Dec. 26, 2010 Isaiah 63:7-9 C & Z “A Christian Flag”
Once again I hope that you all had a very merry Christmas. This is a great time of year for us. We get together with our family and celebrate the birth of Jesus. It is also a time when our church families celebrate and we always enjoy this. Before the season began, I counted the Christmas programs that we should attend. We had 8 or 9 and we made 6 or 7. We only missed two. I thought I might really be tired of programs by the time we were done but as I left each one, I felt a sense of awe and wonder. It’s amazing the feelings we get if we just allow Jesus to permeate our lives. But good feelings aren’t the only emotions felt this time of year. Many people suffer from depression during Christmas for many different reasons. I also know that there are many people who suffer from some sort of buyer’s remorse after Christmas. They went out and bought more than they could afford. I think I could list conditions that set off depression during this period and some would make sense and others wouldn’t. We are funny creatures in that we can get emotional for almost no reason at all. This morning we are going to look at this reading in Isaiah that is packed full of emotion, God’s emotions. I think that this is a pretty good place to start because God gave us this ability to feel.
Sometimes I think that we feel a little bit more than is actually true and Melvin Newland sums this up in a story he told of some nursing home residents who were sitting around discussing their various ailments. One said, “My arms are so weak I can barely lift this cup of coffee.” “Well, at least you can see your cup,” answered another. “My cataracts are so bad that it’s hard for me to see mine.” A third resident was not about to be outdone said, “What about arthritis? Mine’s so bad that I can’t even turn my head.” And still another person had to add, “My blood pressure pills make me very dizzy. I guess that’s the price we pay for getting old.” We have all heard this type of talk and there may be one or two of us this morning that are guilty of this. Anyway, there seemed to be general agreement with this gloomy assessment from these residents until one woman spoke up. “Wait a minute. It’s not that bad,” she said. “At least we can all still drive!”
The first emotion that Isaiah talks about is of the love that is shown in all the kindness that God had already shown to his people. Notice that the author doesn’t even go into details here. The audience at the time of the writing is probably in exile. They are probably in some sort of deep remorse for all the wrong they have done that brought them to this point, exile.
In other words they know their history. They know what they have done wrong. They know that they have been disobedient. They know that they have not followed the Commandments. They know that they have not followed the Law. They know that they have been worshipping idols.
And yet look what God has done for them. All they have to do is go back into their history and they can see how faithful God has been to them, even though they have not been faithful in return. He brought them out of Egypt. He gave them the Promised Land. He gave them manna, meat, and water when they wandered the wilderness. And I am very sure that there were many, many times in their personal lives where God helped them. He would help them if they were faithful.
Many times we look at what God did in the Old Testament and we see a lot of judgment. And this is true. God did show them and us what He means by judgment. It goes back to just plain common sense. If you do something wrong, then you are responsible for the consequences. In this case, the people as a whole did things that were wrong so the nation of Israel suffered because of this. God is totally fair. Just think of the difference there would be in the world if the nation of Israel had just followed God instead of breaking away from Him at every chance they got. There would be a different world today.
Speaking of different worlds, we live in one today. Someone sent me a very interesting email with a beautiful song called “Where Is the Line for Jesus.” It is about the long lines in a mall to see Santa. A little boy wants to know where the line for Jesus is. I think that this is a very good question. Which way would we take our children and grandchildren if we had a choice between Santa and Jesus? I know us older folks would say the line for Jesus. But if the children could make a choice on their own, which way would they go? It would be an interesting scenario.
Now let’s look at a couple of things that might lead up to this wrong approach. We are a disobedient people. We are disobedient individuals. And I think that we are far worse than we think. I think that Satan has gotten our society so messed up that even when we think we are doing right because everyone else is doing something, it may be wrong in the eyes of God. It is not good for us to accept the lesser of two evils. It is up to us to try to get rid of all evil and cast Satan out in the snow bank where he belongs.
Last weekend I was watching a football game on channel 4. Actually I was jumping between channels 4 and 10. Anyway, there must have been a timeout in both games so I had to watch a commercial. I was absolutely astounded by the obscene ad they had for a men’s product. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Is this the depths to which we have stooped? What scares me more and more is what will be next? I have been watching the paper and no one; no one has said that this is wrong. I would be livid if I had kids under ten and they saw such a disgusting commercial. This is supposed to be for the family. Maybe it’s time someone took up the cause. This would be a cause for Jesus. We can’t just talk the talk; we need to walk the walk. There are many, many other things around us that also cause us to be sinners. We are a bad people.
So what does Jesus do about all this disobedience? He loves us. This is the Christmas season where we celebrate the birth of Jesus. This is the time when God came to earth in the form of a human named Jesus. He came and he experienced all there was for Him to experience. He did this so that He could show us that He has firsthand knowledge of all that we do. Anything that we do, Jesus has been there first. I’ll get back to this in just a minute. He knows our emotions and He knows our feelings. He knows how terrible we have been. He loves us anyway. He loves us.
