[Note: sermon audio is here]
Second Sunday in Christmas 2015
Jer. 31:7-14, Eph. 1:3-14, Jn. 1:1-18
As we embark as a congregation on this new calendar year, I want us to begin where Christians must always begin with the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ. If this diamond has many sides to its glory (and it does), I want to focus particularly on the side that proclaims salvation as preservation. Christmas is not merely the announcement that salvation is now possible. It is also the announcement that by the same power that made the Word flesh, all who believe in Him are truly born again.
The Mystery of Sin
Before we get to the good news, we really do need to review the bad news. In the beginning, God created all things good, and He created people, a man and a woman, as His image bearers (Gen. 1:26-31). They enjoyed perfect harmony and fellowship with God, with one another, and with all of creation. God told Adam that every tree was food for them and only one tree was off limits (Gen. 2:16-17). And He told Adam that if he ate from that tree, he would surely die (Gen. 2:17). In the face of this clear command, Adam and Eve disobeyed and ate the fruit (Gen. 3:6). And when they did, they began to experience death. They felt guilt and shame. They felt naked and exposed (Gen. 3:7). As a result of their sin, God explained that they would begin to experience separation and brokenness and pain in their relationships with God and one another and the world (Gen. 3:14-18). And eventually, their physical bodies would die and return to the dust (Gen. 3:19). Thus, the Bible describes this first sin of Adam, as a covenantal sin, which has disoriented the whole human race. In Adam, all have died, all have chosen sin, all have fallen short of the glory of God and participated in the disfiguring of this world (Rom. 3:10-23, 5:12-14). And the wages of this sin is death (Rom. 6:23). Sin is separation from God, and every sin is a choice to go further away from the life-giving presence of God. This is why sin is described as wandering in a foreign land (Jer. 31:8). It’s a state of being lost and blind and lame (physically and spiritually) (Jer. 31:8). It’s confusion and pain and shame and hunger, and being powerless to change (Jer. 31:11). It’s a sickness you can’t recover from. It’s a sap you can’t get off your hands. It’s a contamination you can’t purify.
The Good Shepherd
This is why Jeremiah’s prophecy and promised salvation in Christ cannot merely be a new start, a fresh start. It cannot merely be a reversion to Adam’s original state. This is for at least two reasons. First, that wouldn’t match the joy promised (Jer. 31:12-13). A do-over would be gracious, but there’s no guarantee that we’d do any better. Return to an Adamic state would be cause for some rejoicing but also a lot of trepidation. But second, it doesn’t match what is actually promised. God promised that the seed of the woman would deliver a mortal blow to the head of the serpent (Gen. 3:15). It is not merely a do-over if our chief enemy is dead. Related is the fact that the kind of salvation promised includes “consolation” and preservation: “I will lead them back, I will make them walk by brooks of water, in a straight path in which they shall not stumble, for I am a father to Israel… For the Lord has ransomed Jacob and has redeemed him from hands too strong for him… their life shall be like a watered garden, and they shall languish no more” (Jer. 31:9, 11). Likewise, Paul describes this salvation as adoption and guarantee: “He chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ… In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will… In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it…” (Eph. 1:4-5, 11, 13-14). Or hear John: “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” (Jn. 1:12-13). And the point is that all those who know Jesus have seen God’s glory, and to be grasped by that Fatherly love is to be embraced by a love that cannot be broken (Jn. 1:14, 18).
Receive Him & Believe in Him
This is the age-old gospel, and it is still new every day, every year because it still makes old sinners into new men. So as we begin this new year together, take a moment and clear your heart and mind of all the other things. Jesus the Good Shepherd has come for you in your darkness, in your sin, in your shame, and because He is the Good Shepherd He laid His life down for you, gladly and freely (Jn. 10:11ff). And then three days later, He took it back up, triumphing over all the darkness and guaranteeing eternal life for all who believe. He did not suffer and die to guarantee you a chance at eternal life. He did not die to offer you the possibility of eternal life (if only you don’t screw it up). His blood was the ransom payment that satisfied every debt you owed from now to your last dying breath. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace (Eph. 1:7). He didn’t just sprinkle this grace lightly; He lavished it upon us. He died and rose again and poured out His Spirit to seal this eternal life to you (Eph. 1:13). This is why nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8:35-39). This is why the ransomed of the Lord sing at the top of their lungs and rejoice in the dance (Jer. 31:12-13).
If this good news is like the Hallelujah chorus, like coming home for Christmas, like your dreams come true, then let your heart received it again and believe it again for the coming year, for the unknowns, for the hardships – you shall not stumble because God has become your Father (Jer. 31:9). He who began a good work in you will complete it (Phil. 1:6). But if this is a strange song that doesn’t quite make sense, that seems a little too gratingly optimistic, or you’re having a hard time paying attention and don’t see what all the fuss is about, you are still lost in the land of the north, still in the dark, still enslaved by hands too strong for you (Jer. 31:8, 11). But it isn’t too late. Today if you hear His voice, harden not your hearts: receive Him, believe in His name. God can turn your desert into a well-watered garden and you will never languish again. Let your Maker console you. Let Him lead you back home.