Sermon: Selected Texts: The Perfections of God

Old Testament Reading: Micah 5

“Now muster your troops, O daughter of troops; siege is laid against us; with a rod they strike the judge of Israel on the cheek. But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has given birth; then the rest of his brothers shall return to the people of Israel. And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. And he shall be their peace. When the Assyrian comes into our land and treads in our palaces, then we will raise against him seven shepherds and eight princes of men; they shall shepherd the land of Assyria with the sword, and the land of Nimrod at its entrances; and he shall deliver us from the Assyrian when he comes into our land and treads within our border. Then the remnant of Jacob shall be in the midst of many peoples like dew from the Lord, like showers on the grass, which delay not for a man nor wait for the children of man. And the remnant of Jacob shall be among the nations, in the midst of many peoples, like a lion among the beasts of the forest, like a young lion among the flocks of sheep, which, when it goes through, treads down and tears in pieces, and there is none to deliver.  Your hand shall be lifted up over your adversaries, and all your enemies shall be cut off. And in that day, declares the Lord, I will cut off your horses from among you and will destroy your chariots; and I will cut off the cities of your land and throw down all your strongholds; and I will cut off sorceries from your hand, and you shall have no more tellers of fortunes; and I will cut off your carved images and your pillars from among you, and you shall bow down no more to the work of your hands; and I will root out your Asherah images from among you and destroy your cities. And in anger and wrath I will execute vengeance on the nations that did not obey.” (Micah 5, ESV)

New Testament Reading: Matthew 2:1-12

“Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’ When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’’ Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.’ After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.” (Matthew 2:1–12, ESV)

Introduction

We are fixing our eyes upon the wonder of the incarnation during this Advent season.  And it is a wonder, wouldn’t you agree? It is a marvelous thing to thinking about – it is a great mystery. How could it be that God – more specifically, the eternal Word of God – did, when the fulness of time had come, take upon himself humanity, in the person of Jesus Christ. Our minds creak and groan under the weight of such a thought. But this is precisely what we are considering this Advent season: God with us; Emmanuel; Jesus the God-man; the wonder of the incarnation.

And we are considering the incarnation, not by moving through one of the birth narratives contained within the gospels, as great as that approach would be, but theologically. We are considering the incarnation topically. We are asking the question, what do the scriptures in their entirety demand that we think concerning Jesus of Nazareth. Who was he? What was he? And what did he come to accomplish according to the scriptures?

Review 

Remember that we began this brief, four week mini-series last week, not by going immediately to the birth of Jesus, and not by talking about him – but by considering God himself as he has existed for all eternity – Father, Word, and Holy Spirit.  The reason is this: it is would difficult, if not impossible, to think clearly about God incarnate – that is, God in the flesh, or God with us – without first learning to think clearly about God himself as he has existed for all eternity.

Seven points were made last week concerning the nature of God. Let me review them briefly for the sake of tying last weeks sermon to this one. Here are seven things that need to be said concerning God:

  1. God Is incomprehensible. We know God truly because he has revealed something of himself to us, but we certainly do not know him exhaustively.
  2. God is Triune. There is only one true God, and yet the scripture reveal that the one true God exists eternally in three persons (or subsistences) God the Father, God the Son (or Word), and God the Holy Spirit. The three are each fully God, and yet their is only one God. For a more complete statement concerning this see the London Baptist Confession chapter 2
  3. God is a most pure spirit. He is not physical. He does not have a body. Jesus put it this way: “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:24, ESV)
  4. God is of himself. He is self-existent. No one made God. No one sustains God. God does not stand in need of anyone, or anything, outside of himself for his existence. He is of himself.
  5. God is infinite. He is infinite in regard to time – he is eternal, without beginning or end. He is infinite in regard to space – he is omnipresent, being at once in all places fully. He is infinite in regard to power – he is omnipotent; there is nothing outside of his sovereign power. Nothing constrains, or frustrates God. He is Lord Most High. He is the Sovereign.
  6. God is unchanging. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He does not grow or learn or improve. He does repent (though he may appear to repent from our vantage point). God does not have mood swings. He is not given to passions as you and I are. He is not given to fits of rage as you and I sometimes are. Humans may come to experience God’s wrath at times, and at other times find themselves awash in his mercy. But this is not a change in God properly speaking. We experience change. God does not change in his essence.
  7. God is simple. This does not mean that he is easy to understand, but rather that God is not composed of parts. He is not a composite being as you and I are. He does not have a body and a soul as you and I do, for example. The easiest way to say it is that everything that is in God is God. With you and I it is different. We are not simple, but complex. We are made up of parts. If my soul were to leave my body it would not be totally true to say of my soul-less body, “there is Joe”, for that would only be a part of me. God is not composed of parts like that. All that is in God is God. He is utterly simple. More on that another time.

