Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Redemption Story Continues. . . Lessons from Noah's Ark...

Ever listen to a three-year-old tell a Bible Story? The details are there, but the chronology is wide of the mark! A few days ago, I overheard my daughter Selah telling her brother about the shepherds and the baby Jesus sitting down to eat dinner with the disciples before they helped Zacchaeus climb down from a tree. Cute and amusing, huh? Well, I’m about to recount the story of Noah’s Ark and the Great Flood along with the birth of the Savior. No, Selah is not writing my sermons for me this month. There are many reasons why the story of Noah’s Ark is significant to the Advent of Christ and valuable in understanding the Why of Christmas. Let’s look…

First, Jesus told us that what characterized the times just before the flood will characterize the times just before His second coming: “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.” (Matthew 24:37) So, what characterized the “days of Noah”? Scripture tells us it was a time when “men began to increase in number” (Genesis 6:1); and “the earth was corrupt” and “full of violence” (Genesis 6:11). Read a newspaper or watched the television news lately? Sounds current to me. The world needed a Savior in Noah’s day just as much as it did some 2000 years ago in Bethlehem and just as desperately as it does today. (Do you see the connection to the manger yet?)

Another reason that it is worthwhile to revisit the flood along with the Christmas story is that the Ark is an example of the judgment of God. (Yes, He is a God of judgment – not just grace and mercy and Christmas love.) In Genesis 7:16, we read that it was God who shut the door to the Ark. God had appointed a particular day of judgment. He had been longsuffering, waiting for many years. Sadly, only eight people were inside the Ark. You can almost hear the sound of the door banging shut against the side of the Ark. Perhaps the echo from that sound resounded in the ears of thousands (even millions) of people who looked on and mocked Noah. But as the door shut, judgment had arrived. Only those who had gone through the doorway could be saved. Fast forward now to II Peter 3:5-7 where Peter tells us that just as God sent a flood to destroy the earth because of the wickedness of man, one day there is going to be a final judgment. This time by fire. And God’s Word is clear: “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:15) (Is the Why of the baby Jesus coming into focus?)

One last reason why the flood is almost a prerequisite lesson for the Nativity story is that Noah’s Ark is actually a picture of salvation. The Ark is representative of our salvation through Christ. God has provided an Ark of salvation for each of us. It’s the baby Jesus!! Jesus said, “I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved.” (John 10:9) Just as Noah and his family had to go through a doorway to be saved, we need to go through a doorway – the Lord Jesus Christ. He is our ark of salvation.
… Now, why did Jesus come to earth as a tiny baby? He came to offer that Salvation to each one of us. The event of Noah’s Ark and the Great Flood is a sobering warning to each of us that we need to be saved too! And that’s the essence of Christmas: We can be!

- Pastor Mark

Monday, December 04, 2006

The Redemption Story. . . A Tale of Two Prototypes. . .

Ever miss the first five minutes of a movie and remain pretty much clueless for the whole movie? I have. Well, the Christmas story is kind of like that. Only instead of a missed five minutes, many people have likely missed 4000 years! This Advent Season, we are looking at the Why of Christmas. Why did Jesus have to come to earth as a baby? To fully understand the unfolding Why of the Christmas story, we have to go back 4000 years to Genesis – to the very beginning.

Last week we stopped in Genesis 3 and looked at the story of the Fall of man where, in such pristine surroundings, our first parents exercised their volition to defy God’s one command. This blatant disobedience changed the world forever and loosed upon the world an avalanche of evil. But amidst the curse, God offered hope: He offered redemption. In Genesis 3:15, He proclaimed that the seed of the woman would crush the serpent. Satan would be bruised and hurt in conflict and ultimately receive a fatal blow. Adam and Eve are then expelled from the Garden of Eden and the story continues….

In Genesis Chapter 4 we come to the story of Cain, the first person ever born. (Adam, you remember, was created and Eve made from Adam.) Next we have Abel, the first sibling and the very first family. Then, sadly, we have the first family tragedy. Cain kills his brother Abel… And the Redemption Story is just beginning.

As we look at this passage in terms of that 4000-year preface to the baby Jesus story, Cain is the first non-believer. He is the prototype of the lost and doomed sinner. God always has clear purpose when He records for us stories in the text of Scripture. There are two kinds of people in the world: believers and non-believers. The account of Cain is given here in some detail in order that we might get a complete characterization of the typical unbeliever. From a general glance of the Chapter, we see that Cain harbored hatred in his heart and his actions were self-centered and godless. Cain had killed off the other possible prototype (the believer), so we’re left to wait for yet another offspring to embody the believer…

…and she called his name Seth: for God said she hath appointed me another seed instead of Able whom Cain slew. (Genesis 4:25) And here we have our believer. It’s through Seth’s progeny that we have a group of God-fearing people who will present the truth to a corrupt generation. And it is through Seth’s lineage that Jesus will be born 4000 years later.

The passage in Genesis rolls on almost like a movie until suddenly it stops and focuses on one man. That man is Enoch – the great, great, great grandson of Seth. Genesis 5:24 tells us that Enoch walked with God. Enoch was the very first prophet of the coming of Jesus: “And Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these saying, ’Behold the Lord cometh with ten thousands of His saints to execute judgment upon all and to convince all that are ungodly among them of their ungodly deeds…’” (Jude 14)
And the question lingers. Which prototype are you? What are you doing in this godless generation? Are you self-centered/harboring hatred or are you walking with God?
- Pastor Mark

A Sweet Aroma. . . .

Who doesn’t love the smell of something wonderful baking in the oven? I know I do! The aroma of anything baking in the oven brings me from any part of our house to the kitchen with a yearning to taste what has produced that wonderful aroma. I don’t want to talk about the bread or the pie or the cookies. I want to eat the bread or the pie or the cookies! I want to enjoy it. It’s the way God made me.

I believe God’s activity in His people has the same effect upon our souls. When God’s people are about their Father’s business of living in His mercy, growing in His grace, sharing His love, and spreading His Word there is an aroma that fills the air. It wafts across a city, a county, a region, and even the world with a fragrance that draws people. They come with a yearning to taste and see what God is doing. They don’t want to simply talk about mercy, grace, love, and God’s Word. They want to enjoy it. They want to experience it. It’s the way God made us.

This past year, God has been baking in the kitchen called Crane Community Chapel and people are being drawn by the fragrance It’s a joyous thing for a pastor to see. It’s even more thrilling getting to personally know the people who have been drawn to Crane Chapel and learn that they’re not attracted by beautiful facilities or impressive programs or a certain style of music. What I see are new Christians and newcomers who are drawn by a spiritual hunger that is only met by the discipleship of fellow-Christians and solid Biblical teaching. As a pastor,
this is my burden and my ministry: To preach the Word of God as faithfully as it is written and to see that new Christians are discipled. It is a joy to watch the incorruptible seed take root and come to fruition. Seeing people hungry for the Word of God is a thrill!

To each of you who’ve had a part in bringing new believers to Christ in 2006 and for discipling them in the Word: Thank You! To each of you who’ve shown His mercy, grace and love throughout this past year in ways only seen by Christ Himself: Thank You!

God is definitely at work among us. There is a wonderful aroma coming from the kitchen of Crane Chape. The meal is prepared. The table is set. Invite a guest so we can Spread the Good News of Jesus Christ! That’s the purpose of the Church and that’s the meaning behind Christmas!

- Pastor Mark Goossen