Advent Carols

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Well you will no doubt have heard that I am not a Geordie! I am from South Africa, and when I left last Sunday the temperature was about 34 deg and we were complaining about the heat. It is a pleasure for me to be here with you and I promised myself that I wouldn’t say anything about the rugby, and I won’t, but it is a great joy for me to be here with you this Sunday after yesterday.

I want to share about one verse that was read to us from Luke 19, verse 10, just that one verse this evening. Let me read that to you:

“…for the son of man came to seek and to save what was lost.”

Now of course at Christmas time we remember the birth of Christ, which is called the incarnation, where God became flesh, where God took on human nature. A good question I would think is why did he come? Why did he take the trouble? Why did he get involved in our makeshift world? And I think the best way to answer that question is to find out from Jesus Himself as to why he came. Now that is precisely what it tells us in this verse. It tells us why he came. Jesus said that the son of man came to seek and to save what was lost.

And before we unpack that verse let me just go down one side road. The God of the bible is not only the Creator God of the whole universe, the one who made all things, but he is a personal God and he is a supernatural God. So what an extraordinary thought that God should become flesh! That God should take on human nature! You see, that is actually the greatest miracle of the bible. The greatest miracle of the bible is not that Moses parted the Red Sea or that Jesus walked on water or that Jesus fed five thousand, or even the virgin birth. No, the greatest miracle of the bible is that God became flesh. That God took on human form. That the creator of all the universe should take on human form and walk on planet earth! And that is an extraordinary miracle isn’t it? Just think about it. That the God of the bible should became flesh.

Now perhaps you’ve been here this evening listening or watching on Clayton TV, and you say to yourself, ‘I’m not sure that I can believe the miracle of the bible.’ Let me just say that if you have problems with the miracles of the bible, your problem isn’t actually the miracle of the bible. The problem that you have is your doctrine of God. You see that if you have a small God then quite obviously it is going to be difficult to pull off the virgin birth or the resurrection, or God becoming flesh. But if your God is the God of the bible, who made the laws of nature then, obviously, he can act outside of the laws of nature for his own purposes. That’s not illogical, and not unreasonable, that’s not irrational, that the God of the universe who created the laws of nature should suspend some of those laws for his own purposes. So if you do have a problem with miracles, if they challenge you, your problem is not actually with miracles, your problem is with your doctrine of God. For surely the God of the universe can suspend his laws for his own purposes.

Well let’s dig into the passage, or not the passage but the verse, and I want to unpack the verse by asking three questions. The first question is:

Who is Speaking?

Well of course Jesus is speaking about himself. When he said ‘the Son of man came’, he is speaking about himself, and the obvious implication is that Jesus is talking about his humanity, that he was man, that he was hundred per cent man, hundred per cent human. And of course you find many references in the bible concerning the humanity of Christ. You find references that he was tired, that he was thirsty, that he was hungry, that he was deeply troubled, that he wept. But you see that any orthodox Jew, a Jew that knew the Old Testament, would know that Jesus was actually pointing to his deity. It was that phrase ‘Son of man’ that was used in the Old Testament in a specific way. For in Daniel chapter 7, Daniel speaks about the ‘son of man’. And as he speaks about the son of man this is what he says. He says that:

‘He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshipped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominium that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.’

Daniel is talking about God. It is only God who has all authority and glory and sovereign power. It is only God who will be worshipped by all people. So when Jesus said he is the son of man, well obviously he was pointing to his humanity, but more specifically he is pointing to his deity. For that was an Old Testament phrase speaking about God. And of course as you well know the idea that Jesus is God, that Jesus is King is not very PC in our culture, our culture here in England, our culture in South Africa, and its twisted views of Jesus, and it’s been like that through the ages. Generally most people’s opinion of Jesus is just a magnified version of themselves. So the Greeks in the early centuries portrayed Jesus as a beardless young man looking like the god Apollo. The Cuban government evidently in their early days printed leaflets of Jesus with a rifle round his shoulder. During the French and English wars of the eighteen hundreds, the English would chant ‘The Pope may be French but Jesus is English.’! But of course they were probably wrong on both accounts. Then of course you have the help-them-well Jesus of the TV evangelists, or you have the new age Jesus according to OCRA. You see all of us would prefer to make Jesus in our own image. He’s more tolerant, he’s less demanding. He’s a domesticated Jesus, a Jesus we can manage. A Jesus who doesn’t intrude into our lives.

