January 13, 2008
The magnitude and greatness of Isaiah’s messianic prophecy required God’s power to see it through. In this message, Alistair Begg explains that “the zeal of the Lord” that Isaiah mentions refers to God’s passionate commitment to bring about His redemptive purposes. God’s plans are not a last-minute response to world events. Rather, we witness God’s covenant love as His plans unfold, to the praise of His glory and the blessing of His people.
Sermon Transcript: Print
Now we’re going to read from Isaiah chapter 9 and beginning at verse 1. We turn to Isaiah 9 for the seventh and, I think, the last time, at least within this present series:
“Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by … way of the sea, along the Jordan—
“The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.
You have enlarged the nation
and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
as people rejoice at the harvest,
as men rejoice
when dividing the plunder.
For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,
you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor.
Every warrior’s boot used in battle
and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,
will be fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accomplish this.”
Now, Father, we pray that with our Bibles open before us, the Spirit of God will be our teacher; that you will come and meet with us as you have pledged to do, because we know that the entrance of your Word brings light. Shine, then, into the darkness, we pray, the light of the glorious truth of who Jesus is and why he came. For we ask it in his precious name. Amen.
When the angel came and visited Mary and made what was a quite startling announcement concerning the fact that she was going to give birth to a son, that his name was to be Jesus, concerning the fact that he would be great, would be called the Son of the Most High, that he would reign on the throne of his father David and over the house of Jacob forever, Mary displays her humility, her honesty, her intense practicality by answering what might be regarded as the obvious question: “How will this be?” “How will this be? How is it possible that the things that you, Angel, have said concerning what is conceived in me will be fulfilled in the way that you have described?”
In much the same way, as we come to the end of this prophetic passage in Isaiah chapter 9, and as we come to the final sentence of it—“The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this”—we are at the end of one of the more startling and dramatic messianic prophecies that Isaiah gives us. He’s told us that a child is to be born, that this child will establish a kingdom, that unlike any other kingdom, this one will never end. He will be the Prince of Peace, and his peace will prevail. He is to be the King who will end all kings. No one will come after him; he’s in need of no successor. No one is going to come along and say, “I think we can improve on what has been done,” because no improvement will be necessary, no improvement will be possible.
And what is being prophesied here by Isaiah is propelling its way through the story of redemption history till finally we get to the place where Paul summarizes the expectation in the phraseology “[And one day] at the name of Jesus every knee [will] bow … and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” It is that kind of deep-seated conviction which provides clarity in our proclamation, which gives to us a spirit of boldness, hopefully tempered by humility, so as to be able to speak into our generation words that are quite staggering to the ears of men and women. And when we feel enabled to do so, to speak to those who are in authority over us, to confront, as it were, the structures of our day—the political structures, and the financial structures, all of the structures of our day—with news of this amazing Prince of Peace, then we find that we stand on the shoulders of those who’ve gone before.
Just this week, in receiving the gift of a new copy of Calvin’s Institutes, which were written in the seventeenth century as a theological, structured guide and as a devotional help, I read for the first time the letter that Calvin wrote to the king of France, Francis I, in , providing him with a copy of this theological tome that he had written. And he wrote to him as follows: “Your duty, most serene Prince, is, not to shut your ears or mind against a cause involving such mighty interests as these”—and then he outlines the “mighty interests”:
how the glory of God is to be maintained on the earth …, how the truth of God is to preserve its dignity, how the kingdom of Christ is to continue among us compact and secure. The cause is worthy of your ear, worthy of your investigation, worthy of your throne.
The characteristic of a true sovereign is, to [announce] that, in the administration of his kingdom, he is a minister of God. He who does not make his reign subservient to the divine glory, acts [not] the part … of a king, but of a robber.
Now, what possible conviction would possess Calvin as a theologian to write to the king of France in such a way, except that he recognizes the truth that is contained in the final sentence of the seventh verse of Isaiah chapter 9, “The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this”?
Because when we stand back from Isaiah’s portrait and we view something of his vastness, then I think that if we’re honest, we find ourselves asking the question Mary asked—namely, “How will this be?” It’s as though Isaiah anticipates that question in the mind of the reader, and so he answers it before there is further cause for alarm.
And he recognizes that these events that he has described will not transpire in the ordinary course of affairs. For all of this to take place, it will demand “the Lord Almighty”—variously translated “the Lord of hosts,” about whom we’ve sung in one of our songs this morning, this Almighty God who is the God of unbounded power, who is the God of unlimited resources—it will need him and his zeal to accomplish all of this. And that is exactly what Isaiah declares: “The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.” If we might put it in common parlance, it’s as though God, speaking through his prophet, says to his people, “Don’t worry. I will see to it.” “Don’t worry. I will see to it.”
