Today is the fourth and final Sunday in Advent. Advent, a 4 week period of time in the Christian calendar, which starts the liturgical year, where we wait, ponder, and prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ. The four traditional themes that are explored during Advent are Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love.
We have explored Hope, Peace, and Joy over the last three weeks and today we’ll be wrapping up Advent by exploring and unpacking Waiting for Love. We’ll do that by finally getting to the New Testament We’ll be looking at the birth narrative of Jesus found in Luke 2:1-7, one that I believe many of us probably have heard many times before, and some may even have memorized. Let’s see what Luke 2:1-7 has to say to us about waiting for love.
Luke 2:1-7 says, “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.”
Upon first reading we get this sentimental feeling that comes over us. We dream up this safe and sanitized version of the story where the setting is this iddlic and peaceful place. Where there is no blood from the birth, no crying from the baby, no crap from the animals, the hay is hypoallergenic, and everything is just beautiful and serene. But when we dig a little deeper into this story, do some historical research, we begin to see that this story is about as subversive and countercultural as you can get. You see Luke’s story digs underneath this typical story of everyday empire and undermines it with the news of a different kind of “empire” and a different kind of “emperor”. This, when you get right down to it, is a story about two kingdoms coming into direct conflict. The Kingdom of God which is a Kingdom of love, and the Kingdom of this world, which is a Kingdom of violence, hate, and death. This confrontation between two Kingdoms start with the very first verses of Luke 2 which sounds more like historical detail than a conflict.
The first two verse in Luke 2 states, “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)” Now this doesn’t seem very important, just a way of grounding the story of Jesus birth in history, by adding names, details, and information, but when we look at who issues the decree, what a census did at the time, and other details we continue to see the Kingdoms come into conflict.
Let’s look at Caesar Augustus first. You see Augustus was the adopted son of Julius Caesar. He became the sole ruler of the Roman world after a bloody civil war in which he over powered his other rivals. In fact, the last rival to be destroyed was a man name Mark Anthony. It was Caesar Augustus who turned the Roman republic into an empire, with himself at the head. He was the one to bring the Pax Romana, the peace of Rome into existence. He proclaimed that he had brought justice and peace to the whole world, declared his adopted father to be god, and therefore, by being the son of Julius Caesar, that he was the son of god. He was also called savior, Lord, and many other messianic terms and he was worshipped as a deity as well.
And so this ruler, this emperor, this so called son of god, savior and lord calls for a census to be taken of the entire Roman world. Now you and I have taken part in a census before. The government sends you a form to fill out about your family, etc.. and you fill it out and return it to them, no big deal. But in that day and time a census was a big deal because it required a lot from each person. Mary and Joseph were required to go back to Joseph’s hometown in order to register for the census. Census’s in that day and time raised sharp and dangerous questions. Dangerous questions like who runs the world, how is it being run, who profits from it, who gets crushed, when it is all going to change, and what should we do about it? Every time a census was decreed there were riots that came with it and people got killed. Because, like in our day, census’s were taken for tax purposes. And so you had to get up, go to your homeland, register, all for the privilege of giving money to those who were oppressing you.
So here we have Mary and Joseph traveling to their hometown of Bethlehem which is the birth place of King David. And so we see from this fact of his place of birth, and also from his lineage found in Matthew 1, that Jesus was in a human royal blood line, a Kingly family line. And again we see the conflict between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of this world, by nature of who is true ruler and King in the world.