You see, one of our problems is that unless we know who Jesus is, his true identity, we can’t properly relate to Him. Remember that great scene in the movie Notting Hill which started some years ago now. I have got two teenage daughters, so we still watch all these old romantic movies. And Notting Hill had Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant in a scene where the character Bernie meets Anna, and Anna is played by Julia Roberts and Anna in the movie is this famous Hollywood film star. And the script goes like this:
Bernie says, ‘Tell me Anna what do you do?’
Anna says, ‘I’m an actress.’
Bernie says, ‘I’m in the stock market, though I’ve done a bit of amateur acting – P.G. Woodhouse and all that. Acting is a dreamt up job isn’t it? I mean the wages are a scandal aren’t they!’
Anna says, ‘They can be.’
Bernie says, ‘I know the friends from University who have been in the business longer than you. They are scraping by on eight or nine thousands pounds per year! It’s no life! What sort of acting do you do?’
Anna says, ‘Films mainly.’
Bernie says, ‘Splendid! Well done! How is the pay in movies? I mean, the last film you did, what did you get paid?’
Anna says, ‘Fifteen million dollars.’
Bernie says, ‘Right…..! So that’s fairly good.’

You see Bernie couldn’t relate to Anna properly because he didn’t know who she was. I think it is like that with Jesus. There are many people who can’t relate with Jesus properly unless they know who he is. And here in verse 10, Jesus tells us directly he is the ‘Son of Man’, meaning God in the flesh – The one of ultimate authority and sovereignty and majesty. The king is God. Now of course there have been many people through the ages, even in our own times, who have claimed to be God haven’t they? Many people who claim to be the saviour of the world, most of them are in hospital wards and rightly so. I mean, just imagine if I came here this evening and I said to you, ‘I am the Son of Man. I am the Son of God, the one with all authority and glory and majesty.’ Well you would think that there was a screw loose! You would think I was mad. You would think that my church council needs to give me three months sick leave. See the difference between Jesus and me is that Jesus proved that he was God. He not only died on the cross but God physically and bodily and historically raised him from the dead. He proved that he was God in the flesh through the resurrection. Do you think we would have had any remembrance of Jesus if he had merely died on the cross? Thousands of people were crucified on crosses in the Roman empire. We would have had no remembrance of Jesus if he had merely died on a cross. No, the reason that history is divided between BC and AD is because of one man called Jesus, who not only died but proved his deity by rising from the dead.

So the question who is speaking is actually a critical question, because if Jesus is in fact the King, if he is in fact God in the flesh, if he is the ultimate Judge, then I think it would be a smart move if we should listen to him, or pay attention to him, or obey him. So the first question is ‘Who is Speaking?’ The second question, look at the verse again:

Who was lost?

Jesus said that ‘…the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.’ So the question is, ‘Who was lost?’ Well the bible says that all us, every one of us is lost. The entire human race is lost. It is quite an extraordinary thought actually that none of us feel that we are lost. We normally use that word lost when we are talking about ‘You’ve lost your keys’ or ‘You’ve lost your coat’, or there’s a man lost at sea, or a lost dog or in some field event. But none of us feel lost in that way. On one occasion on our church campus, we had quite a big church and school campus, and I had been with my wife and she sort of taken another turn. And I said to the property manager, ‘I’ve lost my wife. I have lost Jean. Is that good or bad?’ And Fred, he’s very quick and he said, ‘It’s good for her but it’s bad for You!!’ Now we don’t normally feel lost in that sense do we?