And in the sense that those of us who’ve enjoyed earthly fathers who were able to pronounce such things and then to come good on their promises, we’ve had just a little inkling of God’s fatherhood and ability to make sure he sees things through. So, for example, maybe your dad, like my dad, would always tell me, “Don’t worry. I will wake you up. There is no need for you to set your alarm. I will be up before you, and I will wake you.” And for all the years I had him, I never, ever had to set an alarm, because he always did what he promised to do. He would see to all kinds of things in my life, and earthly fathers and mothers have done the same, as is represented in this congregation. And in a far greater way, God—the Almighty God, the Lord of Hosts, the one who comes in “the passionate commitment” to the exercise of his purposes—speaks to his prophet, and he says, “Don’t worry. I will see to it.”
Now, what remains for us is not a study in 3D, as in the artistic world, but a study in three Ds. And I have three Ds for you in relationship to the zeal of the Lord Almighty: first of all, that zeal defined, then that zeal displayed, and then that zeal discovered.
First of all, then, let’s try and define our terms. It is important to define things, because without definition we can pour into words any kind of meaning we want at all. I know that that is contemporary, sort of philosophical speculation, and it works fairly well when people are just engaging in late-night philosophical ramblings, but it doesn’t really work when you’re trying to pinpoint your place on a map in terms of coordinates, nor in terms of transatlantic flight, nor in terms of microsurgery. And it certainly doesn’t work in terms of theology.
What, then, is the zeal? Well, we need to understand that zeal and jealousy in God are two sides of the same concept. I wrote down in my notes very quickly two words: “zealous” and “jealous.” God is both zealous and jealous. Indeed, we might say that God is zealous because he is jealous. And the reason he is jealous is because he is love, and both his zeal and his jealousy emerge from a heart that is compassionate and devoted. This kind of love is a love that will brook no rivals, and it’s the love that is provoked by disloyalty.
We will immediately go wrong if we start to think of jealousy in the terms of our human pettiness, the kind of envy that resents what another has and wants it just because we don’t have it. Nothing could be further from that which is revealed here. The jealousy of God, the zeal of God, is that which displays a desire to protect and to provide—to protect and provide for those who are the objects of his love.
If we want to argue from the lesser to the greater, or try and descend to get a picture of what we’re referencing, we might think in terms of the unwillingness of a wife to share her husband’s affection with another. It couldn’t possibly be a mark of fidelity and monogamy to be prepared to share the affections of your spouse with someone else. Any wife or husband worth their salt wants to guard zealously and jealously the affection of the one who has become the object of their love. There’s no surprise in that. It is a corrupt and unstable mind, it is an immoral posture, that deviates from that in any dimension at all.
If we don’t go there, perhaps we can go to the protective love of a father for his daughter, who protects with a zeal and a right jealousy the honor of his daughter in every place and amongst all people: “This is my daughter; you may not say that of her. This is my daughter; you may not treat her that way. I am absolutely, passionately committed to her, to her protection, to her provision, and to her honor.” Every father worthy of the word father understands that. And when we go from the lesser to the greater, and then we look to God, who is the epitome of fatherhood—who is, if you like, the great Bridegroom, preparing his people as a bride for himself—then you realize the extent of his zeal and his love.
And he is zealous for his own honor and for his own glory—and he is allowed to be because he’s God! The reason that many of us have trouble with the idea that God protects his own honor and glory and provides for it is because we want to be God. And there is only one God. And that is why the chief end of man, as the Shorter Catechism tells us—the chief end of man is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.
Now, it is in this realm that zeal is, if you like, then, a component of true love and certainly a component of God’s covenant love. Because God loves unreservedly those who are the objects of his affection, he is zealous in his provision and protection of them, he is jealous in the way in which he guards them. Because ultimately, through them he gets glory to his name, and he is concerned ultimately for his own glory.
Secondly, let’s go on and see how this, then, is displayed. How should we view this as being displayed? Well, let me suggest to you in two simple ways.
First of all, that we see the zeal of the Lord Almighty displayed in God’s plan, or in his purpose, or in his will; we can use those words interchangeably—“the zeal of the Lord Almighty” displayed in his plan or in his will.
