The Mother Heart of God
Text: Isaiah 66
Proposition: The longings of being a mother are God directed, the love of a mother is but a small expression of the love of God.
Introduction: Not every woman is a mother and not every woman who is a mother has given birth but every woman has a mother. There are children, young girls only 12 and 13 years old who are mothers to their younger brothers and sisters because Aids has taken both their parents. They are not mothers by choice but they have each known the heart and arms of their own mother. In the darkest and most hopeless of places God uses motherhood to bring sense to insanity, to bring comfort to the terrified and hope to the lonely. There is a little booklet called Kande that has been translated by Wycliffe into over 178 different languages in Africa and other parts of the world. It tells the story of a little girl who has lost both parents to Aids. In a country like the Democratic Republic of Congo where the UN estimates that between 450,000 to 560,000 are infected with Aids this little book has become a critical tool to help educate the people of the remote villages on how this deadly virus spreads. The point is the people connect to the story because of how childhood has been stolen from a young girl, they see the way Aids spreads and they see the chaos it causes and they see the fragile hope of motherhood being put into this young girls hands. Not every woman is a mother and not every woman who is a mother has given birth, but every woman has a mother.
Hannah Whitall Smith lived in the United States in the 1850’s. She was born into a Quaker family but later became a Wesleyan preacher and was one of the leaders behind the Keswick Convention. There was a passage of Scripture that she read one day from the last chapter of the book of Isaiah. It spoke of how God’s love for all people was like a mother’s love for her children. "For thus says the Lord: Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river and the glory of the Gentiles like a flowing stream. Then you shall feed. On her sides shall you be carried, and dandled on her knees. As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you." (Isa. 66:12-13). After reading that Scripture, this is what Hannah Whitall Smith wrote “My children have been the joy of my life. I cannot imagine more exquisite bliss than comes to one sometimes in the possession and companionship of a child. To me there have been moments, when my arms have been around my children, that have seemed more like what the bliss of heaven must be than any other thing I can conceive of; and I think this feeling has taught me more of what God’s feelings towards his children are than anything else in the universe. If I, a human being with limited capacity, can find such joy in my children, what must God, with his infinite heart of love, feel towards his; In fact most of my ideas of the love and goodness of God have come from my own experience as a mother, because I could not conceive that God would create me with a greater capacity for unselfishness and self-sacrifice than He possessed Himself; and since this discovery of the mother heart of God I have always been able to answer every doubt that may have arisen in my mind, as to the extent and quality of the love of God, by simply looking at my own feelings as a mother.”
Motherhood is what God has designed for every person to be nurtured by, even orphans, even runaways and even those women who aren’t mothers themselves.
Have a look at Isaiah 66 with me, the mother heart of God towards all peoples.
I. Knowing Who God Is Helps Us to Understand What God Seeks.
The context of this chapter is the return of the Jews from their captivity in Babylon, it speaks about what God earnestly desires of them in terms of their worship and relationship to Him. It speaks of how He will restore Jerusalem, of how He will judge those who mock faith in Him. It speaks of an everlasting heaven and an everlasting hell and yet it speaks of tenderness towards those who seek Him. For generations the Jews had come to believe that the Temple was the place that God was most glorified in, that the magnificence of its size and structure would be what really interested God. Imagine their shock when God says to them that Temple is not what He is most interested in. After all, what is the size and magnificence of the Temple to a God who is greater than the heavens. Look at how this chapter starts, “Thus says the LORD: "Heaven is My throne, and earth is My footstool. Where is the house that you will build Me? And where is the place of My rest? For all those things My hand has made, And all those things exist," Says the LORD. "But on this one will I look: On him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word.”
Sometimes we can become consumed with the idea that we need to get it all right before God will ever be interested in us. Perhaps it’s a belief that we need to achieve greatness before we will be entitled to love. Yet what God says is that the one that catches His attention is the one who is ‘poor and of a contrite spirit’. I remember Jesus saying something similar in Matthew 5, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of God.” It’s those who know they are bankrupt in spirit, broke, without proof of good, aware of the depth of their own sin. It’s these who admit their poverty that God’s eye especially sees. It’s those who are contrite of heart, literally contrite means to be lame in the feet, unable to do it on my own, it’s those whom the eye of God looks upon to be with. Perhaps we see the same in the heart of our mothers, it’s not the proud or sufficient ones that her heart reaches out to, it’s the one who knows their need of help. It’s like the story of the mother who had twelve children and was asked which one she loved the best. Her answer: "The one who’s sick until he gets well; and the one who is away until he gets back home!"