Those are one-off events. But when Jesus uses the word lost here, he is really using it in two specific ways. One is that he is talking about a lost relationship. He is talking about existential loss – we’ve lost our way - we’ve lost the purpose for which we were created. See we don’t feel lost like a lost dog or the man lost at sea. No, it is the loss of a relationship. It’s the yearning, the longing for something more. Can it be sometimes discovered when you are listening to your favourite music or looking at your favourite landscape, that a way within your heart is this inexplicable longing. Have you ever discovered that? You wish it would never end. You wish you could look there for ever. And sometimes that longing, that inexplicable longing is so deep, it’s painful. Have you ever wondered what that is? The bible says it is a longing for eternity. It is a longing for heaven. It’s a longing for God, Ecclesiastes says, ‘God has set eternity in the hearts of man’. That is a profound statement because what Ecclesiastes is saying is that you and I were made for God. You and I were made for eternity. And when we deny it, there is this inconsolable longing for more.

Now you may well say to me, ‘Martin, well I don’t believe in God. I don’t believe in heaven, I don’t believe in hell. I don’t believe in the supernatural. I could never call myself a Methodist or a Baptist or a Hindu or a Muslim or an Anglican.’. Well that may well be true, but what is equally true is that you will never escape eternity, because it’s inside of you. It has been placed there by your creator whether you believe in him or not; whether you believe in organised religion or not. We were hard wired for eternity. It is not a matter of what you believe, it is a matter of who you are. Remember that movie The Matrix when Morpheus says to Neo, he says, ‘Let me tell you why you are here. It is because you know something. What you know you can’t explain but you feel it. You have felt it your entire life. There is something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it is there like a splinter in your mind driving you mad.’ What is wrong with the world? What is wrong with us? Well it is that you and I were made for eternity. We were made to know God. And when we deny it, it is like a splinter in your mind driving you mad! Ecclesiastes says, ‘We were made for eternity.’ We were hard-wired for heaven. God has set eternity in our hearts, and when we deny that, when we deny God, we are stuck with this feeling of lostness. The splinter in your mind driving you mad.

The second way in which we are lost is not only that we have lost our way but that we have lost our innocence. The bible says that, ‘All have sinned…’ – all of us – ‘…and fall short of the glory of God.’ You see, we are all sinners by nature, we are sinners from birth. And it’s very interesting that no other religion or philosophy teaches you that, which means that they are not telling you the truth. We are all born sinners. Jesus said that the fruit is corrupt because the tree is corrupt. What did he mean by that? We are not sinful because of what we do. We are sinful because of what we are. And at the heart of sin is not stealing or lying or adultery, although of course those are sins, those are great sins. But the heart of sin is our rebellion against God, our autonomy from God, our independence from God. Where we thrust our fist in the face of God and say, ‘I don’t want you! I don’t need you! Get out of my life! I’ll make my own rules. I’ll make my own happiness. I’ll make my own world view. In fact I’ll be my own God!’ That is the heart of sin – autonomy! – independence! And the tragedy my dear friends is that it always end in tears.

Malcolm Muggerage described his own sinfulness as ‘the dark little dungeon of my own ego.’ The poet Byron ran a rather immoral life as you may be aware, well know. He said, ‘The thorns I have reaped are of the trees I have planted. They have torn me and I bleed. I should have known what fruit would spring from such a seed.’ Perhaps you know exactly what Byron is talking about. You deeply regret the lies, the half lies, the deceit, the adultery, the broken promises, the one-night-stand… you wish you could undo it. And now like fire you are reaping the thorns of the trees you have planted. You are reaping the fruit of the seed you sowed. You are lost and you know you are lost. Douglas Copeland the post-modern author knows that. In his book, The Lion-heart for God, he said, ‘Now here is my secret. I tell it to you with the openness of heart that I doubt I will ever achieve again. So I pray that you are in a quiet room as you hear these words. My secret is that I need God. That I am sick and can no longer make it alone. I need God to help me here because I no longer seem capable of giving. I need God to help me love as I seem being beyond being even able to love.’ You see, I think Douglas Copeland understands. He speaks of lostness, that splinter in his mind, is a longing for eternity – for heaven – for God.

