During the past month we’ve been considering not only the mystery of Christmas, but perhaps more importantly, we’ve been looking at some of the reasons behind Jesus coming into the world and dying for our sins. Our great need is a Saviour, and this is the great hope we are reminded of at Christmas.
You might remember when we began this series I said that you can’t start the Christmas story with the baby in the manger and understand the bigger picture. The gift of the Jesus is rooted and founded in the grief of the broken heart of God, and in order to understand that, you have to go right the way back to where sin first entered our world.
One of the things the Spirit of God does is to convict us of our sin. God’s holiness is contrasted with our brokenness, and this leads to a remorse and a broken heart within ourselves. One of the first steps to salvation is that our hearts too are broken as we grasp something of the great need we have of a Saviour.
The good news is that God hears your cry, and His response is the sending of His Son. Salvation and redemption enables us join that wonderful song the angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to all mankind.”
There’s always great joy at Christmas, but we should not forget the bigger picture of God’s great plan of salvation. The story of the manger is wonderful. Anyone who has ever held a newborn baby will know how the emotions are stirred at a profoundly deep level. There really is nothing quite like it in the human experience. But we need to look beyond the cradle to a crucial detail of God’s great plan – the Cross of Calvary.
You probably wouldn’t expect to hear Isaiah 53:10 read that often during the Christmas season, but it gives us another amazing look at the heart of God.
“The Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief.” (NASB)
The story of the salvation of humankind has its roots in the broken heart of God, but it is also intricately connected to pleasure in the heart of God.
There is no clearer, greater and more pointed demonstration of the love of God than the offer of His Son. “The Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief.”
Just think about this for a moment, especially our parents and grandparents: How could it be that God the Father would ever find pleasure in the crushing and the grief of His Son? That’s what this verse tells us.
Undoubtedly the greatest human instinct is to try and protect our children, and to do whatever it takes to keep them from harm and suffering.
Yet it was God’s plan and it pleased Him to see His Son crushed and suffering. How do we even begin to make sense of this?
What could be so powerful, so motivating in the heart of God, that He would be willing and even find pleasure in allowing His Son to suffer? The simple answer is love. “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.”
God so loved the world, that He would be willing to do the unthinkable in order to accomplish the unachievable. He looked at this broken world, He looked at us, broken inside, now separated in relationship from Him - the one thing we were created for - and God was so full of love, so full of grace, so full of compassion, that He was not willing for us to stay separated from Him. So He sent His Son to accomplish His great plan for you and I. That’s what love really is.
Because of the nature of sin, we were unable to help ourselves. We were unable to escape this dilemma that grips all of our hearts. We were unable to fix the world and ourselves. God had to do it on our behalf. He so loved the world, that He gave, and that is what pleased Him – not the actual suffering of His Son, because that broke His heart, but He finds pleasure in what that suffering brings.
It’s the story of Christmas and Easter – all the same story, and depicted so graphically for us at Calvary. This incredible gift of salvation. To think that we who deserve nothing other than eternal separation from God are loved so much, that He would be willing to subject His Son to unthinkable suffering. Why? And why is it so important for us to be reminded so often of His love and what He has done for us?
Quite simply, because maybe tomorrow, maybe next week, maybe in 10 years’ time you will for all kinds of different reasons be tempted to doubt the love of God.
Maybe it will be a time of physical suffering, and you’ll wonder why God has allowed this pain into your life. It might be a love betrayed and the broken heart that goes with it. It may be financial ruin and the uncertainties and fears that brings. The list is endless, but remember that Jesus told us “in this world you will have trouble.” Whatever that trouble is, you will be tempted to cry out, “God, where are you? Where is this love I keep hearing and reading about?”
If you only remember one thing from today, let it be this: When those moments do come, look to the manger and the cross. The reason is that not only does the gift of Jesus show you the power and nature of God’s love, but it affirms that He will continue to love you, even and especially when everything inside of you tries to deny that truth.
Paul writes in Romans 8, “He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all - how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?” The logic of Paul’s question here is that if God loved us enough to be pleased enough to allow Jesus to suffer for us, then what possible reason could there be for Him to stop loving us?
Once we begin to grasp this great truth it makes it possible for us to begin to make sense of Isaiah 53:10. “The Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief.”
