Sunday, December 9, 2018

Between two Advents: Peace on Earth? - Isaiah 9:1-7

Between two Advents: Peace on Earth?
Isaiah 9:1-7
Introduction: Coming to week two of Advent, I couldn’t help but wonder at the contrast we see between the discourse that Jesus gave on the Mount of Olives, which we recently worked through, and the words of the Angels on that Bethlehem hillside some 33 years earlier. Jesus warned the disciples that they would have tribulation in the world—including wars and rumors of wars—violence and suffering that would characterize human history until His return in glory and power. That seems to describe a decided absence of “peace on earth”! Yet after the angel announced to the shepherds that a Savior, Christ the Lord, had been born (Luke 2:11), in v. 14 a multitude of angels were praising God and saying,
"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!"
Peace?  In the light of Jesus’ prophecy on the Mount of Olives, which is confirmed by our experience, the angels’ announcement on that first Christmas morning seems strange. Peace on earth? It doesn’t look like it from our perspective!  How can we understand the angels’ announcement then in the light of our experience?
       “Peace” can have several meanings in Scripture. One is indeed “an absence of war or violence” but that is usually only one small facet of what is meant by the biblical idea of peace. It is clear enough that the day when swords will be hammered into plowshares is an aspect of “peace” that is still future. Yet we can still have peace, even now, as we live as pilgrims in a fallen world. The Hebrew word “Shalom” is explained by one scholar as “The state of fulfillment that results from God’s presence.” This is what expressed in the Aaronic benediction,
The LORD bless you and keep you;  25 the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;  26 the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace…” (Num 6:24-26).
“Peace” relates to the idea that was expressed when God first looked at His creation, before the Fall, and pronounced it “good,” tov. God who is holy and perfect was in perfect fellowship with his creation, no sin, no separation. There was peace. There was harmony between God and the first humans—shalom. That peace was disrupted by human rebellion. In the fullness of time the arrival of the Prince of Peace, according to promise, provided the basis for that fellowship to be restored. Reconciliation between God and those who would believe—peace for “those on whom His favor rests.” And so, salvation can be described as a restoration of peace. Listen to Isaiah the prophet,
 How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, "Your God reigns." (Isa 52:7).
Notice the parallel phrases, Peace / happiness / salvation / God reigns! In Him we can experience the shalom, the “good” for which we were created, in a preliminary sense now, and in its fulness in the age to come. This is why He came! That is why the prophet could also write in Isaiah 53:5,
But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.”
His suffering was because of our sins, and He suffered “…the chastisement that brought us peace…” The perspective of the prophets often interwove the promise of the coming of the Messiah with what we now know to be His return to reign in His Kingdom on earth. We live between those great events, His first advent, and His coming in Glory. We live between two Advents…
The Maine* Idea: Living in the light of the first coming of Christ we have peace with God and the peace of God, even as we anticipate His second coming in glory.
I. Our Problem: There is no peace in this dark world [apart from Christ] (8:22-9:1a). Read the end of Isaiah 8 to see the contrast that chapter 9 brings…
20 To the teaching and to the testimony! If they will not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn.  21 They will pass through the land, greatly distressed and hungry. And when they are hungry, they will be enraged and will speak contemptuously against their king and their God, and turn their faces upward.  22 And they will look to the earth, but behold, distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish. And they will be thrust into thick darkness. [ESV Isaiah 8:22-9:1]
       People walking in darkness. It is getting dark early these days. While we were in Brazil the southeast of the country experienced a wide-spread blackout. At the time I didn’t know the extent of it (it impacted the entire southeast of the county, about 40 million people!), I was at the seminary teaching a night class in down town Sao Paulo, probably 15 miles from home. When the lights first went out, I actually tried to continue with the class for a few minutes, thinking it might come right back on. It didn’t. And I drove home that night, through the city, no traffic lights, blissfully ignorant of the crime that was happening around me as people took advantage of the darkness!  At times like that you discover anarchy is just below the surface, lurking in the darkness. John’s gospel uses that language of “light” and “darkness” quite a bit to describe the state of fallen humanity. For example, we read in John 3:19-21,
   19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil.  20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.  21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been carried out in God.
God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness has shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Christ Jesus. And so, living in the light of the first coming of Christ we have peace with God and the peace of God, even as we anticipate His second coming in glory.
II. The Purpose of His Coming: To Make Possible Peace on Earth [for those on whom His favor rests] (Isa 9:1-5; cf. Luke 2:14; Rom 5:1).
But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. 2The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.  3 You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil.  4 For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.  5 For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire.
       The prophet is describing a new age, without the anguish and darkness of the past. A light has shined in the darkness, and there is rejoicing as the covenant blessings are again being experienced. A time of peace, the warrior no longer needs his battle clothes, they can be thrown on the fire! The day has not yet come when spears are fashioned into pruning hooks, and swords into plowshares. How do we square the pronouncement of “peace” with the continued presence of violence and warfare? We can experience peace, real peace, right now, and forever. First of all, we can have…
      Peace with God (Romans 5:1) – Objective, positional. Paul wrote in Romans 5:1, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” That idea that connects “peace” with the state of salvation was implied by the prophet Isaiah centuries earlier. For example, we read in Isaiah 52:7,
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who proclaims salvation, who says to Zion, "Your God reigns."
Notice the parallel statements, proclaiming peace / good news of happiness / salvation. Peace with God is Good News! In the next chapter we’re told the suffering of the Servant is what brought us peace: But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed...” (Isa 53:5). So, though we who were God’s enemies (Eph 2:1-3), because of Him, can have peace with God.  The Apostle Paul said,
For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility  15 by abolishing the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace,  16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.  17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near…” (Eph 2:14-17).