You will notice that this conflict has theological and political ramifications. Too often we just read this Christmas story, and it makes us feel good. After all who doesn’t love a good story with a baby in it? Or we just read the story as only affecting another realm, the heavenly realm, and that this story didn’t and doesn’t have any real ramifications in this world of war, brokenness, hatred, violence, love, beauty, pain, joy, and sorrow. But this story does have theological and political and “real world” ramifications. Theologically we see that Jesus is somehow identified with God in a unique way. Politically we mentioned earlier that there was already a son of god, savior and Lord on the earth, in the form of Caesar Augustus. And now here is this little baby, born in a manger, in an out of the way town, who is the true ruler of the world, and then by definition Caesar is not, and certainly not the powers of the world today. The birth narrative of Jesus points to this explosive truth that the baby in the manger is already being spoken of as the true King of the world. Is it any wonder than that the powers of the empire and the Kingdom of this world wanted him dead from his birth all the way until his death by the weapon of execution of the empire, a Roman cross.
We read the rest of the story (not all the details mind you) in Luke 2:3-7 which tells about Mary and Joseph’s journey to their hometown of Bethlehem to register, and their experience of giving birth to Jesus, in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn. This boy born to a teenage mother, through the power of the Holy Spirit, was what the people of God were waiting for, from the moment of their Abrahamic covenant back in Genesis 12:1-3 (and as an aside Jesus is the full fulfillment of that covenant as he is the one who blesses the world the most and the fullest). They were waiting for the savior, the redeemer, the deliverer, the messiah. They were waiting for love to come in its fullness. They just never expected their hopes, their dreams, their waiting, their longings to be fulfilled by this child. They were hoping and longing for a messiah who would fight fire with fire, who would establish a kingdom with them in charge, an empire exactly like the Roman empire just with the people of Israel in charge, and dishing out the violence to anyone who got out of hand and out of line. But that is not what happened. No, Jesus, the baby born in the manger in Bethlehem, grew up not to establish an empire like all other worldly empires, but to establish the Kingdom of God. A Kingdom not established and maintained by violence, hate, and oppression but a Kingdom established by love, grace, mercy, forgiveness, compassion, and dying to yourself. A Kingdom that didn’t use violence in order to bring about shalom. But a Kingdom that submitted itself to violence in order to bring about true shalom. A Kingdom that is all about love. Isn’t that what much of the New Testament talks about? What are the two greatest commands? Love God and Love others. What is God according to 1 John? God is love.
When God initiates this rescue mission, this redemption of the world, this Kingdom movement, by sending his only son it was always a matter of love. His love for a creation that had gone astray and continues to go astray. A creation that chooses it’s own way. People, like you and I who choose hate, violence, death, selfishness, and brokenness over love, servanthood, selflessness, life, and peace. But that is exactly why Jesus came, to show us a different way, a different way that is still possible. Jesus came to show us a different Kingdom and a different King. One that is about love, justice and mercy. The greatest Christmas gift ever was the baby born on that first Christmas to show us a Kingdom way of love. A Kingdom way that shows us that we are loved as his creation and that he then calls us to live another way, another reality, a Kingdom of God reality by loving others including our neighbors, our friends, and yes, even our enemies.
So what happened that fateful night all of those years ago a half a world away? What happened when a teenager girl, who was pregnant, came to Bethlehem with her husband, who wasn’t the father of the child? What was so special about this story, this baby born in Bethlehem that we continue to read, talk, dream, prepare and wait all of these years later? What happened on that first Christmas night? It was the night in which love came down and touched earth, in the form of the Christ Child.
Over a hundred years ago, a writer penned the words that bear this fact out, that love came down and planted itself on earth in the form of Jesus. Christina Rossetti wrote the poem that would come to be known as Love Came Down at Christmas. And I want to read this poem, as a means to end my part of the message, because I believe this is what we have all been waiting for. Love.
Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, Love Divine,
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and Angels gave the sign.
Worship we the Godhead,
Love Incarnate, Love Divine,
Worship we our Jesus,
But wherewith for sacred sign?
Love shall be our token,
Love shall be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and all men,
Love for plea and gift and sign.
So let’s talk about what it means to wait for love. That Jesus embodied love and what it means that he calls us to embody the Kingdom of love in the world. Let’s talk about what it means to you to know that Jesus came to show us his Father’s love for us, and how he came to show us another way to live, a way of life defined by love of God and love of others.
