Saturday, December 10, 2005

Your Christmas warranty

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him--
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of power,
the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD--
and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.
He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
or decide by what he hears with his ears;
but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
Righteousness will be his belt
and faithfulness the sash around his waist.

The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
and a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The infant will play near the hole of the cobra,
and the young child put his hand into the viper's nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea.

In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious (Isaiah 11:1-10).

Have you ever received a Christmas present that turned out to be a disappointment? Have you ever gotten a gift that was missing a part, or didn’t work right, or broke in just a few days? Have you ever received a Christmas present that went out of style after you’d only worn it a couple of times? Have you ever gotten a gift on Christmas, and were bored with it by New Year’s?

As we get older, we start becoming a little cautious about gifts. We learn to check to make sure that all the parts are in the box, before we start assembling something. We read warranties carefully, and mail them in promptly. If a gift seems too trendy or uninteresting, we are in line to exchange it before Christmas week is over. Nowadays, we want reassurance that our gifts will bring us pleasure for more than a few days. We want to be sure that our gifts really can make us happy.

Christmas is all about gifts. First and foremost, Christmas giving is about the great Christmas gift our God gave to us 2,000 years ago—His Son, our Lord Jesus. Jesus is the ultimate Christmas present. He is the gift that doesn’t break, wear out, or go out of style. He is the gift that brings us new joy, every day of our lives. In fact, He is the gift that gives life, and gives meaning to life. And in chapter 11 of Isaiah, God even gives us a statement of warranty on this greatest gift of all. Through the mouth of the prophet, our heavenly Father gives us the reasons why we can have confidence that Jesus truly is the perfect, everlasting gift!

Key to everything else is Isaiah’s testimony that "he will delight in the fear of the LORD." It sounds odd, to speak of Jesus fearing His Father. It sounds odd, trying to imagine how anyone could take ‘delight’ in fear. But Holy Scripture uses the word ‘fear’ in a slightly different way than modern Americans do. When we speak of fear, we think of being frightened by something dangerous, and wanting to get away from it as quickly as possible. When the Bible speaks of the fear of the LORD, it refers to reverential awe. A person who fears God has a clear understanding of his relationship with God. God is creator and ruler of the universe; man is a creation of God, born to serve. Such a person is both grateful that his Creator has given him life, but is also careful not to anger the God who can take that life away again. This attitude of grateful respect is called ‘the fear of the LORD.’

Jesus delighted in ‘the fear of the LORD’. That is to say, Jesus delighted in being God’s obedient Son. Paul writes, "Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness." Jesus held His heavenly Father in reverential awe, and always acted according to His Father’s directives. Even during His sleepless night in Gethsemane, as He dreaded the trial and crucifixion to come, Jesus prayed, "My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done." Jesus led His life of perfect submission to God for us. God expects us to fear and love Him; God expects us to hold Him in reverential awe. But the sin that lives in each of us makes us near-sighted. Instead of looking towards God for leadership in our lives, we look to ourselves. So Jesus led a sinless life for us. By delighting in the ‘fear of the LORD’, Jesus did for us what we could not do for ourselves—satisfy the expectations of our Creator.

Solomon wrote, "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge." Isaiah tells us that our Savior came in the Spirit of knowledge. Knowledge of God is crucial to our salvation. We must know what God has done for us, and what response He expects from those He has saved through Jesus’ work. Through the prophet Hosea, God said, "For I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice, and in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings." Knowledge of God gives us blessings, as Peter tells us: "Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord." It gives us insight into how God wants us to live; "And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ." In fact, ignorance of God is a person’s doom; God said of Israel "my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge." Because knowledge of God is so very important, our heavenly Father entrusted it to no one less than His perfect Son, Jesus. It is only through Jesus that we have the knowledge of the secrets of God, the secrets of His plan of salvation. Jesus said to His disciples, "The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you." This is why it is so important that Jesus came in the spirit of knowledge; He brought the knowledge needed for our salvation.