Crushing speaks about the physical suffering of Jesus. Every moment of His life was physical suffering. Jesus’ suffering didn’t just begin on the cross, although this is certainly where it reached its climax. His whole life was one of suffering. Just look at His birth for instance. Forget the warm, cozy manger scenes we’ve grown up with for a moment. Jesus was born in an unhygienic shed and allowed to sleep in smelly straw in a feeding trough. Who knows what kinds of saliva-borne bacteria and diseases were lurking in that manger? The manger was just the start of Jesus’ suffering. He suffered every day as He subjected Himself to the harsh realities of life in a fallen world.
Of course, there was the emotional and spiritual suffering too. He was despised and rejected – not only by us, but by God Himself as He hung on that Cross. Have you ever considered that it is only because of Jesus and what He did that you will never have to repeat that awful cry of His on the cross? “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” In that terrible moment the Father turned His back on His Son, so now in Romans 8 Paul argues that if God would subject Jesus to that kind of torment on our behalf, why would He suddenly stop loving us? If He would do that for you, would He not also give you everything else you need? It would make no sense whatsoever for God to do what He did for you at Calvary, only to turn His back on you in your moment of need.
Paul argues that your guarantee that God will be faithful to you, and that He will be with you and in you and for you and meet all of your needs as you walk through this life towards eternity is the cross of Jesus Christ.
If God did this for you, He will meet all of your needs.
God knows your need, and He is totally committed to meeting them. You no longer need to be afraid, haunted by all of the ‘what ifs’ that keep going around in your mind. You will find peace in coming to terms with the fact that you don’t need to fully understand God, His ways and His sovereignty. There are many times when God will confuse you. Psalm 13:1 says, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?” We don’t always understand the things that God allows into our lives, but you can be at peace with that reality.
Tim Keller says that the importance of believing in the sovereignty of God is not that life will make sense to you. The importance of believing in the sovereignty of God is precisely because life won’t make sense to you.
Part of God’s great plan for us is that we have Him to go to when life confuses us. When satan says, “Where is your God now?” we run to God, instead of from Him, standing on His promises: “The Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief. He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all - how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?”
We remember those promises and say, “If God would do this for me, will He not meet all of my needs?”
We hear the word ‘peace’ a lot in late December every year. Do you have peace in your heart? Really? Do you live with peace, even when your circumstances are not?
The gift of Jesus Christ to you, that great plan of salvation is the ultimate demonstration of God’s faithful love to you. If God would give His Son for you, then you need to know this: There is nothing that He will not do for you.
“The Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief.” That’s God’s great plan of redemption. The plan was that a second Adam had to come; the first Adam failed the test, and a second Adam had to come. Jesus was that second Adam, and He had to be willing to live in the middle of the harsh realities and the temptations of life in a fallen world.
But He had to be willing to be obedient in every way, in every thought, in every desire, in every word, and every action. That obedience included going to the cross as the perfect Lamb of God who carried our sins, satisfying the righteous anger of God to bring us forgiveness, acceptance into the family of God, righteousness and eternal life. That’s the plan.
We had a problem that we could not solve. It’s called sin. You can’t escape it and you can’t defeat it. You can’t redeem yourself, let alone the world from its fallenness. We needed to be rescued, and that’s why the promise of a Saviour is so precious to us. And so, from day one, that little baby was destined to die.
What all of this means is that the Cross of Calvary was not a defeat. It is not plan B.
The cross of Jesus Christ was the Great Plan of salvation. As Max Lucado so eloquently put it, “As the echo of the crunching of the fruit was still sounding in the Garden, Jesus was leaving for Calvary.” He came as a baby, but He came to be the Lamb, the offering that would finally satisfy God’s anger. In that one cruel death, life would be given to many.
“The Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief.” But that’s not the end of the story. It doesn’t begin and end with Christmas Day and Good Friday. Isaiah 53:10 continues with these words: “If He would render Himself as a guilt offering,
He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, and the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in His hand.” Jesus, and those who love and serve Him, will live on. Isaiah 53:10 speaks not only of the Cross, but also of eternity.
Galatians 2:20 says, “It's no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” He gives life to many.