1. What questions, thoughts, comments, insights come to mind when you read the text and/or listened to the message?
2. What does it mane to you that God showed his love to us through sending Jesus? How can you love God this week?
3. What does it look like to love others this week for you? Who might God be calling you to love with the love of the Christ child?
Today we celebrate the third Sunday of Advent. As we have mentioned each week, Advent is a 4 week time in the Christian calendar that comes right before Christmas. It is the beginning of the liturgical year. And Advent means coming. During these 4 weeks in the Christian calendar we spend time slowing down and focusing on the 1st and 2nd Advent (coming) of Jesus. Looking two thousand years in the past to the first Christmas and looking forward into the future (however long that may be) to the second coming of Jesus to make all things complete, all things right, to bring shalom (the way that things should be).
The first week of Advent we looked at waiting for hope. In the Christian calendar the first week of Advent is the week in Advent to center on the second coming of Jesus. We looked at Isaiah 9:1-7 especially verse 2 and talked about the hope that the people of God, the Israelites had in being delivered out of the hand of the Assyrian empire. That longing, that hope, in a messiah and deliverer, that the Israelites had, is also the hope and longing that we have in Jesus second coming. And the crying out for Jesus to come and make all things right. To redeem the brokenness of our lives and of the world, and return the world to the way that it should be.
Last week we took the same text from Isaiah 9:1-7 and focused on verse 6-7 and talked about waiting for peace. We focused on the fact that Jesus is the Prince of Peace, and his coming (both the first and second) are rooted in Shalom, the way things should be. We talked about Jesus coming in the midst of the Pax Romana (the Peace of Rome) which was a “peace established by violence” to set up the Pax Christi (the peace of Christ) by submitting himself to violence, and instead of shedding others blood, he let his blood be shed so that the world would begin the process of shalom, and being made right.
Today the traditional 3rd week of advent is centered around the word Joy. So today we are going to be talking about waiting for joy. We will be looking at Joy through the lens of Isaiah the prophet and the dream/prophecy that he wrote about in Isaiah 65:17-25 about the new heaven and new earth and how Jesus will come and bring us joy, and set all things to right.
Isaiah 65:17-25 says, “See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered,nor will they come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy. I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more. “Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years;
the one who dies at a hundred will be thought a mere child; the one who fails to reach a hundred will be considered accursed. They will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit. No longer will they build houses and others live in them,or plant and others eat. For as the days of a tree, so will be the days of my people; my chosen ones will long enjoy the work of their hands. They will not labor in vain, nor will they bear children doomed to misfortune; for they will be a people blessed by the Lord, they and their descendants with them. Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear. The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, and dust will be the serpent’s food. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,” says the Lord.”
So obviously Isaiah is looking into the future and writing about the second advent of Jesus when all will be made well (as the song we song just a few minutes ago made reference to). Because thee things that he has written of, haven’t been fully realized yet. With the first coming of Jesus these things became a now and not yet reality. And will come to their fullness and completion when Jesus returns. But someone once said you should start as you mean to finish and that is exactly what Jesus did the first time he stepped foot on his creation, and that is also what he is calling us to, to live out the Kingdom reality right here and right now, even when it isn’t fully realized, and won’t be fully realized until Christ comes back. But let’s take a deeper look into this text to see what we can see about waiting for joy.
