What Is on Your Christmas List?
Our text this morning is Isaiah 61. While you are turning to that, I’ll just mention that this is the time of Christmas lists… Children prepare a careful list of things they would like to see under the Christmas tree. Husbands and wives may exchange a few thoughts on their personal wishes. Gift-giving is a tradition of Christmas that goes back the wisemen who brought their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrr to the infant Jesus and to Mary and Joseph.
Let me ask you to think about something this morning. What kind of Christmas list would you prepare if you were giving that list to God? What kind of things would you like to receive from Him? I think we would see a lot these kinds of items on a list like that: world peace, ending poverty, curing disease, even eternal life. The last chapters of Isaiah, in a way, describe a beautiful list of gifts that God would like to bring into this world. Look just a few verses above Isaiah 61 to Isaiah 60.18… "Violence shall no more be heard in your land, devastation or destruction within your borders; you shall call your walls Salvation, and your gates Praise." Turn to Isaiah 65.17 "For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind." And again, Isaiah 65.25 "The wolf and lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain."
But there is something that might be missing on a lot of such lists, something that God would put at the very top of such a list – I’m talking about "righteousness." Read along with me in Isaiah 61.13 and verses 10 & 11.
ESVIsaiah 61:1 The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; 2 to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; 3 to grant to those who mourn in Zion- to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified.
10 I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. 11 For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to sprout up before all the nations.
Today I want us to see just how important righteousness is according to God’s Word. If it helps, you might remember the backbone of this message with three words: Lack, Gift, and Life.
I. Our Lack of Righteousness
If God wants to bring about righteousness in this world, then that implies something… It must be lacking! Indeed it is. Look at Isaiah 64.5-7…
ESVIsaiah 64:5 You meet him who joyfully works righteousness, those who remember you in your ways. Behold, you were angry, and we sinned; in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved? 6 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. 7 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.
These verses describe the natural state of all people. A lack of righteousness is a persistent problem that all human beings must realize. Jesus said that the work of the Holy Spirit would be to "convict the world of sin and righteousness" (John 16.8).
How does this lack show up in our lives. I know it shows up in my life with impure thoughts; with inappropriate words and actions. Above all it can be seen in the lack of pure thoughts, words, and actions. School children fall into the temptation of ridiculing one another. At times we are unwilling to help those who need us. Over and over again I hear people tell me they are just too busy for God’s Word. These are just a few of the symptoms of our lack of righteousness. It hurts to think about it, but we must. Too many preachers today are not focusing of the root problem of sin. Their message is a "Splenda Spirituality," nice and sweet but not nutritious.
Above all we must know that God has zero tolerance for this lack of righteousness. In the New Testament we read about the Pharisees who were extremely concerned about righteousness. A lot of people thought they were too concerned. They thought that Jesus had come to lower the standard of righteousness. But He had not come to do that. Jesus said, "Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven" (Matthew 5.20). That brings me to the next thought…2. The Gift of Righteousness
It is true that Jesus taught the highest standard of righteousness. His difference with the Pharisees was not in the standard of righteousness, but in the way it was obtained. The Pharisees thought that it could be obtained by self-discipline and effort. But the Bible teaches another way. The first reference to "righteousness" in the Bible is found in Genesis 15.6. There we meet the very interesting person – Abraham. Abraham is remembered for a lot of things, but what we remember most of all is his faith. He wasn’t a perfect man, but He was a man who continually turned to God and followed His Word in faith. That’s what God wants. In Genesis 15.6 we read: "And Abraham believed in the Lord and it was accounted to him for righteousness."
People think that sin is just a matter of a few mistakes that can either be overcome with effort or counter-balanced with better behavior. Sin is not like that at all. It is more like a thread that comes loose. As you pull on it, hoping to get rid of it, the whole garment begins to fall apart. There’s no stopping it. What we need is a new garment – the Robe of Righteousness that Isaiah talks about.
Righteousness comes to us through God’s grace and forgiveness. This was always the priority for Jesus. He was always forgiving. When the paralytic was lowered through the roof, the first thing Jesus did was to forgive him his sins. Then he healed him. Again and again, Jesus followed that pattern. His priority was the cleansing of hearts with forgiveness. Jesus was baptized not for His sins but to identify with His mission to take away the sins of the world. He was then tempted in the wilderness, and there He overcame Satan’s efforts to lead Him into unrighteousness. After that He went to His hometown of Nazareth. There in the synagogue He was asked to preach. The text that day was the 61st chapter of Isaiah. He read the verses of our text… "The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; 2 to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor." Then Jesus sat down to preach – this was the custom of Jewish rabbis. What followed was probably the shortest sermon ever. It was just one sentence: "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." (Luke 4.21) Jesus came to bring the gift of righteousness into this world.
3. The Life of Righteousness
What we lack God provides to those who desire it. What He provides changes our lives. Last night we celebrated the baptisms of two little boys. One boy was about two years old. As soon as his parents brought him up the baptismal font, he took one look at that water and decided he wanted it. Starting softly but firmly he said, " want that water." But then working up to a loud and insistent demand he said, I WANT THAT WATER. We all should want that water, which, along with the Word of God is a cleansing water of forgiveness. Baptism is the beginning of our life of righteousness. When we go to the hospital, the first thing we get is an IV. The intravenous needle begins the flow of medicine for our bodies. As we continue to hear the Word of God, so the grace of God and the gift of righteousness flows into our lives.
David described it well when he said, "The Lord is my shepherd… He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake" (Psalm 23.3). Isaiah describes believers as "oaks of righteousness." These are not the kind of oak trees that we are familiar with. But they have some very interesting characteristics that reflect what we are as those who possess the gift of righteousness. The "terebinth tree" as it is sometimes called has two very interesting characteristics. First it is remarkably tough. I’ve seen these trees in Israel. They grow in some of the harshest conditions imaginable. The may not be as big as our oak trees, but they definitely as sturdy, even more so. In the same way the person who is righteous by faith is able to endure all sorts of hardships that this fallen world will eventually throw at them. But God’s righteousness is stronger. Secondly these trees provide much needed relief from the heat of the desert for both man and animal. When we live righteous lives by faith, we are able to provide the help and relief that so many people need. We can’t help everyone, but our help is the beginning of God’s blessings that flow from His righteousness.
My prayer each day goes something like this: Forgive me for my lack of righteousness. Give me the gift, and help me to live the life. Don Williams, a country western singer, came out with a song not long ago that caught my attention. It’s titled "Lord, I Hope This Day is Good." It’s not meant to be a hymn, but it does put a focus on this view of life that we’ve been talking about. Each day that God gives us to live has the potential to be good. When we look to Him and look for the gifts on His list – especially the gift of righteousness in Jesus, our day and all our days will be very good. Amen.
Pastor Michael P. Walther
Michael P. Walther, Copyright, 2005
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