Jesus would be faithful to the Great Plan of the Father. He did everything that the Father asked Him to do, and in so doing, provided for us not only eternal life, but eternal hope.
You don’t need me to remind you that life is hard. At times it’s just unfair.
We all have more than enough hardships, griefs and struggles. Many of you here today are there right now.
And there will be times, no matter how strong your faith may be, when you will be tempted to wonder where God is and what He’s doing.
You’ll hear that voice taunting you: “Where is your God now? Where is His grace and His power now?”
In those moments remember the words of Isaiah 53:10. God’s love is so faithful, so powerful and so willing, that He would be pleased to subject His own Son to cruel suffering and cruel death so that you would know life. If He would do that for you, is it conceivable that He would abandon you in your moment of need?
There is no greater evidence of God’s immeasurable love for you than the gift of Jesus.
He knows your great need. He hears your cries, and He has given you great hope in and through His great plan of salvation. Remember - that hope is a person, and that person’s name is Jesus.
18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities - His eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.
24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator - who is forever praised. Amen.
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favour rests.”
What is the purpose of your life?
Let me put it another way by quoting the first question of the Westminster Catechism: What is the chief and highest end of man? The Westminster Catechism was written in the mid 17th century. It is a series of questions and answers designed to teach foundational principles of the Christian faith. The answer to the very first question is, “Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy Him forever.” That’s the purpose of your life. 1 Corinthians 10:31 says, “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”
Most of us couldn’t even begin to count the number of times we’ve read or heard about the Great Announcement the angels made to the shepherds in Luke 2.
What happened that night was one of the most significant events in history, accompanied by one of the most important songs ever. Just consider the words of the angels in verse 14: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favour rests.” Have you ever considered that what the angels were proclaiming that night is also the purpose of your life?
One of the problems with words that we’re so familiar with is that because we know them so well, they lose the impact they’re meant to have on our lives.
There is something about familiarity that puts our minds and our hearts into some kind of mental and spiritual monotone. We don’t stop often enough to consider the wonder of Scriptural gems like Luke 2:14 – and there are many other verses in the Bible we know very well.
The words of the angels – that great announcement – also hold greater significance for us than we might realise. Yes, they proclaim and celebrate the birth of the promised Messiah, but these words also define your need and mine. And in defining our need, they define the mission of that baby in the manger.
And if they define our need, and they define His mission, then the words of the angels not only announce a birth, but they predict a death too.
‘Glory’ and ‘peace’ are the two principal words of this little hymn, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favour rests.”
Did you know that you are glory focused? You’re glory seeking. You’re obsessed with glory. Everything you do in your life, everything you say, every choice you make, every reaction in relationships is done in pursuit of some kind of glory.
As I wrote in the bulletin today, there is a recurring theme throughout this series, and I want to touch on it again today.
You were created to live for the glory of God. You were created so that the principal motivation in your life would be that God would be praised. The original blueprint of God’s design for humanity included a desire to live with and for God first and foremost in our minds. God was to be the reason for all that we do.
His creation itself was designed to remind us of and to point us to the glory of God. Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God. The skies proclaim the work of His hands.”
Everything that was created is meant to point us to the person, the nature, the character and the plan of God. Del Tackett says in the introduction to the Truth Project, “there is nowhere you can go, and nowhere you can turn where God has not spoken.” The point is that all of life and everything in it is meant to remind us over and over that God is to be the centre of our existence.
We were created to bring glory to Him.
That’s the way it was meant to be, but in a cataclysmic moment of disobedience and rebellion that would have eternal consequences, Adam and Eve chose rather to live for the glory of the creation than the glory of God. They wanted something in the creation more than they wanted God, and ever since then there has been, in all of our hearts, a confusion about what glory really is, and how we use glory in our lives.
Now we don’t always live for the glory of God. There are other glories that compete
against the glory of God, and sadly, these other glories often overshadow the glory of God.
Very often we forget God’s glory, and we live for other glories, and if you think about it, every sin has at its root, an exchange of God’s glory for some other glory. Materialism replaces the glory of God with the possession of physical things. Pride is about living for self-glorification rather than the glory of God. We’re all glory focused, but sadly we’re also glory confused.
None of us can say with absolute honesty that everything we’ve done during this past week has been for God’s glory alone.
