Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Descent Week 3 - God’s Descent in Christmas

In 1996 a movie called Matilda came out. It was based on the 1988 book of the same name. The basic premise of the story is that the little girl Matilda is the black sheep of her family. Where her father, mother, and brother are a bunch of dishonest, sneaky, and mindless TV watchers, Matilda is a smart and honest little girl. There’s more to the story, but that’s all we need to know about it, because it’s the father that always frightened me. Not frightened in the sense that he was a scary character, but frightened because he was exactly the type I never wanted to deal with.
See, he was a used car salesman, and already the stereotype of dishonesty should fill your minds. And the story plays off this stereotype. Matilda’s father is the epitome of deceit. He runs the odometer backwards to lower the mileage, he puts saw dust in the transmission to make it sound like it runs smooth, and he glues bumpers back on. Every sleazy shortcut that could be made, this guy makes it.
And growing up, you hear a lot of stories about shady dealings with car salesmen, and I don’t know why, but Matilda’s dad, has become, for me, the exact person I would never want to come in contact with when making a car purchase.
Because I don’t know about you, but when I making any type of purchase, one of the things I look for in a salesman is honesty. When I talk with a person who is trying to sell me something, I ask myself, do they seem genuine, or do they seem dishonest? Do they seem like they’re looking out for my best interest or their own?
That’s one of the reasons why I rely so heavily on reviews. Before I purchase something, or try a new restaurant, I first check the reviews from several websites to see if it’s any good. If it gets a four out of five or higher, I usually will go with it. If it’s lower, then I’m thinking it’ll probably not be the best place.
Checking reviews gives me a sense of equal footing with whatever I’m going to purchase. It gives me an understanding of what to expect, and can I trust that this is the best option for me.

And that’s where we come to our third week in our Descent series, a place of trust. Can I trust God? Are the reviews on him good? Is he working for good things in me, or is he like that car salesman, making a good show of it all, just to reel me in?

So if you have your Bibles we’re going to be in two passages today. The first one is the book of Job chapter 9. The second one will be the Gospel of Luke chapter 19. 

As we’re opening up to Job chapter 9 and Luke 19, let’s find ourselves, where we’re at in the Descent series so far. In the first week of our series we talked about the purposefulness of God’s creation. How, unlike other creation accounts, and even by today’s modern atheistic view, this universe was no accident. It was purposefully made by God out of a desire to do just that. This answers humanity’s greatest question of, “Why am I here,” with a fulfilling answer of, “Because God desires you and has purpose for you.” We have to understand God’s descent of a purposeful creation out of his desire to better understand Christmas.

That brings us to last week, where we talked about how, even though God created everything good, we, through our desire to do things our way and not God’s, have broken our relationship with God. These things we do that put us at the center and shove God to the side, is what God calls sin. And that sin has created a rift between us and God. But the story of the Old Testament, is the story of a Father trying to mend his relationship with his children. Time and time again we see God descend to humanity to fix what humanity has broken, and it seems to work for a little while, until again, humanity choses to go it’s own way, and breaks the relationship once again.
And it’s this cycle of God trying to mend, and humanity rejecting that we see throughout the pages of the Old Testament. And so God seeks a permanent fix for the problem.

Let’s pick up the beginnings of this fix in the book of Job, chapter 9, starting in verse 1.

Now for a little context, Job has had everything ripped away from him. His family and his wealth have all been destroyed. And now, as Job sits in agony, his friends add to his suffering by saying it’s all his own fault. But we know as the reader, that that’s not true. It’s Satan’s fault Job is in the predicament that he’s in. In fact, it’s because of how righteous Job is in God’s sight, that Job is where he’s at. And Job maintains this idea that he is innocent, yet the bad keeps happening to him. And it’s in chapter 9, that we see Job’s desire to speak with God face to face. 

“Then Job replied ‘2 Indeed, I know that this is true. But how can mere mortals prove their innocence before God? 3 Though they wished to dispute with him, they could not answer him one time out of a thousand.’”

Job is wrestling with this idea about bringing his case before God. Asking, how can a mortal prove his innocence before God. In the verses that follow this question about bringing his case before God, Job continues on describing how powerful and mighty God is. So how can a person who is powerless, come before the One with the most power? How can a just case be carried out? We pick up his thinking in verse 14.

“How then can I dispute with him? How can I find words to argue with him? 15 Though I were innocent, I could not answer him; I could only plead with my Judge for mercy. 16 Even if I summoned him and he responded, I do not believe he would give me a hearing.”

Job’s view of God is almost like that of the stereotypical car salesman. Job is wrestling with this idea that, how do I know that God he would be just? Job’s thinking, even if I’m innocent, in a situation where I’m not in control, where I have to rely on someone else for judgement, how can I trust that God will be fair? Job even brings this up in verse 29, “Since I am already found guilty, why should I struggle in vain?”
Job is consigned to the fact that even though he is innocent, God has made him guilty. And I don’t know about you, but sometimes it can seem like God is being unfair. God has already judge me guilty and now I’m just carrying out an eternal sentence of pain and suffering.
But then something happens, one of the most profound things Job can say, he says starting in verse 32.

