A Glorious Child

Dear Church Family,

Like most everyone else, I was shocked and saddened by the news of a young man who shot and killed twenty school children and six adults in Newtown, Connecticut and then took his own life last week. It’s truly horrifying. And, like most everyone else, I have been inundated by the opinions of pundits, journalists, government officials, religious leaders, and friends. It seems that there is no end to the speculation concerning the reasons behind this despicable evil, and then speculation as to how to prevent it in the future.

Remembering our Creatureliness

A host of reasons have been put forth as to why a young man murdered so many people. Some of these reasons put forth include: lack of gun control laws, lack of help for people struggling with mental or emotional illness, God or prayer not allowed in the schools, lack of security in our schools, the proliferation of violence in mass media and video games, judgment upon our nation, and the list goes on.

Personally, I’m convinced that the truth of the matter is this: we cannot know the ultimate reason as to why these murders took place. As Christians who believe that the Scriptures are the inspired Word of God, we have some general answers as to why men commit evil and sin: through Adam, sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned (Romans 5:12); the heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick (Jeremiah 17:9); men are naturally blinded by their own sin and worship the creature rather than the Creator (Romans 1:18-25); apart from the mercy, love, and saving grace of God, we all naturally follow the course of this world, the enticements of Satan, and the lusts of our own flesh (Ephesians 2:1-3).

So, yes, we have a general answer as to why men commit sinful acts: our own depravity and rebellion against God and His law. At the same time, however, to speculate as to why a specific wicked event or sinful act was committed is usually just that: speculation. I have to remember that I am not the eternal, omniscient, sovereign Creator; I am a creature, bound in space and time, with a limited capacity of understanding. I cannot know the mind of God who works all things after the counsel of His will (Ephesians 1:11).

Mourning With Those Who Mourn

I do not deny that there are practical lessons that may be drawn from this tragedy with regard to law enforcement, protecting the innocent, etc. My point is simply this: because we are finite, we cannot know the ultimate reasons for specific evil and sinful acts. But because God is infinite and He has revealed His counsel to us, we do have the ultimate answer to the punishment, power, and pain of sin: Jesus, Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed (1 Peter 2:14).

When we experience the pain of loss, the horrific effects of sin in this world, our most immediate and pressing need is compassion, commiseration, and empathy. In the book of Job, his three friends bring all sorts of advice (mostly bad advice) as they try and explain the whys and the wherefores of Job’s personal loss. Each one thinks that he’s figured out the reason why it is that Job has suffered. In the end, they are all proven wrong and finally, Job is confronted by God’s omnipotence and omniscience and has to confess: Job answered the Lord and said, “I know that You can do all things, And that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ “Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.” One of the lessons of the book of Job is this: God is the Creator, and we are the creatures, therefore we cannot know the specific and ultimate reasons for everything that happens.

Despite their folly, though, I’ve often thought that in the immediate aftermath of Job learning that he had lost all of his property and that all ten of his children had been killed, Job’s friends did show some wisdom and compassion. When Job’s friends first approach him, “they lifted up their eyes at a distance and did not recognize him, they raised their voices and wept. And each of them tore his robe and they threw dust over their heads toward the sky. Then they sat down on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights with no one speaking a word to him, for they saw that his pain was very great.” (Job 2:12-13).

In the same way, we weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn. And so we should. It is what is needed, and it is what is right. Silence and presence are the need of the hour in the midst of pain and suffering. Then, without attempting to provide specific reasons for specific tragedies, we as Christians can provide the good news of the gospel: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.” (Romans 5:8-9)

A Wonder of a Counselor

I have been thinking on these things this week as I have been preparing for the sermon for this Sunday on Isaiah 9:6 – “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.” This verse is, of course, a prophecy concerning our Savior, Jesus Christ – whose birth we celebrate at Christmas. The first in this list of four names which are attributed this child who is born to us is ‘Wonderful Counselor.’ That is to say, He is a wonder of a counselor. Jesus’ counsel – His will, His plans – are too wonderful for us to comprehend.

According to His wonderful counsel (His incomprehensible plan), the Son of God “did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:6-11). Now, everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and Jesus, Himself, will raise him up on the last day (John 6:40).

If that’s not a wondrous, incomprehensible plan, I don’t know what is! I would have never come up with such a plan to save and redeem condemned men and women. First of all, I don’t think I love that much to be able to sacrifice my own son for the sake of something that I made – even if that thing was made in my image. Second of all, even if I did want to redeem something that I had made, I probably would have tried to find a way that didn’t require any sacrifice or pain on my part. But, the Scriptures tell us that ‘without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness’ (Hebrews 9:22). So, Jesus had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people (Hebrews 2:17).