Other things have distracted us from living solely for Him. In the words of Romans 1:25, we have “exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator.”
You’ll remember from last Sunday that we are driven by hope. Even though we put our hope in the wrong things many times, we are still motivated by hope. And in exactly the same way we are glory focused, but because our own sin and the sin of others has hampered our walk with God, we are confused about who or what we’re to live for. This confusion brings its own complications with it, because if we’re not living for God, which conflicts with His original design for us, there will always be some kind of emptiness inside. That’s the nature of the human heart warped by sin. We try to satisfy the longings of our hearts with temporary things, but they remain temporary and ultimately empty.
We have a glory problem. We’re caught up in the middle of a glory war, because we all have moments of glory confusion. There are times where we want the creation more than we want the Creator.
“Glory to God in the highest!” How different would this world be if every person lived that way?
Or what about just the Christians? Wikipedia estimates that there are about 2,2 billion Christians in the world – just under one third of the population. How different would this world be if just 1 in 3 people lived for the glory of God alone? Try and picture the scene for a moment: How dramatically different would things be if just the Christians took seriously what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:31 – “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”
As wonderful yet as unlikely as it may seem, this is what God intended for us. This is the way God designed all human beings to live. We were called, chosen and created to live for the glory of God. That was the creation plan. That’s the purpose of your life – the glory of God.
The second crucial word in Luke 2:14 is ‘peace.’ “Peace to men on whom His favour rests.”
Another “default setting” of our nature if you like, is that we were created for peace with God. We were created so that the most important thing in our lives would be our relationship with Him. We were created to have the honour and privilege of living at peace with the God who created us.
There is that heart-breaking moment in the Garden of Eden where God comes down in the cool of the day to commune with Adam and Eve. It’s a picture of how our lives are meant to be, yet there is a serious problem. Adam and Eve aren’t running to meet Him. They’re not excited to see Him. Instead, they’re hiding in guilt, fear and shame because they have been disobedient, and that peace with God has been shattered.
Shalom – the Hebrew word for peace describes something more fundamental than just the absence of conflict. It speaks about things being as they were meant to be. Everything is in its rightful place, working the way they were designed to work. Peace with God means I have peace inside, but because of sin, it no longer works that way. And because I don’t have real peace with God, everything else in my life is affected. I have to deal instead with anxiety, uncertainty, concern and a whole long list of ‘what ifs’?
Of course, one of the greatest casualties of not living at peace with God is that we no longer live at peace with one another. True peace with God would give us an inner peace which would dominate every other aspect and every other relationship in our lives. Why is there so much tension and so much turmoil in so many of our inter-personal relationships? The answer is very simple. It’s because we don’t live at peace with God first.
When I don’t have peace with God, I don’t have peace inside of myself, and this makes it very hard for me to live at peace with others. Even the people I love the most – even those relationships are marked by conflict. None of us here today can say that we’ve lived a conflict-free year. Not last month, not last week, and not even yesterday. Or even this morning. Every day brings its own moments of irritation, impatience and even anger.
All around us is unrest and conflict. And the reason is that we have a peace problem. Brokenness with God leads to brokenness within, and to brokenness in our own communities and families.
The proclamation of the angels in Luke 2:14 is one of the most glorious, yet most ironic cries in the whole Bible: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favour rests.” These words really do capture the great human dilemma. They speak about how things are supposed to be, and at the same time they stand in judgment against us because we fall so short of that standard. We have lost the glory we’re meant to live for, and our peace, our shalom, has been shattered.
But we can take heart, because as we saw last week, the message of Christmas brings us great hope. God, in His mercy has not left us in despair and without hope. Look at the words of the angel to the shepherds in Luke 2:10 again: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people.”
Jesus came to bring us and to do for us what we can’t do for ourselves. He didn’t come on a political mission to establish an earthly kingdom. He didn’t come on an educational mission just to correct our worldview. Jesus didn’t come as some kind of super-psychologist just to make us feel better about ourselves. He didn’t even come on a religious mission to teach us how to follow external, religiously appropriate rituals.
Jesus’s mission is infinitely more radical than that. He came to do what you and I can’t do.
