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The Restoration of All Things

Date: Dec. 11, 2016

Author: Dan Bockenfeld

Isaiah 35:1-10, Psalm 146:5-10, James 5:7-10, Matthew 11:2-11

Key Verse: Psalm 146:5

“Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,

whose hope is in the LORD his God,”

It is Christmastime. I know it’s the third Sunday of Advent, but it is finally starting to feel like Christmas. About this time last week, we saw the first snow for the season in Chicago, and it wasn’t some little flurry. It was measurable and the kids made snowmen and had a snowball fight. My daughter was soaked from the snow. Christmas songs are on the radio. There are lights on houses and in the trees. Christmastime is filled with songs and decorations and parties and pageants and stories. We exchange gifts and give cards. It is a time that so many people look forward to, but have you ever thought about why we do so? Why is Christmas so important? We know that Christmas is when we celebrate the birth of Jesus, but do we know the great significance of Jesus’ birth? We know that his death and resurrection is the greatest point in human history, but his birth is a close second. Jesus’ birth marks the beginning of the restoration of all things, and that is the reason why we celebrate so much and there is so much joy.

To understand how everything is restored, we must first look at the current state of things and see how they got to that point. We need step into the time machine, hop into the TARDIS or get behind the wheel of the DeLorean, and go back to the dawn of time, when God created everything. When God created the world, he created everything perfect: the world, the animals, the relationships; they were all perfect. There was no animosity, no fighting, no pain, no suffering and no death. The first man and the first woman ruled over all creation and there was nothing to challenge that rule. All the animals were their friends. There was no hunting, no vindictiveness, no selfishness, no pride and no shame. Life was abundant and free and those first people only had one rule to follow. They had ultimate freedom if they would not eat the fruit from one tree. There was one tree that was off limits and it was off limits because eating from that tree would break creation. It would give people the knowledge of good and evil. The knowledge of good and evil sounds good, except knowledge does not give discernment. Knowing about good and evil does not mean that you know the difference between good and evil and how to stay away from evil. So, evil came in because man did not listen. They ate the fruit and that knowledge allowed them to break the world. Shame instantly entered the world. They realized that they were naked and tried to cover themselves up. Not long after that, pain and suffering arrived and death started knocking at the door. People became selfish, animals turned on each other and began to live based on instinct alone, and blood has been poured out ever since.

We look out at our world right now and we can see a lot of fear and uncertainty. Many people can’t wait for 2016 to end. It was a year with much strife. There were shootings in Dallas and Orlando, a bombing in Istanbul’s airport, the alligator attack in Disney World, the zika virus outbreak, social unrest from police shootings, and a suicide bombing in my mom’s hometown. On top of all that, there was our wonderful election. A lot of people were surprised to see that Donald Trump is the President-elect. His cabinet is filled with people who hate the departments they are supposed to lead. 2016 has not felt like a happy year for the world. This is our broken world. It is filled with broken people, broken promises. It feels run down, like it is falling apart. It’s like a car that was found in a barn after 50 years. It is in a horrible condition and in need of an incredible amount of repair. A full restoration is in order so that it can be returned to factory condition. To do that, you need a master in restoration with full specifications of what is factory condition.

So, I want to start with the passage from Psalm. “Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God.” (Psalm 146:5) I want to start here, today, because it starts out with God. We learned from last week that the Lord is the God of hope, and blessed are those whose hope is in the Lord their God. We have a hope of a future that is changed beyond belief. A hope that we will have an inheritance in the new kingdom and a hope that this world will be changed. Those who have that hope are blessed because, “He is the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them—he remains faithful forever.” (Psalm 146:6) The Lord is the perfect master to set creation right. He is the Maker of everything. He has the plans and can set things back to factory condition. From the smallest detail to the greatest structure, the Lord created it all. Who better to place our hope in that all these broken things would be repaired? Not only is the Lord the Maker, he is faithful forever. God cares about his creation and has not abandoned it. He has a plan to renew everything.

