Sunday, December 29, 2013

Jesus is the Reason for Every Season: Acts 1:1-5

Acts 1:1-5
Introduction: This week I saw a couple of Christmas classics: “A Christmas Story,” (the one where Ralphie get his Red Rider BB gun for Christmas) and “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” There were sequels to both of those, and they just didn’t live up to the original!   As we’ve been focusing on Advent for the last month, and the coming and purpose of the incarnation of Christ, this seemed like a good time to start our series on the Book of Acts, which is the “sequel,” or maybe better, a continuation, of the story we have in the Gospels.  
Have you ever read a book or watched a movie in which the sequel was as good as or better than the original? 
In my experience it’s often difficult to measure up. I remember reading the Chronicles of Narnia series to my daughter when she was small, and I loved The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, but the subsequent volumes for me weren’t quite as good, especially when it came to the Christian imagery. The first Matrix movie was a classic, for me it is still one of my all time favorite films, I even used a couple of clips from it as illustrations in my theology classes in Brazil. That was the first one, but the sequels went off track. As we’ve focused on the incarnation of the Son of God, we’ve reflected the fact of his coming, and also on why He came: to give His life as a ransom for many.  Christmas is all about Jesus, and it’s all about the Gospel.  When we come to the Book of Acts, we have a divinely inspired “sequel” to the story of Jesus in the Gospels, and in this case the sequel will not disappoint.  The main idea of Acts is: Jesus continues to work through His Spirit empowered followers to build his church.  We will see in Acts that He is the Lord of History, that “History” really is His – Story. And so Jesus is the reason for every season: It’s all about Him!  That brings us to the big idea I’d like to focus on in the opening verses of this book…
The Big Idea: Jesus is alive and has chosen us and sent the Spirit to empower us to carry out his mission.
I. Jesus is alive and is building His church: Acts is the continuing story of the works and words of Jesus (Acts 1:1-2a). The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began both to do and to teach,  2 until the day when He was taken up to heaven…”
 Acts begins with the writer referring to “the first account” he had written. There is no question when we compare the opening of the Gospel of Luke to the opening of Acts that these books are two volumes of a continuing story written by the same author.  
Luke 1:1-4
Acts 1:1-5
Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us,  2 just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us,  3 it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus,  4 that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.”
“In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach,  2 until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.  3 To them he presented himself alive after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.  4 And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, ‘you heard from me...’"

The writer even addresses both books to the same person, “Most excellent Theophilus” (Lk 1:3; Acts 1:1). He was probably a person of importance, his name literally meant “Lover of God.”  (or perhaps, “Beloved of God”).  It may be that he was a relatively new believer who Luke was trying to encourage and instruct more thoroughly in the faith.  The story began in the Gospel of Luke.  It related what Jesus did and taught. Even though we have the ascension of Jesus in Acts 1, we’ll see that the writer wants us to understand something essential: it is not the apostles who are “building the church” in the book of Acts.  Jesus is not physically present in most of the story of Acts, as He is not physically walking among us today, but even so, He is working in and through his followers to accomplish his plan.
 The term “began” implies that the story that began in the Gospel continues in Acts. The baby who was born in a stable in Bethlehem and raised by Mary and Joseph, who grew into a teacher and miracle worker, who claimed to be the Messiah, God incarnate, who was rejected by his own, crucified by Pontius Pilate, buried, and who rose again, this same Jesus would continue to work in the Book of Acts.  And friends, we need to understand that He was at work then and He is working now!  
 Notice, by the way, that there is an order implied, Jesus did and Jesus taught. H.A. Ironside said, “Doing should always come before teaching.” Said differently, our walk lays a foundation and earns a hearing for our talk.  Jesus lived the Gospel and He proclaimed the Gospel. If people see a difference in our lives because of Jesus they will be far more likely to be willing to listen to our testimony. This is why consistency in our everyday living is so important. We know we are not perfect, but the difference that God has made and is making in us should be something that the world around us can see. How can we show Christ to those in our sphere of influence?
  Our attitude should be a proper humility that seeks to point away for ourselves, and seeks to lift up Jesus.  Who, after all, is the head of this church?  It’s not the pastor, not the elders, not even the congregation. It’s Jesus.  He said “Go, and build my church!” right?  No, He said, “I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.” Jesus is the Reason for the church.  He is alive and has chosen us to be on His team, and He sent the Spirit to empower us to carry out his mission.
II. Jesus chose to use ordinary people to carry out His extraordinary mission: He chose a team to carry on his mission, and He has included us (2b,c)! “…after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen…”
 Something amazing here: even before the ascension of Christ and before the pouring out of the Spirit on Pentecost, the Spirit was involved in Jesus teaching his followers. He taught them himself while He was with them, then ascended, and ten days later poured out the Spirit to baptize and fill and seal and empower his followers. But already in v.2, we see Jesus working through the Spirit, “By the Holy Spirit…” He gave orders to the apostles.  One commentator called this verse “the theological keynote” to the Book of Acts. We will see that from Luke’s perspective, this age is truly the age of the Spirit.  Paul would use the imagery of the Temple to describe the presence of the Spirit in the church:
1 Corinthians 3:16-17  16 Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?  17 If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are.
1 Corinthians 6:19   19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?
2 Corinthians 6:16   Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, "I WILL DWELL IN THEM AND WALK AMONG THEM; AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE.  
Ephesians 2:19 - 22  19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household,  20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord,  22 in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit. 
The imagery emphasizes the presence of the Holy Spirit in the new entity that is the church.
 Notice that Jesus gave orders to “…the apostles…” This term was well known in the first century. The Hebrew language had a parallel word, Shaliach, which connoted someone sent with a mission as the authorized representative of the person who sent Him.  He had the authority to speak for the Sender, their word was his word.  Among Greek speaking Jews the parallel term was apostolos, or “apostle.” As we get into Acts we’ll see that it is essential to understand the unique role of the apostles of Jesus had as He was building His church. They were sent as the representatives of Christ. He gave them orders, and sent them out. So He spoke His word through them and did miracles by their hand that proved their authority (Acts 14:3).  These men had a unique, foundational role in the early church, through them or under their authority the New Testament documents were written.  Once that foundation was laid there was no longer need for the office (Eph 2:20). Therefore I will argue that there are no apostles in the biblical sense in the church today. But let me say this: There is a sense in which we also are sent, with a message from God, to a world that desperately needs to hear. In a sense we represent Him to those around us.
  Notice also that they were “the apostles whom He had chosen.”  We sometimes forget about who these men were. Most were not educated scholars of the Scriptures.  They were common people, fishermen, a tax collector, some people of questionable repute. One who would later be converted, Saul of Tarsus, was a trained Rabbi, but even he stood by as Stephen was killed and helped organize the persecution of the early church. God used ordinary people, He chose them, to be part of His extraordinary program. I am reminded of Paul’s words to the Corinthians,
26 For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble;  27 but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong,  28 and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are,  29 so that no man may boast before God.  30 But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption,  31 so that, just as it is written, "LET HIM WHO BOASTS, BOAST IN THE LORD." (I Cor 1:26-31).
And listen, if you know Christ as your Savior, He chose you as well. How do you feel about that? You were chosen by God, from before the foundation of the world, to be a part of His team. He knew the truth about you: where you would be weak, the ways that you would fail, the areas in which you would struggle, and He still loved you and chose you. And He sent the Spirit to indwell you. If you will yield to Him, He will use you.  That is grace!   Jesus is alive and has chosen us and sent the Spirit to empower us to carry out his mission.