If I have a glory problem, and if I have a peace problem, then, what I have is a heart problem. My problem isn’t so much my relationships and my situations. Those are just symptoms of a deeper cause. My problem is that there is something broken deep down within me. We looked at this a couple of weeks ago. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”
All of the Old Testament prophecies of Jesus make it very clear that He is coming to address that very problem. Ezekiel 36:26 is just one of them: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”
That is why Jesus came – to exchange our rebellious hearts that seek self-glorification with new hearts that live for Him once more, the way it was always meant to be. We, who once lived for our own glory, can now, by His grace, live for His glory.
And not just in a worship service such as this, but in every aspect of our lives.
The words of 1 Corinthians 10:31 once more: “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” Remember, nothing is impossible for God.
The mission of Jesus is not only to bring us the gift of eternal life, but to take the lives we live here and now and transform back to what they were always meant to be – lives lived for the glory of God.
Look at the world around you. What do you see? Billions of people not bringing glory to God and not living at peace with Him and with each other. That’s not what God intended for us, and that is why Jesus came – to put right the things we cannot fix.
Do you really want to get to the end of your life having lived only for your own little glories that mean absolutely nothing in eternity? Do you really want to get to the end of your life not having spoken to someone you love for decades because of some silly argument that has destroyed the peace you once had?
That’s the emptiness of a life lived without Jesus, and even worse, a death died without Jesus.
What a tragedy that so many just don’t care about peace with God. Jesus came because our only hope is His grace. You can’t escape the devastating effects of your broken heart. You can change many things in your life. You can end relationships and go and live on the other side of the world if that’s what it takes. But the one thing you can’t escape is the condition of your heart. Only God can do that. And do you want to know something? He can and He does, and all because of Jesus.
My problem is me, and that’s why a Saviour needs to come. “Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you. He is Christ the Lord.”
Again, you’ll remember from last week that in the cradle we see the cross. The only hope of peace is grace, and the vehicle – the means of grace is death.
The glory and peace we once had has been stolen from us, and as a result we’re all guilty, because rather than living for God, we have tried to be God instead.
Rather than honouring the Creator, we have worshiped the creation, and the sentence of that guilt is death. At the heart of the wonder of Christmas is the horror and the glory of the Cross of Calvary.
Next week we wrap up this series as we look back over God’s Great Plan – a plan that has existed for all eternity. The plan is that a Saviour would come, and from day one, all of His thoughts and all of His desires, all His actions, reactions and responses would be fully and completely and perfectly lived to the glory of God. Jesus, on our behalf, would live for God’s glory. He would live the life that we could not live. And on the cross, He would bear our penalty, and He would face the rejection of the Father so that we could know His acceptance and peace with Him. Upward peace that would create inward peace that would give us the ability
to have outward peace. That’s why He came. That’s what Christmas reminds us of.
And God knew what the cost of His plan would be. The death of Jesus is not Plan B. It is the only plan, the only way, truth and life that we have.
Jesus was born and He died so that we could live, and be released from this obsession we have with self-glory. He came to set us free from not living at peace with Him and with each other.
That Great Announcement of the angels to the shepherds that night was not just to tell them that Jesus had been born.
In those words of their great announcement they also spoke of our great need, our great hope and the great plan of God.
You and I have a glory problem. We don’t always get glory right. We have a peace problem. We don’t always care about peace with God, peace within and peace with each other.
So we still need the grace of God to change and sustain us.
The angels announced your need, they announced your hope and they announced your redemption.
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favour rests.”