When you see this heart of God you begin to understand what He seeks, it’s not performance or production or perfection… it’s the poor in spirit, an open heart to receive what He so earnestly desires to give, to love you as His own.
II. Outward Appearances Won’t Cut It With God, When He Speaks Listen.
In the book of Malachi it describes how the people brought wounded animals, lame animals as the ones they would sacrifice at the altar for their sin. They brought little or nothing as an offering to God which showed their contempt of heart. On the outside it looked like compliance and obedience but the reality of what they were offering was not lost on God, He saw their contempt and laziness. God says that they chose to do this, it wasn’t just something that happened. “So will I choose their delusions, and bring their fears on them because, when I called, no one answered. When I spoke they did not hear but they did evil before My eyes and chose that in which I do not delight." It might be an amazing thing to you that God would actually call to you…that He would speak specifically to you. If our mothers called out to us to come in for supper, to get ready for school, to get ready for bed, then much more so has God called us in all these ways and more. But if you still are unconvinced in verse 5 Isaiah says, “Hear the word of the LORD, You who tremble at His word…”, if you will handle the Word of God as if it were dynamite, as if it were air from an oxygen tank 50 feet beneath the surface, as if it were a flickering light on a dark path, if you will tremble at the need of His word, then hear what it says. It will be loud and continuous like the noise from a city, it will be commanding like a voice from the Temple, it will be the voice of the Lord with Whom is all justice and this is what He says… “Before she was in labor, she gave birth, before her pain came, she delivered a male child.” In the context of this passage God is speaking about how Israel managed to get free from Babylon. Was it by a fight or a rebellion? No, it was by a Persian king named Cyrus whom God used to just let them go. No labor, they were born again as a nation by grace. In other words if you will just move towards God and tremble at His word, He will move towards you with great grace. It will take time and there will be a process to it, it won’t be instantaneous, a nation is not born in one moment. But God is faithful, if you will humble yourself and seek Him, He will follow through in His grace. “Shall I who cause delivery shut up the womb?" says your God.”
Then come these series of metaphors of a child being loved by their mother, of being nurtured by her, of being carried on her side, of being bounced on her knees, of being comforted in a way that only her hands and touch and voice can bring.
It’s Mother’s Day, a time to honor and remember the love of those who have carried us on their side, bounced us upon their knee and we’ve heard their soothing words. This love of our mothers is meant to move our face upwards, from their face, to seek the face of God and to know the mother heart of God.
A Philippian Heart
Text: Philippians 1: 1-11
Proposition: When a person is stricken in their heart with the spiritual well being of another, they are moved to care for them as though they were them.
Introduction: I’d like to share a story with you this morning about a convict that was in and out of jail at least four different times in four different places. It seems that wherever he went trouble followed him. In one case he was thrown into a small cell along with another man, both were put in chains, they were considered that much of a danger. They had been punished to the full extent of the law, a judge had ordered them both to be whipped and then thrown into jail. Bloodied and aching, sitting in the stink of a blackened cell, these two convicts refused to believe that the evidence of their circumstances had no purpose. They whispered about what had brought them to this moment, they chuckled and even began to openly marvel at how it had all happened. Silence… for just a moment… then coming from one of them, a soft garbled sound, that grew to an articulated word being sung. Line upon line a song began to pour out and as the other joined in, their voices echoed off the blackened walls of their cathedral cell. Legs in chains, bodies bloodied and aching, yet their minds were set to freedom and that is what they sang. Freedom came in through every door of every cell that night, freedom even came in to those who weren’t seeking it. Peoples lives were changed as a result of the freedom of the gospel of Christ.
