Introduction - Isaiah 9:1-7 Believe it or not another year, is for all intents and purposes over. And these realizations always give you cause to pause and reflect on what was, and then think about what will be.
If your life was like a vineyard, what kind of crop would 2009 have been for you?
And please don't over think this metaphor, I don't want people coming up to me after church saying, "Mine was like a Cheeky little Pinot Noir with a fruity plumb spice aroma and a deep smokey nutmeg aftertaste", I don't understand that sought of thing at all.
All I mean is, Was it a vintage year of extraordinary character, one to savour and cellar for the ages?
Or was it one that wasn't fit to cellar, in fact so bad you start looking for the number of the local vinegar producer, a year not fit to put your label on, one to turn your back on and never mention again? For me 2008 was a little that way.
But for me 2009 was neither of those extremes, it was well, to change metaphors a year that just didn't seem to have enough wind in it's sails. Technically I believe sailors call it the doldrums (it wasn't melancholy or anything like that), it just never felt like it had much momentum.
But then that is what most of life is like isn't it? Some years you do get those years that are shockingly memorable for how bad they are. Other times you get years that you want to last forever for how good they are. But most of the years are just, well average, a little hardship, a little Joy, and just a whole lot of perseverance.
No matter what sought of year you have had, there is one mark of character you require in response, perseverance. In particular the Christian person needs perseverance, rain, hail shine, good times or even boring times, what we need is perseverance, the question really is how?
How are we to persevere? Which to ask the question in a more personal way, is How are you going to persevere next year, come rain, come hail or shine, how will you persevere next year?
Well before we get to the how of perseverance, we need to think about the why? Why do we need perseverance anyway?
1.0 Life has Darkness (Isa 8:22).
Life has darkness and this is the real experience and consequences of a people who reject God and his rule, as we chose to live lives our own way and ignore the source of all goodness and light in this world, God himself, and as a result we stumble and suffer in the darkness.
In the historical situation that Isaiah found himself writing into, the darkness that had started in part and was about to dawn in full for the people of Israel in the late C8th BC, was For Israel the announcement in advance of judgement for their own evil. These stubborn people were sold by God into slavery to another oppressive overlord nation because they rejected the salvation of their God and so were to endure the penalty of their choice, the judgement for some and the heavy discipline for others at the Lord's Hand.
The people of Israel thought they could deal with both the goodness and the darkness of life on their own terms, and God humiliated them because of their ignorance and arrogance about their own situation.
And that lesson may be true for us today couldn't it? that God really can act directly in his world to deal with his wayward children, and it is a warning to us about the utter dangerousness of unrepentant sin in our lives. If you don't think God takes it seriously, maybe you should read some more of Isaiah and the history of Israel later on this week.
So historically Israel were directly judged as a result of their sin, and God revealed it to them in advance, and us in retrospect, so that we may learn from the warning, and indeed their example, and we would turn to the Lord to be healed, and not fall under judgment for putting God to the test.
So Firstly, Some of the darkness of life is a direct result of our sin.
Secondly, life also has a darkness that is a general consequence of man's rejection of God, or the fall. Back in Genesis 3, where man rejected God for the first time, right there and then, the World was struck by God and given an expiry date, and as such it groans about its sentence, earthquakes rumble, lightning strikes, fires burn through dry vegetation and medical tests bring bad news.
All of us have experienced at some level this slightly impersonal aspect of the darkness in the world that has come from humanities sin and God's just judgment.
Thirdly though, some of the darkness comes our way as a result of belonging to the light, which is not surprising given what happened to Jesus when he came the first time.
John 1:4 In him was life, and that life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.
John 1:10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.
The world prefers darkness to God's light, and sometimes we will suffer at the hands of the darkness, it maybe physical, it may be social, but the darkness will not always thank you if you bring light into its dark.
So We all know, the direct impact of the darkness upon our lives, either as a direct result of our willful sin against God, or as an indirect consequence of being part of a humanity in broken world in rejection of God, or even for belonging to the light, Life has darkness in it. And the power underlying this darkness, is the fear of death, and not just death but the ultimate and final judgment of God.
