The Third Sunday of Advent December 15, 2013
Isaiah 61:1-3, 10-11
John 1:6-8, 19-28
74, 369, 87, 77(6-7)
Oh, sing to the LORD a new song!
For He has done marvelous things;
His right hand and His holy arm have gained Him the victory.
The LORD has made known His salvation;
His righteousness He has revealed in the sight of the nations.
He has remembered His mercy and His faithfulness to the house of Israel;
All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.
Shout joyfully to the LORD, all the earth;
Break forth in song, rejoice, and sing praises.
Sing to the LORD with the harp,
With the harp and the sound of a psalm,
With trumpets and the sound of a horn;
Shout joyfully before the LORD, the King.
Let the sea roar, and all its fullness,
The world and those who dwell in it;
Let the rivers clap their hands;
Let the hills be joyful together before the LORD,
For He is coming to judge the earth.
With righteousness He shall judge the world,
And the peoples with equity.
The way some people talk about Jesus and act toward Him, you would think that His main purpose in carrying out His ministry was to ruin people’s lives, to cause them emotional pain, or to steal from them what was rightfully theirs. Some who write and talk about Jesus see Him as criminal—and all those who follow Him are thought to be just as evil.
It is true that Jesus tends to “stir people up.” He knew that His teachings would ultimately cause divisions among people, but that division and strife was brought about by those who hated Him, not because His preaching was harmful or wicked in itself.
The fact is, the Lord had only one purpose in appearing on earth, and that was to deliver it from its misery, death, and wickedness. True, that deliverance meant some emotional pain for us humans. It meant we had to face up to what was evil. It meant that we had to see our crimes against God for what they really were, and we had to understand where those sins had earned for us—and that much is painful enough. But the pain is quickly soothed by the precious forgiveness and love of Jesus shown to us at the cross. For Christ did not come to ruin and destroy our lives or bring us hardship and sadness. Rather, He came to put back together what was already wrecked and ruined. As the hymn Joy to the World says in the third verse: “He comes to make his blessings flow far as the curse is found.”
The curse has its origins all the way back to the beginning of the earth. It is the curse that fell upon all things at the point that evil was introduced into the world, when God’s perfect creation was ruined by mankind’s disobedience against Him. While some try to claim that it was just “one small sin” on Adam and Eve’s part—a sin that God should just overlook—it only takes one blemish to destroy what is complete and totally without flaw. The earth would never be the same again. It was changed and ruined. God said to Adam, “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field” (Genesis 3:17-18 NIV)
A curse descended upon all the creation. Adam showed evidence of it right away when he hid from God, ashamed of his guilt—guilt which he had never known prior to the entrance of sin. The curse was not limited either to thorns and thistles in the field, it affected the animal kingdom too. Now there would be disease and suffering even among that part of creation. Death for all living things was in the picture now too.
I find it amusing in a sad sort of way when something terrible happens in the world and the reporters and commentators remark, “I just don’t understand how anything like this could take place! …How could someone do such a thing? …How can an entire city be wiped out by a hurricane?”
I understand how bad things can happen. I know why they happen in every single case. You know why too. You know why there is hardship and suffering. You know why there are earthquakes and floods that ruin houses and buildings. You know why diseases ravage many and why the undertaker has a job. You know why there is tragedy and heartache as we journey through this life. It is because the curse is found everywhere. This world has been doomed from the day the serpent tempted mankind. Romans 5 says: “Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned…The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation…by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man…the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men” (Romans 5:12ff NIV).
Far and wide the curse is found, is it not? There is no country, no place that is immune. Whether it is upheaval in Zimbabwe or gang violence in Detroit, it can all be traced back to the curse in Eden. Each of us experiences the curse in different ways through our day-to-day lives, but each of us experiences it. The rich have their sufferings and the poor have theirs. The healthy have their troubles and the sick have theirs.
Jesus came, not to make all of this worse, but to put it back together. To recreate what was wrecked and ruined. To rebuild what only God could rebuild. He comes not as a destroyer, as some believe Him to be, but as a Savior to recover what was lost. To bring blessing without end to a world so lost. “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him” (John 3:17 NIV).
“He comes to make His blessings flow.” Even a brief examination of Jesus’ life proves this to be true. When John the Baptizer was in prison, he sent word to Jesus asking him, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” Jesus reported back to John saying: “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor” (Matthew 11:5). He was working against the curse, turning back the effects of sin! As the Anointed One of God, this is what He had been sent to do.