Conclusion

The Scriptures tell us that “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 29:29). Indeed, there are secret things (wondrous counsels) which belong to the Lord – things which He has not revealed to us. We cannot know the ultimate cause of specific events unless the Lord has revealed them to us in His Word. At the same time, the Lord has revealed much to us in the pages of Scripture. So, let us mourn with those who mourn, as we share the love of God in the good news of the gospel and His wondrous plan of salvation through His only begotten Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch

A Glorious Battle

Dear Church Family,

My daughter is in charge of maintaining our “Christmas countdown” calendar in our home. Beginning at the end of November, each day she dutifully turns the manual wheel, counting down the days until Christmas. This week, she excitedly called to me, “Dad, guess what? There’s less than two weeks until Christmas!” She’s very excited.

Christmas is an exciting time as we remember God’s sending His Son to take on human flesh, born in weakness in a cattle stall, the Savior of sinners – the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. This time of year is filled with Christmas music and carols praising God for His love to mankind which was proclaimed through the host of heaven, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased” (Luke 2:14). Indeed, Christmas is often marked by warm thoughts and feelings – for God and for our fellow man. When we think about God in the flesh, wrapped in ‘swaddling cloths,’ it seems only natural.

A Glorious Battle

At the same time, there is a harsh reality that is also attached to Christmas. The work of Jesus Christ in His incarnation is also described in Scripture as the victory of a holy war – the holy war of God against the enemies of God’s people: sin, death, and the devil (Hebrews 2:14-15). The prophet Isaiah tells us that one of the things that will mark the coming of the Messiah is a great battle. A battle which he describes with the language of violence, of breaking, of blood-letting, and of burning: the ‘child who will be born to us’ will break the rod of the one who oppresses His glorious people (Isaiah 9:4-5).

In the sermon this coming Sunday, we will be examining this “glorious battle” as we continue in our series from Isaiah 9:

(Dec. 9)  A Glorious People (Isaiah 9:1-3)
(Dec. 16)  A Glorious Battle (Isaiah 9:4-5)
(Dec. 23)  A Glorious Child (Isaiah 9:6)
(Dec. 30)  A Glorious Kingdom (Isaiah 9:7)

At the heart of Isaiah 9:4-5, Isaiah says that this glorious battle in which the Messiah shall be victorious will be like the “day of Midian” (Isaiah 9:4). In my mind, this phrase is the key to understanding what Isaiah is talking about. To the original recipients of Isaiah’s prophecies, they most likely would have immediately understood and connected the dots. For us today, describing the glorious battle in which Christ is victorious over His and our enemies as being like the “day of Midian” may not be so apparent.

The “day of Midian” is a reference to the time in Israel’s history when the Lord raised up a judge and deliverer by the name of Gideon to defeat the Midianites. So, in preparation for the sermon this coming Sunday, I encourage you read about the “day of Midian” from the book of Judges, chapters 6-8. There, you will read of Gideon and his exploits as the Lord used him to put an end to the oppression of the Midianites. Gideon’s victory over in the “day of Midian” is a paradigm by which we may better understand the victory of God in the work of Jesus Christ.

The Day of the Lord

Another concept which is helpful in understanding how the “day of Midian” is a paradigm for the redemptive work of Christ is the concept of the “day of the Lord.” This is a technical phrase which several of the prophets employ to speak of the coming of the Lord – the coming of the Lord in salvation for His people and judgment for His enemies (see, for example: Ezekiel 30:3; Joel 2:31; Amos 5:18-20; Obadiah 1:15; Zephaniah 1:14; Malachi 4:5).

In the New Testament, this “day of the Lord” is described as being fulfilled in three ways: the first coming of Christ, the second coming of Christ, and all the time in-between. For example, the Apostle Peter explains on the day of Pentecost how the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is a fulfillment of what Joel had written concerning the “day of the Lord” (Acts 2:17-21; cf. Joel 2:28-32a). In another place, Peter also spoke of the “day of the Lord” as being fulfilled in the future second coming of Christ (2 Peter 3:10). And, according to the Apostle Paul, the day of salvation which would come through the work of the Suffering Servant and Prince of Peace is now! (Isaiah 49:8; 2 Corinthians 6:2)

Thus the “day of the Lord” as foretold in the prophets is fulfilled in three phases: (1) the inauguration of the kingdom of God in Jesus’ first coming, (2) the continuation of the kingdom of God as Jesus’ builds His Church today, and (3) the consummation of the kingdom of God in Jesus’ second coming.

I look forward to this coming Sunday as we explore the “day of Midian” and the “day of the Lord” together. Indeed, it is a glorious battle! That is what we celebrate at Christmas: the good news as prophesied through Isaiah – through His only begotten Son, God has been victorious: “Your God reigns!” (Isaiah 52:7). All those who repent of their sins and trust in Christ are blessed and privileged to share in the victory of God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch

The Glorious People of God

Dear Church Family,

In the sermon this past Sunday morning, we looked at the prophet Isaiah’s call from Isaiah, chapter 6. There, we see Isaiah’s call, his cleansing, and his commission. And, we took note that Isaiah’s message which the Lord commissioned him to bring to the people of Israel was a gloomy one: through his preaching, Isaiah was to render the hearts of the people insensitive until God had completed the judgment that He would bring upon them (Isaiah 6:9-12).

