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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:A Saviour Like One of Us
Text:LD 14 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:The Incarnation
 
Preached:2018
Added:2018-06-03
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 71:1,3                                                                                            

Ps 68:12  [after Nicene Creed]

Reading – Romans 8:28-39; Hebrews 4:14-16

Ps 51:2,3,4

Sermon – Lord’s Day 14

Hy 42:1,2,3,4,5,6

Hy 35:2,4

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ, when the time comes to elect the leaders of the country, there’s a concern that many voters share. They’ll ask about a given candidate: “Is he one of us? Is this a man of the people?” This can become a major issue. It’s bad news if a candidate comes to be viewed as elite, unaware of the needs of your average, middle-class Australian. People want to be able to “connect” with their leaders. A politician, while expected to have outstanding skills, must also be someone that we can relate to, and someone who can relate to us.

When it comes to the Saviour—the one who will bring redemption from the power of sin—this also is most important, even essential. The One who will save us needs to be just like us! And He must be, not simply so that He’s relatable and can understand our stresses and struggles, but so that He can stand in our place. Our Saviour needs to be a flesh-and-blood human being, one who can rightfully and legitimately carry all the pain and punishment that we deserve. For instead of God directing his holy anger toward us, it’s poured out on Him.

This reality—that our Saviour is one like us—has a great many other benefits, too. For because He’s a “man of the people,” the Lord Jesus can indeed relate to us. He prays for us in our human troubles and travails. He knows exactly what we need, and He sends it to us from his throne in heaven. And through his Spirit, He works to restore us to the image of God, the image that He Himself bears so perfectly. This is our theme from Lord’s Day 14,

Our Saviour is one like us, yet without sin:

  1. to save us
  2. to sympathize with us
  3. to sanctify us

 

1) to save us: The subject of Lord’s Day 14 brings us forward to Christmas time and those festive days when we commemorate the miracle of the virgin birth. Every Christmas again we recall how the LORD came down to earth in the form of a man, when Mary “brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger” (Luke 2:7). Now, when we think about the virgin birth, we have to be careful; we shouldn’t conclude that this was now the beginning of the Son of God. People will sometimes say that, that Christmas is “the birthday of Jesus,” his grand entrance into life on Planet Earth.

Strictly speaking, it’s true that “Jesus” did not exist before the virgin conceived. There was a precise moment in time when Jesus came into being, and took on human flesh within Mary’s womb. But that’s not to say that before this, there was no Son of God! For the Son of God, as living God Himself, is eternal and unchanging. We know the words from Hebrews 13:8, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”

The Son of God has always existed—in the book of Daniel He’s called “the Ancient of Days.” But what happened at that conception was the forging of a new identity; for Him, it was the receiving of a second nature, together with his divinity. The Catechism teaches, “The eternal Son of God, who is and remains true and eternal God, took upon himself true human nature” (Q&A 35). Still God and LORD, He became a human being, in the form of an infant named Jesus. This was his new position.

And what a position for him to take! When you or I were born, we had no choice at all in the matter. We had no say in when, or how, or where, or to whom we’d be born. But when Jesus was born “from the flesh and blood of the virgin Mary” (Q&A 35), by the working of Holy Spirit, this was a fully informed decision! The Son of God wanted to take on our nature. He chose to be born as a man, at this time and in this way.

So why did He do it? What motivated him to descend to the lowest place? The primary engine always driving our Saviour was his love for the Father. Read the gospels, and you’ll find it’s something like Jesus’ motto, his constant refrain: He came to earth to bring glory to God. Also in being born, Jesus shows obedient love to his Father.

But the Son of God was moved by a second thing as well: his compassionate love for sinners. Especially in the immense afflictions involved in becoming a man, Christ had to have been moved by love! In taking on a human body, He knew there’d be hunger, thirst, fatigue and pain. He knew the human condition can be a rough go, even from a child’s first day.