Lydia, a well to do merchant, and those in her home, were the first European converts to Christianity. The next was likely a slave girl who had a demonic spirit controlling her thoughts and speech. After her came a man who was a government employee, a prison guard, he and all those in his home accepted Christ. All these came to faith in Christ within days of each other. Out of nowhere a church was born, out of defeat and pain, freedom gained an entry point and the eternal life of Jesus Christ tore another hole in the curtain of spiritual darkness. The church in Philippi took its’ toddler steps of faith, the Spirit of God nurturing them.
Some ten years passed, Paul again found himself a convict, imprisoned in Rome, this time for at least two years. It’s here that the Spirit of God pours out words of thanksgiving from a heart that has been stricken with the spiritual well being of another, so that he was moved to care for them as though he were them. Paul has what I would call, ‘A Philippian heart’. Turn with me to the book of Philippians 1:1-11 as we begin this journey of being stricken in heart with the spiritual well being of another.
I. To Be Stricken With the Spiritual Well Being of Another, Is Personal.
Can you imagine a woman in a beautiful white wedding dress standing in the muck of a spring garden. In her hand is a hoe and her task is to plant the garden. She has two choices, she can either keep the wedding dress nice and clean or she can plant the garden, but she can’t do both. When something comes at the cost of being personal, you have the same choices. You can keep yourself clean and safe or you can get to the work of allowing your heart to be stricken with the spiritual well being of another. Paul describes his relationship with the Philippians in very personal terms. He didn’t hold himself back and he didn’t keep them at arms length, just consider his wording:
to all the saints- even the kids they saw come to Christ in Lydia’s home
in all my remembrance of you- the early times and it’s struggles and victories, their growth together
in my every prayer for you all- they were the object of his conversations with God
I have you in my heart- you are part of what God is doing in and through me.
How I long for you all- your faith in Christ exhorts me to exhort you
I pray that your love may abound still more- I’m awed by the transformation happening in you, not being conformed but being transformed…
To be stricken in heart for the spiritual well being of another is personal, it will soil your life and pack under your fingernails, it will interfere with the issues that usually occupy your life, getting into the most sacred part of who you are, your heart. May I suggest to you that this not a human invention, it didn’t begin with man, it began with God. It was your spiritual well being that got under Jesus’ skin, your situation packed His thoughts and entered the sacred area of His heart. “Since then the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is the devil.” (Hebrews 2:14). In other words when it came to the issue of our spiritual well being, Jesus took it personally. So personally that He was, “made for a little while lower than the angels” (Hebrews 2:9), that is leaving what was His right and being willing to be “made” lower in form and rank. God initiated the idea that to be stricken in heart for others requires personal vulnerability that shares in their state.
Please note that though this will definitely entail suffering on your part to various degrees, it will also be the avenue to tremendous joy. The suffering of Christ had as its target the reconciliation of relationship between man and God. To share in His sufferings will mean having that same target and it will fill your heart with the same the kind of joy that flows out of Paul, the joy of a Philippian heart.
II. To Be Stricken With the Spiritual Well Being of Another, is Divine.
Consider the words of verses 6 and 11: “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” ; “…having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” When you read these verses, who is the active agent in both? Who is it that actually initiates the work and empowers the process? God is the center of it all isn’t He. It turns out that for me to be stricken with the spiritual well being of another, to the point that as they are so am I in heart, is very much the work of God in and through me.
Let’s take a step back and ask ourselves a couple of questions.
Then let’s ask if there are any transferable qualities in them that might apply to us. Consider these doors that the Spirit uses to gain access into our lives:
When a person is stricken in their heart with the spiritual well being of another, they are moved to care for them as though they were them, personally involved and divinely directed, even to the point of sharing in the sufferings of Christ for them. This is the Philippian heart that God used in times past and still chooses to use today. It is the heart of the Lord Jesus Christ, personally involved in your life, divinely directed for His glory.
The Pursuit of Perspective
Text: Philippians 1:12-30
Proposition: The glory of God’s sovereignty is the righteous passion of God, directing the holy plans of God, through the entirety of the creation of God, for His purpose alone.