The first thing we see in this passage is God, through Isaiah, making a promise for the future. One that for those who are seeking to follow Jesus, and those who are distressed about the brokenness, sin, corruption, death, destruction, etc.. about the world in which we live in, should bring us much longing and joy. God makes this statement, “See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind” Isaiah is saying that the Lord will remake and redeem all of creation. This is the ultimate answer to the broken world in which we live, God, through Jesus life, death, and resurrection remaking, renewing, and restoring all of his creation, and not, like so many contemporary evangelicals believe, abandoning his creation. You see to understand the longing of these words. To understand what Isaiah, and the people of God, the Israelites are longing for and hoping for in relation to the world being made right, you need to know what was taking place when Isaiah was writing these words. His message was directed to the Jewish people who would return to the land of Judah after the Babylonian captivity and the destruction of Jerusalem. After the returned from this exile they were faced with destruction of their homeland, of their temple, of their homes, of everything they had ever known. And so a new heaven and a new earth sounded amazing to a group of people displaced from home and then returned to find their homes ripped apart. God tells them also not to remember their former troubles, places like Egypt and Babylonian.
Isaiah continues and tells them that they to be glad and rejoice because of what God is creating. He is the one that will create the new heavens and the new earth. He is the one who will set things in this broken world right. Jesus is the one who died and rose again and began the process of recreation with started with him, will work its way to us, and will eventually work its way throughout all of creation, so that everything in this world will be made right. As people of God, the Israelites, and now the church, we have our part and roles to play in being about the Kingdom and making things right. But we don’t bring the Kingdom. We don’t ultimately set things right. He does. After all that is really what Christmas is really all about. Jesus stepping into humanity to begin the process of setting everything to right. And that is something that we can rejoice and be joyful about in this advent season. We can be joyful that the world will be set right one day and that we can have a part to play in helping to set it right.
Isaiah continues and says that God will create “Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy. I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people” I wonder if this is another way of stating the Abrahamic Covenant found in Genesis 12:1-3 which states, “The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.“I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” The people of God are to be a joy to people in the world. We as followers of Jesus, are called in Genesis 12 to be a blessing, and when we live out this calling, this vocation we will be a joy in the wider world and to the wider world. We are to live in such a way that brings blessing and joy to others in their lives and in the community. What are you and I doing in our work places, schools, neighbors, etc.. to bring about blessing & joy, in this season but all the year round?
Notice something else about joy. That we don’t just bring others blessing and joy when we live out the kingdom. No, there is also another joy that Isaiah mentions. Isaiah states that God rejoices over us. Have you ever thought about that before? That God actually rejoices over you? All too often we think God is disappointed in us, mad at us, or somehow that we need to do more, or be better in order for God to delight and rejoice in us. But that isn’t the case. We bring God joy. The other week during one of the readings in the advent devotional I came across Zephaniah 3:17 which says, “The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.” If this Scripture text is true, which I believe it is, then God takes great delight and joy in you. He rejoices over you with singing. Maybe you are going through a rough time right now. Maybe this advent season has been pretty rough and you don’t have nay joy in life right now. That is okay. But know this, he has joy in you. He delights in you. He loves you fully and completely and your life brings him joy and that he delights in you.
And speaking about joy. The rest of this passage is all about it. Isaiah is describing a place and a life where joy will be perpetually experienced, both inwardly and outwardly. When creation gets set right by Jesus people will live a long and full life. When creation gets set right by Jesus people will get true fulfillment and meaning from work, building and planting. When creation gets set right by Jesus former enemies will lie down together and not kill each other. When creation gets set right by Jesus Shalom will be the result. Isaiah is highlighting in this get the joy of the holy city as a place without crying or distress, a place of covenant blessing and renewal, and a place of harmony within the whole created order.
If what we celebrate at Advent, the birth of Jesus, the coming of Jesus, means anything it means a transformed cosmos. That everything that Isaiah describes in Isaiah 66:17-25 will come to fruition because of the birth of the Christ child over 2,000 years ago. Jesus came into this world to begin this process of a transformed cosmos and to truly bring joy to the world. But as I mentioned before we are living in the now but not yet reality of the Kingdom of God. And this helps us realize that we must wait patiently for the completion of new creation but while we wait we can also work towards bringing new creation into the present. To bring joy into the present. Imagine if what you read in Isaiah 66 began to unfold, even just a little bit, in our present. What would the world look like if a child didn’t die from disease or from violence? What would the world look like if everyone had access to basic medical care, food, and clean water? What would the world look like if everyone earned a livable wage? It would look like Isaiah 66. And since we know the end of the story, shouldn’t it change how we live in the present? Knowing that Isaiah 66 will come to fruition should lead us to begin the process of seeing it come to pass. To realize that we are blessed and that God rejoices in us and that we are blessed and rejoiced over so that we could bless others and bring joy to others.