For Jew and Gentile alike the way to peace, peace with God, is through Jesus Christ.
        Paul also speaks of the Peace of God (Phil 4:7) - Subjective, experiential. Paul said, “…And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  Why don’t we have peace on earth? James asked and answered the question when he said: “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this: that your passions are at war within you?” (James 4:1). Conflict starts in the human heart. Jeremiah said “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?” (Jer 17:9).  The prophet is describing a dark place, and that is the depth of the depravity of the human heart. We are all sinners. We read in Psalm 53 in the first couple of verses,
there is none who does good.  2 God looks down from heaven on the children of man to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God.  3 They have all fallen away; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.
That is pretty clear, how many of us are sinners? Every last one, by birth and by choice (Paul quotes this passage in Romans 3:10f).
        The good news came in the promise of deliverance in Isaiah 9:3-5.  Verse 5 describes a time when the Light shining in the darkness will bring “peace on earth”: “…For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire.Though “peace on earth” is not yet our experience, that day is coming, that is our sure hope, the enemies of Christ will be put under his feet and peace will reign, at last.  Because of His coming, because of the reality of His presence for those who trust Him we can already experience peace in our hearts, a peace that passes understanding. Living in the light of the first coming of Christ we who know Him have peace with God and the peace of God, even as we anticipate His second coming in glory.
III. The Person who offers [true] Peace: The Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ (9:6).
6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
         “For unto us a child is born…” The prophet assumes a physical, historical, human birth. God the Son took upon himself a human nature.  He only appeared to be human, the Bible makes it clear that the eternal Son took a human nature, and the divine and human natures were one in the person of Christ.  The technical term to describe this is the “hypostatic union.”  Paul described this act in his letter to the Philippians when he wrote in Philippians 2:6-7  “…although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped,  7 but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men…” Alfred Edersheim reflected on the wonder of the incarnation when he wrote,
“That on such a slender thread as the feeble throb of an infant life, the salvation of the world should hang—and no special watch care over its safety, no better shelter be provided it than a stable, no other cradle than a manger…” 
Mary Ann linked on Facebook a graphic of a manger… the caption said, “The first King-sized bed.” The humility of His first coming! God became a man. So, we have a Prince and High Priest who understands, who can sympathize with our weakness and empathize with our pain. He was tempted in all points as we are, yet without sin.
        The Isaiah said “…a Child is born…”, and then in the next phrase says “…unto us a Son is given…” A Son, handed over as a gift. This is not only parallel with the previous phrase, but it expounds on a couple of elements. One, the prophesied child would be a son. (In our day of sonograms that may seem like a small factor, but God’s plan would be accomplished). Secondly, he was “given.” The term used in John 3:16 expresses the same idea: in John, God gave His Son, in Isaiah, the passive form, the Son was “given.”  As Paul said, “God spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all.” John in his first letter said, “This is how God showed his love among us, He sent his one and only son into the world that we might live through him…” (I John 4:9).
          The prophet Isaiah, writing 700 years earlier, goes on to give more information about the coming One:  “…and the government will be upon his shoulders…” He is the Ruler of creation, Lord of all, and His Kingdom will come. This hope is not exclusively future.  Even now we’ve been transported from the domain of darkness to the kingdom of the Son… (Col 1:13). Still, we live between two advents. In the second advent there will finally be “peace on earth…”
       The litany of titles that follow express aspects of who He is: “And his name will be called, Wonderful counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father…” Notice that He is described in the unmistakable language of deity: mighty God, everlasting Father—God became human. Whatever you are facing in your life, whatever you will face tomorrow, think about it: if you know Christ, God is on your side, He is at your side, to help, guide, and protect. He whispers to us through His Word, “I’ve got this, trust me.” So, you don’t need to be overwhelmed or despair: if God is for us, who can stand against us?
       He is finally called the “Prince of Peace” – The Prince of Shalom. The one who’s reign would be marked by the presence of God and the blessings of the covenant. He is Immanuel, God with us. And so, we can experience “shalom” because of His presence.  As the Prince of Peace, He is the source of peace. Because of His work we are reconciled to God. Because of His presence we can have peace in the midst of a chaotic worldLiving in the light of the first coming of Christ we who know Him have peace with God and the peace of God, even as we anticipate His second coming in glory.
IV. Promise of Christmas: The Coming of Peace, Between the Advents, and Beyond (9:7).
7 Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.
       Notice that he speaks of an eternal kingdom – The problem of evil is a rather thorny topic for apologists. If God is good, and all powerful, why is there so much suffering and injustice in the world? That was not the world as it was created by God. That original creation was pronounced “good,” it was a setting marked by “shalom,” the fulfillment that results from God’s presence. He is Emmanuel, God with us.  Human rebellion, sin, brought suffering and death into the world, and believers are not exempt. God isn’t surprised by suffering. Even there He is present and working, causing all things, even the hard things, to work together for our good, and for His glory (Romans 8:28). Sin is what made the incarnation necessary! How could God be just and justify sinners? He found a way, on Calvary. That is where God showed us His love (I Jn 4:9; Rom 5:8).
        In our passage (Isa 9:7) the prophet Isaiah speaks of an eternal kingdom brought about by God. It can be and will be an eternal kingdom and everlasting peace because the omnipotent king of the universe will accomplish it. Now remember Mark 13: “wars and rumors of wars” will characterize this age until Jesus returns.  But “shalom” is not merely the absence of conflict. We look forward to the day when fellowship and the presence of God will be restored fully. But even now we can experience peace:
“…The Lord is at hand [and so the presence of God, the fundamental requirement of “shalom”]  6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:5b-7). 