Page 827 in the church Bibles will take you to Ephesians chapter 1. And in Ephesians chapter 1—and here, once again, we employ the principle of reading our Bibles backwards—Ephesians chapter 1, Paul reaches back before the creation of the world when he thinks in terms of God’s will or his purpose or plan, and he speaks about the eternal counsels of his will. You can actually see that if you turn to Ephesians 1:4: “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world.”
Now, the reason this is important is because it makes it very clear to us that this plan of God in redemption is not something that he executed in time in order to correct a defect in the system. It’s not as though he was the CEO of a vast corporation, and the stock took a dramatic dip late on a Friday afternoon, and he fired a few people on early Monday morning and rearranged the various departments in order that he could go on the phone to Wall Street and tell them that really the object of the next few months was very, very clear and defined, and the changes that have been made, that have been introduced to correct what has been a very faulty problem, will now unfold in a way that will restore the stock to its place of honor and significance. No. It’s nothing like that at all. It is not that we’re introduced to a plan that is executed in a moment in time to correct something that has gone wrong, but rather we’re told that it is a plan that is established in eternity to achieve a purpose which cannot be gainsaid. Not in time to fix a defect but in eternity to achieve a purpose.
I don’t want to belabor this, but I want to show you three verses, if your Bible is open—and it should be. In verse 5, first of all, you will notice that he says that he’s doing this “in accordance with his pleasure and will.” God’s pleasure and his will, interwoven. And the purpose there in verse 6, you will see, is “to the praise of his glorious grace.” In verse 9: “And he made known to us the mystery of his will”—notice again—“according to his good pleasure”—notice again—“which he purposed in Christ.” And he was going to put that “into effect,” he says in verse 10, “when the times … have reached their fulfillment.” You remember a few weeks ago, we dealt with the phrase “[And] when the time had fully come”—Galatians—“when the time had fully come, God sent [forth] his Son.” Well, that’s what Paul’s referencing there. And then in verse 11: “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according”—again, notice—“to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.”
In other words, God’s covenant love is at the epicenter of his plan for the world. God’s covenant love is at the very center of his plan for the world. That, I think, is why so many of us love to read John 3:16, isn’t it? “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believe[s] in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” That’s at the very heart of the plan and purpose of God. And God’s design and his zealous commitment—his “passionate commitment,” if you like, for zeal is ardor, zeal is passion—his “passionate commitment” to his people is such that even when things seem most wrong, he remains absolutely, inevitably, unquenchingly committed to fulfill what he has purposed.
The hymn writer puts it,
Ill that he blesses is our good
And unblessed good is ill;
And all is right that seems most wrong
If it be his sweet will.
You see, we have to always revert to “I’ll see to it. I’ll see to it.” And the journey of the Christian is essentially the journey of discovering increasingly the reliability, the trustworthiness, of the Father’s promises—so much so that we’re able, then, to encounter that which runs in the crosshairs, as it were, to what would seem best. And if you doubt that, you need only to read the Bible. You can go back and start from the beginning and read it all the way through, and you discover that the unfolding plan of God is an expression of his zeal.
So, let’s take just one illustration. You can read about it in Genesis 45 as homework. When Joseph’s brothers are finally made aware of the fact that the encounter that they’ve been having with this individual, the representative of the pharaohs, is none other than an encounter with their own brother, you remember that their reaction is one of fear lest he punishes them; it’s one of sadness in relationship to their guilt—because, after all, they were the ones who’d conceived of the plan to put him in the pit. Plan A had been to kill him; plan B was sell him. They were the ones who connived the notion so that they could take the deceitful story back to his dad. And now they stand before this individual, and he says to them, “Ego eimi”: “It is me. It is Joseph. I’m Joseph.” And as they weep and are troubled, what does he say to them? Well, let me tell you in a phrase what he says to them: “It was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.” “Don’t be troubled.”
What was Joseph doing? Joseph was recognizing in the most dire circumstances, the fact of God’s plan—that God was accomplishing his purposes, even through the sinfulness and bitterness and animosity of broken relationships within a family, employing in the achievement of his objective that which is clearly so wrong in order that it might be resulting in that which is so obviously right.
