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Sunday, December 21, 2014

With You to Save You (Jeremiah 1, Matthew 28)

Sermon by: Robert Austell - December 21, 2014
Text: Jeremiah 1:4-9,17-19; Matthew 28:16-20

:: Sermon Audio (link) - scroll down for written draft  
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: Rick Bean, jazz piano
Hymn of Praise: "Good Christian Friends, Rejoice" (IN DULCI JUBILO; arr. Austell)
Hymn of Praise: "Angels from the Realms of Glory" (REGENT SQUARE)
The Word in Music: "Once in Royal David's City" - choir, handbells, violin (arr. Helvey)
Time for Reflection: "Joy to the World' (Kaitlyn Hetterly, piano)
Offering of Music: "What Child is This" (Bobby White, piano)
Song of Sending: "Go, Tell it on the Mountain" (arr. Rick Bean)
Postlude: Rick Bean, jazz piano

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf): 
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose. 

During this Advent-Christmas season, our theme has been Immanuel or “God with us.” As we’ll hear on Christmas Eve, the angel told Mary that Jesus would be Immanuel, the living embodiment of God with us. This series was sparked when I looked for occurrences of God with us in the Bible. It is only used as a name twice, in a prophecy to Isaiah and when the angel speaks to Mary. But it is a name that is literally a Hebrew sentence. So as I found various forms of the words ‘Im,’ ‘anu,’ and ‘el,’ I found the great promises of God, “I will be with you” and the great declarations of God, “I am with you.” And we’ve been reminded that not only has God not turned away from us, but that He pursues us in love and is and will always be “with us.”

On Christmas Eve we will see how that Immanuel promise is perfectly fulfilled in Jesus, but for today and next Sunday we actually move a bit past the birth of Jesus to understand some of God’s PURPOSE in being with us. We have seen that part of that purpose is love – to pursue us though humanity turned away. We have seen that part of that purpose is comfort, with God often reminding us, “Do not fear” and “you are not alone.” We have also seen that part of God’s purpose is bringing us ‘home’ to Himself through salvation or deliverance. And all that is SO much, but there is even more that God is doing; and we get a glimpse of that in our scripture texts for today.

I Am With You To Deliver You (Jeremiah 1)

Originally, I had chosen this Jeremiah passage as another example of God being with us. The key verse about God’s presence is v. 19, where God says, “I am with you to deliver you.” If we read that verse out of context, we might think it is a promise about salvation, but the context here is crucial – and is also what connects this passage to the one we’ll look at from Matthew 28.

This is the beginning of the book and story of Jeremiah, one of God’s prophets. And this introduction to Jeremiah’s story sets out God’s purpose for Jeremiah’s life and calling. It’s a wonderful reminder of God’s plans and purpose, even before we are born! God tells Jeremiah that before he was formed in his mother’s womb, God purposed for him to be set aside as a prophet. And God makes this known to him when he is still a young boy. In verse six we read of Jeremiah’s hesitation because of his age, but God responds by saying that God will provide the plan and the message: “…everywhere I send you, you shall go, and all that I command you, you shall speak… I have put my words in your mouth.” (v. 7,9) God goes on to say for the first time, “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you.” (v. 8) 

And there we realize the different context for “with you to deliver you.” God is not bringing Jeremiah OUT OF something; God is sending Jeremiah INTO something. But God promises to be with him and protect him. After challenging him to “gird up” and “do not be dismayed,” listen to the strong imagery in verse 18: “Now behold, I have made you today as a fortified city and as a pillar of iron and as walls of bronze against the whole land… to the kings… princes… priests… and people.” And God is honest: it’s not going to be easy or comfortable: “They will fight against you, but they will not overcome you….” (v. 19) And then, for the second time, “…for I am with you to deliver you.” (v. 19)

Hold on to and ponder that and let’s turn to the New Testament, to Matthew 28.

I Am With You Always (Matthew 28)

Matthew 28 is the end of Matthew’s telling of Jesus’ life. Not unlike Jeremiah, God planned Jesus’ life and calling long before his birth. He, too, was born for the sake of “the nations.” Reminiscent of Jeremiah 1, Jesus several times says something like this: “… I do nothing on my own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught me. And He who sent me is with me; He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him.” (John 8:28-29; cf. also John 12:49)

So fast-forward through Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection, and we find him with the disciples at the end of Matthew. And Jesus is giving them direction for after he leaves. He has told them he is leaving his Spirit; he has told them that the Spirit would give them the words to say (like Jeremiah, like himself). And now he charges them with what we have come to call the “Great Commission” – which simply means the mission in which we participate in God’s great work. He says, famously, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you….” (Matthew 28:19-20a)  And then this, which is what connected this passage to all the rest we have been looking at this month: “…and lo, I am WITH YOU ALWAYS, even to the end of the age.” (v. 20b)

The one who is called Immanuel – God with us – ends his earthly ministry by telling his followers, “I am with you always.” That is, God is with you always! It’s the old promise: underscored, highlighted, set in triple-bold, and read out loud. God is with you and will never leave you and never forsake you. It’s not something that comes and goes with the Christmas birth of baby Jesus; it is the very life and death and even leaving of Jesus which underscores the promise even more: God is with you and will never leave or forsake you.

From vs. For

I said earlier that God’s presence with us has PURPOSE. Part of that purpose is love – and God does love you! Part of that purpose is comfort, and we often do need to hear and know, “Do not fear” and “you are not alone.” Part of God’s purpose is bringing us ‘home’ to Himself through salvation or deliverance – and we know that completely through the person and work of Jesus Christ.

But here’s the bottom-line that I think we must hear from today’s texts, and it has broad implications for our understanding and experience of faith and life itself. God is not just about rescuing us FROM something – sin, death, hell, enemies, fear; God has made it clear time and time again that He pursues us FOR something.

God was with Jeremiah to deliver him – not out of danger or away from harm or out of the world, but because God was sending him into the world with a message from and about God.

God was with us in Christ to deliver us – not only from sin and death, but for a Great Commission to the world.

The Christian faith and life is not ultimately about be safe or comfortable or keeping out of Hell; it is about following Jesus Christ into the world God loves to act and speak in the ways God the Father has shown us in His Word and in Christ. This is what it means to be a Christian, a follower of Christ; this is what it means to be the Church.

And God is with us for that purpose. God is with us for love; God is with us to encourage and strengthen us; God is with us to save us; but don’t miss that God is with us for a PURPOSE – for our good and that of the world, for His name’s sake, for His glory… that Heaven and Nature might indeed sing, “Joy!” Amen.

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