Have you had the experience of your child being frightened at night and running to your bedroom? They can climb into bed and fall fast asleep in about two seconds, because as long as mommy and daddy are there, there is no fear, no anxiety.  Here is the promise: The Lord is at hand.  Daddy is with you. You can rest. Shalom.
What is God saying to me in this passage? Living in the light of the first coming of Christ we who know Him have peace with God and the peace of God, even as we anticipate His second coming in glory.

What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Do you have peace with God, though faith in Christ? God’s favor, His grace, rests on you! In the midst of a chaotic world, the peace of God, which passes all understanding, can guard your heart and your mind in Christ Jesus. Our hope is sure, as surely as He came in the first advent, one day He will return and there will be peace on earth! AMEN.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Christmas Brought Hope! - I Corinthians 5:7b; Luke 2:8-11

Christmas Brought Hope!
I Corinthians 5:7b; Luke 2:8-11
Introduction: Waiting, hoping, watching… For four-hundred years the people clung to the words of the prophets, promising that God would send a Rescuer, a Deliverer, a Savior. Then, in the series of events that led to the birth of Jesus, the silence was broken and hope was realized. Christmas brought Hope!  The Word was made flesh and lived for a while among us! One of the most familiar scenes associated with the Christmas story is the angelic announcement to the shepherds in the Gospel of Luke. We read the story in Luke 2:8-11…
8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.  9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear.  10 And the angel said to them, "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people.  11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
Why did God send angels to a group of shepherds to announce the birth of the promised Messiah? The answer to that question is tied to the answer to a question we’ve been looking at all year in the Gospel of Mark: Why did He come?
The Maine* Idea: Christmas means hope for those who believe that Jesus came as their Savior, Sacrifice, and Substitute.
I. The Hope of the Ages: God promised faithful humans, those who trust Him and take Him at His word, that one day a Rescuer would come, Messiah, our Savior! As our starting point, I’d like to look at I Corinthians 5:7b…
“…for indeed Christ…”
       The context in I Corinthians 5, Paul is rebuking the church for their tolerance of sin in their midst. He uses the analogy of Passover and unleavened bread: As the leaven must be removed from their homes for the feast, so sin must be removed from our lives and from the church. It is essentially a call to holiness: Live in the light of your new life in Christ! The first part of I Corinthians 5:7 says, “Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened…” Cleanse out the old that you may be new, because that is what you really are! In other words, live in the light of your position in Christ. This is the indicative and the imperative of the Christian life that we have seen before. This is who you are, this is what you have in Christ, now live like it! It is our response in the light of what God has done for us in Christ. God offered humanity hope from the time of the Fall.
       In the context of the Fall, and God pronouncing judgment, we also see, amazingly, promise, hope.  We read in Genesis 3:15,  
I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.
That reference to a promised “Seed” who would crush the serpent’s head and rescue humans is carried through the Scriptures, like a “Scarlet Thread of Redemption.” God’s promise to Abraham included reference to a multitude of descendants, but as it was read by the NT writers, Genesis 22:17-18 also looked ahead to a specific One, to a promised “Seed” (singular)… 
17 I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring [seed] as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring [seed] shall possess the gate of his enemies, 18 and in your offspring [seed] shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice."
The Seed of Abraham!  That promise of a “seed” is reiterated to Isaac and to Jacob, and then we read in Genesis 49:10,  
"The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, Until Shiloh comes, And to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.
      Later David is told that He would have a son, a descendant, who would be the Son of God, and who would have an eternal kingdom (2 Samuel 7:12-16 ). Aspects of that promise were never realized by the merely human descendants of David. In fact, the story of the kings of Israel and Judah highlights the failure of the kings – even the best of them fell short in some way. But in the fulness of time God would send His own Son, born in the line of David, who would be an ideal Son, the promised Son toward which all those before alluded.
      The promise of a Rescuer, a Savior, carried through the Scriptures and offered hope to those who trusted in God through the ages. Though that hope got skewed for many, focusing on military or political deliverance from would-be oppressors, other images in the Scriptures could always point thoughtful seekers back to our greatest need, that is, deliverance from sin and the penalty of sin. The Kingship of Israel was always to represent and point to the Kingdom of God. But the Scriptures also used other images to show that God’s kingdom was not like that of the nations around them.
       The Suffering Servant of Isaiah, the rejected and suffering King of the Lament Psalms, and, as we’ll see, the sacrificial system itself, pointed back to the first promise of a deliverer, the Seed of the Woman promised in the context of the Fall, highlighting the problem of sin and the need for someone to rescue us from the righteous wrath of God. And so, in the fullness of time, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons!  Christmas means hope for those who believe that Jesus came as their Savior, Sacrifice, and Substitute. And so, Hope was realized and the Savior came, bringing…
II. The Hope of Redemption: Christ came as Savior, and as Sacrifice, the Lamb of God who would shed His blood to take away the sins of the world.
“…our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed…
       The text literally says, “…our Passover…” but the ESV rightly makes it clear that is referring to the Passover Lamb which is sacrificed for us. The necessity of blood being shed to redeem sinners carries through the Bible. Sometime after the first Passover, the principle would be stated in Leviticus 17:11,   
“For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.”
The requirement of blood is well established in Scripture, and, as in the first Passover, the principle predated the giving of the Law. Remember that first Passover the Jews were still in Egypt, and the Law had not yet been given on Mount Sinai! Even earlier we see the Patriarchs offering sacrifices to God, as did Noah after the flood. In fact, Abel offered God “…the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering…” (Gen 4:4).  It may be that God had already taught Adam and Eve, immediately after the Fall, that their sin required blood, a sacrifice, when, as we read in Genesis 3:21, that  
“…the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.”