That is all review. My objective last week was this: to hurl these massive concepts in your direction so as to make God large in your minds and hearts, as he ought to be. It is right for the Christian to think high thoughts of God. He ought to blow our minds. He ought to loom large. It is right that we stand in awe of him. It is right for us to confess that God is incomprehensible. He is beyond us!

Concerning this, the great Reformed theologian, Herman Bavinck, has this to say:

“Scripture and the church emphatically assert the unreachable majesty and sovereign highness of God. There is no knowledge of God as he is in himself. We are human and he is the Lord our God. There is no name that fully expresses his being, no definition that captures him. He infinitely transcends our picture of him, our ideas of him, our language concerning him. He is not comparable to any creature. All the nations are accounted by him as less than nothing and vanity. He can be apprehended; he cannot be comprehended. There is some knowledge, but no thorough grasp of God.” (Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 2, pg. 47)

A bit later Bavinck quotes St. Augustine, who says,

“We are speaking of God. Is it little wonder if you do not comprehend? For if you comprehend, it is not God you comprehend. Let it be a pious confession of ignorance rater than a rash profession of knowledge. To attain some slight knowledge of God is a great blessing; to comprehend him, however, is totally impossible.” (Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 2, pg. 48)

The God of the Bible is the one true and living God, and he is majestic. He is full of glory and splendor and might. So glorious is he that he is beyond our ability to fully comprehend.

But in the moment these truths are proclaimed something else must be said. This great and glorious God is a personal God. He is YHWH, the covenant making and covenant keeping God. He he is the God who enters into relationship with his creatures. He is our heavenly Father. We can know him. We do not know him in the way that he knows us – thoroughly. And we do not know him in the way that he knows himself – exhaustively. But we can know him truly.

So how can these two things be true? How can it be that the unknowable One can be known? How can it be that God is at once transcendent, and yet imminentHigh and exalted, and yet near?

The answer is this: God Almighty has determined to revealed himself to us. He has unveiled himself. He has disclosed himself. He has stooped down low and whispered to us in language that we can understand.

Calvin puts it this way, asking the question,

“For who is so devoid of intellect as not to understand that God, in so speaking, lisps with us as nurses are wont to do with little children? Such modes of expression, therefore, do not so much express what kind of a being God is, as accommodate the knowledge of him to our feebleness. In doing so, he must, of course, stoop far below his proper height. (John Calvin, Institutes, vol. 1, pg. 147.)

God, in order to reveal himself to us, has stooped low. He has come down to our level. And how has God stooped low for us? He walked with Adam and Even in the garden. He spoke to Abraham in human language so that he might understand. He revealed something of his glory to Moses in the bush, and as he was placed in the cleft of the rock. The people saw his glory on the mountain and in the temple. He spoke through the prophets. And he spoke to us supremely and finally through Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son. We have the inspired and Holy Scriptures which are a record and application of these revelatory acts of God in human history. In these ways God has stooped low. He makes himself known through his creation, through his acts, and through his words. He has condescended to us.

So how is it that we can know the Unknowable One? The answer is that he, in his grace and mercy has revealed himself to us. It is only because of this fact – the fact of revelation – that we are able to say anything meaningful and sure about God at all.

Brothers and sisters, do you not see that to think of God is the highest and most noble activity of the human mind. Let us then continue our consideration of God Most High.

Incommunicable Attributes 

I suppose that most of the things said about God last week could be put under the category of God’s incommunicable attributes. Have you heard of this term before? The incommunicable attributes of God are those qualities of God that he does not share with man. And by share I do not mean that he does not tell us about them. What I mean is that we do not possess these attributes of God ourselves, given our creatureliness. If you remember back to the sermon from last Sunday I would pause from time to time and say, ‘such and such is true of God, but you and I are not like this’. God is omnipresent, for example, and we are not. God is simple; we are not. God is unchanging; we are not. These are qualities that belong to God alone. He does not share them with us in any way.  The only attribute mentioned last week that might not properly belong under the “incommunicable” category is God as most pure spirit. God is spirit, and we too have a spirit, or soul. The difference between he and us in this regard is that he is a most pure spirit, whereas we consist of body and soul, body and spirit.