The Son of God also knew how vile and shameful we humans can be, with all our unbelief and violence and pride and rebellion—remember, as eternal God He’d been seeing this happen on earth ever since Adam and Eve. And this meant He understood how angry God ought to be! Jesus had a good idea about mankind’s boundless sins, and how the Father’s infinite curse should be applied to sinners. In fact, it wasn’t just the Father’s curse—it was his curse too, and the Holy Spirit’s curse: this is a priority of the Triune God, to preserve his holy honour.

The point is, Jesus knew what camp He was joining. He knew what it would take to save a hopeless crowd like us, but He did it anyway. This was “incarnation love,” the Son of God taking on himself our nature and condition, accepting our sin and condemnation. Though He was so rich, Paul says somewhere, for our sakes Jesus chose to become poor. Though He possessed all the majesty of heaven, He passed into obscurity and became a homeless wanderer.

Philippians 2 says about Christ that He who was God Himself “made himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant” (v 7). He was a common servant, because from the beginning, He’d be busy helping the helpless, feeding the hungry, teaching the ignorant, seeking and saving the lost.

To try appreciate the depths of this love, think of how we hesitate to interact with people who are obviously run-down and impoverished. They’re dirty, badly dressed, maybe showing the signs of drug addiction. You see people like this in the downtown of big cities, or even around our own neighborhoods. Our reaction is avoidance: “Don’t make eye contact. Keep walking. Their trouble is their own fault, so why acknowledge them, let alone give them any help?”

But this is what Jesus did. And to help us, He became like one of us, who were lowly beggars and people addicted to sin. In the incarnation, it was as if He took off his finely tailored suit and put on threadbare jogging pants like we were wearing. It was as if He left his heavenly mansion, to live in a cardboard box and push around a shopping cart filled with his worldly possessions. Even as a human, a son of Mary and a descendant of David, Jesus could’ve been a glorious king in Jerusalem and received honours there. But this King came to serve.

And in these lowly labours He persevered to the end; Jesus “endured the cross and despised the shame” (Heb 12:2). Though there were moments when He wanted to preserve his own skin (like any man would), He was faithful to his calling. It cost him dearly, but Jesus carried out his God-given task: to save a world of sinners!

The Catechism draws this out as the greatest benefit of the virgin birth of Christ. That Jesus, “with his innocence and perfect holiness, covers, in the sight of God, my sin” (Q&A 36). He became a genuine man of the people, one like us so that He could stand in our place under God’s righteous judgment. “Take me as their substitute,” He said to the Father, “Let me suffer for them, and die for them, and be cursed for them.”

He has covered our sin in the sight of God! In all your guilt, fix your eyes on him. You can’t hope to pay the infinite cost of your infinite sin. But Jesus can. He is fully qualified, fully able, fully willing. If you have repented—and if you are repenting every day—know that you are forgiven through the humble self-sacrifice of Jesus the Christ.

And consider what his gift of salvation should mean for your manner of life. First, listen to how Paul in Philippians 2 draws out this challenging application from the deep humbling and faithful service of our Saviour: “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (v 5). Paul is thinking about how Jesus made himself nothing, and took on the nature of a servant—if you’re his follower, you need to have that same attitude.

Let’s notice that it’s an attitude, a while mindset for life. It’s not just a one-time act after which we can say, “Well, I’ve done my act of loving service for the day. I helped out my classmate, I sent an encouraging text to someone, I was humble.” These are good things, but the Spirit brings an entire change in thinking—“having the mind of Christ”—where we’re in the habit of considering the other person, doing what serves them, and not ourselves.

This is what Jesus said in John 13, after washing the feet of his disciples, “I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you” (v 15). His example means accepting the lowliness of loving. For you, it could mean doing things like listening carefully to another person instead of talking all the time. Or admitting that you were actually wrong, even if you have to choke down your pride. Or it’s extending the gift of forgiveness when someone else was wrong and hurt you.

It’s a challenge, because generally we think that we can serve other people if we remain equals. We prefer a situation when the other person comes half-way, and we come half-way, and no one has to give up too much. We figure, “I’d like you more, if you were more like me.” But “incarnation love” means being lower. The “mind of Christ” means yielding, not taking but giving, and becoming like the One who became like us!