In the ’60s, J. B. Phillips, who paraphrased for us the New Testament, wrote a book entitled Your God Is Too Small. And he wrote it to the church. And he wrote it to the church in the ’60s to say, “You know, our conception of God is so limited.” I think, mercifully, he has died and gone to heaven before he got to 2008, because if he’d lived into the final decade of the twentieth century and into the first decade of the twenty-first, he could never have conceived of how small the God is in contemporary evangelicalism: a God who exists to meet our needs, a God who exists to fix our finances, a God exists to do all these things for us, as if somehow or another he were a genie, and all we had to do was rub his tummy. And it is not out in the environment of paganism that we see so much the disfigurement of the God of the Bible; it is within the contemporary ranks of the church that it’s so patently obvious. Because as soon as anything goes counter to our desires, as soon as something doesn’t fit the way we plan it, we’re immediately up in arms—because our God is too small!
I was reading Rutherford in the last few weeks—Samuel Rutherford, that is. And the thing that I wrote down in my new little black book… Because my previous black book has been lost, much to my shame and disappointment. Even with a reward of fifty dollars in the front, it’s gone for good, it appears. Well, I put “a hundred dollars” in the front of this one. And the first quote that I put in it was from Rutherford, where Rutherford writes, “Be humbled, walk softly; down … with your top sail; stoop, stoop; it is a low entry to go in at heaven’s gates.” You understand why Paul writes, says, “Do you think a lump of clay would speak to the potter? Do you think a lump of clay would say, ‘Why have you made me thus? What do you think you’re doing now?’” No! Then nor should we. But may we rest content? Yes! Why? Because Father knows best.
And the zeal of the Lord Almighty, defined in terms of his covenant love, is displayed in his unfolding plan and, secondly, is displayed in the company of his people. In the company of his people. The purpose of God from all of eternity is to put together a people that are his very own. If we don’t understand that, we’ll never understand the Bible. We’ll never understand what he’s doing with Abraham, calling him out of Ur of the Chaldees. We won’t understand what it is that he’s doing in protecting his people by the provision of these laws, so that by their very commitment in obedience to what he says they may not become like the surrounding nations; they may not be absorbed into pagan cultures; they may be preserved, ultimately and finally, so that in the last day there will be a company of people from every tribe and language and nation who are represented by God’s zealous commitment to them.
So that’s why he says to Moses, “I want you to go to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘Let my people go.’” And his zeal is revealed in bringing them out of Egypt and into the land of promise. His zeal is revealed in the miracles that he performs so that they might go by protection of a cloud by day and of a pillar of fire by night, so that they might eat according to his provision in the wilderness, so that they might drink as a result of all that he has given to them.
And when you fast-forward through all of that and you come into the New Testament, you find that the picture of liberation from the bondage of Egypt becomes the very picture of what needs to happen to somebody who, when we realize how tied up we are in ourselves and in our indifference towards God and in our rebellion, we need a liberator. We need redemption. We need somebody to redeem us from the enslavement that we know to our own selfish desires and designs, which the Bible calls sin.
And how is this to be accomplished? By the zeal of the Lord Almighty—and by that alone! For dead people can’t make themselves alive. And how is it that someone who denied every tenet of the New Testament now is a firm and fierce proclaimer of its truth? What happened? How was this done? The zeal of the Lord Almighty.
And his commitment to his people is such that he makes their cause his own. That’s why he provides for them. That’s why he protects them. The hymn writer puts it wonderfully:
Fatherlike he tends and spares us;
Well our feeble frame he knows.
In his hands he gently bears us,
[And] rescues us from all our foes.
“Well,” someone says, “well, he doesn’t seem to have rescued us from all our foes. Some of us got diagnoses that we didn’t expect, that we don’t want; some of us have ongoing battles that apparently have no end; and so on.” Well, again, you have to remember the distinction between the already and the not yet. The already and the not yet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death, isn’t it?
I had the privilege of sharing this whole story with somebody this week, and when I tried to articulate this as best I could, eventually someone in the room said, “I don’t see how this helps. I don’t see how this helps. The individual is facing the end of his life.” And I said, “Well, it doesn’t help if you believe that this is all there is.” And I said, “That’s what Paul argued. He said, ‘You know, if we have hope in this life only, then we’re to be pitied.’ But he said, ‘As in Adam all die, so in Christ we’ll all be made alive.’” You see, the eschatological part, the not yet part, is a significant part of the now, insofar as it enables us to make sense of the stumblings and bumblings and disappointments and heartaches and sicknesses and illnesses that remain unresolved for us. But ultimately, it’s still the same.