III. Our faith is based on historical facts (1:3): The disciples had a historically based faith – for 40 days after the resurrection Jesus appeared to them and taught. Hermann Bavinck’s theology in English translation is entitled: “Our Reasonable Faith.”  And our faith is rational. For one thing, we have eyewitness testimony! To these He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God.”
 Remember the introduction to the Gospel of Luke (Luke 1:1-4). Luke is claiming to have carefully researched the evidence and written an orderly, historical account.  This historical statement in Acts affirms beyond question the truth of the bodily resurrection of Jesus. After His  passion He presented himself alive, not in a dream or an idea, but by physically appearing to them over a period of 40 days by “many convincing proofs.”  This is what John meant at the beginning of his first letter when he said, “…What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life--  2 and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us--  3 what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also…” (I John 1:1-2).  This is what Paul meant when he wrote I Corinthians 15, the resurrection is an historical fact that in his day could be investigated and validated by scores of eyewitnesses. 
            We have one summarizing idea of what Jesus taught the disciples during that period: “…things concerning the kingdom of God…” We’ve seen in our study of the Bible that the kingdom of God something that will be manifest in a future earthly kingdom when Jesus comes again (by the way, you are invited to join us for a reading of the Book of Revelation on Tuesday evening this week!).  The Kingdom is something that is also a present reality, at least in a preliminary sense, as Paul said in Colossians 1:13-14,  “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son,  14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Jesus is alive and has chosen us and sent the Spirit to empower us to carry out his mission.

IV. We cannot do His work in our power (1:4,5): They were ordered to wait for the promise: baptism in the Holy Spirit. Gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, "Which," He said, "you heard of from Me;  5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now."
First, He gathered them and commanded them.  This was no suggestion.  It was not an option. The word in fact is almost always used in the Bible of God’s commandments to His people.  They were to stay and Jerusalem, and to wait.  After all that had happened, why was it necessary and important for the disciples to wait in Jerusalem? What were they to wait for? We’ll see as the story unfolds, it is not “what” they are waiting for, but “who.” The promise is the coming of the Holy Spirit. The Comforter who Jesus had spoken of in the upper room and who had been spoken of by the prophets, would be poured out in a few days days, taking up residence in the church in a new way. This is what characterizes the New Testament Church: the presence of the Spirit, in us, working through us, using us for the glory of God.
             But why the period waiting? We’ll see that the disciples needed time to absorb what this transition would mean.  Ten days would be a time of prayer and contemplation. An opportunity to consider the immensity of the task before them and the impossibility of carrying it out in their own strength. Building the church is God’s work. Our part is to be available, to be obedient, to yield to the Holy Spirit. He gives gifts.  He gives power to serve Him. He works through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.
What is God saying to me in this passage? Jesus is alive and has chosen us and sent the Spirit to empower us to carry out his mission.

What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Is the work of Christ through the Spirit as important in your life and in our church as it was to these disciples? It’s not our programs or planning that will bring the increase. It’s not our clever preparation and presentation that convert sinners. It’s all about Jesus. He will build His church.  Amazingly, He sent His Spirit to indwell His followers, and He has supernaturally gifted every one of us to have a part in His program.  How does the idea of being chosen by God to be a part of His team impact your availability? Are you willing to serve Him? How are we doing as a church? We have a very talented team of worship leaders who seek to lead us into His presence as we come together and celebrate Jesus each week. But the Holy Spirit doesn’t stay behind and wait for us to come back next week. He goes with us as we return to our homes after church, He is there when we go to work or to school on Monday morning, and as we rub shoulders with our communities throughout the week. Are we seeking Him? Acknowledging His presence? Yielded to Him and available? The same Spirit that was poured out on Pentecost and empowered the disciples in the Book of Acts, is here right now, and will go with us as we go out into the world and engage our community. Will you yield to His presence and obey His call to be the witness for Jesus that He intends you to be?  Think about that.  AMEN.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Advent of Love: I John 4:9-11