Life has a darkness to it, that can stalk us at times.
2.0 God uses the impact of Darkness for Good (Isa 8:11-17)
God himself uses the impact of the darkness, even the apparently random nature of it, in every circumstance. God uses the impact of the darkness to reveal the hearts of humanity through the pressure of real trial in this world - he reveals their hearts unto Judgement - or to salvation - by exposing them to the darkness and then holding out to them the Light of his word in this world that is Christ.
God uses both darkness and light to reveals his creation as judged, or to produce in them a mature salvation.
For Pharoah in the Exodus and the Pharisees in the coming of Christ, the hardship of this world in its darkness caused even the light of God, the light of Christ to grow dark upon their minds and hearts.
God is able to use even the darkness to bring good. We know that God disciplines the children he loves, even Jesus himself completed his obedience as the perfect Son of God and our perfect Saviour, by suffering the terrible cruelty and evil and darkness of his death on the cross.
God is sovereign, and he will bring good even from the darkest situations, but it doesn't mean he will tell us in advance why in detail we need to undergo the each aspect of the testing of the darkness of this world. That is why we need to persevere, sometimes it is only in hindsight we can see what good God has brought from the darkness we have experienced, and in truth sometimes that hindsight may only be visible in eternity.
In the midst of darkness we draw comfort from the character of God as he has revealed himself in his actions and his word, as we learn from his dealings with his people and often their example to us.
Job Job 1:20 At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship 21 and said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.” Job 1:22 In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.
Genesis 50 - Joseph Gen. 50:18 His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. “We are your slaves,” they said. Gen. 50:19 But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? 20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. 21 So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.
Romans Rom. 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
The Lord Jesus Himself: Luke 18:31 Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. 32 He will be handed over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him and kill him. 33 On the third day he will rise again.”
Who would of thought that the most despicable act in history, would be the crowning glory of God's work in his world.
God uses the impact of the darkness for good.
3.0 God has fixed the problem of darkness - the great light, Hope and Joy of the King of the Kingdom (Isa 9:1-7)
One thing I have noticed about life in the Mountains, is that the stars in the night sky are far more impressive. And that is because you need to have True darkness to shows true light in all its brilliance.
Christ is the true light of all the world, who shone out of, and now into a terrible darkness: John 8:12 When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
We live in a privileged time, because we get to see the light that is Christ in all his revealed glory, through the testimony of His Holy Spirit and his word. Think of the poor first hearers of Isaiah's message, they were about to be invaded by a ruthless military power, and this promised child that would bring deliverance wouldn't even appear on the scene for another 700 years.
These people of Israel had heard of the great deliverance in the past of God, when he rescued the people of Israel, Abraham's family, under Moses leadership from the oppressive yoke of slavery of Pharaoh in Egypt. But that had been over 700 years earlier. In a way they may have felt a bit gypped, that they were between, God's two great act's of salvation, but then maybe we can relate to that a little ourselves! We too find ourselves between God's two great acts of salvation, Jesus first and second comings, but we have a great privilege of seeing clearly the brightness of the light that is Christ shining in the darkness.
And in Isaiah 9 it points to how glorious is his light for those under the impact of the darkness of this world. The darkness of the fear of death and its evil agents who persecute God's chosen people.
Jesus is the agent of God's zeal in this world, the one who entered the world the first time as a helpless babe, at a most unexpected time, as one who was ignored by his own creation, and he will return a second time, like we read in Matthew 24 earlier, also unexpectedly like a thief in the night, only this time, no one will be able to ignore the reality of their King when he returns.
Jesus is the King of God's Kingdom, the one descended from King David himself, the one who would break the oppressive yoke of slavery over God's people, not just the slavery of a political and military empire like the Assyrians who were to come upon Israel as Isaiah prophesied, but to break the real yoke of slavery for God's people of Sin, guilt, shame and judgment, the devil and his evil, and to put all things at peace.
Jesus is the prince of peace, the one who will reconcile God with all his creation, the one who will bring shalom - peace- between God and mankind, between mankind and the new creation, and between all humanity.
He will smash the yoke of oppression, for his own people, and instead replace it with his own yoke of leadership, Jesus Said;
Matt. 11:29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Jesus will come to rule his peaceful and just kingdom, are you ready for that day?
God has fixed the problem of darkness - the great light, Hope and Joy of the King of the Kingdom
4.0 Perseverance comes only from focussing upon Jesus and experiencing him the great King, the real source and goal of our hope and Joy
Which if I was to rephrase that statement in terms of an extremely self-centred question - not that any of us would do that - but should we be inclined to do that, the question we would have is, "If such a brilliant light has entered the world, why is it that so often the darkness seems so prominent?"
God leaves the darkness, that even the darkness would do its bidding to serve God and glorify Christ. God uses the darkness that we would be changed that we would see the brightness, and deeply seek after and desire the hope and Joy of Christ. God uses the darkness that we would be mature in Christ, that we would learn the Joy of obedience in being conformed into Christ's likeness.
Suffering, perseverance, Joy and Hope - they all go together in God's economy for his people in his world. God generously gives us all four of them, that we may truly, madly and deeply drink from the rich well of truth that is Christ the crucified messiah, the good shepherd, mighty God and prince of peace.
Christ is the brilliant light of the world, he is the brilliant light of our life.
Christ came to bring Real and total restoration of the whole world, a time when God will be all in all.
A time of Real and Just rule - which we experience now in the replacement of the heavy yoke of Sin and its guilt, fear of judgment, fear of the apparent fickleness of the world, with Christ's yoke that is easy and light.
Christians can be a little smug about Christmas at times, we mock the world saying, "They've let all these periphery things clutter out the real meaning of Christmas, they've let the clutter block out, darken the light of Christmas, Jesus".
But in truth as Christians are we any better? I quite often hear Christians bemoan Christmas - and what a hassle it all is, so I suspect we are pretty good at letting clutter block out Jesus and the joy of Christmas ourselves. When you strip back the clutter of Christmas, the focus should be Jesus and the joy and hope he brings into what can be a dark world.
But isn't it just as true that when you strip back the clutter of all of life, the focus of all our life, all 365 days a year should be on Jesus, and the bright light of hope and Joy he brings in the darkness shouldn't it?
Truthfully right now, Christmas or not, is Jesus the centre of your desires for this life, or have you let important things I'm sure, but at best secondary things clutter out your central desire for Jesus?
Have you got distracted by the darkness from the great light that has dawned?
Have you let the Light of the Hope and Joy of Christ dawn on your Christmas this year?
Will you let the Light of Christmas, Jesus and the real hope and the real Joy he brings be the focus of not only your Christmas day - but in fact every day of the year?
Is. 9:2 The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.
Is. 9:6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Is. 9:7 Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.
Well congratulations Steve and Michelle, you have done it, officially married and everything!
I'm glad I could play a part here today.
Michelle, you look lovely today.
And Steve, well - good to see you got rid of those ridiculous corn rows you had at your brothers wedding!!
Now, I'm pretty sure I don't need to argue to you two that marriage is a good thing! Given where we are standing and what we have just undertaken.
And as we look at the picture of marriage seen in the First book of the Bible Genesis which was read earlier, it looks wonderful and warms the soul doesn’t it? A scene of marriage that is full of hope. That is the kind of relationship we are all after aren't we?
31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”
A deep relationship where we are fully known as we know them. Where everything is working as it should. It's an idyllic picture.
Beautiful beyond compare, deeply romantic - the stuff of Jane Austin novels, (so think Clueless or Bridget Jones for those of you who have studied the HSC in last ten years when the state gov has given up on English being our native tongue and has settled for predictive text!) The scene is something of the hopeless romantics dream isn't it?
But, the rest of us who aren't of the hopeless romantic bent right now are probably asking the question, "Are you kidding me? What Parallel universe does that exist in?"
This picture of marriage doesn't so much warm the soul as it does callously mock us, and our inability to know or give that kind of selfless and unbounded love.
For the skeptics amongst us I suspect the real question is, not is marriage a good thing, but how on earth could anyone possibly make this work?
You only need to have a cursory look at the institution they call marriage in our society today to know, it is in a little trouble isn't it? Because they say that financial strain is amongst one of the top reasons that marriages struggle and even end in divorce. So if Tiger Woods the $1BN man can't keep a marriage together - what hope have punters like you and me got?
Well I think this is where the teaching of the Bible on Marriage actually comes into it's own, it is neither allows us to try and escape the reality of the world we live in by indulging in being hopelessly romantic about marriage, nor does it let us take the easy way out of withdrawing from marriage by being a skeptic throwing cheap shots from the cheap seats - about the most profound commitment one can make to another in this life.
The Bible leaves no room for either pie in the sky idealism nor cowardly cynicism, but calls forward from us a loving realism about marriage - not marriage as a concept, but about our marriage the personal reality, and today your own marriage Steve and Michelle - it is all about your marriage today.
People sometimes say that marriage as a concept is flawed, but in reality it is a simple concept - Steve all that you are, and all that you have now belongs to Michelle, And Michelle all that you are, and all that you have now belongs to Steve, as long as you both shall live... so that means you can't now give it to anyone else, because you already gave it to other person - pretty clear, pretty simple concept right?
The only problem with marriage, is not the concept, but the people. The only two problems with my marriage are me and my wife - otherwise it is quite easy..
And problem is because of one reason - when push comes to shove in life and even love, people are in themselves self interested, which is to say in our natural inclinations we are selfish. We firstly look to saving our own skin, and looking after our own needs, before anything else - and that kind of attitude is cancerous to a marriage relationship. Don't believe me - just watch what happens to Tiger Woods over the next couple of weeks - self interest is deadly to a marriage relationship.
And the Bible picks this one rightly, you see the idyllic picture of marriage we had back in Genesis chapter 1 & 2 of man and women being one flesh, and working together without fear, animosity or shame - is followed by Chapter 3 of Genesis where it all goes pear shaped.
God created mankind and gave them life, and mankind were very appreciative of the life that God gave them to live, but the first people decided that they just weren't so keen on God being personally involved in their life. And so God gave mankind what they wanted (for a lifetime) and people have been bearing the consequences of our broken relationship with God ever since, because through that one decision sin entered into this perfect scene of creation, and it tainted everything - even marriage.
The perfection of this world that was, is no longer, and mankind was cast adrift by God to walk the earth acting out their own self interest.
But the first people weren't unique in this, because every person since, including you and me, has had the same attitude, that God is a nice concept but a bad house guest. So we ask him to kindly leave us alone to live our lives our own way, and when you combine it with the selfishness that is hard wired in us, well you only have to look around at the world, including marriage, to see the outcome.
So if self interest, the selfish of Sin, is the problem in the world, and more particularly as we think about it today, the problem of marriage, what is the solution?
How do we make this marriage work? Well the solution to the problem of the selfishness of Sin in marriage, is the selflessness of love.
In Eph 5:1 it says;
Eph. 5:1 Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Firstly, the selflessness of God's Love
Despite mankind deciding to act in turning its back on their creator, God who is rich in mercy, acted to fix the problem. You getting the pattern here, the offended party is the one who is acting to restore this broken relationship.
All of us know we have not honoured God as God with our whole hearts as he deserves in our lives, and because of that we have offended him and broken our relationship with him, and we need it to be fixed.
And God himself, God the Son Jesus Christ came into the world (at Christmas incase you were wondering) to fix our broken relationship, the problem of sin in our world and in our lives.
Jesus died on a wooden Roman Cross 2000 years ago (at Easter - just making sure you are keeping up here), he Died on that Cross, as an innocent man, to die the death I deserved, and you deserved to pay our debt towards God.
God who we had offended, took the initiative, to restore the relationship that we had broken. God loved each of us enough, to send his son to die for us, so Jesus could offer us a gift of forgiveness, so that we could say thank you and have a new relationship with God. Our debt paid for, our past washed away, and a new ability to choose not to be self interested any longer.
Because of Jesus death, there is a real offer to be called God's dearly loved children and to call God our heavenly Father.
Firstly, God's love is selfless.
Secondly, The selflessness of our Love in Response
Now I know that Steve & Michelle that you are people who both have accepted Jesus offer of forgiveness and because of that you can call God your heavenly father, but this gift to you should not be without its effect, and in particular in your marriage.
God's selfless love towards us is not only the example for us to follow in our selfless love of our spouse, but it is also the power to do it.
A deep understanding of the Gospel of Christ and the forgiveness you have received is the fuel source for love in a marriage, it enables you to love, when you have been wronged by offering real forgiveness, it reminds you to serve the other, when deep down you have had enough, because Christ Loved you first. The Gospel of Christ and the forgiveness we receive in it, is the power to resist and change the self interest, the selfishness that lies within.
In marriage we are responsible for selflessly loving the other in order that they (and this relationship) may flourish in a way that shows the wisdom of Christ and his gospel message of forgiveness.
Now In particular Steve it seems to me, The expression of the Selflessness of your love towards Michelle can be summarized in two words - Opt In
Truly Love your wife, care for her, be kind and look out for her well being above your own.
God opted in to restore the relationship that you have with him, and it is you responsibility to opt-in for your marriage, to take the initiative to selflessly care for Michelle -
Michelle, it seems to me The Selflessness of your love towards Steve can be summarized in two words - Leave Space
Honour your husband by leaving space for him to take the initiative, If instead you get impatient and choose to take control, well watch your husband shrink before your eyes! Take control and watch him opt out!
Love your husband by selflessly honouring and trusting him enough that he would be able to take the initiative and selflessly love you, let him have the space to selflessly love you. Relationships at any given moment either spiral down or spiral up, selfless love of the other is what enables the relationship to spiral up, opting out, or not leaving space spiral’s down.
Christ’s selfless love is to fuel our selfless love of each other. And our selfless love in marriage is to testify to Christ’s selfless love towards us.
Let me finish with a quote that I think picks up wonderfully the unbelievably hard journey and great Joy it is to be married and a parent
In our society, of course, there is no need to become an adult. One may remain — one is daily exhorted to remain — a child forever. In such a life, the central aim is self-fulfilment. Marriage is merely an alliance, entailing as minimal an abridgment of inner privacy as one partner may allow. Children are not a welcome responsibility, for to have children is, plainly, to cease· being a child oneself One tries instead to live as the angels were once believed to live — soaring, free, unencumbered. People say of marriage that it is boring; when what they mean is that it terrifies them: too many and too deep are its searing revelations, its angers,its rages, its hates, and its loves. They say of marriage that it is deadening,when what they mean is that it drives us beyond adolescent fantasies and romantic dreams.
They say of children that they are piranhas, brats, snots, when what they mean is that the importance of parents with respect to the future is now known with greater clarity and exactitude than ever before. Being married and having children has impressed on my mind certain lessons, and most of what I am forced to learn about myself is not pleasant. The quantity of sheer impenetrable selfishness in the human breast (in my breast) is a never—failing source of wonderment. I do not want to be disturbed, challenged, troubled. Huge regions of myself belong only to me. Seeing myself through the unblinking eyes of an intelligent, honest Spouse is humiliating. Trying to act fairly to children, each of whom is temperamentally different to myself and from each other, is baffling. My family bonds hold me back from many opportunities. And yet these bonds are, I know, my liberation. They force me to be a different sort of human being in a way I want and need.
- Michael Novak, quoted in John Powell, Unconditional Love (Allen TX: Argus, 1978) pp. 92-93
My prayer for you is that you would love every moment of this great and God ordained way of becoming a different sought of human being, in a way you need, and in a way that is Christ empowered and Christ exalting, a life of selfless love towards each other.
Eph. 5:1 Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.