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Sunday, 8 December 2013

'GOD WITH US'

Rev. Brian Wilkie
By Rev. Brian Wilkie                                                                                    

Pastor of St. Andrew's Christian Community
Rockland, Ontario


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PODCAST LINK to CFRA broadcast - Sunday, December 8th, 2013:
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Broadcast Notes:
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‘Emmanuel, God with us

This program is sponsored by Good News Christian Ministries Box 184 Rideau Ferry, Ontario K0G 1W0. I'm your host today, Brian Wilkie of St. Andrew's Christian Church in Rockland. As always we will start by thanking you, our listeners. We are grateful for your encouragement and support and remember that you can always visit us on our website for materials to encourage and support you in your Christian walk. 

Today I would like to speak to you about one of the names given to our Saviour in prophecy; that name is “Emmanuel, God with us.”

Our Scripture is from Isaiah chapter 9 verses 1 to 7 and is a familiar Scripture at Christmas time. I think I first heard this one, probably, in the Charlie Brown Christmas Special years and years ago. This is what Isaiah had to say:

Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan—

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.
3           You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as men rejoice when dividing the plunder.
4          For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them,
the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor.
5           Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire.
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.
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. 
(Isaiah 9:1-7 NIV)

“God with us,” the phrase from another prophecy given to Isaiah fills this passage of Scripture as well. What are the implications of God coming to be with us in Jesus Christ? This very Scripture speaks in terms of light, joy, freedom, peace, order, justice and righteousness: all declarations of Scripture about the meaning of Jesus being with us.
Well we will get into all that in a few moments, but first let's listen to this hymn of hope “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus” as presented by Steve Bell on his album Feast of Seasons.

Well today I would like to take a close look at this familiar Scripture from Isaiah to talk about what Jesus brings into the world as he comes as our Savior. The first thing that that Isaiah speaks of, as he proclaims the very prophecy of God, he speaks of people walking in darkness coming to see a great light, “on those living in the land of shadow [in the shadow of death] a light has dawned.”  The word light is used so often used as an icon of goodness and truth in life. That's exactly what Isaiah is told to tell the people of Israel (and in fact all people, because this prophecy goes out into all the world). He says that that we will see light.

Now light is always a good thing (unless we are trying to sleep) and by darkness we so often mean those things that oppress us, those fears that the concern us and the anxiety we feel, the sadness we feel. All of these things seem to be to be blown away when light comes into the picture. When we are uncertain or confused and we don't know which way to turn we need a brighter light. When we're having trouble seeing details and understanding things, when we are having trouble reading, a little bit more light on the subject is what we call for.

Light is unquestionably an image of goodness and greatness, but in particular the Scripture here describes the opposite of light as ‘the shadow of death’. We have seen that expression before, “walking through the valley of the shadow of death” in the 23rd Psalm. We understand that by darkness the idea of death, that ‘coming to nothing,’ the end of all goodness is imaged. The shadow of death is contrasted with the light which Jesus brings. All humanity dwelt under the shadow of death. Some people seem to have done a good job of ignoring the reality of death but we all live under its shadow. At least we did until Jesus Christ came into our lives, came into our world, and he offered eternal life to all who would turn to him, to all who would turn away from the ways of death, would turn away from sin and darkness and decay. He said, “come to me,” and he will be the light for our souls, so we turn from death to life when we turn from darkness to light. Jesus brings light into a darkened world.

The second thing that the Scripture reads is about “enlarging the nation and increasing their joy.” Now who can argue with joy? But first let's look at the “enlarging the nation” idea. One thing of which the prophecy spoke was probably about the return of exiles and the reestablishment of Israel, but of course it looks farther ahead to something that the Savior is going to do. That is to expand the people of God beyond just the chosen people of Israel, making them, as he had promised Abraham, making the people of Israel a blessing to all nations. The nation has indeed been enlarged as the people of God have expanded to come from every tribe and every tongue in every language. What a joy to know that there is no one who needs to be excluded from this good news of Jesus Christ! The nation can include all who, not because of their goodness, not because of their perfection nor their purity, but because they have turned to Jesus, discovered the source of life and love, and have allowed him to begin the transformation in their lives. Oh the joy having the Lord Jesus Christ.

The images of joy are twofold in this Scripture where Isaiah speaks of people rejoicing at the harvest. Well that's an easy enough thing for us to rejoice in. We can imagine the joy of having abundant food and abundant wine, having abundant nutrition; the things that we need for life. To be able to know that there are abundant flocks for the Israelite people to take wool and make clothing, to be able to support their families, to be able to enjoy life. There is a great place for feasting in the rituals of the people of Israel as in the life of the church today, where that joy is considered to be such a gift of God: the joy of harvest.

But Isaiah also speaks of another kind of joy. He says, “as men rejoice when dividing the plunder.” That's a bit more difficult today. I think most of us really don't look favorably upon battle. We understand the Jesus has told us to love our enemies, and even though sometimes we feel compelled to stand up against wickedness in the world with force, we certainly don't rejoice at evil or the defeat of another person. Like God we wish that the wicked would turn from their wickedness and live. We don't take delight in that kind of plunder. However when we consider the enemy that Jesus has overcome, that he's overcome that which oppresses us, that yoke that burdens us, the bar across our shoulders, we can understand that this part of the Scripture speaks not only of political and military forces but also of those forces that that have constrained us, even when we lived in political and military freedom. I'm talking about the forces of sin in our lives. Isn't it wonderful to think that are our habits and attitudes, the things which have gotten control of us, are going to be defeated. We will be able to live in freedom and rejoice in the goodness of how God has made us free from the burdens of sin. I will certainly be rejoicing and I do rejoice each time that I find myself growing through the power of God in some area of holiness or obedience or courage or peace, any place where the work of God brings me to a new victory over sin. We rejoice, we have joy in having God with us, that Jesus, by his presence, is strengthening us, setting us free. In fact that freedom is a big theme of this, the freedom from oppression, the ability to obey God in every circumstance is one thing that I just treasure because Jesus Christ is with us.