The Advent of Love
I John 4:9-11
Introduction:  We’ve taken a look at Advent this year from the perspective of the themes of Hope, Peace, and Joy. Now this week, we consider “The Advent of Love.”  “I love Christmas,” many will say, “Especially the parties and presents!” That is not what we have in mind. Love for our families is certainly something we should cherish, but even that is not the most fundamental connection between love and Advent. It’s a revelation of God’s love. I’ve actually heard people say, “Why do you people have to ruin Christmas by making it religious?” That kind of thinking is what is behind the “Happy Holidays” greetings that have displaced Christmas for many. We are not making it religious, other than affirming that we are celebrating the historical fact of the Incarnation of Christ, and celebrating what that means to us. Today we’ll consider the Advent of Love in the Christmas story. It is not primarily about our love for God (though that should be our response), but rather God’s revelation of His love for us in sending his Son.  There are a lot of Scriptures we could turn to consider “The Advent of Love.” Matthew and Luke are the two gospels that give us the most detail about the circumstances leading up to the birth of Jesus. John’s Gospel starts in eternity past but really emphasizes the revelation of God’s love in the incarnation. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…” It’s John that tells us so explicitly why He came, “For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son...”  As I considered this theme I decided to start with John, but rather than in His gospel, in his first epistle. I counted 15 times in five chapters that John uses the word “love” in this little letter. 4:9 is a favorite of mine as it is a verse that we memorized as a family doing our devotional advent readings together through the years: “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.”
The Big Idea: “Christmas” is how God showed His love among us. Will it be a time when we show our love for Him and for one another?

I. God has revealed his love to humans “In this the love of God was made manifest among us…” (v.9). The omnipotent Creator of the Universe, the One who is all powerful, all knowing, so Holy that He is of purer eyes than to look upon iniquity, is a loving God. Immediately before our passage, in I John 4:7,8, we read Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  8 He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” Not only is love, in its purest sense, an intrinsic aspect of the nature of God, v.9 tells that God “…made manifest…” or revealed His love. He has chosen to reveal that love to humans.
             Karl Barth, a famous and very influential German theologian, said that the most profound theological truth he learned in a lifetime of study was, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so…” God loves us, and God revealed that love so that we could see it and understand it.  God involved himself in human history – this is counter the view of “deism” that pictures the universe as a giant machine that God set in motion, but in which He does not involve himself today.  The truth is that God has revealed himself to us in history, and through His Word.
            In our passage, I John 4:9 is telling us that Christmas manifests the love of God.  The verse before says “God is love.” What does that mean? What does that look like?  It looks like a manger in Bethlehem, a baby wrapped in rags, no room, no comforts, even later in life “nowhere to lay his head.”  Ultimately, it looks like a cross on a hill, nail pierced hands.  “In this the love of God was made manifest among us…” He could have sent a letter (and He did), He could have come for a visit and taught us the truth (and He did), He spoke to us and lived for a while among us, but he went much further, He did the unimaginable.  Christmas is how God showed His love among us: He sent His Son to give us life. Will it be a time when we show our love for him and for one another?

II. God revealed his love to humans by sending His Son into this sin cursed world “…that God sent his only Son into the world…” God sent his Son to die for us—“…that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world…”
             This is what manifested [revealed, showed forth…] God’s love.  Remember Abraham and Isaac in Genesis 22… “Now I know you fear God…” His action demonstrated his heart. Words are easy, actions speak louder than words. Husbands, love you wives. Its more than just “saying” “I love you” now and then.  Do you give her time, are you willing to listen, do you desire her good even before your own?  Christians, Jesus said, more than once, “love one another.” You might think, I love everyone, I just want nothing to do with most of them! If faith without works is dead being by itself, love without works is not biblical love.
  God showed us his love. He concerned himself with us. He sent His Son, to die for us. Paul says, “…He spared not his own Son, but delivered Him up for us all…”
             God visited us. Remember in Matthew’s account Joseph was reminded of the words of Isaiah, “You shall call his name Emmanuel.” Which means, “God with us.” Paul said in Philippians 2, “Though he existed in the form of God, he did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, and being made in the likeness of man.”
             Think of that: God the Son came to die for us. This is the profound truth expressed in the most famous verse of scripture, John 3:16 "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Romans 5:8 makes it clear that God’s love is not earned or deserved: But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Soren Kierkegaard, the famous Danish theologian told this story:
A prince wanted to find a maiden suitable to be his queen. One day while running an errand in the local village for his father he passed through a poor section. As he glanced out the windows of the carriage his eyes fell upon a beautiful peasant maiden. During the ensuing days he often passed by the young lady and soon fell in love. But he had a problem. How would he seek her hand?  He could order her to marry him. But even a prince wants his bride to marry him freely and voluntarily and not through coercion. He could put on his most splendid uniform and drive up to her front door in a carriage drawn by six horses. But if he did this he would never be certain that the maiden loved him or was simply overwhelmed with all of the splendor. 
       The prince came up with another solution. He would give up his kingly robe. He moved, into the village, entering not with a crown but in the garb of a peasant. He lived among the people, shared their interests and concerns, and talked their language. In time the maiden grew to love him for who he was and because he had first loved her.

That is the story of Christmas, “the Word was made flesh and lived for a while among us…” His life, and His death, revealed God’s love and accomplished salvation for all who would believe.  Christmas is how God showed His love among us: He sent His Son to give us life.