Understanding is the ability to take the knowledge that God gives, and use it to distinguish between good and evil, between what pleases God, and what angers God. When he became king, Solomon prayed to God "Now, O LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So give your servant [an understanding] heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?" We must have understanding in order to see God’s Law; David prayed "Give me understanding, and I will keep your law and obey it with all my heart." Without an understanding of good and evil, we are no more useful than dumb beasts of burden: "Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding, but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you." Understanding only comes from knowing God’s will. Psalm 119 says "I gain understanding from your precepts, therefore I hate every wrong path." Only Jesus has perfect, complete knowledge of God’s will. Jesus said, "I and the Father are one." Because Jesus and His Father are one God, Jesus is uniquely qualified to know what actions will please our Creator.

Wisdom is the ability to make good decisions, decisions that inspire the confidence of others. In 1 Kings, we read of Solomon: "When all Israel heard the verdict the king had given, they held the king in awe, because they saw that he had wisdom from God to administer justice." In order to arrive at good judgments, wisdom provides the gift of discernment. In the book of Ezra, the king of Persia recognized what Ezra could do with the wisdom God had given him. The king said, "And you, Ezra, in accordance with the wisdom of your God, which you possess, appoint magistrates and judges to administer justice to all the people of Trans-Euphrates." The king of Persia trusted that Ezra, using God’s gift of wisdom, would be able to select the best men available for positions of authority. Such wisdom, found perfectly in Jesus, allows Him to discern the hearts of men, as we read in Matthew: "Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, "Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts?" With such wisdom, Jesus knows those who love Him, and those who don’t.

A judge can have all the wisdom in the world, but without the power to back up his judgments, it means but little. That is why our Savior came with power, the power of a king over his subjects. The power of God is irresistible; "O LORD, God of our fathers, are you not the God who is in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. Power and might are in your hand, and no one can withstand you." God uses this power to convict men of their sins; Micah wrote "But as for me, I am filled with power, with the Spirit of the LORD, and with justice and might, to declare to Jacob his transgression, to Israel his sin." But this conviction of sin by the power of God is for a greater purpose. Zephaniah wrote, "The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save." This is the entire reason that Jesus came into this world, that first Christmas so long ago. Jesus came to save us from our doom. Because of our sinful selfishness, we were doomed to an eternity of punishment from the God who hates all sin. But God loved us more than He hated our sin, so He sent His Son Jesus to be our substitute. Jesus took the responsibility for all the sins by which we angered God. The consequence of sin is death; because He came to be our substitute, Jesus died, in our place, as a consequence of our sin. But the story of salvation did not end with Jesus’ death. "He is mighty to save." Jesus was too powerful for death to contain. Jesus, in the full glory of God, returned to life, the ultimate guarantee that He has the power to make good on His promises. When we humbly ask Jesus to forgive our sinfulness and take us back into His family of believers, we have the comfort of knowing that all of God’s anger was spent on Jesus—there is no divine anger left for the Christian.

Jesus also came with the Spirit of counsel. At His baptism, the Holy Spirit came down and remained with Jesus, as John recorded in his Gospel: "I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him." Throughout His ministry, the Holy Spirit guided and strengthened Jesus, who was both man and God. Even though He was the Son of God, Jesus prayed for help and support throughout His ministry. It was the Holy Spirit, the Third Person in the Trinity, who equipped Jesus for His saving work on earth by giving Jesus’ human nature wisdom and understanding…counsel and power…knowledge and the fear of the LORD. And so it was that Jesus Christ, true God by being the Father’s Son, and perfect man by the power of the Holy Spirit, was equipped to save us from our sins—the best Christmas present of all time.

But there is one other very important gift that God has given you. When Jesus told His disciples that He was soon returning to heaven He said, "But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you." This Counselor is the same Holy Spirit that descended on Jesus at His baptism, and equipped Jesus for the work of our salvation. Ever since Pentecost, this same Holy Spirit comes upon us in the waters of Holy Baptism, and equips us with faith to believe in the promises of the God who is ‘mighty to save.’ God has really given us two gifts; Jesus, who saved us, and the Holy Spirit, who led us to our Savior’s arms.

As you open your Christmas presents this year, I pray that you remember that the greatest Christmas gifts in your life have already been opened. One was opened when Jesus died on the cross, the other was opened the day that the Holy Spirit planted faith in your heart. Take time this Christmas season to enjoy these gifts that never break, never wear out, and never go out of style. Enjoy them with confidence, because God Himself backs up their warranty.

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