December 2, 2018

The Most Important Section of the Bible?

1st Sunday in Advent

First Lesson:  Genesis 6:1-3, 5-14, 17-22

Second Lesson:  1 Peter 3:18-22

Gospel Lesson: Mark 13:32-37

Sermon Text:  Matthew 1:1-16


It’s a question that has been debated as long as people have had a printed Bible in their hands. “What’s the most important verse or section in the Bible?”  If you haven’t thought about that before, let your mind wander a little bit.  If you had just one section or verse you could share with someone that summarizes the message of Scripture, what would it?  I reached out to a few members and asked their thoughts on this.  What verses did they pick? The most common answer has been called the Gospel in a nutshell, meaning this verse ties all Jesus’ work together. You saw signs for it at any major sporting event in the 80/90’s.  Guesses on which one it is? John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."  Hard to argue with that, right?  It talks about God’s plan, how Jesus carried it out, and the result.  A strong argument can be made for that verse to win the “Most Important Verse” title.

Another one that received a few votes was Isaiah 53:5. Maybe these words ring a bell. “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities. The punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.”  Isaiah wrote those words over 2,700 years ago, 700 years before the cross. But it sounds like he was there on Good Friday. He masterfully summarizes the point what Jesus did that day wasn’t for himself but for us. He died so we live. He paid the price that we might go free.  Certainly a verse worthy of being included in the most important debate, right?

There were some that only one person mentioned.  John 10:11 - “I am the Good Shepherd.  I know my sheep, and my sheep know me.”  Jesus is talking about our relationship with him, and the tender love/care he has for us.  Another was a simple one: “God is love” - 1st John 4:8. All God does for us comes from a heart that only wants/will do what is best for us.  And yet another was Jesus’ words in John 14:6. “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”  Jesus, and only Jesus, is the way to heaven.  And that Jesus paved the way for us.

You can’t really argue with any of these, right?  Pick any one and you pick a winner.  But I want to submit another text for consideration - our Gospel lesson. Listen closely and see why I think this text should be included in the discussion. Still awake? Wondering why, of all the verses in the Bible, I think this ranks way up there in importance?  I am counting on it.

Maybe you’re thinking, “This is just a list of names I can’t pronounce.  It goes back thousands of years.  It is the kind of text that when I come to it reading my Bible, I scan it briefly so I don’t feel guilty for skipping it, but then move on to a more powerful/interesting section that has something to do with my daily walk of faith.  What is so important about this lesson?”

Those are legitimate points.  Certainly you did recognize a few names such as the patriarchs – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, men whose lives are covered in great detail in Genesis.  Maybe you remember Boaz who married Ruth, the lady who has a Bible book named after her.  David, of course, was Israel’s greatest king and Solomon, his son, was the wisest man who ever lived. Certainly these are heroes of faith and we could learn a lot from him.  But what about the rest?

Who was Hezron?  What should I care about Nahshon?  Amminadab and Jehoshaphat – if I had to read for church and those names came up, I would have to practice them for a week.  And maybe the best way to say it is this.  If anyone who is not a pastor or professor or a called religion teacher can, without the aid of Google, tell me anything about Abijah (besides that he was the son of Rehoboam and the father of Asa and that he was a guy from the Bible), I will give you 5 bucks.

And tie it in to what today is - the start of Advent. During Advent we prepare to again celebrate our Savior’s first coming AND his second coming, his return.  How can a list of names help with that? How can this list in anyway benefit me in my faith life?  And since Advent has essentially turned into Christmas, what does all this have to do with that season?  Once again, we raise the question: Why is the section so important that I would put it way up on the importance list?

There are a number of reasons, and all of them are important.  Let’s start with a simple one.  So many people think of Christmas and Jesus’ birth as some cutesy story with smiling donkeys, star illumined mangers, and a cute baby with rosy red cheeks. Even we as Christians can slip into this story mindset when we think about it all.  Well, our text ends by talking about Jesus being born.  If the author was going for cutesy and folksy, he failed miserably.  But he wasn’t going for that.  What was he doing? Stating history. Listing facts. This doesn’t read as a story because it isn’t. It’s a record of what happened - the truth. The main point is that Jesus’ birth didn’t just happen. It was promised for a long time, and here God lists for us the human steps/people involved to bring that promise to fulfillment. It’s history.  It happened, just as it says here.

2nd point, and this may seem obvious – it proves Jesus was a true human being. Who has a father? A human being. A father gives birth to a son, a child. What does that child do?  Grow and give birth to his own child/son. Humans make other humans. And what name is the last name before Jesus’ name? Mary - Jesus’ mother.  Jesus was Mary’s son.  This is a genealogy, a family tree.  All these people gave birth to someone, and eventually one of those people gave birth to Jesus.