“I haven’t been taken by surprise,” says God. “I love you on the basis of my covenant love. I am protecting you and will protect you. I have provided for you and will continue to provide for you. I will overturn your enemies.” And Paul picks that up in Romans 8 and says, “If God be for us, who can be against us?” The answer is, all kinds of people can be against us. All kinds of things come as an onslaught. And so Paul takes them and he says, “Well, let me just think about this. Shall tribulation, or trial, or persecution, or poverty, or nakedness, or peril, or sword, or death? Come on: throw it all at us. No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Christ who loved us.” Who is this Christ? He is this Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. You see, there really is no peace outside of that which is accomplished by the zeal of the Lord.
I’ll give you one final quote from Calvin today. He says, “Christ is called the Prince of Peace, and our peace …, because he calms all the agitations of conscience.” Do you have an agitated conscience? Have you tried it with pills? Yoga? Stuff that you buy at Sharper Image that’s supposed to play while you’re sleeping and make you feel like you’re in Hawaii by the sea, and it only keeps you awake, reminding you you’re in Cleveland? Says Calvin, “In short, peace must be sought nowhere but in the agonies of Christ the Redeemer.” “Peace must be sought nowhere but in the agonies of Christ the Redeemer.” Why? Because in his agonies he has borne our sin and carried our sorrows. That’s the story.
Finally, what about its discovery? If it is defined in terms of God’s covenant love and is, if you like, emerging from it a compatriot of his jealousy, if it is displayed in his plan and in his people, how is it personally to be discovered?
Well, let me take you back to Ephesians chapter 1, and we’ll finish there. Still on the same page that you left it before, if you ever turned to it—and if you didn’t, now’s your final chance. Look at Ephesians 1:13. He’s writing to these folks in the Ephesus Valley, and he says to them, he says, “And you also were included in Christ.” Well, when did that happen? Well, he tells us when it happened: “when you heard the word of truth.” Let’s just pause there for a moment and say: Have you heard this word of truth? Have you heard the word of truth? Have people told you this word of truth? Okay. “Well,” you say, “what is it?” Well, he tells us after the comma: it is “the gospel of your salvation.” It is the good news of salvation.
What is this good news? It is that despite the fact that we are sinners, Christ died for us when we were still sinners; that God is an initiative-taking God who has sent his Son, who on the cross bore the punishment of sin, bore the resentment of his enemies, and prayed for their forgiveness; and that all who trust in the sacrifice that Christ has made, who in himself bears all of our sins, find themselves the beneficiaries of all the righteousness of Jesus. “You … were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation.” And what did you do with it? You “believed.” You believed.
So you hear this word. You can identify it because it’s good news. It’s not bad news. There’s bad news to it. The bad news is our condition, which reveals us to be what we are: sinful and rebellious, not really loving God but loving ourselves. It’s an unpalatable thing to confront, but it is absolutely necessary. It is when we realize our predicament that we then understand the wonder of the provision that has been made. That’s the good news of salvation.
And we believed. And when we believed, we “were marked in him with a seal.” It’s the picture of a signet ring or a family crest. And God takes the family crest, as it were, and he takes your name, and he takes a sheet of notepaper, and your name is at the top of the notepaper, and he takes the stamp or the seal, and he stamps right over it: “She’s mine. She’s all mine. Part of my family. Part of my possession. The object of my zeal. The product of my love.”
And notice how it goes on: “You were marked … with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing [your] inheritance.” You got that little bit up front, so that you might know all that’s coming later. “I’m going to give you this now,” says somebody. The lawyer writes and says, “I’ve sent you a check today for five thousand dollars as a result of an inheritance into which you’ve come. It is presently in the custody of the financiers and escrow, but I wanted you to have this today, just so that you might know that it is a small indication of the vast sum that still awaits you.” And the picture here is of the Holy Spirit coming as “a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance.” What’s our inheritance? The inheritance of the saints of light, “the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.” In other words, the completion of that which he has begun in us as a good work.
We could go on into chapter 2, but our time is gone. If you read on into chapter 2, you realize the wonderful way in which it is in Jesus that all of this comes to us, whether we’re Jew or gentile. Those of us who are gentiles are addressed in 2:11: “Remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called [the] ‘uncircumcised’ by those who call themselves ‘the circumcision’ (that[’s] done in the body by the hands of men)—remember that at that time,” notice, “you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel … foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.” That was then. What’s changed? Verse 13. Go back to 1:13: “You were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. And you believed.” But if you do not hear the word of truth, if you do not understand it to be the gospel of your salvation, and if you do not believe, then you remain excluded from citizenship in Israel and without God and without hope in the world.