But what does it mean to be rejoiced over by God? What does it look like to have joy in your life despite current circumstances? What does it look like to be an agent of joy in the world? Those are the questions that we’ll work on unpacking together in our discussion time.
1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, applications, etc… do you have regarding the Scripture text and/or the message?
2. What thoughts, and/or feelings come to mind when you hear that God rejoices over you? Where do you need the joy of the Lord in your life today?
3. What does it look like to be an agent of joy in the world? To whom is God calling you to bring a bit of joy to their life in this advent season?
4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?
Last week we entered the season in the Christian year called Advent. A four week period of time where we wait. Wait for the advent of Jesus. Both the first advent, as we long and wait for the coming of the Christ Child. And also long and wait for the second coming of Jesus, to set the world right. To put it back the way that it was originally created to be. In fact the word advent actually means coming. And so my prayer for each of us is that we would wait, and prepare ourselves to receive him. That is one reason that we created the Advent devotional and sent it out so that you could use it as a resource to prepare yourself for the advent of Jesus. (if you need a copy feel free to talk with me and I can send you a copy)
Last week, the first week of Advent, we talked about waiting for hope. We talked about waiting for hope from the lens of the Israelites who lived 700 years before Jesus and their longing for hope and deliverance from the hand of foreign oppressive empires. And how they were delivered by Hezekiah but that was only temporary. The deeper fulfillment of the longing for hope that they had for deliverance, freedom, and salvation was to come in the person, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. And we talked about how the first Sunday in Advent was the time where we talked about longing for hope of the second coming of Jesus to set the world right. About how we look around and all we see is broken and how we long for the world to be made right, the way that it is supposed to be.
Today, as we celebrate the second Sunday of Advent, we talk about waiting for peace. And to do that we will look at the same text that we looked at last week, Isaiah 9:1-7.
Isaiah 9:1-7 says, “Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan— The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder. For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.”
Last week we focused especially on verse 2 and today we will focus especially on verses 6-7 (as well as a little on verse 5).
So as I said before, Isaiah is writing this 700 years before the coming of Jesus, and there are thoughts that he was referring to Hezekiah and his kingship and his trust in Yahweh to deliver them from the hand of the Assyrian empire. But that there is also a truer and deeper fulfillment of this text in the person, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
Verse 6 says “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given”. In this verse Isaiah is using the Hebrew literary tool of repetition to emphasize a point. What point is he making by using repetition? The point that this messiah, this anointed one, this deliverer of the people of Israel, God’s people, this victorious one would be a man. A man, but more than a man. Jesus came all those years later, fulfilling these words. John 1:14 in the Message puts it this way, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” Jesus is Immanuel. God with us. Remember a few weeks ago during our last series that we talked about the fact that God is for us, he is with us, he was one of us, and that he then comes to live in us? Verse 6 gets at those first three points from our last series. That Jesus came for us. That he was with us. And that he became one of us. Jesus was sent or given from the Father to live among his creation. To live another reality in the midst of this broken reality. To live the Kingdom of God in the midst of the Kingdom of this world.