III. God revealed His live to humans by sending His Son into this sin cursed world to die so that we could have life  “…so that we might live through him.  10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”   God loved us so much, that he sent His Son to die for us so that we could live—“…that we might live through Him…” Obviously John is talking about more than mere biological life. He is talking about eternal life, life with meaning, the abundant life of blessing and purpose that God created us for. Most importantly, a life in relationship with our Creator.
              We read in John 10:10-11 "The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly11 "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.”
             Jesus is talking about more than his desire that we have biological life, that our heart keeps beating our brain waves functioning normally. He is talking about more than the idea that we’ll live a long time, or even forever. He is referring to a quality of life that goes beyond the momentary flicker that is this world. He is talking about the abundant life of blessing, life with meaning in fellowship with our Creator and redeemer. He is talking about the life that we were created to enjoy. Jesus came, and demonstrated God’s love, by laying down his life so that we could have that kind of life.
             The word “propitiation” is related to the word translated “mercy seat” in the Greek translation of the Old Testament (called the Septuagint [LXX]) and in Hebrews 9:5, Above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat...” [hilasterion]. The word translated atonement here in I John 4:10 occurs only one other time in the New Testament, also in 1 John, in I John 2:2. In the LXX, such as in Ezekiel 44:27, it is used to describe the “sin offering.” John is saying that God showed His love by sending His Son to be the one and only sin offering for us, the perfect sacrifice which all other sacrifices prefigured and anticipated. Christmas is how God showed His love among us: He sent His Son to give us life.

IV. “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (v.11). “Love is the only fire hot enough to melt the iron obstinacy of a creature’s will” (Alexander MacLaren). As we celebrate the demonstration of God’s Love, in the Gift of Christmas, will you allow His Spirit, to melt your heart with the truth of His amazing grace? Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us, that we should be called the children of God—and such we are (I John 3:1)!  I found this story online this week that illustrates the idea (excuse the poor form of posting a “quote within a quote”):
As disciples of Jesus, we are to become by the Holy Spirit like our Master as He Himself tells us in Matthew 10:25, “It is enough for the student to be like His Teacher, and the servant like His master.” By the power of the Holy Spirit working in us, may we this Advent become more like Jesus who does not “judge by outward appearances, but looks upon the heart.”  This truth is no more evident than in our relationships with non- believers that the Holy Spirit often give us as divine appointments for leading someone to Jesus, and H. B. London, Jr., and Stan Toler brought that vividly home to me in a story they share in their little book THE MINISTER’S LITTLE DEVOTIONAL BOOK:
“Ron had long hair when it stood for ‘rebel,’ listened to heavy-metal music, drank alcohol, and experimented with drugs. He had also tried church but had been ‘turned off’ by the zeal of a few and the judgmental eyes of others.
“One summer he was hired to work in a lumber yard in California. He was partnered with a skinny, fair-skinned Christian teenager name Joe, who immediately thought Ron was ‘cool.’
“Over the weeks, Ron and Joe laughed, ate, and talked for eight hours a day. Ron drilled Joe about God and the Gospel, but Joe never pretended to know all the answers. One day, Joe asked Ron if he’d like to come over to his house—a beautiful home—for dinner the next night.
“A couple of weeks later, Ron got brave enough to ask Joe over to his small house in a poor neighborhood, where he introduced Joe to some of his favorite music.
“As the summer drew to a close and Joe prepared to return to college, they both knew that their days together at the lumber yard were numbered. As they walked out to the car on Ron’s last day, he looked up at Joe and tearfully said, ‘A lot of people have tried to tell me about Jesus, but Joe, you’re the first person who has shown Him to me” [--H. B. London Jr. and Stan Toler, The Minister’s Little Devotional Book (Tulsa: Honor Books, 1997), 41.].

        God showed us His love. During Advent perhaps we can ask Jesus, “Lord, do I simply try to tell others about you, saying that you love them, or do I allow the Holy Spirit to use me to show them Jesus?” John said “If God so loved us, we ought to love one another.” That means reaching out to one another and being involved in each other’s lives. That means putting the needs of others before our own. In the context of the church we need to live like the family we are: forgiving, helping, encouraging, building up one another, sometimes confronting one another. With the world, it means showing Christ’s love by being intentional about developing relationships with those in our sphere of influence, at work, at the Y, in school, our neighbors.
What is God saying to me in this passage? Christmas is how God showed His love among us: He sent His Son to give us life.

What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Have you made a conscious effort to keep the love of God demonstrated in the incarnation at the forefront of your Christmas celebration? It’s not all about our traditions, it’s all about Jesus. God showed us His love. He reached out, and got involved in our story by bringing us into His story, even though it cost Him so much. Do we love one another? It’s not just what say we have in our hearts. It means having the mind of Christ, being willing to “look out not only for our own personal interests, but also for the interest of others.” Some have shown that this week in delivering Christmas baskets to those who serve us in our community. Others have reached out to those in the nursing home singing and visiting and bringing some cheer. Others have helped with gifts to some with needs. Others will make visits and invite folks over, and bake cookies for neighbors. The greatest demonstration of love is to pray fervently for those in our sphere of influence, looking for every opportunity to point them to Jesus.   Think about that, Amen.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Advent of Joy

The Advent of Joy
Luke 2:9-12
Introduction: Billy Graham said, 
Christmas is not a myth, not a tradition, not a dream. It is a glorious reality. It is a time of joy. Bethlehem’s manger crib became the link that bound a lost world to a loving God. From that manger came a man who not only taught us a new way of life, but brought us into a new relationship with our creator. Christmas means that God is interested in the affairs of people; that God loves us so much that He was willing to give His Son.”  
That is reason for joy. Some of us have trouble showing the joy in our hearts in our countenance. I like the way C.H. Spurgeon put it:
When you speak of Heaven let your face light up, let it be irradiated with a heavenly gleam, let your eyes shine with reflected glory. But when you speak of Hell—well, then your ordinary face will do.”
Are you happy, happy, happy? You should be. Not in the superficial sense that the world would embrace, but with the joy of the Lord that springs from a heart that has been reconciled with God.  We’ve considered this month the “Advent of Hope” and were reminded that the first coming of Jesus revealed God’s grace and motivates us to live faithfully in the sure hope of His return. We looked at the “Advent of Peace” and were reminded that the Son entered this broken world, taking upon himself a human nature in order to give his life so that we could experience the true peace, Shalom, for which we were created.  Today we remember that Christmas is reason for joy! Not just the presents and the get togethers, and the dinners and decorations. But the good news that “Unto you a Savior is born…”