Where did those “skins” come from? The implication seems to be that God Himself killed an animal to cover the nakedness of the fallen humans. The writer to the Hebrews restates the principle when he said in Hebrews 9:22, Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” In the very next chapter he also addressed this question in considerable detail, making it clear those sacrifices pointed ahead to something better, as we read in Hebrews 10:1-5…
For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near.  2 Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sin?  3 But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sin every year.  4 For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.  5 Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, "Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me…
       Why did Jesus come? Was the baby in the manger there to teach us about morality or to show us God’s love? Well, yes, but the principle reason He came was to deal with our sin problem by laying down his life, by sacrificing Himself, for our sins. Every son and daughter of Adam, since the Fall, has been born in sin. Spiritually dead, separated from God. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Jesus came to redeem us, to make it possible for us to be reconciled with God!
       And so, Christmas means hope for those who believe that Jesus came as their Savior, Sacrifice, and Substitute. He came as the promised Rescuer, the Savior, which he accomplished as the Lamb of God, the perfect and final sacrifice to which all other sacrifices pointed. And He did it for us, as our substitute, taking the wrath that we deserved.
III. The Hope of Reconciliation and New Life: He was our Substitute, bearing our sins, giving His life so that we could have new life.
“…for us…
       There is a small variation in the text here which explains a difference you see in the NKJV and the ESV. Some older Egyptian manuscripts don’t contain the little prepositional phrase “for us” at the end of the verse, whereas the majority text, which is mostly later, but consists of thousands of manuscripts, has it. Based on the evidence, I think it should be included, but it really doesn’t change anything either way. Since Christ is described as “our” Passover lamb, of course He would be sacrificed for us! What the NKJV makes explicit, is clearly implied in the ESV and other modern translations.  
       Think back to the first Passover. The lamb was slain, its blood put over the door and on the door posts. The blood meant life in that house. The firstborn would be spared, covered by the blood of the lamb. The lamb was essentially a substitute for the firstborn. Think back to the story of Abraham and Isaac recorded in Genesis 22. God had told Abraham to do the unthinkable, to take the son of his old age, the promised and beloved son, Isaac, up on Mount Moriah, and then to sacrifice him, to offer him as a burnt offering to the Lord!  As we read Genesis, we know the end of the story, and we can see that God was testing and building Abraham’s faith. But Abraham didn’t know that. We pick up the story in Genesis 22:5-8,   
5 Then Abraham said to his young men, "Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you."  6 And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together.  7 And Isaac said to his father Abraham, "My father!" And he said, "Here am I, my son." He said, "Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?"  8 Abraham said, "God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son." So they went both of them together.
It seems Abraham had faith when he told the young men that he and the boy would return to them, and when he told Isaac that “God will provide for himself the lamb.” The writer to the Hebrews says that Abraham believed, that if necessary, God was able to raise the promised son from the dead. Resurrection faith! But, God intervened. Abraham had bound his son, placed him on the wood, and raised the knife, ready to kill Isaac as God had commanded. But an Angel from God stopped him, and…
 Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son…” (Gen 22:13).
The ram was offered in place of Isaac. A substitute. 2000 years later, in that same place, another Son would be offered, as our substitute. You see, God did not stay the executioner’s hand as Jesus was being sacrificed. God Himself had provided the Lamb. He spared not the Son, but delivered Him up for us all. That idea of a substitute taking the punishment that we deserved is clearly implied in the sacrificial system. It is also spelled out explicitly by the prophet Isaiah. See, for example, Isaiah 53:4-6 where he says…
4 Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.  5 But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.  6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
That night on a Bethlehem hillside the angels announced to a group of humble shepherds, “Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people. Born to you this day n the city of David is a savior, Christ the Lord!Here they were, guarding sheep destined for sacrifice in the Temple. Those sacrifices were shadows and types, looking forward to the once-for-all sacrifice of the Lamb of God. It was as though the Angel was saying to the shepherds, “Why stay here guarding these sheep? Get down to Bethlehem and see the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” Hope was realized in the birth of Christ!

What is God saying to me in this passage? Christmas means hope for those who believe that Jesus came as their Savior, Sacrifice, and Substitute.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? It is a beautiful thing to begin our Advent series with a reminder of why He came. The babe in the manger came to be the Lamb of God, to rescue us from the wrath we each deserved by being our substitute, the sacrifice for our sins.  He lived a sinless life, He fulfilled all righteousness. When He began His public ministry at the age of 30 or so, He showed through His teaching and through the miracles that He did, His authority as the Son of God. And then, when the time came, when that final Passover was at hand, He laid down His life for His friends. Before He did, He shared a final Passover meal with His disciples, and He gave new significance to it. Some time before, on the Mount of Transfiguration, He had spoken about what was coming in Jerusalem with two men of God from the past, Moses and Elijah. Luke’s account tells us they spoke about His “departure” which He would accomplish in Jerusalem. That word “departure” is the word, “Exodus.” As God had led the people out of Egypt, set free after the first Passover, so Jesus would set free a people for himself by shedding His blood for us.
       And so, we share the Lord’s Table together, looking back to the Cross, remembering that our salvation is free because the price has already been paid. That is why He came. The gift is Christmas is the sure hope we have because of what He has done for us! Let’s remember that today, and worship Him.   AMEN.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

The Passover-King - Mark 14:1-2

The Passover-King
Mark 14:1-2 (Read 14:1-11)
Introduction: Black Friday is just past. The crowds, the sales, the excitement the bargains, gifts purchased to exchange on Christmas. The crowds may have been something like that Passover week in Jerusalem. Pilgrims arriving for the feast, guest rooms filling up, lambs being purchased for the sacrifice. In our context in Mark’s Gospel, the blackest of Fridays was approaching. The greatest transaction in the history of humankind was about to take place. The reason for the incarnation would soon be realized. As Isaiah the prophet had written 700 years earlier, “All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned everyone to his own way, and the Lord has laid on Him [on Jesus] the iniquity of us all…” (Isa 53:6).
