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but first the bad news

Our first Advent sermon this year was taken from Micah 1:1-7 and spoke of the judgment of God upon all of us.   It was not exactly a conventional Christmas season message. 

In the sermon, "Know Justice, Know Peace",  Jim said that to know the judgment of God becomes a gateway for us to know forgiveness.  And God's judgment becomes a key for us in showing forgiveness to others.  

What did he mean?  And why do we begin with bad news, rather than go straight to the Good News of Christ coming into the world?

It is a principle throughout Scripture that the knowledge of our sin and judgment must precede our experience of his mercy and forgiveness.  

Romans chapters 1 through 3 ("all have sinned...") comes before chapters 4 and following ("having been justified by faith...").  The book of judgment in Isaiah (1-39) precedes the book of comfort (40-66).  And in Micah, the threat of judgment looms over the people, before the promise is given of the mighty Ruler coming from Bethlehem (5:2-5).  

The following words are found in the prologue of the Gospel of John:   "In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.  ... The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.  He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him."  (John 1:4-5, 9-10 ESV)   

The traditional Advent wreath uses the lighting of candles to symbolize the coming of Christ into a world of darkness.  Thus the Child is born into a world characterized by hostility and ignorance toward God and his Son (See Revelation 12:1-5).

So the bad news comes before the good news.  We must be confronted with our own need, helplessness, alienation, and sinfulness before we can receive the coming King rightly.  "Most people assume they're good with God, so sharing the good news of Jesus Christ without the bad news about sin, hell, and God's wrath just confirms their self-deception," writes Burk Parsons.   

And C. S. Lewis puts it this way...

“The road to the promised land runs past Sinai. The moral law may exist to be transcended: but there is no transcending it for those who have not first admitted its claims upon them, and then tried with all their strength to meet that claim, and fairly and squarely faced the fact of their failure.”  (C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain)

So, first we are humbled and see our desperate need for forgiveness:  "Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God."  (Romans 3:19 ESV)  We do not come before God with any sense of pride or self-sufficiency or bargaining or pleading our intents and attempts at goodness, however sincere.  We come to receive a mercy we don't in any way deserve.

But further, knowing God's judgment enables us to humbly forebear with those who have harmed us, and also to extend mercy to them:  

Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.  If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord."  To the contrary, "if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head."  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.  (Romans 12:17-21 ESV)

Miroslav Volf, whose family suffered so much during the Bosnian wars, has written that we can only let go of our right to return harm to our enemies only when we trust that God himself is just and he alone has the right to bring the books into balance.  He writes, 

My thesis is that the practice of non-violence requires a belief in divine vengeance…My thesis will be unpopular with man in the West…But imagine speaking to people (as I have) whose cities and villages have been first plundered, then burned, and leveled to the ground, whose daughters and 
sisters have been raped, whose fathers and brothers have had their throats slit…Your point to them–we should not retaliate? Why not? I say–the only means of prohibiting violence by us is to insist that violence is only legitimate when it comes from God…Violence thrives today, secretly nourished by the belief that God refuses to take the sword… It takes the quiet of a suburb for the birth of the thesis that human nonviolence is a result of a God who refuses to judge. In a scorched land–soaked in the blood of the innocent, the idea will invariably die, like other pleasant captivities of the liberal mind… if God were NOT angry at injustice and deception and did NOT make a final end of violence, that God would not be worthy of our worship.  (Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace)

God is not passive, and he is not non-judgmental.  His justice will not be long in coming.  Only those in Christ will be spared from eternal judgment, because Christ has born that justice, the holy wrath of God, upon himself.  

Those outside of Christ, those finally unrepentant, will have no hope before God.  Now, when we have been extended a mercy that we do not deserve, then we are able to extend mercy to others who also do not deserve mercy.  So, knowing the judgment of God (upon us and upon all others) enables us to receive mercy and also to rest in his perfect -- and perfectly timed -- justice.



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