      From the Old Testament times the messianic hope anticipated a time of rejoicing would be associated with the coming of Messiah. In Isaiah 9:2,3 we read,
 The 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.”
The magi in Matthew’s gospel certainly felt joy when the star they saw in the east led them to Him.  We read in Matthew 2:9-10  “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.  10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.” The God who is, led them to the Promised One, the Messiah of the Jews and Savior of the World. They had reason to rejoice!
       In Luke, when the pregnant Mary came for the first time into the presence of her cousin Elizabeth who was also expecting, the yet unborn John the Baptist responded with joy, Luke 1:44 says “For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.”
       As we focus on the Advent of Joy, I want to look closely at another, even more familiar passage, focusing on just four verses of the angels announcement to the shepherds in Luke 2:9-12,
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.  12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger."
That brings us to “The Big Idea”: Advent is cause for joy to all who believe the good news: God sent his Son as He had promised, revealing His glory and providing salvation by humbly giving himself for us.
I. Advent is cause for joy because it is a revelation of the glory of God (v.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.” 
             First notice that the message came to them, to a group of shepherds watching over their flocks on a Bethlehem hillside. What an awesome moment that must have been! Common shepherds, out in the fields, watching over their sheep. They were doing their job, they weren’t in church, they weren’t praying (as far as we know). They weren’t listening to their favorite rabbi on the radio. But God met them where they were and revealed himself to them. And if our eyes are open to the truth, we’ll see that He meets us in the course of life. Times of retreat are helpful when we can withdraw from the busyness of life and seek God. It’s good, yes, essential, that we gather together for worship and celebrate Jesus. But it is also true that there is no secular/sacred dichotomy for a Christ follower. God meets us where we are, living as broken people in a broken world, and He picks us up, dusts us off, and walks with us on the way.
            God sends this angel to announce a glorious message that the Jewish people had been anticipating for centuries. It was an awesome revelation of the glory of God…
     1. Incredibly, it was a revelation through a heavenly messenger, an angel of the Lord.  How many humans have had the opportunity to see and hear an angel (as least knowingly!)? Here, at this point in history, as the fullness of time approached, an angel had spoken to Zachariah, to Mary, to Joseph, announcing that the time was at hand, and now to a group of Shepherds to news that He was born.
     2. “The Glory of the Lord shone around them…” As though heaven itself cracked the door open for a moment, the light of heaven, God’s glory, flooded all around them. The brilliance of the glory of God is something the Jews understood from Old Testament times.  Moses got a glimpse of it as God hid him in the cleft of a rock and passed by in his radiant glory. The Jews in the wilderness had a hint of it as they saw the Pillar of Fire in the wilderness leading them on the way and awesome presence of God shaking Mount Sinai and shining in the Tabernacle. It spoke to His transcendence and His holiness. That same glory shone down on these shepherds on a hillside outside Bethlehem.
     3. Notice the response of the shepherds to this revelation from heaven: they were filled with fear!  This was probably not just the godly reverence of knowing they were in the presence of holiness, a visitor from heaven. They were probably confused and troubled by what was happening. But their confusion would soon be transformed into joy. After all Advent is cause for joy to all who believe the good news that God sent his Son as He had promised, revealing His glory and providing salvation for all by humbly giving himself for us.

II. Advent is cause for joy since the good news is for all people (v. 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.’” 
             They were terrified, and what did the angel say? “Fear not…” It seems that is often the word of the Lord to his people when he is revealing himself. We respond with “fear” I think because we recognize our weakness in the light of his power. Our sinfulness is exposed in the light of his holiness. But the admonition “fear not” in itself is good news. It reminds us as Billy Graham said, that God is interested in us, that He loves us so much that He did not send His Son to bear a sword, but to bear a cross.
            Then the angel goes on to say, “…I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people.” That offer of salvation in Christ is extended to all people: a universal call to turn from your sin and rebellion and turn to Jesus for life. Jesus came to provide the one and only way for sinners to be reconciled to God.  That might sound like an exclusive message, after all we read in John 14:6 “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father but by me…” and Acts 4:12, “There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved…”   Exclusive, yes, but in another sense it is a very inclusive message in its context. The barriers were gone: rich or poor, male or female, Jew or Gentile, the Lamb came to take away the sins of the world and to offer life to all who turn to Him in faith. That is cause for rejoicing!  Advent is cause for joy to all who believe the good news that God sent his Son as He had promised, revealing His glory and providing salvation for all by humbly giving himself for us.

III. Advent is cause for joy since it celebrates the birth of the promised Savior and Lord (v.11). “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
             Isaiah had said 700 years earlier, “Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given…”  Now the angel speaks and says onto you is born a Savior.  The word of the prophet was not only for the leaders and the powerful and the influential, it was even for these shepherds, and it is God’s word for you and me. He came for us, to save us.
             “…in the city of David…” just as the prophet had said.  So He is born according to promise, in fulfillment of Scripture. In perfect detail, God arranged history to compel Joseph and Mary to travel to Bethlehem. Micah 5:2 said, “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 origin is from of old, from ancient days…” They had been in Nazareth, but that wouldn’t do. God used circumstance rather than a direct revelation to get them where they needed to be for His plan to unfold on schedule.
             The angel gives some information about this coming one, He is “…a Savior, Christ, the Lord.”  He is Savior, Messiah (Christ), and Lord. Only the unfolding of His life, his teaching, and his death and resurrection would reveal the full meaning that God intended for each of those terms. This would prove to be the greatest “Good News” that humans had ever received.  Advent is cause for joy to all who believe the good news that God sent his Son as He had promised, revealing His glory and providing salvation for all by humbly giving himself for us.