       Jesus has been showing His authority throughout the Gospel of Mark… He had authority to heal, to forgive sins, to cast out demons, to calm the stormy sea. He even had authority over death. Now, amazingly, He would show that He had authority to lay down His own life, and to take it up again. He spoke as a prophet in the previous chapter, revealing the coming destruction of the Temple which would happen in A.D. 70, while also alluding to His own return in messianic glory at the end of the age. But the disciples did not yet understand that the time of His Kingdom on earth was yet future, and the time of His departure was approaching. Jesus would again show His authority as He guides the story toward its pre-determined conclusion, in His time, finishing the work He came to do. No one would take His life, but He would lay it down of His own accord.
       The Passion of Christ confronts us with some challenging theology, including the intersection of human responsibility with divine sovereignty. The leaders are culpable for their rejection of Jesus. They should have recognized their own messiah. But God had a plan, fashioned within the God-head in eternity past. It was necessary to accomplish the rescue of His people. Peter seemed to get it when, on Pentecost, he both rebuked his countrymen for their unbelief, and affirmed the sovereign hand of God behind the events…
22 “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know-  23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.  24 God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it…” (Acts 2:22-24).
The story of the passion of Christ is the culmination of Mark’s Gospel. Everything before, it has been said, was an extended introduction. The Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is “Gospel,” that is, “Good News,”  because Jesus accomplished what He came to do, doing for us what we could not do for ourselves, He paid a debt He didn’t owe, because we owed a debt we couldn’t pay.
Context: After looking ahead to coming tribulation, judgement, and the return of the King (Mark 13), Mark reminds us that this story will continue to unfold as planned: according to the predetermined purpose and foreknowledge of God.
The Maine* Idea: Jesus came as the Passover-King, the Lamb on the throne, who alone could shield us, by His blood, from the wrath we deserve.
I. The hour was approaching for the exaltation of the Son (14:1a).
It was now two days before the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to arrest him by stealth and kill him,  2 for they said, "Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar from the people."
     Let’s focus on the first part of verse one as we consider the revelation of Jesus as Sovereign: He is in control, guiding the story, to fulfill the Father’s plan. The leaders had been plotting the death of Christ since His ministry in Galilee. The triumphal entry, the crowds hailing Jesus in messianic language, the cleansing of the Temple, the repeated success of Jesus in repudiating the attempts of the leaders to trap Him with their questions… all of these things have added tension to the story, and pushed the leaders forward in their determination to put an end to Jesus. Even so, they had determined not to make a move on Christ during the feast. It would have been too public, too many people, too likely that it might result in a popular uprising against the leaders. Such a commotion would also draw the attention of the Roman authorities, which could turn out badly for the status quo which the leaders were enjoying. So, they thought it better to seize Him after the feast, to wait for a time when there would not be so much attention and potential for backlash.  
      But Jesus was in charge. He had revealed to His disciples that He would be handed over by the leaders to the gentiles, tortured and killed, and then be raised on the third day. They did not understand, and would not, until after the resurrection. But the timing was determined by the Father, not by the religious rulers. It had to unfold according to the plan of God, at time He had determined.
       Jesus came to fulfill the Scriptures, that is, the Law, the Prophets and the Writings that pointed to His death and resurrection. And it was Passover. The hour was approaching for the Lamb to be slain. After all, Jesus came as the Passover-King, the Lamb on the throne, who alone could shield us, by His blood, from the wrath we deserve. He is Lord, King, He also came…
     As Sacrifice: He came to shed His blood to save His own. Remember the questions Mark is answering as he writes his account of the life and work of Christ: 1) Who is Jesus; 2) Why did He come; and 3) What does it mean to follow Him? All three questions are further answered powerfully in this final section of Mark. He is the Son of God, the promised Deliverer, the Coming King. But He is not a King like the nations around them, the nations of the world. He is a Servant-King, a Passover-King, the Lamb on the throne. In God’s economy the crown and the cross cannot be separated. We see that picture in Revelation 5:6-12,   
6 And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.  7 And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne.  8 And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.  9 And they sang a new song, saying, "Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation,  10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth."  11 Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands,  12 saying with a loud voice, "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!"
The Lamb who was slain, who alone was worthy to open the seals, who by His blood ransomed a people from every tribe and nation, and who would reign in His kingdom on the earth, is Jesus. How do we get from a reference to Passover, to John’s vision of a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, next to the throne of Heaven?  
       By the first century, the feast of Passover and Unleavened bread had been merged into a week of celebration, remembrance and worship. Passover was the “defining feast” of Judaism, one of the “pilgrim-feasts” when those who were able would travel to the Temple in Jerusalem for sacrifice and worship. It celebrated the deliverance of the first-born from the angel of death, and the deliverance of the nation from Egyptian bondage. The tenth and final plague would bring death to the Egyptians, but the Jews were to kill a spotless lamb, and put it’s blood over the door and on the door posts of every home. We read in Exodus 12:11-14,  
…It is the LORD's Passover.  12 For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD.  13 The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt.  14 "This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast.