Look at all the blessings he has given you this past year. I cannot even begin to tell you what He has done for me. I just praise Him for everything. Just a couple of days ago, I was talking with someone who thought that they were going to have a tough time getting things for the family for Christmas. But God had nudged this person last summer and they had picked up a present here and one there. They had done this all year. They sat down this past week and looked at what they bought because it was all tucked away in hiding. They counted it out and they found that they had exactly 11 presents for each of the kids. Praise the Lord.
Again this past week I visited a man while I was delivering a food basket Christmas dinner from our ministerial group. I had never met this man before and I was in for a huge surprise. I entered his place of residence and found about as barren living quarters as I have ever seen. This poor guy didn’t have any money and it showed but it was all neat and tidy. He was so grateful for this basket of food that I cannot even begin to tell you about it. Jesus works and He works all the time and He works for you also.
Sometimes I see young people and youth that seem to have an attitude. They forget all that Jesus has done for them. Sometimes we get to feeling that we are all alone and there is no one who likes us. We forget Jesus loves us. Sometimes we feel that things couldn’t get any worse. We forget that Jesus died for us. This is how much He loves us.
The passage reminds the people that God will be their savior. They didn’t know what the plan was going to be but they knew that He would save them and He did, once again. Once again God rescues the people of Israel. He will bring them back out of exile and set them up again. Unfortunately, once again the people will fall short and become very disobedient.
And we need to remember this also. We are not perfect. We will sin again maybe as soon as tomorrow or maybe by this afternoon. There might even be someone sinning right now as I speak. We are a broken people. We are severely fractured. But Jesus loves us anyway. All we have to do is come to Him and confess that we are sinners. If you don’t know Jesus then confess and ask Him into your life. Then remember that this confession should become something that you do every day. No matter what you do He will be there to help you.
I talked a minute ago of the emotions that God feels with us. When we are hurting or in trouble, Jesus knows how we feel. I would like to remind you of some of the feelings that He felt. He felt pressure to do things. When you are under pressure to do things that are wrong, know that Jesus has been there. So many people misunderstood Him and His message. We know that many if not most people today misunderstand our message and we need to remember that Jesus has been there too. He was rejected by many. It is bad enough to be misunderstood but we are also rejected just like Jesus.
Jesus was lonely when his disciples fell asleep on him. Jesus was exhausted from all that He did for us. He was also tempted by the devil himself. There is no sin in being tempted. The sin comes from giving in to temptation. Jesus was hated to the point where people were trying to kill Him. People will also hate us for following Him. Jesus led a sinless life and yet was tried, convicted and sentenced to death. Where was the justice? And the last thing I want us to think about when we are hurting is all the pain that Jesus had to go through for us. It had to be terrible up on that cross.
When we suffer from any of these types of things and many more, we need to remember that Jesus has done this also. He will not give us more than we can bear. You also need to know that when you suffer, when you hurt, when you are in pain, this grieves and distresses Jesus, too. He does not like it when we have to go through bad times and it grieves Him when we do. I don’t have enough time to go into all the reasons that we have pain but please remember that this is not what Jesus wants for us. He only wants what is the very best for us. He has helped us to try to achieve this peace when He came to us so many years ago as a baby.
Prior to coming to earth He was in heaven with the Father. He had everything. He was everything. He had powers that we can only imagine if we can even to that. I cannot imagine how He created everything but He did. He had all the riches and powers and glory of the universe. And yet He chose to come to us in the form of a baby and give up all these things up for 33 years. This is how much He loves you. Remember this when things start to go bad for you. Remember what He has done and pick up those pieces and move forward.
This all can be summed up in another story from Melvin Newland about Senator John McCain who was a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War. During the final years of imprisonment the prisoners were moved out of small cells and into large rooms with 30-40 men in a room. Now they not only had companionship but they were also allowed a few letters and some presents from home.
In McCain’s room was a Navy officer named Mike Christian. Over a period of time Mike would collect bits of cloth that were red, white and blue. He made a homemade needle from bamboo and sewed an American flag on the inside of the pajama like top that all the prisoners were required wear. At night he would put the shirt on the wall and they would all say the Pledge of Allegiance. This went on for a long time and it became the most important time of day for the prisoners. Finally the day came when the guards came in while they were doing this. They ripped the flag off the wall and dragged Mike out. He was severely beaten for several hours and finally he was thrown back into his cell.
Later that night as the prisoners were settling down for sleep on the concrete slab floor that was also their bed, McCain remembers looking over to the spot where the guards had thrown Mike. There, under the solitary light bulb hanging from the ceiling, he saw Mike. He was still bloody and his face was beyond recognition but Mike was gathering bits and pieces of cloth together to make another flag.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, Satan has lost this war. Jesus has won. Remember this when things go bad for you in life. Gather yourself together and begin to sew another flag, a Christian flag. Let’s pray.