IV. Advent is cause for joy since it revealed His willingness to humble himself for us (v.12). “And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger."
         His humble birth was a sign. First of all, He came as a human baby. Think about how humbling that was!  Couldn’t He at least have created a second Adam as an adult human out of the dust of the earth? Of course he could have, but He didn’t.  Mary was with child of the Holy Spirit. He was born. And as a tiny helpless baby He depended on her care and feeding and the protection of Joseph. This was the creator of the Universe!

        And remember the circumstances that surrounded His human birth: Not to the castle of a king, not in wealth or even with the recognition of the religious leadership, but with this sign: in humility, humbly wrapped in rags and laying in the feeding bin of an animal. Paul said to the Philippians that “He emptied himself, [by] taking the form of a servant…” Isaiah had prophesied of the coming of a suffering servant, and it began in his incarnation. 
             Notice that it was a sign given to these shepherds, men who were looked down upon for their failure to “keep kosher,” since they couldn’t regularly get into the city for worship, but who also did the essential work of caring for the animals that were destined for sacrifice in the temple. “You’ve been watching over these sacrificial lambs who were destined for sacrifice [not that they could take away sin] that were shadows and types, pointing forward to a perfect sacrifice that could finally take away sin. The time has come: get down to Bethlehem and see the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” That is Good News. They believed, and they rejoiced!
What is God saying to me in this passage? Advent is cause for joy to all who believe the good news that God sent his Son as He had promised, revealing His glory and providing salvation by humbly giving himself for us.

What would God have me to do in response to this passage? We’ve been facing some crises as an extended church family. Mourning for some, praying in the midst of uncertainty for others, struggles of faith in the midst of decision and financial uncertainty for several. None of these struggles can rob our joy in the truth, the good news, that God is good (all the time), and that He loves us so much that He sent His Son into the world, to humbly give himself for us. That is cause for joy!    Rejoice in the Lord always! Again I will say it, rejoice!      AMEN.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Advent of Peace: The Coming of the Prince of Peace

“The Advent of Peace”
Isaiah 9:2-7
The Big Idea:  Last Sunday we transitioned from Thanksgiving to Advent by focusing on the “Advent of Hope.” We have confidence that God is good, and that he is working, and that even when we don’t understand we anticipate expectantly the unfolding of His plan. We believe God. We trust Him. We have hope. This week our advent celebration turns to the theme of “peace.”  In the light of our experience, the angels’ announcement on that first Christmas morning might seem strange in Luke 2:14, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!" Perennial tensions in the mid-east. Saber rattling between North and South Korea.  Violence on the streets of American cities. Unrest in countries like Haiti and Brazil.  Peace on Earth?  We see conflict between nations, struggles in the work place, problems in our homes and families, even divisions in our churches. Peace on earth? It may not look like it from our perspective!  Even Jesus said in Matthew 10:34, "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” How can we understand the angels’ announcement of “peace on earth” 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 quite obvious that the day when swords will be hammered into plowshares is an aspect of “peace” that is still future. We can still have peace, even now. 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 in Number 6:24-26: “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.”
        “Peace” relates to the idea that was expressed when God looked at His creation, before the fall, and pronounced it “good,” tob. God who is holy and perfect was in perfect fellowship with his creation, no sin, no separation. There was peace. That peace was disrupted by the fall, and in the fullness of time the arrival of the Prince of Peace, according to promise, meant that fellowship can be restored, reconciliation between God and those who would believe. 
The Big Idea: “Got problems? The Son of God took upon himself a human nature in order to give his life so that we could experience true peace.”
I. The PURPOSE of Advent: Peace on earth, peace with God, peace in our hearts, peace forever (Isa 9:2-5). Humankind was lost, powerless against the darkness.
         First of all the prophet speaks about the great need of humankind (v.2). “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.”  Our study in John’s gospel showed the importance of the theme of “light and darkness.” There was a moral, spiritual element to it:  “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” (John 3:19).  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. Last week one of our deacons led the devotional at the Wednesday night prayer meeting focusing on Psalm 53. We read there 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. Have you got problems? The Son of God took upon himself a human nature in order to give his life so that we could experience true peace.

II. The PERSON Advent: The Prince of Peace (Isa 9:6). God sent his Son for us. “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 is assuming a physical, historical, human birth. God the Son took upon himself a human nature.  There was an early heresy that the church confronted called “Docetism.” The idea was that Jesus didn’t really take a full 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 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, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men…” Alfred Edersheim reflected on this 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! And still it is ever so. On what slender thread has the continued life of the church often seemed to hang; on what feeble throbbing that of every child of God—with no visible means to ward off danger, no home of comfort, no rest of ease…” 
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. But peace on earth? Why then did Jesus warn, “In the world you will have tribulation…”? The promise of “peace” begins in our heart, it is peace with God and the peace of God. Paul told the Romans 5:1, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  And then we read in Philippians 4:7, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  We read more about that in Ephesians 2:14-17,
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 peace16 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.”
For Jew and Gentile alike the way to peace is through Jesus Christ.
        The prophet Isaiah spoke of the birth of the Child, 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 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).
       The litany of titles that follow express aspects of who He is: “And his name will be called, Wonderful counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father…”
       He is a Wonderful counselor.  The Holy Spirit is described as our “Parakletos” in the upper room discourse in John, He is our Comforter, our Helper and Advocate. In I John 2, the same word is applied to Jesus. He is our parakletos with the Father.
       Here He is also described in the unmistakable language of deity: mighty God, everlasting Father… Think about it: God is on your side, He is at your side, to help, guide, and protect. 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 world.
       Think again of the words of Paul to the Philippians:  “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer & supplication with Thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God, and the peace of God, which passes all understanding…” (Phil 4:6,7).  What are the situations that you are facing in life that cause you anxiety, that would keep you up at night or burden you?  Have you got problems? Remember that the Son of God took upon himself a human nature in order to give his life so that we could experience true peace.