 

2) to sympathize with us: I’d like to jump ahead for a minute, from Lord’s Day 14 to Lord’s Day 18, concerning Christ’s ascension. We know that when Jesus finished his saving work on earth, He went to heaven. But this didn’t mean that the reality of his birth through Mary was now irrelevant. Lord’s Day 18 teaches that with Christ ascended to the highest place, He still bears our human nature—even seated at God’s right hand in glory, He is “one of us.”

Christ went to heaven as a man, and He went there as a priest. Leviticus 16 describes how the high priest brought atonement for sin. The whole process of atonement was very physical, for it meant that the priest had to walk through the Holy Place of the sanctuary, come to the curtain, and then shielded by the smoke of incense and carrying the blood, he had to go past the curtain and into the Most Holy Place.

When Christ ascended to heaven, these same physical acts were reflected, but now on a cosmic scale. It’s like what the priests were doing for centuries had just been a dress rehearsal, a practice run, on a smaller stage. “For Christ,” Hebrews 9 says, “has not entered the holy places made with hands… but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us” (v 24). Now in God’s presence, the labours of Christ for his people continue.

For Christ in heaven represents us before our Creator. Again, this is what the priests always did for Israel: ministering at the sanctuary, they confessed sins, prayed for the struggling, offered thanksgiving, and asked for God’s blessing. And today Christ our high priest does the same: “[He] is even at the right hand of God… [and] also makes intercession for us” (Rom 8:34).

What does it mean to intercede? It means to pray on behalf of someone else. When there’s someone we know who is in trouble, sick or suffering or distressed, we should pray for them. We bring their needs to God in heaven—we make intercession: “Father, please be with Grandma when she is lonely. God, please give strength to that family, or healing to that brother.” We try to be diligent in prayers of intercession, but we struggle. For we don’t always know exactly what to pray. Or we pray for them once, and not again. And I’m ashamed to think about how many times I’ve told someone I would pray for them, but then I’ve forgotten.

But in a perfect and powerful way, Christ intercedes for us. Hebrews 7:25 says that “He always lives to make intercession.” This is his life, it says: making requests and petitions for his people. Our ascended Saviour always speaks, for us, to the God of heaven and earth.

As the Catechism says in Lord’s Day 18, “He is our Advocate in heaven before his Father” (Q&A 49). Just like the priests spoke up for the Israelites, so an advocate defends someone who’s unable to do it himself. In that way, Jesus has made our cause his very own; He brings to the Father our concerns and needs and troubles. Christ is in heaven, the same one whose blood was poured out on our behalf. His once-broken body, now glorified, serves as a continual prayer in God’s throne-room, “Father, forgive them, for my sake.”

So sure is our defense in heaven that Paul in Romans 8 challenges anyone to accuse us: “Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect?” (v 33). If we’ve repented and put faith in Jesus Christ, and if He is pleading for us, who dares to say we cannot be forgiven? Paul underlines our undeniable comfort with that second question, “Who is he who condemns?” (v 34). There’s nobody able to condemn us, or separate us from God’s love in him. Not Satan, not our guilty heart, not anything or anyone in the world. If Christ is speaking up for us, who can ever say that the Father won’t forgive us?

And now let’s reflect on what makes the prayers of Jesus so powerful, and so comforting for us: Jesus prays with understanding. Remember that He’s there in heaven as a man. He was conceived and born as a man; He lived and suffered and died as a man; He rose and ascended, also as a man. When He was on earth, Christ was a man like us—even now ascended in heaven, He’s a man like us. So Jesus knows first-hand the human experience that we live. He knows the trials, but also the joys. He knows the awesome power of God, but also the aggressive attacks of Satan. So He prays for us.

Our ascended Saviour knows human nature too. During his ministry He was surrounded by people who were a lot like us: proud people, weak, and forgetful. He met doubters, and complainers, and pessimists. So Jesus knows how our own faith can be so fragile. From his own experience He knows how hard it is to stand firm under the devil’s temptation, and how hard to do the will of God. He knows the human condition, and then prays for us in our condition! He asks the Father to have mercy, to give courage, to bless with strength.