If we switch over to Isaiah, we can see the restoration. That passage starts out. “The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy. The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon; they will see the glory of the Lord, the splendor of our God.” (Isaiah 35:1-2) The restoration that the Lord brings will reset nature. Back during the time of creation, there was a perfect garden for people to live in. It was lush and green without any dry areas or deserts. When creation broke, not only did man fall from grace, the world began to change too. The land that once produced fruit, now produces thorns and thistles. Anybody that has done any gardening will know just how hard it can be to take care of the weeds. But at the restoration, those dry lands will have reason to celebrate. At the restoration, the dry lands will be dry no more, but they will bloom.

The passage says that the glory of Lebanon will be given to it. Lebanon was the source of the mighty cedar. The wood from the tree was used to build palaces and temples. Solomon’s palace was built with cedar beams from Lebanon. The wood is strong and not easy to destroy. That’s why it was used in palaces and temples, only the most glorious works. The verse also mentions that the splendor of Carmel and Sharon will be given to the arid regions. Carmel and Sharon were known for their farmlands to support crops and cattle. The wilderness would be restored as a fruitful place and that is only the beginning.

Later in Isaiah, it says, “Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs. In the haunts where jackals once lay, grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.” (Isaiah 35:6-7) The dry areas will become filled with water and become the opposite of what they were. All the areas that are uninhabitable will become lush and green and fruitful, like it was back in the garden of Eden. Nature will be restored and there will be no more weeds to worry about.

On top of nature’s restoration, will be humanity’s restoration. When people were created, we were perfect, but in the fall, we started to experience pain, suffering and shame. Anybody who has been getting older knows the feeling that their body is starting to experience random aches and pains. Every morning I wake up and the heels of my feet hurt and it is hard to walk. Some of us have knee pain and back pain. We are anxious about the world around us and fearful of the future, but humanity’s restoration will remove all that. Isaiah says, “Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, ‘Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you.’” (Isaiah 35:3-4) In the time of the Lord, those who are weak will be strengthened. When you cannot support yourselves, the Lord will give you the ability to do so. When you are fearful, the Lord will save you. When you are tearful, the Lord will wipe away all the tears. At Thanksgiving, we had a verse about coming to God with everything that we are anxious about and his peace will overtake us and comfort us. We do not need to fear because God’s perfect love drives out all fear. We are strengthened and humanity is no longer feeble.

Even the extraordinary problems will be squashed. “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy.” (Isaiah 35:5-6) People are afflicted with all sorts of maladies. There are many people that are blind, deaf, lame or mute. Not all their parts are working as they should. Now, we see these issues as disabilities, but during the restoration, the blind will see, the deaf hear, the lame will leap and the mute will shout. What was broken will be made new. Disease will be wiped out and we will never get sick again. All those aches and pains we might feel will never return. Those with weak eyes will see clearly without help. We will be better than we have ever been. We will be without defect or problem when the restoration is complete.

Not only will our physical self be restored, but our spirit will be reconnected to the power source. “And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness; it will be for those who walk on that Way. The unclean will not journey on it; wicked fools will not go about on it. No lion will be there, nor any ravenous beast; they will not be found there. But only the redeemed will walk there, and those the Lord has rescued will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.” (Isaiah 35:8-10) This highway is the way back to God, who is the source of all life. In the broken world, our sin separates us from God, but during the restoration, he will provide a way back to him, a way of righteousness and holiness where the unclean will not trod. Those the Lord has called back to him will be able to travel back to God and plug right on in to life eternal.

That is a lot to hope for and it is why we place our hope in the Lord our God. We look forward to a time without anxiety, pain or suffering. We look forward to a time where we are not broken and run down. We long for our restoration and the time for our restoration is at hand. In Matthew’s gospel, we see John the Baptist send some of his followers to Jesus to ask a question. John himself doesn’t go because he is in prison. Now, John was a man who was out in the wilderness preaching the repentance of sins. This was to prepare the way for the coming of God’s chosen one. Jesus came and John pointed out that Jesus was the one he was waiting for, and Jesus started his work on earth. Over time, John’s ministry waned and he was arrested. In prison, he might have had a bit of doubt or he was trying to get his remaining disciples to follow Jesus like they were supposed to. So, he sent them to Jesus to find out if he was who they were waiting for. They ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Matthew 11:3) They wanted to know if Jesus was the Messiah. They wanted to know if God’s restoration was at hand or not. Now, many people of the time thought that the Messiah would restore the kingdom of Israel to its former splendor and Jesus had been going about his work for quite a while by this point, but Israel was not restored.