So what?  Well, do you realize how bad it would be if Jesus would not have been a true human being?  If he has just been God but not a real, flesh and blood, walking, talking, breathing person?  Think back to the verses we listed at the beginning.  God so loved the world that he sent his Son. If Jesus wasn’t a true human being, he could not have taken our place. He was pierced for our transgression and crushed for our iniquities. If Jesus wasn’t a true human being, he could not have given his life on the cross.  How could Jesus, the Good Shepherd, know his sheep if he did not dwell among them?  How could God be a God of love if he did not send the kind of Savior we need – one who would die for our sins?  And if Jesus didn’t die, that path to his Father and to heaven is still blocked.

But as this lesson proves, Jesus was a true human being. He could/did live among us as one of us. He could/did live the perfect life we were supposed to live, perfectly in our place. He could/did give up his life to pay the price that was on our head.  If he were only God and not a man, he couldn’t have done any of this, and the result of that would be we have no relationship with God know and no hope of one in the future.  Jesus had to be a man to live for us, die for us, and save us.

And the third point is the flip side of Jesus being true man. Vs. 1 calls Jesus the Messiah. Vs. 16 says, “Mary was the mother of Jesus, who is called Messiah.” Not only was Jesus true man. He was also true God.  Only God can save.  Well, Jesus (BTW – his name means savior) is called Messiah. What does that mean? Just about the same thing – leader or Savior.  If Jesus were only a man, he could die on the cross. But would that have taken away your sins?  If I had gone to the cross, would that do anything for you?  No, for I am just a human being.  Human beings can’t eternally save one another.

But Jesus wasn’t just a human being. He was/is Messiah, the Savior.  And as such, Jesus could/did do what no other human being could. I explain it this way in catechism.  Picture Lady Justice, the statue of the woman with a blindfold on while she holds old scales.  On one side of the scale is every sin every committed during the course of human history.  Man, just try to imagine that number.  Now, on the other side, place you or me.  Are the scales going to balance?  Can you or I set things right?  No. Now put Jesus in that same spot, a Jesus who is true man, yes, but also true God.  The Son of God paid the price. He took all sin upon him.  And he did the job perfectly.  What does that mean?  The scales are balanced. Jesus, as true God, was a fitting sacrifice.  And because he was, the sins we needed removed have been removed.

I know that was pretty heady stuff and might have felt more like a doctrinal theses paper than a sermon.  I get that, and this is heavy stuff, but it all stuff that helps us understand how we are forgiven, how we are a part of God’s family, and how God showed such amazing grace to us.  I know sometimes we just want to look at the end product.  But when we see how something comes about – all the moves, the gears, the bells, the whistles, and the gears, we only grow in appreciation.

And that leads to another point, probably the take home and carry with you point of the week.  While there are many others that do the same, this lesson does it very, very well.  It proves that our God has always had a plan and will always have a plan.  The fact that we can trace that plan back almost 4000 years is perfect proof of that.  Each of these people existed, and through the 75-80 years of their life, God used them for a specific purpose – the purpose of fulfilling a promise made all the way back in Eden – the promise to send the perfect Savior.

And for thousands of years, God was behind the scenes working things so exactly that would happen.  We hear names like Abihud, Ahaz, and Manasseh and they are just names to us.  What we should see when we look at this list is many moving parts that God perfectly coordinated so that the perfect product would be the end result.  And what is that product?  Our salvation, won for us by their descendant, the one who was true God and true man and thus, our perfect Savior: Jesus.

And the final point is this.  God hasn’t changed.  He who planned and carried all this out still works that way in your life.  He had a plan to bring you into his family.  He had a plan to welcome you through baptism. He had a plan to surround you with just the right people.  And he had a plan to bring you here.  Think he is going to stop now?  No.  What exactly that plan is we may not always know.  And we could spend 5 sermons talking about how to respond to those plans and all that good stuff.  But today, let’s keep it simple.  The God who had you in mind when he made plans 4000 years ago is the same God who has you in mind when it comes to the plans of tomorrow.

I doubt I have convinced you to memorize this section because it is so important or for you to commission an artist to make a wall hanging for your home with this text on it.  But I do hope you see how important it is.  It is true, factual history. It shows Jesus to be true God and true man – our perfect Savior.  And it reminds us that our God always makes his plans with us in mind, figuring out the best way to bless us.  Remember that as we get closer to Christmas.  Rejoice in the truth of it all.  Rejoice that the one whose birth we again celebrate is no mere child.  And rejoice that because of this perfect plan, you know how god’s plan for you ends.  It ends with us as his side in the glory of heaven his Son won for us.  May all that put the merry in your Christmas.  Amen.