He walked alongside us, so Jesus knows all about human sin: how thankful we should be, but how often we’re not. How hard it is to deny ourselves. How weak we can be, after working all day, or after receiving bad news, or after being rejected. He knows how stubborn we can be, and how slow of heart. So He prays for us.

He also knows this, that we’re so often lacking when it comes to prayer. He knows we so often ignore our lifeline of communion with God—that we don’t always ask for the mercy, or the strength or the courage that we really need. He knows that sometimes we don’t even know what to pray for! So He prays for us.

He asks the Father to help us, and be with us. He prays that the Father would forgive our faults and deficiencies. He prays that the Father would provide us with our daily bread, and make our hearts glad with the Spirit. He prays for us, so that we might have the strength to fight temptation, and the wisdom to do his will.

As sinners, our prayers are so often imperfect: unfocused or misguided, incomplete or insincere. We don’t deserve to be heard, let alone be answered. But Christ, as the perfect and righteous man, prays perfectly to the Father. In heaven He prays with words we could never say, with a faith we could never hope to have.

Like Hebrews 4 says, “We do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but [one who] was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (15). What a rich encouragement, to know that our Saviour in heaven can sympathize! He can identify and understand. Christ might be in heaven, but He’s intimately aware of our deepest needs and our hardest struggles. And He brings all these before the Father. The Father knows what we need even before we ask him—because our Saviour in heaven is busy praying!

Beloved, may the continual prayers of Christ be a great comfort to us. And may the prayers of Christ move us to be steadfast in prayer! Make time in your day to use that open channel to heaven. We can be so busy that a day flies by with only the briefest moments of prayer: at a meal, at the start of a class, just before sleep descends. It’s hard to pray for all the things you need to pray for, if you’re only praying for thirty seconds at time, three or four times per day. Take the time, and then pray in the full assurance of faith, knowing that because of Christ we have every reason to lay our lives completely before God.

Pray for one another too. Paul exhorts in Ephesians 6:18, “Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints.” Know your fellow saints, listen to them, try to understand them, so that your prayers for them can be personal and specific. With the mind of Christ, we want to sympathize with one another, and then pray for one another.

 

3) to sanctify us: When a child is born, there’s often a lot of excitement. Looking at a baby, you might think it’s nearly perfect. But that evaluation doesn’t remain rosy for too long; the parents of a new arrival will soon admit that also their child is sinful. For every child of human parents stands in the line of Adam, our very first father.

Yet in a virgin’s womb, a sinless child was once conceived: Jesus our Saviour. Physically it was impossible, but that didn’t matter to the LORD. As the angel said to Mary, “With God, nothing will be impossible” (Luke 1:37). So the Spirit brought about a new and miraculous life. By his wonder-working power, He could generate life, even within the womb of a virgin.

And beloved, here’s more good news: the same Spirit who filled Mary, God promises to send to us! The same Spirit who worked new life in the virgin, will work new life in us as sinners. The Spirit will restore our feeble hearts, will heal us and make us whole.

God will give us the Spirit of Christ to work a new truth in our inner parts! For not only does Christ cover our sins, He helps us to resist and to flee that sin. He sanctifies us, and by his Spirit He makes us holy—even as He is holy. Like Paul writes to the Romans, God “predestined [us] to be conformed to the image of his Son” (8:29). He became like us, and now we are becoming like him! Through the wondrous working of his Spirit, we start to resemble God the Son, thinking like him, being like him, acting like him in righteousness and holiness.

Even though we once were conceived and born in sin, God can change us. Even if we think sometimes that we’ll never make an inch of progress, God gives that affirming word: “With God, nothing is impossible!” God can change us from the inside out. He can equip us, restore us, and give us faith.

So when you see your sin and weakness, pray more earnestly for the Spirit’s work. Make David’s prayer in Psalm 51 your own prayer, every day: “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me… Do not take your Holy Spirit from me but restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me by your generous Spirit” (vv 10-12).

Christ can answer this prayer in us by the power of his Spirit. And Christ will do it, for He’s claimed us as his own possession. He is one of us, and He is for us! And if Christ is for us, who can ever be against us?  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2018, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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