Communicable Attributes

And so God as most pure spirit probably belongs under the category that we will turn our attention to today. There are other attributes of God that fall under the category of God’s communicable attributes. As you might guess,these are attributes of God which he, in some ways, does share with us. Of course God possess these attributes perfectly so, whereas we possess them in some small degree, and that by his mercy and grace.

So what are they? I will only have time to mention three this morning. And because I only have time to mention three, I will confine myself to three of the moral attributes of God.

God Is Good

The first is this: God is good.

He is Good In Himself 

And when we speak of the goodness of God it is important that we first of all confess that God is good in and of himself.

It is not only that God does good, therefore we call him good. And it is not that he is useful to us, therefore we consider him to be good. No, more that, God is good in and of himself. He is good through and through. He is good all the time. He is good in an absolute sense. He is good in his essence.

You and I may do good from time to time, but it cannot be said of us that we are good through and through.

And we may designate people or things as good due to their usefulness to us. We say that a car is a good car when it functions well and meets our need. We call a friend a good friend when he or she preforms the duties of friend in a way that is useful.

And though it is true that God does good, and is a benefit to his people, we mean more than this when we say that God is good. He is good in himself. He is good through and through. He is good all the time, and in every way.  

A man might be called a good man. He may do good things.  And this, of course, is by the grace of God. But the scriptures tell us that “No one is good except God alone.” (Mark 10:18, ESV) Only God is perfect (Matthew 5:48). Only he is good in a pure and absolute sense.

He is Good for Others

It should also be acknowledged that, not only is God good in and of himself, but he is also good for others. Nothing is better for men and women, boys and girls, than to know God, who is the Supreme Good. He has “all life, glory, goodness, blessedness, in and of himself” (LBC 2.2). And we are most blessed when we know him.

He is our highest good. He is the supreme good for all his creatures. We are to enjoy him – find our satisfaction in him – take pleasure in him above all created things. Oh, that we would agree with the Psalmist when he says, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:25–26, ESV) Not only is God good in and of himself, but he is also good for us. He alone is the good to be enjoyed.

God Does Good To Us 

And we must also confess that this good God who himself is good for us also does good to us. He is the overflowing fountain of all goodness. Bavinck says, that all good, be it “natural, moral, [or]  spiritual… finds its source in him.” (Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 2, pg. 213) James 1:17 says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”

Mercy

God shows his goodness to those who are misery. The scriptures refer to this as God’s mercy. Mercy is God showing kindness or compassion to those who are needy either by not giving them what they deserve, or by doing good to them despite their unreservedness.

Lamentations 3:21-25: “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’ The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.”

Patience

The goodness of God is also displayed in his patience towards us. When God spares those who deserve punishment it is called patience or forbearance. Paul, in Romans 2:4, asks the sinner this question: “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4, ESV)

Grace

When God is good to someone who only deserves evil the Bible calls that grace. Grace is God showing undeserved favor. There is a way in which God shows grace to all men. He does good to all, though none are deserving. He causes it to rain on the the just and the unjust alike, for example. We may call this common grace – that is God doing good to all in a general sense. But it is more precise to see that God shows grace to some, and not all. He shows undeserved favor to his people. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23, ESV) And, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,” (Ephesians 2:8, ESV)

Love

The highest demonstration of God’s goodness to man is when he gives, not only good things, but himself to man. When God does good to a person in this ultimate since, bringing men and women, boys and and girls, into relationship with himself, the scriptures refer to this as the love of God. Those who know God – those who have been brought into a good and proper relationship with God through Christ Jesus – are called the beloved. They are the ones loved of God.

God is good. He is good in and of himself. He is good for his creatures. And he is good to his creatures as he demonstrates his goodness through acts of mercy, patience, grace, and love.

God Is Holy

The second thing to be said about God’s moral attributes is that he is holy.

He is holy in that he is set apart from us and from all evil.

He is set apart from us in that he alone is God. He is glorious and beyond compare. When the Prophet Isaiah was given a glimpse of the glory of God he heard the angels sing,“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Isaiah 6:3, ESV) He is holy in that he is set apart from us, high and lifted up.