And God did as He promised. The Angel of Death passed over those homes that were marked with the blood. Death came to every home of the Egyptians. The Jews were told to celebrate that day every year, as a reminder of what God had done. As clear as that instruction was, it seems that after the time of Joshua, the nation fell away from celebrating the Passover. We read in 2 Kings 23:21-23,
21 And the king commanded all the people, “Keep the Passover to the LORD your God, as it is written in this Book of the Covenant.”  22 For no such Passover had been kept since the days of the judges who judged Israel, or during all the days of the kings of Israel or of the kings of Judah. 23 But in the eighteenth year of King Josiah this Passover was kept to the LORD in Jerusalem.
This Passover in Mark 14:1, 600 years or so after the time of Josiah, the Feast would be fulfilled in the Sacrifice of the Lamb. Jesus would be slain at the hour of the Passover sacrifice. As the blood of maybe a quarter of a million lambs was being shed in Jerusalem for the feast, the blood the Lamb of God, who would take away the sin of the world, was being poured out. He willingly laid down his life for us. This is the heart of the Gospel message! Greater love has no man than this: that he lay down his life for his friends. He is sovereign and sacrifice, the Lamb and the King. And so, the apostle Paul could write to the Corinthians that, “…Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed for us…” (I Cor 5:7).  Jesus came as the Passover-King, the Lamb on the throne, who alone could shield us, by His blood, from the wrath we deserve.
II. The hour was at hand for the leaders to be exposed (14:1b-2).
It was now two days before the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to arrest him by stealth and kill him,  2 for they said, "Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar from the people."
      We see the leaders exposed as scheming, murderous conspirators, ironically, plotting the death of their own Messiah! There is tremendous irony in the unfolding story of Jesus at this section of the Gospel. The leaders plot against Jesus, planning to put Him to death, yet also scheming to avoid any backlash from the people or from the Romans. Even as they reject Him, they fulfill their own Scriptures, adding one more line of evidence that proves that Jesus is in fact the promised Messiah!
       In addition to the Scriptures, they are also fulfilling the prophesies that Jesus himself had made to the disciples on the journey to Jerusalem, showing His omniscience and authority. Three times He told them what would happen…
31 And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again… (Mk 8:31).
30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he did not want anyone to know,  31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, "The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise…" (Mk 9:30-31).
32 And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him,  33 saying, "See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles.  34 And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise…" (Mk 10:32-24).
And then Jesus says more about why He came, why His story had to unfold in this manner: “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many..." (Mark 10:45). Paying a ransom implies delivering someone from captivity, setting them free. This is why He came. The scheme of the leaders, unknowingly, carried out the plan that God had established. Recall that their plans had begun forming almost as soon as the public ministry in Galilee had begun. After Jesus had healed one man on the Sabbath we read in Mark 3:6,  
The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.
Sabbath controversies, calling out the Pharisees for elevating the traditions of the Fathers on a par with Scripture, paved the way. Jesus’ actions since His arrival in Jerusalem did nothing to assuage their determination to kill Him! When Jesus disrupted the commerce in the Temple, casting out the money-changers and overturning the tables of those selling pigeons, we read in Mark 11:18,   
And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching.
      Their minds were made up. The leaders are exposed as scheming, and also as scared, fearful of rejection by the people, and of oppression by Rome. The leaders were fearful, they were afraid of losing their power and prestige.  We get a little glimpse into the deliberation of the Sanhedrin in John 11:48,  
If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”
And so, their scheming against Jesus exposed their hearts. Back in chapter 7 of Mark, Jesus had spoken of the things that defile, the evil that comes from the depths of the fallen human heart…
20 And he said, "What comes out of a person is what defiles him.  21 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery,  22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.  23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person..." (Mk 7:20-23).
The wickedness in the hearts of the rulers was revealed by their deceitful scheming against Jesus. In the words of the Apostle Peter, speaking on the day of Pentecost, they essentially nailed Him to the cross, by the hands of godless men (Acts 2:22,23). Yet we see further on in that same passage that “God has made Him both Lord and Christ…” (Acts 2:36). They were culpable, but it was God’s plan. He did it for us. That blackest of Fridays purchased for us the Gift of Christmas.
What is God saying to me in this passage? Jesus came as the Passover-King, the Lamb on the throne, who alone could shield us, by His blood, from the wrath we deserve.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Black Friday is past, some of you got bargains... good for you! But let’s remember, this Christmas season, the blackest of Fridays, we also call it Good Friday, when the true gift of Christmas was purchased… life and redemption, reconciliation with God… for all who believe. Jesus is the Son of God, God the Son, the promised Messiah. He came to redeem us, paying the price for our sins. Christ, our Passover, has been sacrificed for us, delivering us from wrath and for worship… to God be the glory!
       What does it mean to follow Him? Mark wants would-be disciples to know that they need to count the cost. As the world is at enmity with God, under the influence of the prince of darkness, spiritually dead, that same hatred will be directed toward followers of Jesus as well. The Bible says, “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted…” (2 Tim 3:11). The disciples would experience it. The church in Rome to which Mark is writing understood it… believers in many parts of the world are experiencing it still today. And some day, in some way, so will you if you determine to follow Jesus.
       Advent season is a great opportunity to ask a question about the reason for the day and turn conversations toward spiritual things. Maybe there is someone you can invite to Journey to Bethlehem tonight, it is a perfect opportunity to share with someone who needs to hear the good news! You could also invite them to one of the Sunday services this month. We’ll seek each week to connect the message of Christmas with a word about why He came.  As we interact with our families and friends let’s seek this month to lift up the name of Jesus and even to speak of the gift that He purchased and holds forth to humanity: The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord… AMEN!

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Stay Awake! - Mark 13:32-37

Stay Awake!
