December 21, 2018- The Lion of Judah, a Refiner’s Fire, and God With Us- Malachi 3:1-5, John 1:1-18

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“Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.

 “Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts. Malachi 3:1-5 (ESV)

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In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.  He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him.  He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.  But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.  (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”)  For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. John 1:1-18 (ESV)

In C.S. Lewis’ wonderful story, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Susan and Lucy ask the Beavers if Aslan, the lion, the king, is “safe.”  Mr. Beaver replies to them:

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” – C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

One of the names of Jesus in the Bible is: The Lion of Judah. There is no such thing as a safe lion, just as there is no such thing as a safe God. Jesus is God, and God is omnipotent, meaning He holds all power in the universe.

The prophet Malachi tells us of a terrible day of reckoning, when the Messiah will come to earth as a refiner’s fire and a fuller’s soap. We learn from Scripture that the world as we know it is going to be completely destroyed and completely remade (2 Peter 3:1-13.) This grand scale of destruction and rebuilding that Jesus will preside over on the End of Days may seem incongruent with our vision of Jesus as a fragile baby born to a peasant girl and laid in a feed trough- but Jesus is not a “safe” lion. Evil will, and must be, rooted out and destroyed. He is, however, merciful, gracious and good.

The above passage of judgment from the prophet Malachi is disturbing. Because all humans are naturally dead in trespasses and sins, in and of ourselves, we cannot escape the fire. We are all guilty of everything that Malachi names off- sorcery, adultery, bearing false witness, oppressing others and not fearing God. We deserve to be consumed by the fire. We deserve the full punishment and wrath of God. If the message from God stopped with Malachi’s warning, there would be no hope for any of us.

The good news is that God’s message does not stop with Malachi’s warning. That day of judgment is indeed coming, but the price has already been paid for those who belong to Christ. He has sacrificed Himself and poured out His blood on the Cross so that we do not have to endure the eternal flame. He transforms us and walks with us so that we can make our way through this world of “not yet.” In Him we have the confidence that no matter what trials we encounter along the way that we are citizens of His kingdom that has no end.

Jesus, God Himself, came into the world not displaying His terrible and limitless power, but as the Light, as a helpless child, a teacher, a healer. Jesus came to us as one of us, not just to be a teacher and a healer but ultimately to take the punishment we deserve, and to sacrifice Himself so that our sins would be wiped away in His blood.

A “safe” lion would not have the power to defeat the darkness.

We are celebrating the Light coming into the world- not a “safe” Lion, but Almighty God, powerful and good. A Light no darkness can overcome. In Jesus, we see God in the flesh, God with us.

August 23, 2017 – God is Forever- Isaiah 55:4-6, Mark 13

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Listen to me, my people, and give heed to me, my nation; for a teaching will go out from me, and my justice for a light to the peoples.

 I will bring near my deliverance swiftly, my salvation has gone out and my arms will rule the peoples; the coastlands wait for me, and for my arm they hope.

Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look at the earth beneath, for the heavens will vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment, and those who live on it will die like gnats; but my salvation will be forever, and my deliverance will never be ended. Isaiah 51:4-6 (NRSV)

The science of astronomy has shown that the universe is constantly expanding and changing. Nothing that we can see or experience within creation is permanent. Everything begins and ends, except God and His promises, and we have a really difficult time wrapping our minds around that one.

Human understanding is necessarily limited to things that we can perceive with our senses, so it can be hard to trust in the permanence and constancy of God when everything we encounter eventually decays, dies or changes in some way. Entropy is inevitable.

Jesus warned us that there will always be wars and rumors of wars, as well as earthquakes, famines and various other types of civil unrest, (see Mark 13) but that He is with us no matter what happens in this world.

It is easy to be cynical about the state of the world especially should we ponder over the news for too long. However, when we watch the news, we must remember that reporting tragedy, drama, gossip and pathos is what keeps people watching the news and keeps the media in business. Sponsors pay for advertising, so the media needs to put on a good show. Otherwise people won’t bother watching, and then how would we ever know what widget we can’t possibly live without?

Good news is never reported as much as bad news is. No reporter would bother to focus on the 499,999 people in the city who didn’t get fatally shot last night.  The one person who did is the one we want to know about.

It can be tempting to go to one of two extremes in our conduct and stewardship of this earth. We can live in a way that only has regard for today because we know today is temporary.  Unfortunately this approach is not God-honoring as it does nothing to bring about or preserve God’s kingdom here on earth.  We should conserve resources and use them wisely.  We should strive to leave the earth a good place for our children and grandchildren.  The earth- whether it is going to last millions of years longer, or for only one more day- is God’s good gift to us and should be treated as such.

It is worth knowing that in spite of (and sometimes because of) our efforts, nothing here on earth is permanent. This doesn’t mean to plunder at will, but neither does it mean to hoard resources to the point of denying people a way to make a livelihood or causing undue hardship.  There are ways to use the earth’s resources wisely and be good stewards without calling for us to bury our cars or forgo personal hygiene.  There is a balance.

We have no way of knowing when our last hour will come, or when the Lord will return and the kingdom of God will arrive in its fullness. We can’t even be sure of the nature of that transformation.  What will the new heaven and new earth look like?

“Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I still would plant my apple tree.”- Martin Luther

We have no way of knowing or proving what life beyond our existence is going to look like, or even for sure when that transition will take place. Jesus said we would not know the day or the hour when He returns.

(Jesus said): “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.  Beware, keep alert, for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.” Mark 13:32-37 (NRSV)

We don’t know when our own personal end will come either. Only a small electrical charge is all that keeps a heart beating. It is the barely tangible difference between life and death.

The best that we can do is to trust God and know that He is beyond it all. We are supposed to do and be who and what He created us to be, and to hold on to His promises even when the world and its circumstances would seem to contradict the sovereignty and permanence of God and His kingdom.

God is in control. Amen.