Wednesday mid-December warm hello to BYM!
In his efforts to have all of us well-prepared for Christmas by understanding what this “glory” that we have heard of concerning Christmas all our lives really is, Pastor John read to us from Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 10 verse 31 “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”
All his life of ministry Paul had to fight against two tendencies that could derail Christian belief and life: one was “legalism”. This was what Jewish converts were more prone to fall into; that Christ's sacrifice on the cross was not enough; that they had yet to earn salvation through adherence to the Mosaic law that is fully detailed in the Book of Deuteronomy. The other pitfall Paul fought against tended to beset non-Jewish converts to a life in Christ. This was libertinism. This idea was that “since Christ's death on the cross saved me once and for all, I can do whatever I want during the rest of my life.” No Christians seemed more prone to this grave error than the Corinthians, since Corinth in Greece was from its early days like the stereotype of Las Vegas of the Mediterranean world: all manner of sin and vice flourished there. The Apostle Paul had repeatedly to caution the Corinthian Christians that if they truly believed, then they would sacrifice their own sinful pleasures to demonstrate their thankfulness for salvation through the Christ's sacrifice. The bottom line, as expressed in the verse above, was that they (and we) should consciously and continually use our freedom of choice to glorify God.
Pastor John illustrated this by reminding us of his participation in a 5-kilometer run for charity when he was a high school student. The destination of the run was clear - the finish line! But there were distractions en route, chief among them the local Burger King. Our future Pastor John and his chums barely finished the race, so distracted were they.
What about us?
As Pastor John says, when we have a destination, we have a direction. Ultimately, our final destination and goal in life is to glorify God. That’s the bottom line.
That goal - our purpose - is to ASCRIBE glory to the Lord. This is different from giving glory to Him, since it is He who already has it all! The difference just means that we are putting God at the front of our lives. Psalm 29 verse 2 says it really well: “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness.”
Pastor John reminds us that to glorify God, to ascribe glory to God, means making God number one, the first priority, in every part of our lives, in everything we say and do. Hence the Apostle Paul's admonition: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”
It is not in the first place about action. It is firstly about intention. Created in God's image, we are not robots. We can and must make choices during our brief temporal journey on this earth, in this fallen world. We are conscious beings and have the FREEDOM to choose God over everything else.
Pastor John cautions us that glorifying God is not a matter of will power, it’s about a genuine RESPONSE. It begins by our encountering the glory of God. From Scripture we have many examples of heroes and prophets of faith encountering the glory of God:
Isaiah – “Woe is me! For I am lost!”
Moses – “He put a veil over his face.”
Peter – “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man!”
John – “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.”
God's glory never makes us say, “Come!”; the tremendous apparition or experience of God's glory always makes us say, “Depart!” As the above examples illustrate, it is utterly overwhelming.
Pastor John flashed us the cute picture of Noah's Ark that you all knew from your time in preschool here at church. Then he followed with a picture of the Ark when God's wrath against sinful man is coming down as storm water. That is God's glory; scary to the Nth degree to those actually experiencing it. How could it be otherwise? He is God, and we are not.
Pastor John then gave us this perfect gem: the glory of the cross is God's love and wrath in perfect combination. As he rephrased it, the cross is where God’s LOVE and God's HOLINESS are in PERFECT union. How glorious!
As Pastor John has noted before, the Sun gives off light; the Moon can only reflect light given off by the Sun. So also with us; glorifying God means REFLECTING His Love. As we are eternally grateful for the gift of salvation, so we seek to imitate the Author of our salvation, His only begotten Son. So we read Paul's admonition in Romans 8:29: “to be conformed to the image of his Son.”
God had to send Jesus to perfectly reflect God and His love because we, sinful mankind from Adam forward, had failed to do so. But fallen Adam did get the promise of the ultimate redemption of mankind and its fruit is contained in this verse John 13:34: "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another."
This command is fundamentally new because it says “as I have loved you”. This is a key difference between the Old Covenant and the New. We have now known our Savior in the flesh. So we should imitate and reflect to others accordingly: 1 Peter 1:16 "You shall be holy, for I am holy.” This means that we, each of us, a temple and dwelling place for God. We are again reminded of this from 1 Corinthians 6:19-20: "Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body."
The temple in Jerusalem was as beautiful specimen of mega-architecture as the ancient world had to offer. But within the Temple the priests were always busy with the slaughter of animals as part of the duties of sacrifice prescribed in the Book of Deuteronomy. As Pastor John noted, at the end of his day's duties at the Temple a priest commonly came home with his garments heavily stained with blood. Jesus's sacrifice abolished all that, and instead we, each of us, became His temple!
Think about that: the body, the life, that each of us has is God's temple of which we are custodians. Our bodies are for God's glory and we are charged to be mindful of that always. Doesn't that basic realization weigh powerfully on the choices we make even hourly in our lives? Wash your face, stand up straight, and infinitely much more!
So the glory of Christmas is that Jesus, being God incarnate, perfectly reflects who God is. He is loving and He is Holy. The baby Jesus in the manger was headed for the cross – the place where God is most glorified – but His ultimate destination was not a place, but each of us!
The glory of Christmas is the ultimate inspiration and prompt for each of us to make Jesus our destination of holiness.