This man. This messiah would also be King and according to the second half of verse 6, have the government on his shoulders. Now what in the world does that mean? When we look around at the governments that have come and gone, the empires that have sprung up and then died off, we don’t tend to see Jesus undergirding them, holding them up on his shoulders. And when we look at the brokenness, sin, violence and war, it all too often seems like if Jesus truly is King, and has the government on his shoulders, than something is wrong. You see while this is true that Jesus is King, and that the Kingdom of God is a reality, both his Kingdom and his Kingship is a now and not yet reality. Jesus, says it himself, that the Kingdom of God is here, when he walked this earth. And that he is definitely ruling and reigning over his Kingdom even now. But both the Kingdom and his Kingship won’t come fully until he returns. His life, death, and resurrection began the fulfillment of his Kingdom and Kingship and his return will complete it. And so we wait. We wait for his Kingdom to come, and his will to be done. But we don’t just sit on our hands and wait. It is more of an active waiting. Actively waiting for his coming. His advent.
Isaiah continues and begins to describe what this anointed one, this man, this Messiah would be like. Not his names but aspects of his character. In the second half of verse 6 this Messiah, this redeemer, this deliverer is called, “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” These attributes, the aspects of his character point directly to the divine nature of Jesus. The first part of verse 6 spelled out his humanity and the last half of verse 6 spells out his divinity. It’s this last characteristic that I want to unpack a little, Prince of Peace. This phrase Prince of Peace might be better understood as ruler in charge of peace. And as we talked about earlier this fall the word peace here is the word Shalom. Shalom means peace but not just in an absence of conflict or war, but more in terms of wholeness, rightness, joy, or as I love to put it, “the way things should be.” Jesus was/is to be that Prince of Peace, a different kind of ruler for a different kind of world, and a different kind of kingdom. A Kingdom of Shalom. A Kingdom of Peace. And a shalom not derived by violence.
You see the first advent of Jesus was in the midst of what was known as the Pax Romana or the Peace of Rome. A peace that was derived by violence, death, and threats of both. And a peace derived by violence and secured by death is not peace. Is not shalom. When Jesus came his life, his death, his resurrection directly contradicted the Pax Romana and he established the Pax Christi, the peace of Christ in which shalom was established not by the Messiah picking up a sword, and using violence to bring about peace, but to subject himself to the violence of the empire, to die on the violent tool used to keep the Pax Romana, a roman cross. He didn’t shed others blood for peace. He allowed his blood to be shed by his enemies so that true Shalom would happen. His dream for Shalom is also spelled out in verse 5, “Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire.” And this was good news then, and it is good news now. N.T. Wright says, “Good news for a people, like so many today, who find themselves caught up in wars they neither started nor wanted.”
Isaiah wraps up this part of this messianic prophecy by saying that his peace and his kingdom will never end. That it will go on and on. And that eventually his peace and his kingdom will come in all of its fullness. That this messiah will come and set the world right and shalom will rule throughout the world. That it will be the way that it should be.
But we live in between the advents. Between the trees as one video puts it. Between the time that Jesus came to start the process of Shalom and the time that Shalom will come in its fullness. All you have to do is look at the news to see that Shalom isn’t fully here. In fact, more times than not we might actually be tempted to say “is there shalom anywhere right now?” Things are not the way they should be. Violence, racism, injustice, war, death, destruction, and suffering are all too common in our world. It seems like Jesus isn’t ruling and reigning and that Christmas time is just a nice story and an escape from reality. But Christmas isn’t just a nice story or an escape from reality. NT Wright says this about Christmas, “Christmas isn’t about an escape from the real world of politics and economics, of empires and taxes and bloodthirsty wars. It is about God addressing these problems at last from within, coming into our world- his world.”
Waiting for peace. Waiting for His Shalom to come in fullness. Waiting for Jesus to set it the world to right, the way that it should be. But as I mentioned before this waiting for peace doesn’t mean that we fold our hands, sit on the couch and wait for him to bring shalom. No, it is an active waiting. An active shalom making. Exactly what it says in Matthew 5:9, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” It seems like anytime people bring up the subject of working for shalom in the world, people will say it will never happen until Christ comes back. As that is an excuse to mean that we shouldn’t even attempt to do anything about the violence, war, hatred, and death that we humans inflict upon one another. They are right that Shalom won’t come in it’s fullness until Christ comes back, establishes his rule and reign here on earth, and sets everything right. But he calls us right now, right in the midst of the brokenness, in the midst of violence, in the midst of hate, pain, and war, to live Shalom right now and right here.