At the same time, God held out hope: a remnant who will continue to trust in the Lord will remain, and a holy seed would rise from the stump of Jesse (Isaiah 6:13; 11:1). Jesus’ earthly ministry and proclamation of the gospel had a similar result as Isaiah’s (Matthew 13:10-17). More importantly, though, Jesus was also the fulfillment of Isaiah’s ministry and prophecy (Matthew 13:14, 34-35).

This coming Sunday, we will turn our attention from the gloomy message of Isaiah and begin to examine the glorious good news of the coming of the kingdom of God in the Person of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. And, we will do so by examining four aspects of this good news from Isaiah 9:1-7:

(Dec. 9)  A Glorious People (Isaiah 9:1-3)
(Dec. 16)  A Glorious Battle (Isaiah 9:4-5)
(Dec. 23)  A Glorious Child (Isaiah 9:6)
(Dec. 30)  A Glorious Kingdom (Isaiah 9:7)

This coming Sunday (December 9th) we will see three promises concerning the glorious people of God.

First, we hear through Isaiah how God’s people will expand to include the gentiles (Isaiah 9:1). In Christ, the people of God, the Church, is no longer confined to one nation, as before under the law (Romans 15:9-12).

Second, we hear through Isaiah how God’s light will shine upon this one people who belong to Him and they will no longer walk in darkness (Isaiah 9:2). In Christ, those who follow Him have the Light of life (John 8:12), and this people becomes the light of the world (Matthew 5:14).

Third, we hear through Isaiah how God will multiply His people and increase their joy (Isaiah 9:3). In Christ, the corner stone, God builds His church (Ephesians 2:19-22),  and He promises to turn our grief into joy (John 16:20).

The glorious people whom Isaiah was prophesying about in Isaiah 9:1-3 is the Church of Jesus Christ. Because the kingdom of God has come in Jesus Christ, we have received these great and glorious promises! That is what we celebrate at Christmas: the good news as prophesied through Isaiah – through His only begotten Son, God is calling to Himself a glorious people. And, all those who repent of their sins and trust in Christ are blessed and privileged to be made a part of this glorious people and heirs of the promises of God!

The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch

From Gloomy to Glorious

Dear Church Family,

The coming Sunday, December 2, we will begin a new sermon series in our Sunday morning worship from the book of Isaiah. This series will last for the five weeks in December, so obviously we will not be looking at the entire 66 chapters of Isaiah! Here is the planned outline of this series:

Sermon Series: From Gloomy to Glorious

(Dec. 2)  A Gloomy Saying (Isaiah 6:1-13)
(Dec. 9)  A Glorious People (Isaiah 9:1-3)
(Dec. 16)  A Glorious Battle (Isaiah 9:4-5)
(Dec. 23)  A Glorious Child (Isaiah 9:6)
(Dec. 30)  A Glorious Kingdom (Isaiah 9:7)

In this series, we will be examining first how God, through the prophet Isaiah, gave a gloomy saying of judgment for His people. That is, Isaiah was commissioned to preach the gospel (the good news of salvation) to the people of Israel, but because of their failure to believe that gospel and repent of their sins, the people would receive Isaiah’s message as a judgment and condemnation against them.

We don’t usually consider this side of the gospel: that the preaching of the gospel either redeems or condemns. However, that was the nature of Isaiah’s ministry and as we will see this Sunday that was actually the nature of Jesus’ ministry, as well (Matthew 13:11-17).

But, as you may see by the outline of this forthcoming series, Isaiah’s message was not all gloom. Isaiah also foretold of a day when the people who walk in darkness would see a great light, a day when the Gentiles would be gathered in to God’s work of redemption. In that day, Isaiah prophesied that there would be a great battle in which the enemies of God’s people (sin, death, and the devil) would be defeated by a child. And, this child would be a royal son who would sit on the throne of King David, and that child would rule with justice and righteousness.

Of course, we now know who that royal son is: Jesus Christ, the Son of God! When you finish reading a detective novel, you can look back at the story you just read and say, “Oh, the butler did it!” In a similar way, we can look back at what Isaiah prophesied and say, “Oh, Jesus did it!” In His incarnation – in His earthly and heavenly ministry – Christ accomplishes all that Isaiah prophesied. The good news for the people of God is this: Your God reigns! (Isaiah 52:7) That is what we celebrate at Christmas, and it is that good news, as prophesied through Isaiah, that we will be examining in the month of December as we are reminded of the Lord’s glorious provision in His only begotten Son!

The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch