12-08-2013 message by Pastor Rich Doebler
What’s trending? Yesterday was Pearl Harbor Day (and our own Arvid Carlson, 99 years old, was featured in the local paper). This past week the world took notice of the death of 95-year-old Nelson Mandela (27 years in prison for protesting against the segregationist policies government of South Africa).
Then there was Serge Vorobyov, the man who said he only wanted to spread some Christmas cheer. So he tossed one thousand $1 bills from the upper level of the Mall of America. In the center court a trio was singing “Let It Snow,” when Serge started pulling money out of a bag and throwing it out to drift down on the crowd below. Why did he do it? He said he’d had a hard year: he lost his business, his livelihood is gone, his wife is divorcing him…and she even took his cat. So he hoped to turn things around by giving away his last $1,000. “I wanted to do some sort of pay-it-forward kind of thing,” he said. So what’s happened? Well, he’s gotten some publicity and generated traffic to his YouTube and PayPal accounts, but the last I heard, his wife is still divorcing him—and she still has the cat. And the Mall of America gave him a disorderly conduct citation and ordered him to stay away from the mall for a year.
There are a lot of interesting people, aren’t there? There are many stories—some fascinating, some inspiring, others just plain weird.
You may hear people talk these days about “what’s trending.” It’s just another way to talk about what’s happening…to keep up with people—what they’re up to, the current events of our world.
But let’s take “trending” one step further. Let’s talk about what God is up to! Is God doing anything today? Is God at work in the world today?
Last week we heard how God used to speak…in the past through the various OT prophets. Does God still speak today? Does God have a message for us now, in 2013? And if so, what is God saying? And how does he say it?
Well, the answer is “Yes! God still speaks today. And he has a message for us.”
Last week we read Heb 1:1-3 where it says: 1 In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…”
God speaks to us through Jesus, whom he sent into this world.
Christmas celebrates Jesus coming into the world. Jesus came so we could see God better than we ever could just by reading the ancient prophets. Jesus came so he could reveal the Father to us.
The passage in Hebrews goes on to explain that 3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being…” In other words, we can hear God better and see him better as we look at and listen to his Son, Jesus. Jesus “radiates” the glory of the Father.
So what does that mean? Well, to radiate is to shine—to give light.
- Imagine a dark night when suddenly someone turns on 100,000 Christmas lights. That’s radiance.
- Or imagine walking through Bentleyville when the power goes out—lights mean radiance; without lights means you’re in darkness. That illustrates what “radiance” means—but that picture falls short.
- What about an intense, bright spotlight, revealing details with incredible clarity? No, even that wouldn’t totally capture the idea.
- But maybe if you take Bentleyville and put it under the blazing, brilliant light of the midday sun…
Jesus came like a blazing, brilliant light to show the glory of the Father and reveal who God is. Jesus shows us God’s nature…his grace…his love. Jesus came so we would not be left in the dark about God…so we could know him better…so we could experience his love and forgiveness and have hope for the future.
The OT prophet Isaiah told about this light hundreds of years before: The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. (Isa 9:2)
Later, that prophecy was fulfilled in the Gospel of John: 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:4-5)
Jesus described his mission in the same way: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12).
Jesus is the light of the world, revealing God’s glory to us. But he’s not only the radiance of God’s glory; Jesus is also the “exact representation” of God. Now what does that mean?
…very image of [God’s] nature (AMP); very expression of God’s essence (CJB); exact imprint of his nature (ESV); charakter: a tool used for engravingàused for “mark…impression,” exact reproduction; used to speak of the likeness of a public figure imprinted on the image of a coin.
Let me explain it like this: I get calls on my cell phone—and often the picture of the caller pops up on my screen (from FB or Google+ or somewhere, I’m not even sure how they all get in there). I can see who is calling me before I even answer the phone—not just a caller ID, but an actual picture. Occasionally, however, I get a “faceless” call—no picture. So the phone company helpfully puts up an approximate representation of a person—something like the icon on the cover of your bulletin. You can tell it’s a person calling, but that’s all the information you get. It’s only approximate.
Jesus didn’t come to give us an approximate representation of God. He came as the exact representation. When we see Jesus, we see the Father.
- Jesus: Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. (John 14:9)
- Jesus: No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)
Jesus is God! Jesus is fully God and fully human—he is 100% God, 100% human. We cannot explain the inexplainable; we cannot explain the infinite God—but we can believe.
- Last week we saw a few OT prophecies (like Isaiah’s): a child will be born…a son given… His name: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace… and Isaiah spoke of the Messiah’s government, kingdom, throne (9:6-7)
- In the NT, Peter told the Jewish leaders: There is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:12)
- One Jewish leader recognized that Jesus did what no mere mortal could do: No one could perform the miraculous signs which you are doing if God were not with him (John 3:2, NIV84).
- In fact, the Gospel of John is filled with claims and proofs of Jesus’ deity. Jesus told the woman at the well, “I am he” (4:26); he told his critics, “…before Abraham was born, I am” (8:58). Eventually he was killed because his enemies reacted to his claims: “he claimed to be the Son of God” they told Pilate (19:7).
- In Colossians Paul wrote that all the fullness of the Deity dwelled in Jesus—that he was the visible image of the invisible God (1:15-20; 2:9).