1 Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor His ear too dull to hear. 2 But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear. 3 For your hands are stained with blood, your fingers with guilt. Your lips have spoken lies, and your tongue mutters wicked things. 4 No one calls for justice; no one pleads his case with integrity. They rely on empty arguments and speak lies; they conceive trouble and give birth to evil. 5 They hatch the eggs of vipers and spin a spider’s web. Whoever eats their eggs will die, and when one is broken, an adder is hatched. 6 Their cobwebs are useless for clothing; they cannot cover themselves with what they make. Their deeds are evil deeds, and acts of violence are in their hands. 7 Their feet rush into sin; they are swift to shed innocent blood. Their thoughts are evil thoughts; ruin and destruction mark their ways. 8 The way of peace they do not know; there is no justice in their paths. They have turned them into crooked roads; no one who walks in them will know peace. 9 So justice is far from us, and righteousness does not reach us. We look for light, but all is darkness; for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows. 10 Like the blind we grope along the wall, feeling our way like men without eyes. At midday we stumble as if it were twilight; among the strong, we are like the dead. 11 We all growl like bears; we moan mournfully like doves. We look for justice, but find none; for deliverance, but it is far away. 12 For our offences are many in your sight, and our sins testify against us. Our offences are ever with us, and we acknowledge our iniquities: 13 rebellion and treachery against the Lord, turning our backs on our God, fomenting oppression and revolt, uttering lies our hearts have conceived. 14 So justice is driven back, and righteousness stands at a distance; truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter. 15 Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey. The Lord looked and was displeased that there was no justice. 16 He saw that there was no one, He was appalled that there was no one to intervene; so His own arm worked salvation for Him, and His own righteousness sustained Him. 17 He put on righteousness as His breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on His head; He put on the garments of vengeance and wrapped Himself in zeal as in a cloak. 18 According to what they have done, so will He repay wrath to His enemies and retribution to His foes; He will repay the islands their due. 19 From the west, men will fear the name of the Lord, and from the rising of the sun, they will revere His glory. For He will come like a pent-up flood that the breath of the Lord drives along. 20 “The Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who repent of their sins,” declares the Lord. 21 “As for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the Lord. “My Spirit, who is on you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will not depart from your mouth, or from the mouths of your children, or from the mouths of their descendants from this time on and forever,” says the Lord.
This is the season of peace and goodwill, so why would we choose Isaiah chapter 59 to read today? The simple answer is that as Christians, instead of being distracted by the tinsel and fake snow in the supermarkets, our focus needs to be on the true hope that Christmas offers us. As I mentioned last week, we have to get some idea of the extent of our great need for a Saviour if we are ever to really appreciate just what God has done for us.
As Alexander Pope so eloquently put it all those years ago, “hope springs eternal in the human breast.”
If you had to choose one characteristic that defines all of humanity, you’d be hard-pressed to go beyond the word “hope.”
We don’t live by instinct. Every decision, every choice you make, every response you have to the situations and relationships of your life is fueled by and motivated by hope. The story of your life is a hope story. Our happiest moments are hopes fulfilled. Our saddest moments are hopes dashed or destroyed. We’re always looking for hope. We’re always attaching the hope of our hearts to something.
How do we define hope? Well, hope is an object or an expectation. It is something or someone outside of ourselves We always hope in something, asking that something to deliver something.
Of course, too often we look for hope in all the wrong places, but we remain a people of hope regardless of the object of our hope. Unfortunately we want things to give us hope that just can’t deliver.
At first glance Isaiah 59 is a rather depressing chapter, but it is really a brilliant hope passage because it’s written in a dark moment. The setting of Isaiah 59 was one of the darkest times in the history of the nation of Israel.
They had been in captivity in Babylon for 70 years, and now finally they returned home to Jerusalem, but the place was a mess. There were no city walls. The temple, that one place at the centre of their lives, was destroyed. There was no government, which meant the law was not being enforced. This created all kinds of problems. There was no justice or leadership. Instead, there was widespread crime and violence and massive poverty. The whole social structure had broken down, to be replaced by complete anarchy and chaos.
And into that utter darkness and despair, Isaiah speaks of hope. In your darkest moments, your true, real hope will be exposed. And your true, real hope will either come through for you and deliver, or it will deeply disappoint you. Depending of course completely on the object of your hope.
We’ve all put our hope in people and things that have let us down and destroyed our hope. That’s the price we pay for being fallen people in a fallen world.
The only way we will ever find true hope is to give up on all those things that can’t deliver. We’re slow learners, and very often we only turn to the true source of hope when we’ve tried everything else.
Someone once said that the doorway to hope is hopelessness. It is only once we’re in the depths of hopelessness and despair that we realise that true hope is not a thing or an experience. True hope is a person, and His name is Jesus.
Isaiah 59:1 is an important verse: “Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor His ear too dull to hear.” The bigger picture here is that God, speaking through the prophet Isaiah, is answering a charge or an accusation they had made against Him. The accusation was that God had forgotten about them or no longer cared. This should sound familiar!
When life is hard and we’re suffering or being disappointed in some way, when the comfort and ease that we prefer is taken away, we often question or even blame God for letting us down.
We question His faithfulness, His goodness, His wisdom and even His love. “God, where are you? Where is your faithfulness? Where is your grace? Where is your love? You haven’t answered my prayers. Where are you?”
That’s what the people were doing in Isaiah’s time, and we still do it today. The great tragedy is that when we do allow our hearts to question God, His motives and His character, we find it very hard then to turn to Him for help. It’s in our nature to not go for help to someone that we don’t think we can fully trust. And not trusting God is a bad place to be. When we reach the point of convincing ourselves that God cannot be completely trusted, our faith will be shipwrecked, we’ll stop looking to Him for answers, we’ll try to find them elsewhere and we end up making things harder instead of easier.
So in verse 1 God says to the people, “No, you’ve got it wrong. What’s going on is not a sign that my arm is too short to reach you. What’s going on is not a sign that my ears are so dull that I can’t hear you. I’m not the problem.”
Essentially what God was saying to them was, “You’ve been an unfaithful people and have put your hope in things that will not satisfy your hope, so I’ve allowed these difficulties into your life to pry open your hands to let go of those things, so that you would return to me instead. These difficulties are not a sign of my unfaithfulness and inattention. In fact, these difficulties are a sign that I am near.”
When we think God has forgotten about us, the exact opposite is true. When He brings and allows struggles into our lives, it’s not because He no longer loves us, can’t hear our prayers, or is somehow too weak to help. No – He does these things because He loves us, because He cares and because He is near.
The charge God answers in verse 1 is invalid, and He goes on to pierce our hearts in verse 2: “Your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear.” And then He speaks about the real problem.
Part of the problem is the culture of blame we live in. I like to think that the biggest, deepest problems in my life are outside of me. Yes, I do mess up occasionally, but the vast majority of what’s wrong in my life is the fault of others and the situations they put me in. It’s much easier for me to blame my parents, the government or anyone else for the challenges that I face each day, rather than myself. I’m one of the good guys, and I am a victim of circumstance. That’s the culture of blame that we’ve all bought into.
And what does God say to me and each of us in response to that? “Let me tell you what the problem is. You’re the problem.”
We’re the problem. We have taken God’s perfect plan for our lives and we’ve destroyed it with our sin.
We like to think we’re pure, but we’re not. Our motives, our desires, our purposes and our thoughts challenge this mistaken idea that we are inherently good. We’re capable of good – we see and experience human kindness all the time, but we are not inherently good. We’re inherently bad.
My sins, my transgressions and my iniquities have separated me from God and I am essentially the problem. We touched on this last week when we considered our great need. The greatest problem, the thing that most needs to be fixed is inside of us, not outside of us. That’s the truth. And you’ll never find hope if you don’t listen to and understand God’s accusation against you first.
Remember that the door to hope is hopelessness. You need to see the empty hope and the empty promises before you can grasp the true hope that is to be found in Jesus.
“Lord, I’ve got a problem that I can’t solve.” That is the doorway to real hope. Isaiah 59 begins to talk about that hope from verse 15: “The Lord looked and was displeased that there was no justice. He saw that there was no one, He was appalled that there was no one to intervene; so His own arm worked salvation for Him, and His own righteousness sustained Him. He put on righteousness as His breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on His head; He put on the garments of vengeance and wrapped Himself in zeal as in a cloak.”
God knows our great need, and in His mercy and because of His unending grace, He gives us hope – true hope.
What He says to us is, “Now that you finally realise you have no hope and nowhere else to look, I’m going to send you hope, but it won’t be an experience or a thing. The hope I am sending you is a person, and His name is Jesus. Hope is going to come.”
That’s the Christmas story. The Christmas story is hope coming. That’s why the angels sang those glorious songs. That’s why the wise men came to worship and why the shepherds were awestruck. Hope invaded the earth in the person of Jesus Christ. Hope came. Hope that had been lost for so long, hope that had been destroyed is now coming.
And that promised hope would bring two things with Him: justice and grace. Look at verse 17 again: “He put on righteousness as His breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on His head; He put on garments of vengeance wrapped Himself in zeal as a cloak.”