Introduction: Getting things into perspective helps us to get a better grip on just who we are and even where we are. For instance consider our everyday experience with daylight. Our sun is so big that, if hollowed out, it could hold 1,300,000 earths. The sun, however, is dwarfed by the star Antares, which could hold 64 of our suns. But Antares is a pipsqueak compared to Hercules, which could hold 100 million Antares. Yet Hercules is a speck compared to Epsilon, the largest known star, which could hold 3 million Hercules. Yet if you look at these in the night sky they are just specks of light. Our sun which dominates the sky in the daytime is perfect for us in terms of the light and heat it generates yet in the context of space it is but a tiny, tiny speck. What makes these planets like Antares and Epsilon seem so small is that they are so far away from us, we need a telescope to get the perspective of their true size. Perhaps in a similar way Jesus can seem very far away, yet when we use the telescope of Scripture we begin to see the scale of Who He is and what He does. This is what Paul is wanting the Philippian church to grasp, the wonder of God’s sovereign plan in Christ and that God’s sovereign hand is unique in each situation..
When Paul was in Phillipi the people there saw the incredible release of Paul and his friend from prison, they saw people coming to Christ and even saw the demons were cast out of a slave girl. Now it’s ten years later and Paul is in prison in Rome. The Philippians were likely wondering why God doesn’t set him free like He did before, where were the miracles, why is there imprisonment? It’s now toward the end of his second year of imprisonment that Paul writes these words of perspective to the Philippian church. Have a look at Philippians 1:12-30.
I. When Difficult Times Fall Upon Good People, The Gospel is Near.
Ravi Zacharias once said that, “God has put enough into the world to make faith in Him a most reasonable thing. But He has left enough out to make it impossible to live by sheer reason or observation alone.” To observe Paul the gifted preacher and skilled missionary being immobilized in a jail cell for two years can seem like God is punishing him or has forgotten him. So look at what Paul does to correct any wrong assumptions that might be on the mind of the Philippian believers. Look at verses 12 to 14. He tells them God has placed him in Rome, captivity is the perfect place; guards are introduced to the gospel; the church is emboldened by Paul’s response to captivity. But particularly look at verse 13, “so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ.” In other words the whole guard, most of whom were not Christian, now see that there is something greater going on here, it has become evident to even the unbelievers that the chains of Paul are in Christ, at Christ’s choice, for the purposes of Christ’s gospel. Not only that but the Christians who barely knew Paul have become confident by his chains. The effect of this is that they are much more bold to speak the word without fear. When difficult times fall upon good people, people in Christ, the Gospel is made near. They gain a perspective they never had before and the wonder of the gospel of Christ is what comes out of their hearts.
Then there is the issue of friendly fire, other Christians who saw Paul’s imprisonment as an opportunity for their advancement. They believed that with Paul sidelined their skills at preaching and ministry could now be recognized. Paul says that though their motive was selfish still the gospel is preached. In other words he is aware of the freedom of others being flaunted at him and yet he still maintains a perspective of Christ’s hand in his life. When difficult times fall on God’s people the gospel is made near to them, to comfort them. But even greater than that, the gospel is put in their hearts and in their mouths as the truth that trumps trial.
II. The Certainty of Christ Overcomes The Uncertainty of Trials.
This is all about the transformation of Chance to Providence. If I were to come and ask you to choose heads or tails and then flip a coin, what is at work… chance or providence. The answer is neither, what is at work is cause and effect, which function in the realm of providence and can be used by God to direct the hearts and events of peoples lives to Himself. For instance, the flipping of a coin has the causes of force, starting point and resistance that determine the effect of how it lands, but it all occurs in the realm of God’s sovereign presence. Without Him there wouldn’t even be a coin to flip or a thumb to do it! In essence there is no such thing as chance, there is only cause and effect operating in the realm of God’s sovereignty.