- And in Romans 1:4 we read that Jesus was declared (or proved*) to be God’s Son with power by the Resurrection. [*CEV, LB, NLV]
So this is what’s trending at Christmas time! This is what God is up to! This is our message: that Jesus is the Son of God; that God come to earth in human flesh.
But we have a problem with that message. People don’t want to hear about God coming to this world—because they suspect he’s going to ask something of them! When he comes knocking, they know he wants someone to answer the door.
That’s true! When God calls, he doesn’t want us checking caller ID before we decide if we’re too busy to pick up or not. He wants us to answer.
The problem is that people don’t want a God who comes to take over their lives. People want different gods, convenient gods, comfortable gods.
The problem is that those kind of gods are false gods. Idolatry isn’t just a thing of the past. Even today—even in our so-called civilized, secular society—people have idols! False gods…
The trend today is for a quick fix—a “feel-good” solution. People settle for false hope from false gods. The trend is to avoid the hard truth that says we are messed up sinners who need a Savior.
When we look at today’s religious trends, for instance, what do we see?
- Here’s an amazing trend: spirituality is up, but personal commitment is down. People like to think of themselves as “spiritual,” but many of them stay clear of traditional expressions of faith. They don’t like personal commitment—they want to call their own shots.
- People try to work out their own salvation: Don’t interfere with my life. I can handle it myself.
- Bill Maher (TV pundit) represents the feelings of many when he said: “I just don’t get it. The thought of someone else cleansing me of my sins is ridiculous. I don’t need anyone to cleanse me. I can cleanse myself.” (Gods at War, p 136)
- Warren Buffett donated 85% of his $44 billion fortune to charity and said: “There is more than one way to get to heaven, but this is a great way.” (Gods at War, p 136)
- Others look to other so-called “saviors” (government, education, science and technology, psychology or philosophy) to save them. They trust in something, but it’s not the one true God.
- Others go further and give themselves over to other “gods”—pseudo religions, if you will. In an attempt to find meaning and purpose in life, they surrender to false gods. Like worshiping idols, they sacrifice the most important things of life (family, relationships, peace of mind) in a frenzied, futile quest for recognition and fame, or a huge income with ginormous bank accounts, or major accomplishment and success.
- Another trend? People who refuse to face their real, deep-seated issues; they avoid dealing with their internal garbage. Some become quite skilled at “covering up”—ignoring problems, sweeping the past under the rug, never confronting their junk.
- Facing their own emptiness, many people try to cover their frustration with drugs, drink, pleasure—anything to anesthetize the pain.
- Rather than deal with their issues, they do all they can to avoid them. They look for distractions.
- A few years ago, Neil Postman wrote a book called Amusing Ourselves to Death, saying that popular culture sucks the life out of us by distracting us from what’s most important.
Here’s the truth: If you don’t acknowledge Jesus as God (and let him direct your life so you live like you believe he is God), other “gods” will influence your choices and redirect your behavior and actions.
Recently I read a book called: Gods at War: Defeating the idols that battle for your heart. The author makes an astounding claim: that even Christians can be idol worshipers at heart. They might be Christian in name, but the way they live says that they serve other gods.
We understand this better if we see idol worship for what it really is, by definition:
- When anything, any desire, any activity comes between you and God.
- When any priority or any passion or any object becomes an obsession that controls your life.
- Even good things (given by God) can take over and consume us or distort our thinking. The result? Good things can become idols.
We have a God-shaped vacuum within our souls—a hole meant to be filled only by God. If we try to fill our emptiness by stuffing other things into that God-shaped hole, we will never be satisfied. It’s idolatry.
A year ago this Saturday, the nation was shocked and horrified to hear about the terror and senseless tragedy that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. In the face of such incredible evil, people struggled to find something to give them hope and comfort. There were candle-light vigils; there were touching memorial services for the 20 children and 6 adults who were killed. In the midst of all the pain, many turned to the message of Christmas—that Jesus coming to earth was God reaching out in love to the world, to bring us to himself.
Some, however, refused to turn to God. One of those was Susan Jacoby, an atheist, who tried to console the parents of the murdered children. She wrote a piece in the NY Times called “The Blessings of Atheism.”
So what could Jacoby say in the face of such evil? What can atheists say? They reject God and believe this life is all there is. They believe there’s nothing after this life is over, so what can they say?
Can atheism comfort the families of the children of Newtown? Their young lives came to a terrible and tragic end. Could Jacoby’s false god of atheism offer any hope? She quoted a famous agnostic, saying, “…death, even at its worst, is only perfect rest. …The dead do not suffer.”
That was it! That was all she could offer. She believes those children no longer exist. Their 6- or 7-year-old lives was all they would ever know. But at least in death they do not suffer.
One writer (Dennis Prager) evaluated her attempt to console grieving parents by saying, “her piece provides one of the finest illustrations of the intellectual and emotional emptiness at the heart of atheism.” http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/337673/atheist-response-sandy-hook-dennis-prager
Emptiness. There is a God-shaped hole in every person. Stuff that inner spiritual hole with whatever you want, but unless you fill it with God…unless you open yourself up to his Son, you will never find the truth you need—for this life or the next.
So what is God up to? What’s trending today? God is speaking to us in these last days through his Son:
- He is reaching out to a world deceived by false gods.
- He is offering a message of hope in the face of despair.
- Comfort for those who grieve.
- Strength for the weak.
- Forgiveness for sinners.
God is speaking to you…