructions. That is a tragedy, isn’t it?

And I do hope – I don’t know how to say this any other way – I just have to say to you there will be darkness if we turn our back on the light who has come into the world. We will get more disappointment and will be disappointed if we don’t know exactly who Jesus is and what he come into the world to do. But Isaiah tells us very wonderfully – he has come – he has arranged a relationship. If we turn away from him, we will get darker and more disappointed. If we respond and welcome and receive and say “yes” there will be great light, great joy and great peace. And that will go through the grave forever. That’s how God communicates to us – may that be received by you today.

Let’s bow our heads and pray –
Our gracious God, thank you for giving to us your very clear Word, and we ask that you would give us wisdom and the humility to hear it and heed it and to respond to it and rejoice in it. In Jesus’ Name – Amen.