And he is holy in that he is set apart from all sin.  “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” (1 John 1:5, ESV) He is holy, pure, undefiled. He resists all that opposes him.

This is why holiness is demanded of God’s people. The unholy are at odds with the holy God. The holy are embraced by him. God is holy in himself. He is holy, pure, undefiled. But he also demands holiness from his people.

The end goal of redemption, or salvation, it to bring a holy people, into a holy place, into the presence of the holy God.

God Is Righteous

The third of God’s moral and communicable attributes is this: God is righteous.

The righteousness of God is certainly connected with his holiness. Not only is God holy, and not only does he demand holiness, but he forever does what it right.

He is righteous in and of himself. He does what is right always, and forever because he is the righteous king and judge of all things.

God, the righteous judge, rewards those who are righteous and punishes those who are wicked. He does so even now. But he will do so finally and fully and perfectly at the end of the age.

We love to speak of the goodness of God, do we not? We are fond of his mercy, patience, grace and love. These are pleasant things for us to speak of. We even enjoy speaking of the holiness of God, so long as we confine the conversation to the holiness of God himself, and ignore it’s relational implications and the demands that God’s holiness makes upon us. But men and women often neglect to speak of God’s righteousness. If any of God’s attributes are neglected in Christian teaching today, it is righteousness that is rejected. We love to think of him as loving heavenly Father; but the scriptures also reveal him as God Almighty who will one day judge the world in righteousness.

Listen to how Paul warned the heathens in Athens as he preached to them, saying,

“The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30–31, ESV)

Bothers and sisters, God is good, God is holy, and God is righteous. This third attribute must not be ignored.

The righteousness of God should serve as a great comfort to those who are righteous in Christ Jesus who mourn the wickedness that they see in the world. Is it not comforting to know that God will do right? He will make all things right. He is judging in righteousness even now as he continues to display is mercy and patience. But the day will come when he will pour out his wrath in perfect righteousness. This should be a comfort to the people of God.

At the same time, the righteousness of God should cause the sinner to tremble. It should indeed lead the sinner to repent, to turn from sin, and to trust fully in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. Imagine standing before God, holy, awesome and glorious, as he is. And imagine standing before him in your sins. Friends, you do not want to stand before the holy and righteous God in your sins. That you will stand before his is certain. You will want to stand before him in Christ, clothed in his righteousness, and washed by his blood.  

Conclusion

So what difference do these truths make in our lives?

First of all, it should be noticed that these moral and communicable attributes of God call us to strive, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to be like him. God is good, and holy, and righteous. We too are to be good, and holy, and righteous.

Listen to Peter: “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:14–16, ESV)

These truths concerning God call us to be as our heavenly Father is. As a child mimics his earthly Father, so too we are to mimic our heavenly Father where we are able.

Secondly, in the moment we hear the call to be holy, or, to be good, or, to be righteous as God is, does that not crush us? We think to ourselves, how could I possibly reach that standard. The truth of the matter is that through we are to strive to reach that standard, we will never reach it on our own. As we gaze upon the truth of who God is it should drive us to our knees, making us all the more aware of our need for help. We need a Savior. We need atonement, forgiveness, cleaning. When Isaiah was given a glimpse of the holiness of God his response was this: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5, ESV)

Brothers and sisters, as we gaze upon the splendor and majesty of God almighty it move us to fear. It should compel to cry out for mercy and grace.

Thirdly, a careful consideration of these truths concerning God prepares us to understand the incarnation. Perhaps another way to say it is that it is these truths about God that made the incarnation necessary, given the fact of human sin.

Why was it necessary for the eternal Son of God to take upon himself man’s nature in the person of Jesus Christ? Well it is due to this fact – God is holy and righteous and we are sinners. He is holy, and demands holiness from his people. He is righteous, and must judge rightly, punishing the wicked and rewarding the just. This is bad news for fallen human beings, for the scriptures reveal that there is “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:10–12, ESV) God was not obligated to save us from this predicament. He was not bound to lift us from this condition of despair.

But there is good news for us. God is good. He is merciful and gracious. And it is the goodness of God – the love of God – that motivated the sending of the Son to die for the sins of man. It is the goodness of God that motivated the incarnation and the atoning work of Christ.

“For God so loved the world [men and woman , that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:16–17, ESV)

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