III. The PROMISE of Christmas: The Advent of Peace (Isa 9:7). “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 – One of the issues that we have discussed in our apologetics Sunday School class is the problem of evil. 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. I put a link to a short video by Pastor Greg Laurie on my facebook page last week that deals with this question, reminding us that God isn’t surpised 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).
        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 listen: “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?  Got problems? The Son of God took upon himself a human nature in order to give his life so that we could experience true peace.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Are you feeling overwhelmed by pressures of the season, trials at work, difficulty at home, uncertainty about the future? Christmas celebrates hope, and peace, because of the Prince of Peace, Jesus. What can we do?
1. I would encourage you this month to make a daily devotional time, focusing on the promises of the incarnation, a part of your Advent celebration.
2. Don’t allow the pressures of family get togethers, travel, and shopping to become “Christmas” for you. Remember Jesus. Look at the Chaos around us and remember why He came: To give us peace!
3. Look for opportunities this month to share the promise of Peace with those in your sphere of influence, point them to Jesus, the One who is the reason for the season.
4. Jesus began and ended the upper room discourse in John with a promise of Peace: John 14:27  “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” And then, in John 16:33   I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world."

5. Remember the promise, as we lean on Him, His peace will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.                          AMEN.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Advent of Hope

The Advent of Hope
Titus 2:11-15
Introduction: You may have noticed the decorations around the church (or your neighborhood!) have begun to appear. We saw some decorations going up already during our vacation, before Thanksgiving!  For many people Christmas is a time for adorning the house and decorating the carefully selected tree with the symbols that are associated with Advent.  Those traditions are ok, as long as we maintain our focus on the One who is the reason for the season. This week as we celebrate the “Advent of Hope” we turn to a passage in Paul’s letter to Titus and we are reminded that sound doctrine, right teaching of God’s word, is something that we can adorn, it is visible as it impacts us and changes us, it gives us hope, while revealing the beauty of the Gospel to those around us: “…in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.” Some translations say, “make attractive” the teaching. When people see that we have hope in the midst of this chaotic world it gets their attention because “hope” is something everyone desperately longs for. The tragedy experienced by the Simon family has us grieving with them as a church family. We mourn, but not as those who have no hope. We have a sure hope that is based on the truth that Jesus Christ has defeated death, he knows us, and one day we will see Him face to face. Hope means to anticipate something with a confident expectation that it is coming. We find comfort in the promise that the suffering of this present age is not worthy to be compared to the glory that shall be revealed in us (Rom 8:18). It seems that Paul is saying that as we live in submission to God’s revealed truth we reveal the intrinsic beauty of who God is, and what he has done in us and for us. For Paul theology is always practical and it must filter from our mind to our heart, to our hands and our feet. The truth He has revealed empowers and motivates us to live by faith.
The Big Idea: The first coming of Jesus revealed God’s grace and motivates us to live faithfully in the sure hope of His return. 
I. The Advent of Christ offers hope for humankind: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people…”
            Grace has appeared, because the grace giver, the gracious redeemer, burst upon the stage of human history 2000 years ago. Grace has appeared since he came of his own free will, with a purpose, to give himself to provide salvation for all who would believe.  We are so familiar with the story we can almost forget how astounding it is in the way that it unfolded. After 400 years of silence, the God of all creation, the Lord of the universe who spoke in times past through the prophets, spoke in His Son.  He himself came as one of us. The Jewish people in the first century had a hope based on Scripture, one day the Messiah would arrive and save His people. Contrary to expectations he came under the humblest circumstances not to defeat armies and establish His earthly kingdom, but rather to make a way for forgiveness and life.
            Paul goes on to say that grace appeared, “…bringing salvation for all people…” Not to say that all people would be saved, but that the price has been paid and the gift has been offered, the One Way of salvation through faith in Christ has been extended to all classes of people, and to all races and nations.  Paul had just been talking to masters and servants, to husbands and wives, to young and old, telling them to walk worthy of their calling in Christ.  Jesus is the one and only source of forgiveness and life, the Way, the Truth, and the Life, the only name under heaven by which we can be saved (John 14:6, Acts 4:12).   The first coming of Jesus revealed God’s grace and motivates us to live faithfully in the sure hope of His return. The advent of Christ is the Advent of hope, and…

II. The Advent of Hope calls us to live differently:  “…training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age…” 
            First of all, we are to live differently in terms of what we don’t do: “…teaching us to renounce ungodliness and worldly lusts…” Sin is a choice.  Our hope in Christ is something that motivates us to live more and more in the light of eternity.  Increasingly our forward focus on Jesus and what He has prepared for us will enable us to say no to sin: “I have been crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me. And the life I live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me…” (Gal 2:20).
             Positively, we are called to live in a way that manifests the fruit of the Spirit, the presence of God in our lives: “…we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age…” Did you know that you are living, already, in the future? We are living in this world, but we are citizens of heaven. We walk in this present age, but we already are partakers of the age to come. As Paul told the Colossians He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son…” (Col 1:13). And so the first coming of Jesus revealed God’s grace and motivates us to live faithfully in the sure hope of His return. 