There was a story told of a man whose horse ran away. His neighbor came to him and said “Man, that’s bad luck, your horse is gone”. The man replies, “What do I know about these things?” A few days later the horse came back with 20 other wild horses, and the neighbor came and said, “Amazing, its not bad luck-its good luck, you’ve got 20 more horses”. The man says, “What do I know about these things?” His young son is taming one of the new horses and the horse kicks him and breaks his leg. The neighbor comes and says, “Terrible isn’t it? Your son’s leg is broken, bad luck that these horses came” The man again says, “What do I know about good luck and bad luck?” A few days go by and a bunch of thugs come looking for recruits to join their gang. They’re about to pick this young man but find out his leg is broken. “We don’t want him” they say and move on to the next house. So the neighbor again comes man and says “Good luck isn’t it, your sons leg was broken and he is spared his life.”
In Paul’s life there is no such thing as chance or luck. Did you hear the number of times Paul moved from death to life and back to death again? In verse 19 he’s confident he will be delivered, verse 20 he allows that he may die, verse 24, 25 he’s convinced that he will remain and live, verse 27 he may remain absent. Is it that he’s fickle or is that something higher is at work here? Perhaps it’s the pinnacle statement of verse 21 that really settles it. “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain”, that is, Paul is secure in God. He has come to know, believe and move in the glory of God’s sovereignty which is the righteous passion of God, directing the holy plans of God, through the entirety of the creation of God, for His purpose alone. Righteous passion, holy plans, entirety of creation… all for His purpose alone. Paul not only knew he was a part of God’s purpose, he knew that the righteous passion of Christ Jesus is for the glory of the Father and that he, Paul, was caught up in Christ in those holy plans.
Learn to shift the perspective from you and your life to Christ and His glory. Could we ever come to the point that we would say, “It is more for Christ’s sake that we are saved, than for our sake.” It will be more for Christ’s sake that we live or suffer or die, all point through Christ to the glory of God. And what is the glory of God but the revealed truth of who God is, the enormity of love in the midst of holiness, omnipotence moving with mercy and grace, exercising both forgiveness and judgment, being both Almighty and Father, the omnipotent sovereign glory of God. It is this perspective that will stop division and strife, struggles for power and control, issues of priority and commitment, the disciplines of giving and loving… that for us, to live is Christ and to die is gain. Listen to Paul’s words in verses 29, 30, “For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, having the same conflict which you saw in me and now hear is in me.”
The Philippians needed to have this perspective of God’s sovereignty and how God uses the certainty of Christ not only to overcome all trials but to glorify God. This would guide their next steps of faith and it will guide ours as well.
Text: John 20:1-18
Proposition: The risen Lord empties the tombs of our unbelief, His resurrection inviting us to glorify Him.
Introduction: It was Friday afternoon, the crowds had returned to the city leaving three crucified bodies in the fast fading daylight. Joseph of Arimathea had gone to Pilate asking for permission to remove the body of Jesus from the cross. He purchased white linen in which to wrap the corpse of Christ. In another part of the city, Nicodemus the Pharisee, who also loved Jesus, purchased a large amount of myrrh and aloes, about 70 pounds in weight. He and Joseph met back at the cross. They took the body of Jesus from Golgotha to the tomb. Entering the chill of stone and shadow they began the task of wrapping the corpse of Christ with the linen, myrrh and aloes. Carefully they laid the body of Jesus onto the stone ledge in the burial chamber. Picking up their cloaks they took one last look at how low in the grave He lay, this Jesus, their Lord. Death lay heavy upon them. Joseph of Arimathea then rolled the stone closing up the tomb, and with a final, grinding thud, Friday ended.
Sun rise… 36 hours later…sun rise Sunday morning… 3 women, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome, come to the tomb only to see the great stone laying on its side, the tomb vacant.
Let’s talk about the resurrection of Jesus because no matter what you believe this is the greatest thing we could ever hope for. Turn to John 20:1-18
