Christmas: God rent the heavens

Scripture Readings:

  • Isaiah 63:7-9
  • Isaiah 63:15-19
  • Isaiah 64:5-9
  • Isaiah 64:1-4, Luke 2:8-14

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

God is good and merciful

We come together tonight and we can only say, “How good is God!”

With Isaiah we say:

I will recount the steadfast love of the Lord, the praises of the Lord, according to all that the Lord has granted us, and the great goodness to the house of Israel that he has granted them according to his compassion, according to the abundance of his steadfast love. (Isaiah 63:7, ESV)

This church, as is the case with the church of God all over the world from all eternity which includes God’s people from all tongues, nations and tribes, exists because God called it into existence.  It is because of God’s mercy and grace that we are here tonight.  Our Lord is our God, and our Lord is our Master – He owns us.

Many good things He has done for us.  His compassion and his kindness towards us sustains us.

He is our Father, He is our Saviour – we are privileged to be called “the people of the Lord”, not be anything we have done, but what He has done in his mercy.  Listen to this verse:

In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them; in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old. (Isaiah 63:9, ESV)

Right in the beginning when He called his people out of the bondage of Egypt we hear Him say:

“I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey … (Exodus 3:7–8, ESV)

He carried them on eagles wings. He gave them the angel of his presence and in his love and mercy He redeemed them. There at Mount Sinai He revealed Himself in his majesty as they saw the smoke and heard the earth shake.   He declared them to be his holy nation, a priesthood of redeemed people to proclaim his wondrous deeds.  Never has any God done such a wondrous and glorious thing.

Has the love of God cooled?

But something happened.  Somehow it was as if they did not experience the same kind of powerful presence and guidance of the Lord anymore.  It was just as if God did not care to intervene from them as He did at first. They began to ask:

Look down from heaven and see, from your holy and beautiful habitation. Where are your zeal and your might? The stirring of your inner parts and your compassion are held back from me. (Isaiah 63:15, ESV)

They almost wanted to remind God that He is their father, although their arch fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob acknowledge them anymore.

There was something wrong:  it seems as if God not care if they were committing sin or wandering away from Him, as if the Lord did not care if their hearts were hardened.  They have seen the enemy come and take possession of their inheritance – God does not care.  So they prayed:

Return for the sake of your servants, the tribes of your heritage. (Isaiah 63:17, ESV)

What seemed to have been the problem?  Is it God whose love cooled?  Is it God who has to return?  Is God still their God?  How does it happen that your spiritual life, and the spiritual life of a congregation can become stale and lifeless? One goes through all the motions of reading your Bible, maybe even pray, attend worship services, and even contribute financially to the work of the Lord, and yet – one has to drag oneself along. Why does it seem that God is far away?

There is this verse we should keep in mind:

But they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit; therefore he turned to be their enemy, and himself fought against them. (Isaiah 63:10, ESV)

We have sinned

But there is a wideness in God’s mercy.  Although He is grieved, although He becomes angry even with his own, He leaves with us a hunger and a thirst.  We crave the living water, although we realise we do not deserve it.  So we cry out:

How can we be saved? (Isa 64:5)

We look at our lives and we say:

We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities. (Isaiah 64:6–7, ESV)

By his mercy He makes us remember how good his love is.  He calls us to Himself with cords of love, because He is our Father.

At that low watermark, when we hit rockbottom, we cry out for help.  Our will crumbles and our desires do not count, but we just cannot live without the newness of his mercies every morning.  So we pray:

But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. (Isaiah 64:8, ESV)

We pray:

Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence. (Isaiah 64:1, ESV)

This is a risky prayer.  It is a risky thing for a sinner to pray to the holy God of Heaven to rend the heavens and come down, especially after you know that He hates sin and you just acknowledged your sin before Him.  List to how the Psalmist describes what happens when God answers such a prayer:

He bowed the heavens and came down; thick darkness was under his feet. He rode on a cherub and flew; he came swiftly on the wings of the wind. He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him, thick clouds dark with water. Out of the brightness before him hailstones and coals of fire broke through his clouds. The Lord also thundered in the heavens, and the Most High uttered his voice, hailstones and coals of fire. (Ps 18:9–13, ESV)

At Sinai their reaction upon God rending the skies and revealing his holiness:

Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off (Exodus 20:18, ESV)

How will God answer the prayer of his people?

Hundreds of years passed since Isaiah prayed the prayer of Isaiah 64 for God to rend the heavens.  There was even a period of 450 years between the Old and New Testament when God seemingly turned his back on his people, and did not even had a prophecy for them.  God was silent while the enemy trampled the inheritance of the Lord.  Would God answer the prayer of Isaiah?  Would God forget his people, forget his Covenant with Abraham and David?  Can God be trusted?

We look around us today and see how the people of the Lord is trampled upon.  His Word has become fodder to politicians, comedians and many scientists.  Every effort is put in place to discredit His wondrous work in creation.  It seems as if the Church of Christ is dwindling into obscurity, and to be honest we lose hope to see the promise of the return of our Lord realised. It is all true?  Is it all trustworthy?  Will God answer us?

Has He not answered us?

God saves: Immanuel

It was a cold night on the fields of Bethlehem Ephrata. There were shepherds in the filed keeping watch over their sheep.  Something extraordinary happened.  The heavens opened, and the glory of the Lord shone around them.  God has come to visit his people.

This expression “glory-of-the-Lord” is important.  It is mentioned every time God has come to live with is people to show his greatness, holiness and compassion, like when the glory of the Lord entered the tabernacle, or the temple.  It was a good sign.  There was good message – not a message of condemnation and reproach, but a message of good hope and great joy:

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:11, ESV)

There were angles all over the place singing the praises of God:

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:14, ESV)

God is pleased with his people, not angry.  How can we be saved?  How can this be possible?

You might wonder, dear friend, how can God have a message for you tonight, telling you that He is pleased with you, while you know very well in your heart that you don’t deserve it; you know very well that you despised Him and hated your fellow men.  As one fellow puts it: “I kicked Him in the teeth for more than sixty years of my life, I hated Him and despised Him, yet, when I ended up in hospital with my life hanging on a thread and I called upon Him, He was there the first time and showed his mercy to me.”

How is this possible?  Listen:

She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21, ESV)

This Jesus grew up and began his ministry which culminated in Him being nailed to a cross just outside Jerusalem.  Of Him Isaiah said:

But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:5–6, ESV)

The Lord did rend the heavens, not to pour out his wrath, but to announce the birth of Him who would eventually bore the full wrath of God to set us free.

This is the message of Christmas.

Sermon preached by Rev D Rudi Schwartz on 24 December (Christmas Eve) 2012

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