Mark 13:32-37
Introduction: I know that no one has ever fallen asleep in church, but did you ever fall asleep at an embarrassing or inappropriate time (Acts 20:9)? As I thought about that, one biblical story came quickly to mind from the Book of Acts…
7 On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight.  8 There were many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered.  9 And a young man named Eutychus, sitting at the window, sank into a deep sleep as Paul talked still longer. And being overcome by sleep, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead.  10 But Paul went down and bent over him, and taking him in his arms, said, "Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him."  11 And when Paul had gone up and had broken bread and eaten, he conversed with them a long while, until daybreak, and so departed.  12 And they took the youth away alive, and were not a little comforted… (Acts 20:7-12).
Actually when I was a youth pastor about 30 years ago, I was asked to preach at the Easter sunrise service… and one of the teens in my youth group… I think it might have been the son of the senior pastor, started wobbling about midway through the message, and then fell forward and banged his head on the pew! Most cases, if someone falls asleep it is somewhat more subtle (and less noticeable!). We don’t have a balcony to fall from, but still I would urge you to stay awake! (I can assure you I won’t be preaching until midnight!). As Jesus concludes this discourse on the Mount of Olives He urges His hearers, and us, to “stay awake!
Context: In this chapter to Mark, in response to a question from His disciples, Jesus prophesied the coming destruction of Jerusalem, and also looked ahead to His return and the end of the age. We saw that we should stay faithful, because life will get hard but Jesus is coming! It’s the assurance of God’s presence and the certainty of victory that enables us to endure both the trials of life and the attacks of the enemy. We learned that we can be assured that God is in control and that His Word will guide us through difficult times, with the sure hope that Jesus is coming soon to gather His people! That brings us to today’s passage and…
The Maine* Idea: The imminent return of Christ means that every believer needs to serve faithfully and stay alert until He comes.

I. A Trustworthy Word: God’s Word is sure, and He has intentionally not revealed the time of the return of Christ (31-32). Let’s read v.31 and 32 together,
31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.  32 "But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 
      What God has revealed will come to pass (31). The first point to start with here was the last verse we covered two weeks ago, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” There are two sides to that statement, the first being that this present world, creation as we know it, will not continue forever in its present state. As Peter writes in his second epistle, we are
waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn!  13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells… (2 Peter 3:12-13).
This world has a limited “life span,” and we are looking for something better, creation as it was meant to be, where we’ll experience life, the way it should be, in His presence.  Free, at last, from the effects of the Fall. By the way, as Peter makes that statement, he says this period of “delay” is to allow the message to go out, because of the patience of God and His unwillingness that any should perish. In the light of His impending return and the coming judgment, we should live our lives, pursuing holiness (v.11,14). Jesus will return and judge the world in righteousness. How then must we live?
       In contrast to heavens and earth, which will pass away, God’s word will never pass away. That is the point He is making. His Word is truth, and His truth is eternal. The God who is, the great I AM, has spoken. We have His word in the collection of books we call the Bible, the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. He makes it clear in His Word that as surely as He came to this world 2000 years ago, born as a baby in Bethlehem, as surely as He died and was buried, rose from the dead, and ascended into Heaven, Jesus, this same Jesus, is coming again. Former president of Moody Bible Institute, George Sweeting, said…
More than a fourth of the Bible is predictive prophecy. Approximately one-third of it has yet to be fulfilled. Both the Old and the New Testaments are full of promises of the return of Jesus Christ. Over 1,800 references appear in the Old Testament, and seventeen Old Testament books give prominence to this theme. Of the 260 chapters in the New Testament, there are more than 300 references to the Lord’s return—one out of every thirty verses. Twenty three of the twenty seven New Testament books refer to this great event. Three of the four other books are single chapter letters written to individuals concerning a particular subject, and the fourth is Galatians, which does imply Christ’s coming again. For every prophecy on the first coming of Christ, there are eight on the second coming…
Now I have to admit that I haven’t verified Sweetings statistics, but we have to agree that God has spoken, and He has spoken often and clearly about the promise of the Lord’s return! In our passage Jesus says “heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away…” Jesus will return!
       What God has not revealed, is not for us to know (32; cf. Dt 29:29).  But He says in Mark 13:32, “…concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” No one knows when. Not the angels. Not even the Son as He spoke of the perspective of His humanity. Only the Father. Moses wrote in Deuteronomy 29:29, "The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever…” That is pretty clear, is it not? Why then have we seen throughout the history of the church repeated attempts to calculate or predict the hour of His coming? When we started this chapter a month and a half ago, I mentioned Acts 1:6, after the resurrection, when the disciples asked Jesus, “Lord, will you at this time restore the Kingdom to Israel?” Jesus replied, “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons the Father has set by His own authority…
       God has chosen not to tell us when. Why? I believe it is clear enough, the prospect of His return should motivate us to live differently, to pursue holiness, to stay engaged in the mission He has entrusted to us, knowing that the time could be short.  Because we don’t know when, we need to redeem the time (and stay laser-focused). Plan ahead, of course, as though He may not return for 100 years. But live as though it could be today. That is the Maine* Idea in this passage: The imminent return of Christ means that every believer needs to serve faithfully and stay alert until He comes. And so we see a I. Trustworthy Word, and also a…
II. A Timely Mission: Because we don’t know the time, we must stay watchful, engaged in the mission He has given us (33-34; Acts 1:8-11).
33 Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come.  34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. 
       Because we don’t know the day of His appearing, we need to stay alert, watching for His coming. How often do you think about the return of Christ? (Your answer to that question might depend on how things are going in your life at the moment!). The expectation of His return, and the realization that it could be soon, will have an impact on how we live, and on our priorities.
