Part 1 of the 2017 Advent Series
I — Text: Luke 1:67-79
II — Theme: If we’re to have a fuller understanding of the Immanuel Concept (“God with us”), we must first understand that God has, within the Covenant He established, taken an oath to accept man in his sinful state, and He has fulfilled the conditions of that oath Himself
III — Intro: So, with this said, this morning we introduce a new, short series on the traditional Christian season known as Advent. In short, Advent essentially represents our great anticipation of God’s Christ (Messiah), who comes into the world as the Great Light, rescuing those who are desperate to be saved from their darkness.
This is the first of 4 Sundays, including Christmas Eve, where we’ll journey across a glorious ark of time and theme—starting with God’s covenants with Abraham and Moses; then with David, and finally to the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, who is the long-anticipated Christ, and as such, is the final fulfillment of all previous covenants God has ever made with man!
But a question surely comes up here: Why would we discuss the OT and three of its great heroes, if what we’re ultimately discussing is the desperate anticipation of Immanuel— “God with us?”
The answer has a lot of twists and turns, because it takes us on a journey of God making and fulfilling His greatest Promise to us, over the course of thousands of years. But ultimately, the answer is quite simple: If we want to know what makes us so desperate to behold God’s greatest Promise—so much so that it creates an unrivaled longing in our hearts—then we first have to know how “God with us”—Immanuel— actually works.
And it starts with the OT, and God’s Promise to Abraham, Moses, and David.
In the end, we’ll find that, though God’s methods of covenant differ, the Promise is the same. Because the Promise is the Light of the world—God Himself—humbling Himself to come here to us, in order to bring those of us who will come, out of our darkness, and into relationship with God. The Promise was then, and is now, Immanuel, God with us—the Light coming into the world to dwell with us. And Immanuel is only fulfilled in Jesus Christ, who Himself is God in the flesh.
IV — How “God with us” Actually Works: Immanuel=Covenant=Relationship (note the “God first” feature of “God with us”)
- First, a story: Anne’s desperation to belong to someone after a life of orphan misery and loneliness; her anticipation met in Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert’s acceptance of her; they give her their name, and it changes everything for her (identity)
- God acts similarly toward us, as did the Cuthberts toward Anne:
- In Genesis 15, God first sees His people as orphans in need of a Father, so He begins the process of restoring their relationship to Him. They will be His children; He will be their Father.
- Read Genesis 15
- Briefly, an argument could be made that God is actually making a covenant with Abraham here in order to assure Abraham of his land possession. While there is some truth in that, the land possession is simply a part of the larger reward God tells him will be his; namely God Himself. (15:1)
- Therefore, we can maintain that this covenant God makes with Abraham is, at its core, about God in relationship with man.
- Now, our theme today has the concept that God has taken an oath to accept man in his sinful state, and not only has He initiated taking the oath, He has also fulfilled the conditions of that oath Himself!
- Can you detect the love of God for you here, in this story? Like Anne’s story a moment ago, God’s love consists of two primary motivators: He sees that His children are orphaned and lost without Him; but He also knows that they can’t restore the relationship with Him because they are sinful and He is holy. His love is amplified, in the fact that He has to do absolutely everything in order to rescue and restore His lost children—to be able to even be Immanuel
- There is comfort and peace in this knowledge for us. How, you ask?
- When the angels announced to the shepherds that the Christ had been born in Bethlehem, one of the most significant features of their salutation was an affirmation of God’s OT prophecy that there would be peace for those whom He loves.
- But we in the Church so often get that turned around, so that we think it sounds more like we’ll only ever have peace if we first love Him
- But how can that be the truth, when Romans 5 explains very clearly that God died for us in the body of Jesus—died so that He could accept us in perfect relationship with Him—and that He did so while we were still sinners. He loved us before we loved Him; He doesn’t love us because we love Him; we love Him because He first loved us and gave Himself for our sake.