We need not be dominated by circumstances. How often is our attitude or our mood dominated by the things that don't go right in our lives? We don't seem to have self-control at times: we allow ourselves be made unhappy, to be made angry, to be made dissatisfied by things outside of our control. Instead, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we have a new freedom available to us. God is with us! And he that is in us, Scripture says, is greater than he that is in the world. There is no power on earth which needs to have domination over us, not even Satan himself. The secret to this is that God is in us: that when we have received Christ he has come and made his home in us; that his righteousness lives in us, that his spirit lives in us. And as we come to realize this, as we come to see this take effect in our lives, we have hope that every burden, every yoke, every oppression will be lifted.

We also have a peace that comes. This Scripture speaks that the warriors’ boots and the garments worn in battle are destined for burning. No longer is this equipment for war needed in the presence of God, for Jesus has defeated the enemy. Our battle has been won and the reason for all this joy, peace, freedom, light: all of this is because a child has been born, because the Son has been given. God has put the rule of the earth on his shoulders. The peace which comes does come through his work of setting things right. God establishes an order in this world, or should I say re-establishes an order, in this world and for that we can be truly joyful.

Sometimes we are upset by the order of the world around us. Sometimes rules and regulations, sometimes what passes off as righteousness or justice this bothers us because it's so imperfect, but when the perfect comes, when God's perfect rule of love and truth and righteousness is brought to bear on the world and is brought to bear on our own souls there's nothing to shrug off, nothing to be upset about, for his way is perfect.

Now I want to share with you a song from Sarah Groves’ album Holy Night. This song is titled “A Cradle In Bethlehem.” Just take a few moments to listen to this before we bring our message to conclusion today.

Christ has come into the world. Jesus is with us. Even at his ascension he promised that he would be with us even to the end of the age, so although bodily he is no longer on the earth, he is with us by his Spirit He is with us according to his promise so we can live now in the light, joy, freedom and peace that comes through his gift of salvation. We can live now, even if we've never experienced it before, by turning to Christ and inviting him to come and dwell within us. To receive Christ is to accept that he is Lord that he has the right to rule within our lives, has the right to transform us to remove from us the vestiges of sin. And he will do that over time. To receive Christ is also to accept with patience the discipline that he exacts in our life as he continues to work in us. Much as I'd like my life to be changed in the snap of a finger, that doesn't appear to be the way Christ does his transforming. He works with us day by day, week by week, year-by-year. Decade by decade he brings us into a community of other Christians who sometimes instruct us, sometimes encourage us, and sometimes give us challenges that we need to face in his strength. But more than that, if Christ is in us, we are now also Christ to the world. So it's not just a matter of the fullness of Christ filling us in being self-satisfied, but Christ calls us into the world to bring this light, joy, freedom, peace, this righteousness and justice, this love and grace into our communities, into our families, into our workplaces – into every corner of the world where he has sent us as his witnesses and as his ambassadors. Being Christ in the world is a great opportunity to experience his life and light, to watch his light spread into the world, to see his joy received and to watch others straighten up and be able to stand again after being under the burden and dominance of sin.

Let's turn to God in prayer and ask him to help us be these be these ambassadors and if need be you might want to pray with me also that we would realize God's presence, God with us, even more through our relationship with Christ. Let's pray:

 Almighty God, thank you that you've sent Jesus into the world so that he would be with us in that moment in history and be with us physically. Thank you that by his death and resurrection you have made him the Savior of all – that you have given everyone the opportunity to draw near to him. Thank you for the gift of your Holy Spirit by which you work within us and in the world around us to establish your kingdom and your presence in each one of us. Lord, help us to recognize that you are with us, help us to let you live in us and through us, help us to be open to your command and your spirit. Lord, in every way, use us to make this glorious good news known to all the earth, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

I want to thank you listeners for your encouragement and support we do thank you because you keep us on the air week by week, and as this year draws to a close I do want to encourage you to support our ministry financially. Did you know that Good News Christian Ministries has only one major cost? Brent Russett, George Sinclair, Juliet Schimpf and I are volunteers and so are the people managing our website, organizing our events, and operating our Board. Your gift can help us to continue to meet that one vital expense, our cost of broadcasting, which enables this program to reach you and over 7000 listeners in the Ottawa River Valley. if you can please make out a check payable to Good News Christian Ministries and send it to box 184 Rideau Ferry, Ontario K0G 1W0. We will send you a receipt at income tax time.

Please also tell others about this program and be sure to worship in a church where the gospel is soundly proclaimed and lived out with compassion, integrity and resolve.

Now to conclude our program here is a song from Carolyn Ahrens which is called “Now in Flesh Appearing.”

I do pray that the Lord will hold your heart and you would know Jesus personally and profoundly may the Holy Spirit reside deep within your heart. May the Heavenly Father surround you with his constant and abiding and accompanying love.

Good news in the morning is produced in the Studios of news talk radio AM580.

- Rev. Brian Wilkie
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