III. The Advent of Hope calls us to live expectantly… “…waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ…”
             Hope involves waiting confidently, expectantly.  The word “hope” usually has a different connotation in English, it’s something we desire or want or long for, but we don’t necessarily have confidence that it will happen.  We “hope” it will, but there may be doubt, our “hope” might be no more than wishful thinking.  One child said, “Hope is wishing for something you know ain’t gonna happen.”  Well biblical “hope” implies anticipation, confidence, faith, based on God’s revealed Word, an assurance that God is good, and a sure expectation that God’s story is going to unfold according to His plan.
            Waiting for what? The first coming of Christ revealed grace, God’s unmerited favor, and provided the basis of the gracious salvation provided in the Cross. His second coming will reveal more fully his unveiled glory. We see a glimpse of His glory now, but wait until we see what John saw in Revelation 1:13-18,
“…and in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band.  14 His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire;  15 His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters;  16 He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength.  17 And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, "Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last.  18 "I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen.”
            Waiting for who? The language here is quite emphatic, “…our Great God and Savior, Jesus Christ…” He is our Savior. Because of Him we have hope. He is God, so our hope is sure. Think of that: The first coming of Jesus revealed God’s grace and motivates us to live faithfully in the sure hope of His return. 

IV. The Advent of Hope was costly and purposeful: “…who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” 
             Christmas is a time for giving, but there is no doubt that the true gift of Christmas was presented 2000 years ago. Ultimately it was presented not under a tree, but hung on a tree.  He “gave himself for us,” that not only means that He came for us, but that he came to die for us.
            He gave himself to redeem us from the penalty of sin. “Redeem” is from lutroo, “free by paying a ransom.” We were guilty, condemned sinners, unable to free ourselves.  There is the famous story of A.J. Gordon who was the great Baptist pastor of the Clarendon Church in Boston, Massachusetts.  
One day he met a young boy in front of the sanctuary carrying a rusty cage in which several birds fluttered nervously. Gordon inquired, "Son, where did you get those birds?" The boy replied, "I trapped them out in the field." "What are you going to do with them?""I’m going to play with them, and then I guess I’ll just feed them to an old cat we have at home." When Gordon offered to buy them, the lad exclaimed, "Mister, you don’t want them, they’re just little old wild birds and can’t sing very well." Gordon replied, "I’ll give you $2 for the cage and the birds." "Okay, it’s a deal, but you’re making a bad bargain." The exchange was made and the boy went away whistling, happy with his shiny coins. Gordon walked around to the back of the church property, opened the door of the small wire coop, and let the struggling creatures soar into the blue.”
       That’s redemption. The wages of sin is death. That is what we deserved. Jesus paid the price that we couldn’t pay.  He did what we could not do for ourselves. He who was without sin, was made sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. The Advent of Hope was costly, it was also purposeful.
            He gave himself to make possible a new life, to give us a new heart. In reading through the Bible this week I came across that beautiful passage in Ezekiel 36:25-27,  
I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.  26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”
For that hope to be ours, a price had to be paid. Jesus, the Son, came to be the Lamb who would take away sin.  That grace was revealed in the first coming of Jesus and motivates us to live faithfully in the sure hope of His return. 
V. The Advent of Hope engages us in mission: “Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you…” (Titus 2:10b-15).
            Paul admonished Titus to declare the truth, to speak about the hope we have in Christ, not apologetically, but confidently. It was a mission that Paul himself embraced and lived, and it was something that he expected to see in his disciples.
            We too are called to be his witnesses, to boldly stand up for Christ and to speak the truth in love, with passion and conviction. One of the key themes we’ll see in our upcoming series in Acts is that Jesus is working through the Spirit empowered witness of the church to build His church. The recent campaign by the Billy Graham association, “My Hope for America,” calls on us to let the Hope we have in Jesus motivate us to reach out to those around us, men, women, children who don’t know Him, who desperately need hope. Have you looked for opportunities to share that message of Hope with those in your sphere of influence? It’s not too late. In fact the call to share the message of hope that Jesus offers is the ongoing mission of the church.  Look around, the fields are white for the harvest. We are surrounded by people who desperately need Jesus.  At this time of the year people are perhaps more open to hear what we have to say about the One who gave himself to give us hope.
What is God saying to me in this passage?  The first coming of Jesus revealed God’s grace and motivates us to live faithfully in the sure hope of His return. 

What would God have me to do in response to this passage?  As we enter the Advent season this year may I ask you, do you have hope? I don’t mean wishful thinking or denial, but real hope, firmly grounded in the truth that God became a man, He lived among us, He bore our sins on the tree, He rose from the grave and He will return. The Lord’s Table reminds us why He came, and it celebrates what He accomplished. If you are unsure about where you stand with Jesus, there is no need to doubt. The gift of Christmas has been purchased: salvation, life, a sure hope for tomorrow.  Jesus didn’t brave the lines on Black Friday to buy some Christmas presents to place under a tree, He braved the Cross on Good Friday, He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, to purchase the gift of life and hope. But like any gift, it must be received. The Scripture says, whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have everlasting life, whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.  Do you believe that He died for your sins on the cross, was buried, and rose again the third day? Then express your trust and thanks to Him with a prayer like this (God is more interested in your heart attitude than the exact words you use): “God, I know that I am a sinner, I constantly choose to do things my way rather than seeking you, please forgive me. I believe that Jesus died for me on the cross and was raised again the third day. I turn from my sin and I turn to you, I put my trust in Jesus and what He has done for me. I receive Him now as the Savior and Lord of my life. Amen.”  If that is the prayer of your heart you have just received the greatest Christmas gift ever: Life and Hope in Jesus. Amen.