I. The Certainty of Death Is Challenged By the Empty Tomb.
You cannot begin to talk about the resurrection until the stillness and finality of death have been felt. The stone that sealed the tomb is such a picture of death… immovable, impersonal, entombing. Once death happens there are no second chances, no amount of bravado or indifference can bring release. It is the door of the tomb, and when it is closed there no longer remains strength nor appeal to reverse it. When the sun went down on Good Friday, death was a certainty. The simple fact is that when the women came to the tomb that day the last thing they expected was resurrection from the dead. They were thinking, ‘fallen comrade, odor of death, a final act of burial’. Dead bodies don’t move, what was laid there must remain there. When they saw the empty tomb their only conclusion was that someone had to have moved the body. It was one of three possibilities: a further indignity done by the Pharisees who had sealed the tomb and posted their guard on it; a desecration of the grave by the Romans to spite the Jews; Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus had returned to place the body in a another location to prevent such things. The certainty of death remained, the possibility of resurrection hadn’t yet emerged. And yet the question remains, where is the body of Jesus? Mary is almost frantic, she pleads with any who will help her to find the dead body of Jesus. Peter and John come running to the tomb, John out runs Peter and gets there first. Look at what it says in verse 5, “And he, stooping down and looking in, saw the linen cloths lying there; yet he did not go in.” The phrase ‘looking in’ is the Greek word ‘blepo’, it means to see the obvious, the details, the visible. Look at the next verse, “Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; and he saw the linen cloths lying there”. The word ‘saw’ is a different Greek word, “theoreo” which means to look at attentively, to inspect or survey things. He sees the linen as though it wrapped around a body but there is no body in it. He sees the face cloth neatly set to the side. The myrrh and aloes he does not see, they are still wrapped up inside the linen swaddling cloths, once a sign of His birth and now a sign of resurrection. Peter sees evidence. Now look at verse 8, “Then the other disciple, who came to the tomb first, went in also; and he saw and believed.” The Greek word ‘saw’ that’s used here is the word “eido” which means to perceive, to discern, to discover. When it comes to the resurrection of Jesus Christ we see it in these same kinds of steps, we factually see it, He was crucified, He was dead, the body was put in the tomb, the tomb is empty. We inspect it, where a body was now are only wrappings and then we discover more than we could ever have hoped for. Jesus has been raised from the dead, John believed and it made him speechless. The empty tomb was not mischief, it was miracle.
II. The Certainty of Resurrection Challenges Unbelief.
Look for a moment at verse 9, “For as yet they did not know the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead.” This infers that there was a wide spread belief not only in a real Messiah but that this Messiah would somehow die and then be resurrected. The thing is there isn’t a lot of Scripture about the resurrection of the Messiah. Daniel and Ezekiel and Job and David all wrote about the resurrection, but almost always as an end time event. In Psalm 16:10 David writes, “For You will not leave my soul in Sheol nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.” They most certainly believed in the many prophecies about the coming Messiah but there wasn’t much about His resurrection, at least not until you really discovered it. In a very real sense you could say that it was hidden in Scripture and would need to be brought to light at the right moment. The point here is simple, the Jews weren’t expecting the Messiah to be resurrected and for the disciples to begin to present this as fact would have been preposterous. So the reactions of the disciples in proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus had to be made on the basis of their shocking encounter with Christ and not on some theological presumption. It would have been against all that Judaism held to be true. Mary Magdalene meets the risen Jesus and she crumples at His feet, clinging to Him. The disciples meet Jesus on the road to Emmaus and are astounded that just as they recognize Him He suddenly is gone. The others encounter Jesus in a locked upper room, suddenly Jesus is there and they hear Him and see him and touch him. Even the most skeptical, Thomas has an encounter that has him touch the side and hands of Jesus and he crumples to the floor saying, “My Lord and my God!” Paul says that over 500 in one encounter, see Jesus, Peter experiences the restoration of Jesus on the shores of Galilee, the disciples as a group see Jesus ascend bodily, upwards into the sky, past the clouds. These are dramatic encounters with the living Christ that affirmed the resurrection is true. They were willing not only to teach that but to travel the world telling others and even to die if that were God’s purpose. This certainty can’t be explained away as some collective delusion, theological manipulation or other expression of unbelief. The resurrection of Jesus is a certainty.
III. The Certainty of the Resurrection Confirms God’s For Us.
This is what the resurrection of Jesus means:
The final prayer that Jesus prayed at the last supper was this, “And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.” This is the power of the resurrection of Christ!
We hope you can join for one of our Christmas services, but in the meantime, we invite you to listen to these sermons from Christmas at our church.