And masterfully, Paul makes it clear that both the Jew and the gentile are both coming to know God in the exact same way, because, in verse 16, it is by “this one body”—namely, Jesus—that he reconciles “both … to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.” And “he came and preached to [those] who were far away,” he preached “peace to those who were near.” He preached the same message. And it is “through him” that “we both have access to the Father by one Spirit,” and “consequently, you[’re] no longer foreigners and aliens, but [you’re] fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household” and so on, and you’re becoming this wonderful temple “in which God lives.”
Loved ones, let me put it as straightforwardly as I possibly can: that is either true of you or it is not true of you. You are either excluded from citizenship in Israel, a stranger to the promises, and without hope and without God in the world, or you are included in Christ.
Now, which are you? Which are you? Some of you have heard the Word of Truth to the point of nausea. Some of you are able to articulate the good news of salvation because it has been made so clear to you, but you have never, ever sat down on the strength of the gospel itself. You’re still standing up, still harboring a silly notion that there’s a residual part of good in you that might manage to squeak you into heaven. You’re dead, you’re lost, there’s no hope whatsoever—except in Christ! Have you heard it? Well, will you believe it? Will you rest your life, your destiny, on the strength of it? That’s what it means to be a believer.
Do you know the reason that many of you are disconnected from involvement at Parkside? You say, “Well, is this your farewell sermon, you could be so bold as to say these things?” I don’t know. It may be my farewell sermon, but I’ll tell you this: the reason that many of you are disconnected from Parkside is ’cause you’re disconnected from Christ. You’re not in Christ. So why would you be in church? The only significance of being in church—and I’m not talking about sitting on seats or singing songs—the only reason to be involved with the community of God’s people is because you’re involved in communion with Christ, who is the head of the church.
Do you know that if you are in Christ, you are ontologically related to everybody who is in Christ? You can’t be out of Christ. You’re in him. Therefore, you’re stuck with all these people! You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family.
Well, if I brought people up here and gave them two minutes to explain how it was that they came to be included in Christ—and tonight there will be some who give testimony to that in their baptism, and we look forward to it—but if I had opportunity to have them come and speak now, all of them would eventually say that it is the zeal of the Lord Almighty that has accomplished this.
Father, I pray this morning that you will look upon us in your mercy. I pray for those who believe in their heads certain truths to which they give honest and sincere assent, but yet that assent has never been followed up by an act of commitment, of resting themselves, as it were, casting themselves down upon your promises, finding in you and in your zealous love all their hope for life and for eternity. Come, gracious God, and meet with us. Save us from ourselves, from our selfish interests, from our own designs and desires.
And we pray that in these early weeks of 2008, you will bring to yourself a significant company of people who, having heard the Word of Truth and found it to be the good news of salvation, have come to believe in it and to rely upon it, so that when we stand before the bar of God’s judgment, our only answer and our only proclamation will be “Christ died for sinners, and I am a sinner, and I know that he died for me.”
We thank you that Jesus is Lord over the grave, that all of our doubts and our disappointments, our fears and our failures, are subsumed under the vastness of his victory, that neither life nor death can separate us from his redeeming love. And so we pray in his powerful name. Amen.
 See Luke 1:31–34.
 Philippians 2:10–11 (NIV 1984).
 John Calvin, “Prefatory Address by John Calvin to Francis I, King of France (1536),” in Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Henry Beveridge (2008; repr., Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2009), xxi–xxii.
 Isaiah 9:7 (KJV).
 Isaiah 9:7 (NLT).
 The Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q. 1.
 Galatians 4:4 (NIV 1984).
 John 3:16 (KJV).
 Frederick W. Faber, “I Worship Thee, Sweet Will of God” (1849).
 Genesis 45:3 (paraphrased).
 Genesis 45:5 (NIV 1984).
 Samuel Rutherford to Cardoness, Aberdeen, 1637, in Joshua Redivivus; or, Three Hundred and Fifty Two Religious Letters […] (Glasgow, 1818), 177.
 Romans 9:19–21 (paraphrased).
 See Titus 2:14.
 See Revelation 7:9–10.
 See, for example, Exodus 5:1.
 See, for example, Exodus 13:21.
 Henry F. Lyte, “Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven” (1834).
 See 1 Corinthians 15:26.
 1 Corinthians 15:19 (paraphrased).
 1 Corinthians 15:22 (paraphrased).
 Romans 8:31 (KJV).
 Romans 8:35, 37 (paraphrased).
 Calvin, Institutes, 501.
 See Philippians 1:6.
 Ephesians 2:16–22 (NIV 1984).
Copyright © 2023, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.