Third and last question is

What is the answer? What is the antidote?

Well notice again in that short verse, 10, “For the Son of man came to seek and to save what was lost.” Now the second truth that no other religion or faith will teach you is the doctrine of Grace, that God’s love is free, that salvation is free. You see, every other religion says that it is our duty to seek after God. So Islam is five pillars. Buddhism has eight steps. Churchianity says, “Be good. Say your prayers and go to church.” Our culture from nursery school teaches us ‘no pain, no gain’. ‘There is no such thing as the free lunch’. ‘You get what you pay for!’ ‘The early bird gets the worm!’ ‘You need to earn your salvation’ – that’s what our culture tells us. That’s what religion tells us. And Jesus says, ‘No! I came to seek and save the lost.’ Jesus says, it’s not the healthy that need a doctor, but the sick. You see, Christianity says that God has taken the initiative to seek after us. It is not us seeking after God. No, it is God seeking after us, and he has come to rescue us from our lostness. He has come to rescue us from our sinfulness, and he did that by dying on the cross in our place, on our behalf. And so reconciliation with God, knowing God, being right with God is a gift, it is grace. When you work a whole month and you get paid at the end of the month, that is not grace, you earn it, you work for it. When you don’t work the whole month and you get paid, that is grace! You didn’t deserve it. You didn’t work for it. Hence the fact that it is Jesus who came to save what was lost.

In that movie The last Emperor, you perhaps saw that movie many years ago when this young Chinese boy was made the last Emperor of China. And he lived in absolute luxury. He had thousands of slaves at his disposal. And one day his brother asked him, “What happens if you do wrong?”. He says, “Well when I do wrong, someone else gets punished!”. And to prove his point he pushed over the precious porcelain jar and it smashes into a million pieces. And immediately one of the servants was taken outside and beaten. Well in the gospel that ancient pattern is broken, because when the servants sin the King is punished! That is why Jesus came, to die in our place, to rescue us and to offer us reconciliation as a gift. What an extraordinary gospel. So we are not saved by what we do. We are not saved by earning it. No, we are saved by casting our eyes on Christ and calling on Him for mercy.

Now let me close and ask you where do you stand before God this evening? Perhaps you have never heard the bible explained in such a way. Perhaps you have never understood that salvation is a gift and you don’t work for it. And you may say, ‘Well how do I receive it? What do I do?’ The answer is ‘Through prayer’. Talk to God and ask him to rescue you.

Now perhaps God has been speaking to you this evening, as we have been singing, as we have been praying, as we have been reading His word led by God the Holy Spirit pressing upon your heart. So I am going to pray a prayer and I will tell you what it is, and you may want to pray that prayer after me but let’s bow our heads in prayer. You may not be ready to pray this prayer and we understand that, but perhaps you have found God the Holy Spirit pressing in upon your heart. The prayer goes like this, ‘Lord I don’t understand it all, but I know that I need you. I know that I have sinned. I know that Christ died on the cross for me. Will you rescue me? Will you make me a Christian? And will you help me to live under your leadership?’ Now if you want to pray that prayer, you just pray it quietly in the back of your head.

Lord I don’t understand it all, but I know that I need you. I know that I have sinned. I know that Christ died on the cross for me. Will you rescue me? Will you make me a Christian? And will you help me to live under your leadership?’‘And Father we thank you that when we turn to you in our needs and our doubts, and call upon you for mercy that you will hear and will answer. So work amongst us we pray for Christ’s sake. Amen.’
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