5th Sunday before Christmas – Sermon 11
Prayer to start
May the words of my lips and the thoughts of our hearts be graciously received for the Glory and Honour of our Lord Jesus Christ
What do we hope for? – lots of money? happiness? Success in business? New friendships? – Hope the car starts in the morning
We all have different hopes and expectations from life – some are very important to us – like the happiness of our families and friends – some are just fanciful dreams to help us through the day – like meeting our favourite pop star or football player
What about the early Jews in Israel? – what were their hopes? – They were strongly influenced by God –
He brought them out of slavery and set them up in a new land of milk and honey – He promised through Abraham that they would multiply and become as plentiful as "the sands of the sea"
But by the time of Isaiah things had gone wrong –
They were under threat from war – only a minority remained loyal to God – but from within the faithful there was still hope that a remnant would survive
The word " remnant " – is a translation from Hebrew – meaning "what is left" – it was first used to describe survivors of a terrible slaughter or act of violence Later it was used to represent the spiritual kernel or seed of the nation of Israel – those who would ensure the survival of God’s people
In our OT reading Isaiah uses it to describe survivors escaping from the Syrians
At that time there were two Kingdoms – Israel in the north and Judah in the south – Out of fear and against God’s wishes – Israel had made an alliance with Syria – but now the Syrians were to attack and overrun them – Isreal was to suffer judgement because of the peoples sins and their worshipping of Idols
In Isaiah Chp 7 v 3-4 we see that God had directed Isaiah to take his son – who he named – Shear Jashib – which means " a remnant will return" – and persuade Abaz the King of Judah to remain faithful
this was so that God’s remnant could escape to Judah – to carry out His work of redemption –
it says in verse 20 –
"a remnant will lean no more on him who scourged them" – they will – “lean on the Lord, the Holy one of Israel"
There are other instances in the Bible where the remnant is mentioned
in the time of Hezakiah in judgement on the Southern Kingdom (Isaiah 37:4) and later with the Babylonian conquest – the fact that some remained after such serious conflicts was an indication that God sustained and rescued them
– In 2Kings 19,v9-18 Elijah thought he was the only one left worshipping God until he was told there was 7000 who had not bowed down to Baal. This encouraged him to go out and do what God had told him to do
So in a period of depressing prophesies the remnant became the symbol of hope and encouragement for faithfulness and bravery – the hope that God would remain faithful to His people and save them from judgement
In our Gospel reading Jesus is talking to His disciples about the future – (This is a very Jewish chapter) – He uses apocalyptic language – (developed between the testaments) – to get His message across –
Mark places this chapter just before he describes the final stages of Jesus’ earthly ministry – almost as a last word to His disciples
He was warning them of a terrible time to come – a time preceding His return when evil will appear to be taking over –
A time –“When you see the abomination that causes desolation usurping a place which is not his"
Matthew and Luke draw parallels between this and the prophesies described by Daniel (in Chp. 9 v 25-27) linking it with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD by the Roman Emperor Titus – over a million Jews died of starvation and disease inside the city walls – only those who fled escaped death and survived
With their master the disciples regarded themselves as the new remnant of Israel – at the dawn of a new beginning – Jesus had charged them with a mission – to recall Israel to God’s Kingdom –
He promises them that even in the midst of such destruction God will care for His elect – He will ensure His remnant survived
So we’ve looked at the remnant as a symbol of hope – It’s also an important symbol of faith
Isaiah says in verse 20 "without wavering they will lean on the Lord"
Also in chp. 7 v 9, He emphasises the importance of faith with these words
“If you do not stand firm in your faith you will not stand at all “
Faith in the Bible means trust and reliance – Israel’s faith was based on God’s revelation of Himself to the patriarchs, to Abraham – to Moses – to the covenant that He sealed at Sinai.
The people were obedient because they believed that God would stand by His promises – They acted in simple faith – did not allow themselves to be distracted from their commitment to God – they had no thought of the perfect sacrifice of Jesus – that was still to come-
In the NT lack of faith in the Christian Gospel is considered as the supreme evil –
not to make a decisive response to God’s offer in Christ – means that we remain in sin and are lost.
In our Gospel Jesus warns of false prophets and also messiahs who will try to lead the elect astray – the elect must look to themselves and remain vigilant – they must remain faithful
Faith is a two way commitment – those who remain faithful could depend on the faithfulness and love of God towards His people –
Only through Faith can we be saved – only through faith can we be effective in our witness to other people – in the words from our collect – " only through faithful witness of the few will the children of the earth be made one with the Saints of the Lord"
So we have hope and we have faith – the remnant also reminds us of God’s capacity for forgiveness and love
Isaiah’s prophesy is about the remnant who will return – return meaning actively repent – turn around and come back to God
Despite their sins and their worshipping of Idols – God is still willing to forgive them if they are prepared to change – to put Him first above everything else –
So if we put God first we will receive forgiveness and the gracious gifts that He has to offer
Today here in Lymm we are part of God’s remnant – Just as Jesus was warning His disciples to remain faithful so He is warning us – It’s all too easy for us to be distracted – we use all sorts of excuses –
and focus our time and gifts on other things (too busy – or got the shopping to do – too tired – not my cup of tea anyway!)
(no time to listen – no time to pray – no time to read the Bible – no time for God today )
In a book by Thomas Merton called "No man is an island" sin is described as "a withdrawal of the love of God in order to love something else”
We forget God and stop loving Him – Yet from the beginning He has loved and cared for His people – He just wants us to love Him in return
He gave His only Son Jesus Christ to die on a cross – to pay for our sins so we might be forgiven and like the remnant change and turn back to Him
We must put God first each day – ask Him what He wants us to do – through prayer and reading our Bibles and encourage one another to live in faith and commitment to Him
No matter what hardships we experience – Jesus has suffered worst – in the face of evil and man’s sin Jesus offers God’s love – and for those who recognise it and live by it – the promise of salvation through Him in Heaven
So the remnant reminds us of Hope – Faith and Love – three gifts ever present in God’s people – and as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12 – all of these are the work of the one and the same Spirit
We are part of God’s remnant here in Lymm – part of the seed – that God uses to pass on the message of salvation and love through Jesus Christ
In life our hopes need to be God centered – and our faith firmly fixed on Jesus – so we can live our lives in His love – and receive the promised salvation with Him in heaven.
Payer to Finish
In the name of the Father Son and Holy Spirit