Jesus brings hope and peace, but He will also bring vengeance and wrath. We love the idea of a helpless baby in a manger, but that baby is also the King of the Universe. A King who cannot and will not tolerate sin and unholiness.
The Bible is very clear on this: God takes sin seriously. Sin is serious, sin is evil, sin is disastrous and sin leads to death. So He will never say that it’s okay for us to sin. The God of the Bible is Holy and He hates sin. He will not tolerate it, and He will punish every sin.
Part of the problem is that we’ve bought into the lie our sin doesn’t really matter. But it does, and it will be dealt with. And even that gives us hope.
Because God’s righteous anger and His holy justice is the hope of the universe. God’s anger with sin and His commitment to justice means He will not rest until sin is defeated, and defeated forever. And that’s a good thing, not a bad thing. The promise that He will one day destroy sin for once and for all gives us great hope. He will not relent and He will not stop until every trace of sin is destroyed in every heart of every one of His children.
One of the greatest victories we will experience in eternity will be the complete destruction of sin. There sin will die and we’ll live forever in a place where there is no sin, there is no violence, there is no evil, there is no transgression and there is no sickness, suffering or any of those things. They will be defeated forever because this is a just God that we love and serve.
Justice will be done, but even more remarkably, He will serve His justice in and through grace. Verse 20 and 21: “The Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who repent of their sins. As for me, this is my covenant with them. My Spirit, who is on you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will not depart from your mouth, or from the mouths of your children, or from the mouths of their descendants from this time on and forever.”
He is going to send us a Redeemer. To redeem means to buy something back. “I’m going to send my Son and He is going to live on your behalf the perfect life that you could not live. Then He is going to take your sin on Himself and die the death that you should die. But He dies as a perfect Lamb, a perfect sacrifice, and His death will satisfy my anger. And then He’s going to rise again and conquer death so that He can give you eternal life.” That’s what God promises us. That’s the great hope He offers us – the great hope we see at Christmas.
By Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, His righteousness is now imputed – given to you, and you and I can now stand without fear before a holy God once more, just as it was in the Garden of Eden before sin corrupted us. Because of Jesus and the great hope He brings, this perfect, holy God sees you as if you never sinned. We can now be unafraid of His wrath and accept His amazing invitation to live once more in a perfect relationship with Him.
That’s redemption. That’s the great mystery and the great hope of Christmas.
Verses 16 to 20 of Isaiah 59 are a prophecy of the cross of Jesus Christ. They are an announcement of the cross. Because on the cross of Jesus Christ, the holy justice of God and the amazing grace of God come together. On the cross we see justice satisfied and grace delivered.
I know I’ve said this before, but if it were up to me I would move Christmas Day to the Thursday of Holy Week but without the distraction of all the tinsel and pretty flashing lights. Christmas Day, Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday – all in the space of 4 days. That would help us to understand our great hope a lot better because it’s all the same story.
Hope came at Christmas and Hope went to the Cross of Calvary for us. On the Cross the wrath and justice of God is satisfied as Jesus bears that holy anger. There He takes all that penalty that was ours and we receive His grace and mercy instead.
On the Cross, the one who is hope brings together the justice and grace of God. And hope is returned, because it is there where justice and grace deal with our great need – redemption from our sin.
Have you been brought to the point of utter despair and hopelessness yet? Have you put your hope in yourself and other and come up empty handed every time? Aren’t you tired of that?
There is only one source of true hope, and His name is Jesus. Hope can really only be hope when it’s placed in Him. In Him you will find the peace and strength to cope with all of your tomorrows and all the challenges and heartaches they hold for you. And the greater hope is this: The reward for your faith in Jesus Christ is an eternity where there will be no more sickness, no more suffering and no more sin. The hope of Christmas is that Jesus offers you a place of absolute peace, absolute righteousness and absolute joy forever and ever.
If He has promised you those things for eternity, then you can know with absolute assurance that He will guide you and protect you in this life too. The hope and promise of eternal grace brings with it the hope and promise of the grace you need here and now.
That is the great hope that God brings you through the miracle of Christmas. Hope came to our world 2000 years ago, and His name is Jesus.