COME NEAR TO GOD…
James 4:7-17 - September 25, 2005 - Pentecost 19
Dear Fellow-Redeemed and Saints in the Lord:
In our daily Christian living you and I would probably come to the same conclusion. There are times when you and I are not as near to God as we ought to be. This morning James reminds us to come near to God. We aren’t as close to God for a number of reasons. We are busy with the things of this world. We aren’t as close to God because of sin. We think of Adam and Eve when they first sinned. What did they do? When God came to speak with them, they hid themselves. They were al-ready becoming farther away from God because of sin separating them from God. James reminds us in our text: "Come near to God." That will be our theme this morning. We are also reminded of the words in Revelation where John writes these words: "Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me" (Revela-tion 3:20). Today we gather together because the Lord has invited us to come near to him. Today, our gracious and loving God stands at the door. We pray that we would have listening ears and open hearts that not only do we come near to God, but also as he adds God comes near to us.
COME NEAR TO GOD:
I. With humble repentance
II. Trusting in divine justice
III. With complete confidence
I. WITH HUMBLE REPENTANCE
The book of James is filled with divine advice for Christian living. He begins reminding these believers that they needed to come near to God and to put behind them their sinfulness. He says, "Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded." You may remember from last week that most of these believers became believers later on in life. They were always torn between living a sinful way of life or following God. They were double-minded. James writes, "but purify your minds and wash your hands." In other words they should come clean of their sinfulness. Then he tells them how they can do that--with re-pentance that brings sadness because of sin.
Verse 9: "Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom." He doesn’t want these believers to be sad-sack Christians. But James does remind these believers, when they look at their sinfulness and see how it separates them from the love God, there is sadness. When they saw the times they had sinned against the Lord over and over again, instead of laughter there was mourning and grieving. This sadness over sins was not just for the evil they did, but also the good they did not do. Right at the end of our text, he says, "Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins." Sin separates the believer from the closeness of God. James writes to these believers there is a solution in humble repentance.
With humble repentance, come blessings. At the opening of our text in verse 7: "Submit your-selves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you." Those who follow God find that the devil flees from them. They are able to resist temptation. They are able to change their lives following repentance. James also writes: "Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up." Those who see their sinfulness and recognize their separation from God also realize it is the Lord God who comes to forgive them and then lifts them up once again. The Lord restores the sinner to be near to Him.
So the Lord says to us: "Come near to God with humble repentance." In our world not many would like to admit to sin. Sin is something that is not good. Sin means we have a shortcoming and we are not perfect. Many in the world like to think that they are perfect. Maybe at times we don’t like to look at our own sinfulness. It isn’t pleasant. As James says sin makes us mourn and wail and grieve. It turns our laughter and joy into gloom, and it ought to. Recognizing our sin is the first step of repen-tance; starting here, we come near to God. Paul writes in Corinthians: "Godly sorrow brings repen-tance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death" (2 Corinthians 7:10).
We are not happy about our sins. We realize that our sins stand as a wall between God and us. This causes us to lack a complete and full understanding of God’s will. We also understand that as we repent of our sins, the Lord provides us with his forgiveness. As we come near to God with all of sins, he takes them away from us and places them on his Son, Christ our Savior. God graciously comes near to us. Listen to the prophet Joel as he describes our loving Lord who is anxious to forgive: "Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassion-ate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity" (Joel 2:13). God wants to forgive, doesn’t He? So, yes, we look at our lives and see our sins of thought, word and deed. We can’t even number them. There are too many.
But the Lord says, "Come near to God. Come near with humble repentance. Come near to God trusting in divine justice." We are going to learn that divine justice is different than human judg-ment.
II. TRUSTING IN DIVINE JUSTICE
James continues and talks about these believers and how their lives were changed. Their lives were changed first of all, because God called them out of darkness into his light. God had given them his grace to see their sin and to repent. As they repented, their lives would reflect that love of God for them. James writes: "Brothers, do not slander one another." They were to speak well of one another. This is a fruit of Christian faith that flows from repentance and forgiveness. James points out the dire consequences if they are going to be slanderous in their language, if they are going to harbor ill will and evil. He says, "Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it." If they are going to judge their brother or their fellowman, they are also judging God’s law. At times we realize judgment has to be given when there is false doctrine and false teaching. It is very dangerous to judge someone’s character or thoughts or to stand as the judge of God’s law. This is the point that he gets at. "When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it." What happens is that these believers were so anxious to find fault with one another, they did not see their own faults. Instead of trying to walk on the path that God had given them, instead of trying to follow the law of God, they became their own lawgivers, their own judges.
James now does remind them that is incorrect. He says to them: "There is only one Law-giver and Judge." James wanted them to remember the one Lawgiver and Judge was the Lord God Al-mighty. God gave his law to Moses and Moses gave the law to God’s people. But there is only one Lawgiver and Judge. What about this Lawgiver and Judge? He says: "There is only one Law-giver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy." Certainly, God has the power and authority to judge the wicked. He also has the power and authority to save those who repent. That is divine jus-tice.