Where eyes had been blinded, He opened them. Where ears had been made deaf by disease or illness, He caused them to hear again. Where a young man died—the only son of his widowed mother in the small village of Nain—Christ touched the coffin and brought him back to life (Luke 7:11ff). When one of the synagogue leaders fell at Jesus’ feet and pleaded with Him to come and help his little daughter who was dying and when Jesus arrived at the house the child was dead, the Lord went into her room and said, “Arise, get up!” And she lived again (Luke 8:41ff).
How could anyone say that Jesus did anything but good? As a matter of fact, they couldn’t. Even the religious leaders who hated Jesus found they could not speak against Him because He had brought so much blessing to the towns and communities. As the Apostle Peter proclaimed later: “He went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him” (Acts 10:38 NIV).
Wherever He went, Jesus brought blessing. Not only the blessing of physical healing to those who were lame and ill, but He brought the healing comfort of His Word and a promise to destroy the curse that had fallen upon man so long ago. He was not content just to give temporary relief from the effects of sin, but He preached, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die” (John 11:25-26). With Jesus death, sorrow, pain, guilt, sadness, and everything else which sin had brought into the world and ruined for everyone would be done away with. He came to fix and heal this broken world. To bring blessing that nobody else could bring.
He would do this not by creating earthly peace as some thought. He would do it by making a way for people to enjoy a new earth. He knew this present creation would one day be burned up by fire as the prophets had said, but He would offer His life on the cross so that the guilt of all could be forgiven, and they could enjoy a new world—a new creation, the home of righteousness.
Jesus’ death on the cross and His subsequent resurrection from the dead destroys the curse of sin that descended on the world in the Garden of Eden. It pays for the sin that Adam and Eve committed, and that all of us commit. It clears our record of guilt and returns us to “not guilty” in the eyes of God. With that “not guilty” record in hand, we can rise from the dead to become a part of the new creation that is promised to us. This is the greatest blessing that flows from the Baby in the manger. The greatest blessing is that He traveled the road from Bethlehem to the bitter cross at Calvary to shower forgiveness upon on and declare us ready for everlasting life.
“No more let sins and sorrows grow
Nor thorns infest the ground.”
With Christ, the curse is broken and blessings flow. Sins, sorrows, thorns, these will all be gone when He comes again in glory. We join in with the words of Psalm 98 saying: “He has done marvelous things, his right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him. The LORD has made his salvation known…He has remembered his love and his faithfulness…all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.” [v.1ff]
When I was very young, I used to think that the line in the third verse of Joy To the World said, “Far as the purse is found.” I thought that the song was saying how Jesus’ blessings flowed like money from a purse! Actually, the truth is better than that. His blessings flow in an unending stream throughout the world. Far as the curse is found—and that is everywhere—the Lord’s blessings can be discovered. From the Old Testament people who were returning to Jerusalem after years of exile singing the joyful song of Psalm 98 to you today, wherever you are, who have just as much reason to sing of the blessings that flow, for there is not a person anywhere who cannot find blessing in Christ.
Sometimes we forget this, and we can be tempted like the rest to see our Lord as an “inconvenience” in our daily lives—someone we might avoid if we’re around friends. But Advent reminds us once again that He comes in blessing.
Are you sad about mistakes you have made in the past?—wrongs that trouble you, that you are sorry about, but that you can no longer correct or do anything about? The Christ Child comes to Bethlehem to tell you that you are forgiven; that God has put your guilt behind His back and placed it all on the back of Jesus.
Do you struggle with living in this imperfect world where things just don’t go right for you? Family troubles? Frustration? Grief? Do you think you cannot handle it any longer? Jesus comes to work against the effects of sin. To bless you and keep you in this life until He takes you to the mansions of Heaven. He will see to it that you will not be tempted beyond what you can bear and He will always be at your side with words of comfort and encouragement.
Has illness overtaken you or your loved ones? Jesus can heal, and He promises to deliver you finally from all illness, even death.
Are you lonely? He surrounds you with like-minded believers, as well as His own presence.
While the world will continue to view Jesus as a “radical” and criticize Him for teachings that are “behind the times,” we will continue to see Him for who He really is: The Son of God from whom all blessings flow! Amen.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.