Sermon: Blessed Is He That Cometh in the Name of the LORD.
“As your fathers did, so do ye. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? And they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One, of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers.” [Acts 7:51c-52]
In my sermon at Midnight Mass Christmas Eve, I spoke about our need as humans that believe in God to know the nature of God. This need to know the nature of God sometimes transfers to a need, in Jesus’ case, to know what He looks like.
On the History Channel, they did a special where they used computers to ascertain what Jesus looked like. The program was called “The Real Face of Jesus?” (with a question mark at the end of the title). Now, in order to do this, we need to have some sort of image with which to begin. What these people did was take the Shroud of Turin and used the image on it to generate the image of Christ. I must say, it was interesting, awe-inspiring, and I might add, a bit disturbing. But is it really necessary to know what Jesus looked like?
Knowing the nature of God is different than idle curiosity. In fact, our need to know the nature of God is a good need. It is a curiosity that gives us a deeper understanding of God and what He expects of US.
Long ago when I was an atheist, I went through a phase where I read a lot of works by Ayn Rand. I have read The Fountainhead and her magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged. In one of her works she very wisely once wrote, “To love a thing is to know and love its nature.”
Although not many pastors would quote Ayn Rand, nor will many ask you to become Objectivists, I will say that there is more than a kernel of truth in this quotation. We MUST learn God’s nature in order to truly love Him.
So, this need to ascertain God’s nature is a real need of ours and should be explored. However, I fear that many choose a nature they think they can love and then give it to God rather than to really see what His true nature is. After all, in order to know what God’s nature is, we must all read our Bibles, and who wants to do that!
There was a collector of rare books who ran into an old acquaintance of his. The collector hadn’t talked with this man for a while, but his friend knew he was a collector. He said, “You know, I had this old Bible that had been in my family for generations, but it was a real mess. So I threw it away.” “You threw it away?” asked the incredulous collector. “Yeah. It was printed by someone I had never heard of, Guten-something.” “Not Gutenberg?” gasped the book collector. “Yeah, that was the name.” The collector couldn’t control himself, “You idiot! You’ve thrown away one of the first books ever printed. A copy recently sold at auction for over a million dollars.” The friend just smiled, “Mine wouldn’t have been worth a dime. Some clown by the name of Martin Luther wrote all over it.”
One aspect of God which was made clear on Christmas Day is that God IS love. This love manifested itself in the Incarnation; and it came to fruition in Christ’s atoning sacrificial death, in His Resurrection, and in His Ascension:
O how plentiful is thy goodness, which thou hast laid up for them that fear thee, * and that thou hast prepared for them that put their trust in thee, even before the sons of men!
Now, I have a question for all of you. If God loves us unconditionally, if God loves us without any regard as to our sins, then why did Christ have to die on the Cross? Why does He need to redeem His people? The truth is that God is more than love – He is also justice:
With righteousness shall he judge the world, * and the peoples with equity.
In our lessons for the Feast of Saint Stephen, our first martyr, we have reiterated the fact that time and time again God has tried to help us. He has tried to direct us; He has tried to re-direct us when we were heading the wrong way. But our reaction was to literally kill the messenger:
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!
Isaiah was a prophet to the Northern Kingdom of Israel that prophesied that, if the people did not repent, judgment would befall them. Jeremiah was a prophet of the southern kingdom of Judah. He prophesied that, if the people did not repent, judgment would befall them. Ezekiel was a prophet during Israel’s exile to Babylon. He kept telling the people they were listening to false prophets, that they needed to change or they would not return to Jerusalem. None of the groups repented, and both kingdoms were destroyed and their people taken into captivity. If God is love, then why did He extract such punishment?
I will tell you a little secret: God does not punish without first warning us. Remember Jonah and the whale? Jonah was to go to Nineveh to warn them that they had to change or God would destroy them. God did not punish Nineveh at first because Jonah ran away. God does not punish unless and until we have been warned.
And the role of the “warning system” is held by the prophets. These men and women are to speak God’s words, and they are to let us know where we are going amiss. If we ignore this advice, or worse, kill the messenger, then and only then will we be punished. In the case of Nineveh, they listened to Jonah and repented, which angered Jonah. He wanted God to punish the people of Nineveh for their past crimes, but God was not willing. They listened and repented. That pleased God.
But, if God does punish us, we need to also know that God does not punish us without letting us know why. Think about it. What kind of parent would punish His child for no reason or without making clear why the child is being punished? I think we all know what kind.
If you are a parent, you know full well that punishment will not effect change if the child does not know why he is being punished. This is the same for mankind: God lets us know. God does punish when we deserve it. He IS a just God. And God uses this punishment and this time of trial, to educate us as to what we are doing wrong.
God IS love, but He is not permissive love. He loves us, but hates the sin and the darkness in which we wallow. He hates sin and wants us to be what He created us to be. Yet, we stone the prophets and kill those whom God has sent.
So, how does God tell us what we are to do? Well, He sent Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son. Jesus came to earth as not only our sacrificial lamb, but also to show us the way:
Jesus saith unto him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”
As I said Christmas Eve, Christ became Man so that we may know the way. He died on the cross so we would know the truth. And He rose from the dead so that we may have eternal life.
So, if God does not punish without warning us first and without giving us a chance to change, and if God only punishes after making clear why we are being punished, then why do such bad things happen without apparent rhyme or reason? Why was Saint Stephen stoned? Why was Jeremiah imprisoned?
If something happens without rhyme or reason, it is NOT from God. These are things that happen because we are in a fallen world. They also happen because there is something loose in the world that is evil. Christ Himself said that Satan was the prince of this world. And Satan wants to maintain darkness. He also loves when God gets the blame for things he or his minion perpetrates.
But that being said, we need not worry about the evil in the world. We need to worry about following God. And the best way we can ever follow God is by following His Son, Jesus Christ. We need to embrace the Saints as models of how we are to live, and in Saint Stephen’s case, how to die. And we MUST read and STUDY our Bibles. If we do these things, we will be able to ascertain who is the true prophet and who is the false. And if we do this, we will be able to declare clearly, loudly, and confidently:
‘Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.’