“32 He is not a mere mortal like me that I might answer him, that we might confront each other in court. 33 If only there were someone to mediate between us, someone to bring us together, 34 someone to remove God’s rod from me, so that his terror would frighten me no more. 35 Then I would speak up without fear of him, but as it now stands with me, I cannot.”

This is profound, this is ground breaking, this is Christmas! Job sees the need for God and him to meet. But Job understands that since he is human and God is divine, there’s no way for him to be on an even playing field with God. But, Job thinks, what if there was someone? Someone who was both equal to God, and equal to man? Then, then the pleas of Job could be heard, and the relationship could be mended. 

And this is Christmas, God fulfilling this need for there to be a bridge between humanity and God. 

This is why the Bible says, “(Jesus) Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself (Philippians 2:6-8a)…”

See in the Gospel accounts, Jesus again, and again, and again uses language that references him being God. In fact, about 180 times Jesus references himself as God. From being the source of healing (Matthew 8:7), to being the true source of life (John 6:35). But one of the most interesting things I have learned in the last couple of weeks has to deal with Jesus’ preferred title for himself. See Jesus uses this title of Son of Man, which he connects with a vision from the book of Daniel in the Old Testament. 
In the vision Daniel says this, “13 In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.”
What was interesting is that in the ancient Middle East area another god, Baal, was called the Cloud Rider. When Daniel says he sees one like the son of man coming in the clouds, who is given authority, what he is seeing is God subverting the false god Baal, and saying, no it is the God of the Bible who is the cloud rider. And it is this divine person riding on the clouds that is in appearance like a human who will have everlasting authority over everything.
This is who Jesus says he is. The cloud rider, the divine person who has descended and become like humanity. Jesus is God who puts on the flesh of you and I and fulfills the desire of Job to have one that is equal to both God and man, who can finally bridge the gap and bring a lasting fix to the relationship problem. 

And this is where we move over to Luke chapter 19, because the reality is there’s more to it than just God coming to be with humanity. In Luke 19, we see just how far Jesus is willing to go.
The story goes that a tax collector, one of those dishonest car salesman types, invites Jesus to his house for dinner, and the people around him say this in verse 7, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”
The people saw this tax collector, they hated him, he was slimy, and dishonest. He was a representation of everything wrong with their society and the government. People like him were so hated by the community that they couldn’t be a part of the synagogues, or a part of any religious festivals. They were rich, but they were limited in the people they could associate with. 
Yet Jesus was his guest. Jesus moved past the sin. Jesus moved past the social rejection, and the broken relationships it caused. Jesus moved past the brokenness of this person’s life and met with him.
And at the end of Jesus stay there, and the tax collector’s desire to restore a right relationship with the people by giving away his money, Jesus says this in verse 9, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

This is God’s desire, to seek and save us. To bring us back into right relationship with him. And so what does God do? He comes down to us. The Son is sent, takes on human flesh. He eats with us, he drinks with us, he cries with us, and he does it so that our relationship with him would be mended. This is why a disciple of Jesus’ says this about him, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet he did not sin (Hebrews 4:15).”

But Jesus even goes one step further, not only does he come down to humanity fulfilling Job’s desire for there to be a bridge between us and God, Jesus does something he shouldn’t, he makes things right, without a thing from us.

The whole thing of sin, is that a payment has to be made to make things right between us an God. It’s almost like credit. We have run up a credit with sin, where we have taken more than we can pay back. Sin is taking what isn’t ours, and death is the collection company. Our very death is the payment for doing things our way, and using what God has given us in the wrong ways. Lying, cheating, murder, gossip, sexual promiscuity, and the like are sins that cause us to be in debt to sin. And death is the only payment it will take.
But God wants his creation back. He wants us back to where we were when he first created us. A people that are with him in a close relationship. A relationship that is both fulfilling and loving. Where all our needs are met in God.
So what does God do? The Son becomes like us, so that he can pay the collection company. Jesus gives his life to pay our sin’s debt. It would be like one of those reviewers I check to see if a restaurant is good, coming in and paying my bill for me. Except Jesus’ sacrifice is to bring us out of death’s grip, and into God’s eternal life.
And what do we have to do? Accept it. We accept our sin, and we own it, not giving it excuses but actually being truthful that we are sinners, and it is us who have broken relationship with God. Then we accept that God paid our debt through Jesus. God became fully human, so that he could die for our sins, and mend the broken relationship that we caused. 
This is Christmas, that God descends to be with us, to be us, and to die for us. And then, after his death he raises from the dead. Linking Christmas and Easter as one descent and ascent of God. 

But that’s not the end. There’s still one more descent of God, and it’s the one that makes our decision about Christmas an eternal joy, or an eternal sorrow. And that’s what we’ll talk about next week in our final week of our Descent series.

But this week I want to challenge you with this thought: how has the descent of Christmas changed you? Are you still living your life in your own way, for your own desires? Maybe thinking that God is just a car salesman just out for his own good, and so you have to do good for yourself? Or has Christmas changed you, and moved you into a mended relationship with God? Understanding that God desires good for you, but that good can only come when you accept his gift of paying your debt off.

This is the challenge, because what we do with Christmas, leads us either into a eternity of joy, or an eternity sorrow. So what have you done with Christmas? 

Now may God reveal to you the bridge he made at Christmas through Jesus. Amen.

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