James is saying to these believers to come near to God and see the divine justice that he pro-vides. No matter how often you and I as believers look at God’s justice for us, no matter how often you and I gather together and look at God’s justice for the world, we ought to be still amazed. God’s divine justice is almost the opposite of our justice, our judgment. You know how it is. Because we are sinful human beings, when someone does us wrong, it is very easy for us to harden our hearts and think we are going to get even. When someone does us wrong, it’s very easy for us to forgive but not forget. That is human judgment, not divine justice. Divine justice reminds us that the Lord does not remember our sins. He does not repay us for what our sins deserve. Instead, what are we told? "Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy" (Micah 7:18). This is divine justice.
The Lord delights to show mercy. The Lord’s divine justice was that God sent his Son to die on the cross. As Jesus was nailed to the cross, what does he say? He says, "Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing." His divine justice for them was to forgive those who were pound-ing the nails into his hands and his feet. The divine justice of God was to spill the blood of Jesus for the sins of the world. God delights to show mercy. This is the Lawgiver and Judge who not only con-demns wickedness and sin but also saves by the sacrifice of Christ the Lord. Prophet Hosea says: "Come, let us return to the LORD. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds" (Hosea 6:1). Hosea says the same as James: "Come near to God and see what He has in store for you." That is divine justice. Yes, the Lord shows us through the law our sins. Guilt cuts at our heart, but then God heals us. We are injured and wounded with sorrow over our nu-merous sins. God binds up our wounds. Jesus provides us with the blood that covers up our sins.
Therefore James writes: "Come near to God with repentance. Come near to God trusting in God’s divine justice." Then in the final verses of our text: "Come near with complete confidence."
III. WITH COMPLETE CONFIDENCE
You can well imagine that these believers who lived in the ways of the world for most of their life and now gave it all up; how the rest of the world made fun of them. They were going to change their lives and live for Christ and not for themselves and not for the world. How much ridicule these believers faced. In the midst of that great change and in the midst of even disaster, what does the Lord remind them? That life is fleeting. He says, "Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes." So he describes the life of the people of the world. These believers had previously also put their confidence and trust in the world and the things of the world. Now, these believers put their confidence and trust in Christ whom they had never personally met or seen, but by faith believed in him. They realized that the fu-ture was in the hands of the Lord their God Almighty who had created the heavens and the earth.
James wrote: "Now listen, you who say, ’Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’" He says their lives were just a mist. The plans of mankind do not always follow God’s plans, so James says to them: "Come near to God and see what God has in store." "Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that." The Lord’s will was to take care of God’s people. The Lord’s will did not always agree with man’s will. Remember, the world said they should go to this city or that city, spend a year there and make money. James says, "As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil." If they were to boast, they should boast about the kingdom of God. If they wanted confidence, they were to look at what God wanted and realize that whatever the Lord wanted would get done and be carried out. James encourages these believers, "Come near to God and learn his will. Come near with complete confi-dence, face the future."
These are also very fitting words for you and I today that we face the future with confidence. We realize that here in the middle of the United States it is pretty easy to do. But if we lived farther south, along the coasts, there probably are many people that are not too confident about their future. There might be some who are worried and scared. The Lord would say to them as he reminds us to-day, "Come near to God." Yes, we do not know what the future brings. We can make all sorts of plans just like James says, plan to do this or that, today or tomorrow or next week. We also know how soon our life can vanish. It is like a mist. What does the Lord remind us? He says: "Look at nature. Look at the birds of the air and the flowers of the fields. What do you see?" The Lord clothes them with beauty and takes care of them. Then the Lord continues: "Therefore do not worry about tomor-row, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own" (Matthew 6:34). Of course, he doesn’t say we should not plan. Like James we are reminded: If it is the Lord’s will, it will be done.
We are reminded that the Lord does hold us in the palm of his hand. The Lord Jesus also told his disciples and us as his believers that not one of us would be snatched from his hand. We are re-minded that the Lord says, "All things work together for good for those who are called according to His purpose." So you and I can as we come near to God even though we might have some things that seem to keep us away: trouble, dismay, despair, gloom and doom. For us, the next day is taken care of, all those things the Lord is in control for our good. The prophet Isaiah has beautiful words in chapter 41: "So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand" (Isaiah 41:10). I always picture this verse just as Isaiah writes. Our Lord God who sits on a throne of glory reaches down with his righteous right hand and pulls us up from the depth of despair that we might be facing. The Lord on that throne of glory reaches down with his righteous right hand and keeps us out of the depths of hell and brings us into the glories of heaven itself.
We come near to God and God promises to come near to us. We can come near to God with complete confidence no matter what might happen in this life. The Lord has provided for us spiritu-ally. Our souls are secure. We probably would agree that our Christian walk with God isn’t always quite as near to God as we want it to be. We realize on that narrow path into eternity we sometimes get distracted. We realize that sometimes our sins stand in the way. We also learned this morning that the Lord says: "Come near." Come near with repentant hearts. Come near trusting in God’s divine justice, which is forgiveness. Come near with complete confidence that our future is in the hands of our loving God.
The Psalm writer says: "The LORD is righteous in all his ways and loving toward all he has made. The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him to truth" (Psalm 145:17,18). May each of us always call on the Lord in truth as he says: "Come near to God." May we constantly come near to the Lord our God who has made his home with us and in us. Amen.
Pastor Timm O. Meyer
Sunday radio broadcast @ 9:05am on KQNK 106.7FM or 1530AM + www.kqnk.com
Pentecost 19(ILCW-A): EZEKIEL 18:1-4, 25-32; PHILIPPIANS 2:1-5; MATTHEW 21:28-132