       Jesus uses a short parable to lay out this idea of living in expectation and watchfulness. He says it is like a man going on a journey, putting His servants in charge. That is a good illustration of what Christ has done, is it not? Jesus is the man who has gone on a journey and left His servants in charge, each one with his work. He is of course, in a real sense, still present, in charge, and building His church. But since the ascension, in another sense, He has been away (at least bodily). And He left His disciples, and by extension, us, in charge. Think about the disciples in Mark. Slow to understand, self-centered, fearful… and then take a look in the mirror! Despite our weaknesses and failings, God has chosen to work in us and through us to carry out His mission in the world. That is why we are here. That is what the Great Commission is about, we are here on assignment. This is essentially the point in Acts 1:6-11…
6 So when they had come together, they asked him, "Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?"  7 He said to them, "It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.  8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth."  9 And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.  10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes,  11 and said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven."
Jesus will return, but for now, at this time, the instruction was to wait for the pouring out of the Spirit, and then, to focus on the mission that He had given.
      An interesting detail here, the master, as he put his servants in charge, it was to be “…each with his own work…” (v.34). I don’t want to read too much into the details of a parable like this, but that language made me think of our common mission, but also of the diversity of gifts the Lord has given to the church. We read for example in 1 Corinthians 12:4-7,  
4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit;  5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord;  6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.  7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
A few years back we had a Sunday School series called Team Ministry. We’ve also talked about that same idea using the acrostic developed by another pastor/writer called “S.H.A.P.E.” The idea was that God has uniquely “shaped” each of us, our Spiritual gifts, our “Heart’s desire, our Abilities, Personality, and Experiences, have all been providentially and sovereignly guided by God to mold us into the person we are, for the good of the church and for the glory of God. We all have a part in the common mission, but we are each unique, the workmanship of God. The Bible teaches the unity of the church, but also the diversity of gifts, which work together under the headship of Christ to build each other up so that we can more effectively carry out the mission He has entrusted to us.
       That fits with the Maine* Idea we’ve been talking about: The imminent return of Christ means that every believer needs to serve faithfully and stay alert until He comes. We have a trustworthy word, and a timely mission, motivated by…
III. A Blessed Hope: The uncertainty of the time of His return motivates believers in every age to live with hope and expectancy (35-37).
35 Therefore stay awake- for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the cock crows, or in the morning-  36 lest he come suddenly and find you asleep.  37 And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake."
       We see the practical implications of the doctrine of imminence, the expectation of the Lord’s return – the “blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” And so, we live in hope, expecting the Lord, looking for His return, faithfully using our gifts to encourage and build each other up, seriously seeking to be a witness where He has sovereignly and strategically placed us. The word “hope” does not appear in this verse, but the idea permeates this entire chapter. By “hope” I don’t mean to imply that there is any doubt about Christ’s return or that we are to “wish” for it without any reasonable basis for that expectation. New Testament “hope” means to anticipate His coming with a confident expectation, it is a sure hope. Where is that hope from? Is it rational?
      The fulfillment of the near-term prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem in this context, which occurred in AD 70, gave the early church one more basis for knowing that He will keep as surely the promise of His return. Of course, long before that event, just a few days from when Christ spoke these words, His resurrection, which He had predicted at least three times on the way to Jerusalem, would give a firm foundation to believe!
       The call to “stay awake” implies expectation, hopefulness, looking and longing for His coming. This week I read the story of a Scottish fishing village that illustrates this idea of watchfulness…
After days at sea, the skipper of a fishing boat was bring his craft back home. As the boat neared the shore, the men gazed eagerly toward the dock, where a group of their loved ones were waiting. The skipper, looking through his glass, identified some of the women, saying, “I see Bill’s Mary, and there is Tom’s Margaret, and David’s Anne.” One man was very anxious because his wife was not there. He left the boat with a heavy heart and pressed his steps up the hill, where he saw a light in his cottage. As he opened the door, his wife ran to meet him, saying, “I have been waiting for you!” He replied… “Yes, but the other men’s wives were watching for them!”
Watchfulness. Expectation. Anticipation. He will return! Jesus is coming again! Does that truth add a sense of urgency to your life? We are called to be His witnesses, and we are a witness by the way, for better or for worse! Let’s choose to embrace our calling, to pray, urgently, for those in our sphere of influence, to seize opportunities to tell them the truth, holding forth the Word of Life.
       Can you remember your engagement? The wedding date was set, invitations sent, plans made for a honeymoon vacation after the celebration. Maybe even some premarital counselling where you talk through your plans for your life together. Let me ask: during your engagement, how often did you think ahead to your wedding day? Once a month? A couple of times a week? Every day? How often do you think about the Lord’s return? Do you pray for it? Or, quite honestly, do you feel like it might interfere with some of the things that you would like to do or see before that day? We have a wedding day to look forward to! The bridegroom is returning. The church is described as the bride of Christ. The marriage supper of the Lamb will include us!  Do you look forward to His coming? Expectantly? I think we need to keep this doctrine before ourselves!
What is God saying to me in this passage? The Maine* idea we’ve been looking at is simply this: The imminent return of Christ means that every believer needs to serve faithfully and stay alert until He comes.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? I doubt that most of you, on a typical Sunday, would fall asleep in church! (Though if the preacher went until midnight, all bets are off!). Even so, and I know it is true in my own spiritual life, we can easily begin “drifting off,” losing the alertness, our laser-focus, the “watchfulness” that we are called to have as believers. Not standing around looking upward, but faithfully engaged in the mission He has entrusted to us! Are we living with the expectation that Jesus will return?
       If we get the doctrine of the return of Christ, the imminence of His coming, into our heads and hearts, we will have all the motivation we need to live with expectancy, and with urgency, as we consider the people God has in our lives, and the opportunity we have to be His witnesses. Stay awake! Stay faithful!  Amen.