Jesus answered in a peculiar way. He said, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” (Matthew 11:4-6) Jesus responds with the fact that people were being restored. The blind were seeing, the lame were walking, the leprous were clean, the dear could hear, and the dead were raised. Jesus almost exactly quotes what was written in Isaiah 35. This shows that Jesus is the Lord. He is the one to bring about the restoration of all things, and that is exciting.

Jesus is so important because he is going to restore nature. He is going to restore our bodies and he is going to restore our souls. Jesus even referred to himself as the Way itself (John 14:6). Jesus is the way back to God. So, this gets us to the reason why we celebrate Christmas. Like I mentioned earlier, it’s Jesus’ death and resurrection that has the real power and is the thing that changes the course of history, but it is Jesus’ birth that brings so much joy. When we want to honor and celebrate a person, we do it on a day that best defines them, their birthday. We honor Lincoln on his birthday. Martin Luther King Jr. Day is his birthday. Likewise, we honor Jesus on his birthday. Unfortunately, we don’t know exactly when that is, so then we celebrate it on December 25th. It was a day chosen a long time ago to honor Jesus and celebrate the commencement of the restoration of creation. The angels knew the significance of Jesus’ birth. The sang out in the open fields to shepherds watching over their flock, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 1:14) When the shepherds saw the baby in the manger, they were filled with joy and began to celebrate. Jesus’ birth marks the beginning of a new age, and, again, we mark that in the years, too.

Now, while celebrating, we can look back and wonder about the restoration. It’s 2016 and there is still so much broken. We can grow impatient with the process of restoration, but it is a process. James, the brother of Jesus wrote, “Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.” (James 5:7-8) James calls for us to be patient and stand firm because the Lord’s coming is near. The restoration will be complete when Jesus returns and we should wait patiently for him to come. James uses the example of a farmer waiting for the rain to help his crops grow so that he can harvest them. I would like to use the example of baking cookies. When the cook arrives, you know it is time to make cookies. First, you must make the dough by putting all the ingredients together. Then you must form the cookies into their right shape. Then you get to put them into the oven to bake. After the baking process is over, then it is time to eat the cookies. You can’t rush the process or the cookies may not be ready. You must wait. Right now, we are in the stage of waiting for the cookies to bake. We are in the heat of being changed from dough to tasty cookie and we must wait for everything to be ready. If not, we’ll be all gooey. Patience yields product.

Now, it is not so easy to be patient, especially nowadays. We live in a time of instant gratification. We can stream movies and TV shows. I don’t think my kids understand the concept of TV schedules. They know of everything on demand. At our fingertips, we have movies, music, knowledge, directions and record keeper. Waiting is not a virtue that we know, and when we don’t get what we want when we want it, we grumble. However, James also directs us away from grumbling. “Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!” James (5:9) When we grumble, we tend to grumble against those closest to us. We take our frustrations out on those nearest to us. We groan and moan over the smallest of things, but we shouldn’t do so. Instead, we should be patient and joyful.

The time of restoration is a time of joy. The passage from Isaiah states that the wilderness will rejoice greatly and shout for joy at its restoration. The passage also states that we too will be filled with joy. “They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.” (Isaiah 35:10) This is the joy that we have at Christmastime. It is a reminder that the restoration of all things is at hand. We can get caught up in all the pageantry and tradition. We can get bogged down by the shopping, but we are to be filled with joy at creation’s restoration. It is amazing that all this joy started with a baby boy lying in manger. We are truly blessed when we have our hope in the Lord.

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Amos 7:1-9

Key Verse: 7:8b

And the LORD said to me, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A plumb line.” Then the Lord said,

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