- So when I say that there’s comfort and peace in the knowledge that God not only initiates the covenant of relationship with us, but that He also fulfills it, it’s because, in this self-initiated, self-fulfilled work of God on our behalf, the weight of sinless perfection is cast off of us, and what we’re left with is full and utter dependence upon Christ—upon God—who saw that we couldn’t and wouldn’t live up to His standards and die for our own sins for ourselves (which we would otherwise be required to do), so He did it all for us! Our peace is knowing that through faith in Jesus Christ, we are, in spite of our ongoing sins, accepted by God as children of the most gracious Father we could ever conceive of (2 Corinthians 5:19)
V — Unpacking the “Immanuel Concept” in God’s Covenant With Abraham
A– A few questions to guide us through this section:
- God has made a Promise to Abraham that He will be his Great Reward—that He will be with him eternally; but isn’t Abraham a sinner just like the rest of mankind?
- Does God teach us that He can dwell with sinners who sin? No.
- So how can God make a Promise to be “with us” (Immanuel), unless we first become holy just like Him? He can’t make such a Promise. If He accepts us into His fellowship just the way we are, He is breaking His own Law—His own standard of justice.
- But you would say, What about His mercy? Doesn’t that solve the problem of Him breaking His own standard by accepting us just as we are? The answer is NO; because “mercy” from God isn’t about God just “changing His mind” about His standard of holiness and justice, as if to say, “Well, I know you can’t help sinning, so, you know what? I’m just gonna kinda overlook that little thing I said about My eternal wrath for sinning against me….how about I just give you mercy instead?”
- So many people think this way about God’s mercy!
- And it will ultimately lead them straight to an eternal fire, because they never saw the most important element of what it took for God to even be able to extend His mercy in the first place! They never understood what “Immanuel” meant.
- Mercy, in their minds, was the same as when we extend mercy to someone in an everyday life situation; where we scarcely have to do anything more than change our minds about dealing out the punishment the other person deserves! And in today’s politically-correct culture, the concept of “non-confrontationalism” is rampant, to the point that now, people who have flagrantly—often violently—crushed others under the weight of their mindless and heartless sin expect to be shown mercy, though they have absolutely no concept from whence mercy actually comes—they just expect it. And so it is with the way in which so many think of their so-called relationship with God:
“Sure, I’m a sinner, who isn’t? But hey, God is love, right? So He’ll forgive me…I’m good.” And they prove that they never really knew God. They will stand before Christ one day and He will frighteningly and dreadfully proclaim, “I never knew you, therefore I never covered you in my blood and death, and I cannot dwell with sin…away with you.”
- How then does the Immanuel Concept help us to understand God’s mercy, so that it’s appropriated properly in our lives?
- Put yourself in Abraham’s place for a moment: You ask God (v. 8), “How will I know that I possess a real relationship with You, and that You will have mercy on me for my sinfulness?”
- God responds (v. 9), “Bring Me everything that’s dear to you; bring Me your good intentions to perform well, because you think that will cause Me to love you; bring Me your guilt and shame that lay upon you like the weight of the world—because you think that, since you cannot forgive yourself, I certainly won’t forgive you; bring Me all your brokenness of life, all your hopes, all your fears—everything that is yours—and lay it at My feet, upon the altar.”
- So, like Abraham in v. 10, you do your best to bring your whole life—warts and all—and lay it before God, because you pray this will perhaps make God love you and accept you
- As well, just like in v. 11, when Abraham drives away the birds of prey from the carcasses on the altar, you fight the devil and your own sinfulness when they try to swoop down and give you back that which you’ve laid down at God’s feet
- Now, look at what God does from this point, to assure you of the Promise He’s made to accept you, to be with you, to be Immanuel: (v. 12)
- The fact that Abraham is put into a deep sleep by God, and from that vantage point sees how God works, is a fore-image of how God speaks to us and works in us, and hence, allows us to see how He works, through His Spirit, which He gives to us (Here we have to remember that, we never would have even desired to lay our whole life at His feet, seeking His acceptance, if He had not first given us new life by way of His Spirit)
- God speaks to Abraham in the dream—as He does in our Spirit—and He says something here that a lot of us miss, because we still tend to think that this covenant God’s making with him is all about land. God begins in v. 13 with “Know for certain..”, then in v. 15, God affirms the most important benefit of the covenant, when He says, “Now as for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace…”
- What God means here is that, first and foremost, Abraham, when he dies, will be at peace with God for all eternity—and, knowing this in life now, will help him to be at peace with all of the circumstances of his life, be they good or bad. Again, remember what God says is our “Great Reward…” it’s Himself…not necessarily good circumstances!
- Okay, you’re still in Abraham’s place, so you say, “Thanks so much God, but you’ve already told me You’re giving me a great reward; what I want to know is, how do I know that, while I’m still living in this world, in this fallen flesh—still sinning every day—You’re not going to eventually decide that You’ve bet on the wrong horse, and throw me aside for someone more worthy? How do I know I have Your mercy forever? Because I know for certain that I will need it more than I need anything else in this life or the life to come.”
- God responds to your concern with what is known as a “self-maledictory oath.” Though we don’t see the ceremony in Genesis 15, the culture Moses is writing to understands what occurs when this sort of covenant is being made. The one establishing the rules of the covenant proclaims, “Just as these torn and broken pieces lay before me, may the same be done to me if I break this covenant!” That is the self-maledictory oath God takes in Genesis 15
- “What do you see before you, when you look upon these pieces and remnants of yourself, which you’ve laid at My feet?” asks God. “Do you see the perfect holiness I require of you? Or do you see a life ripped, shattered, and broken, when you compare it to Mine? When you look upon these pieces, can you now see past the lies you’ve told yourself, about how comparatively good your life is, and how your sin is not such a big deal? Can you see what’s really important, now that you’ve taken a moment to honestly assess your actual self, when you compare it to My holiness?”
- Your answer must be, “Yes, Lord. I see it. What can I do?”
- “Be still, and know that I am God. Even better, be still, and know that I am your God. The only part you play in My acceptance of you is to bring your whole self and lay it on the altar before Me. I have brought you to Myself, and I will do the rest, for there is nothing you can do…it must be Me; for I am the only one who can fulfill My own requirements. Watch now… listen now…and know for certain that I love you eternally.”
- God then walks among the pieces of your life, and proclaims, “Just as these torn and broken pieces lay before Me, may the same be done to Me, if I break this covenant with you!” Then God consumes the torn and broken pieces of your life in a fire of holiness, as if to say, “that life you knew no longer exists in My mind; all is new, all is forgiven, because I personally guarantee that your sinfulness will be dealt with—according to My perfect standards—by Me! I will account for all your sin, and thus be torn, ripped, and broken on your behalf.”
- Does God fulfill His self-maledictory oath? Yes. How does He do it? Jesus
- This is how mercy is earned. This is how God accepts us and doesn’t break His own Law of perfect holiness, even though we’re still constant sinners
- The Immanuel Concept— “God with us” —is only made possible because Jesus Christ, who is God in the flesh, is Immanuel Himself; and as such, has cleared the way for our sins to be forgiven by God, by His life and death on our behalf
- The Covenant God made with Abraham is a mere image and historical outworking of the First Covenant God made, which was with Christ, before time ever began. Remember that Pastor Dan told us last week, “Before there was a need for redemption, there was a Redeemer.”
- So, as we come to this season of Advent, perhaps this gives us a stronger understanding of the significance of “Light coming into the world of our darkness…” of the baby born in Bethlehem….of Jesus Christ—Immanuel: “God with us”
- The strength of the Covenant between God the Father and God the Son is what keeps you eternally restored, no matter your ongoing struggles! Immanuel, indeed!