My questions for us this advent season, while we wait and long and hope, while we look to the coming of the Christ child are these:
Where do you need the Shalom of the Christ child in your life? Where do you need the Prince of Peace to step into your life and begin the process of setting it right?
2. How can you and I engage in active shalom making in the midst of waiting during this advent season? To whom and to where are you called to work for Shalom in this world? What can you do during advent to bring the Shalom of God to bear in this world?
Those are some of the questions that we’ll wrestle with together during our discussion time together.
1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, etc.. does this Scripture text and/or the message bring to your mind?
2 Where do you need the Shalom of the Christ child in your life? Where do you need the Prince of Peace to step into your life and begin the process of setting it right?
3. How can you and I engage in active shalom making in the midst of waiting during this advent season? To whom and to where are you called to work for Shalom in this world? What can you do during advent to bring the Shalom of God to bear in this world?
4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?
Today begins a 4 week period of time on the Christian calendar called Advent. Advent comes from the Latin word adventus; it means coming. Advent is about three comings – the birth of Jesus, the incarnation, and the second coming. Advent is the beginning of the liturgical year and is the time when the Church (universal) reenters the story of the coming of King Jesus our Messiah. Not only do we talk about coming, we also talk and experience waiting and preparation. In the Christian church it is a time of waiting and longing for the coming of the Christ child. It is also a time of preparing for the second coming of Jesus. The traditional 4 weeks in Advent are normally about Hope Peace, Joy and Love. And so many churches throughout the world during the next 4 weeks will be preparing themselves spiritually for Christmas.
We will be spending the next four weeks waiting. Waiting and preparing our lives, our selves, and our community for the advent of Jesus, both the first and second advent. We will be talking about the traditional themes of advent, that of waiting for hope, waiting for peace, waiting for joy, and waiting for love.
So today we are talking about waiting for hope. Tradition has it that on this the first Sunday of Advent in the Christian calendar we look ahead to the second coming of Christ. And so we will be spending our time today talking about waiting for hope. We will look at this idea of waiting for hope by looking at a text that was written on the other side, before Jesus coming, and with that text see the waiting for hope that was taking place then, as they waited for the first coming. And we’ll connect it to our world today when we long, wait and hope for Jesus to come the second time and set everything right.
Now our world is in desperate need of hope. In desperate need of being set right. All you had to do this week is to turn on the news and read about all the things that are broken in the world. For instance, everything around what is happening in Ferguson, MO. Now no matter what side or no side you are on in the matter, we can say that our world is broken. What is happening in Ferguson is a result of sin. A world broken by racism, violence, fear, hatred, injustice and division. It seems like we have lost hope so the return of hope is so badly needed. You see no politician, no public figure, no one, no matter how much hope they promise will ever be able to bring true hope to fulfillment. Will never be able to set things to right. We need the hope that only Jesus can bring. We need Jesus to set things right. We long and we wait and we hope for the second coming of Jesus just as the Israelites waited, longed and hoped for the coming of the Messiah to save them, redeem them, free them from the hands of oppressors, and to set them to right.
Let’s turn to a passage of Scripture that we’ll be looking at both today and next week that was written 700 years before the coming of Jesus Christ. Isaiah 9:1-7. Isaiah 9:1-7 says, “Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. You have enlarged the nation
and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder. For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.”
So we are going to focus today mostly on verse 2 and next week focus mostly on verse 6-7. But let’s do some historical unpacking to see what is happening here that Isaiah is talking about so that we can understand truly what the longing and hoping of the people of Israel is all about.
What we read in Isaiah 9 was taking place around 734 BC. And so Ahaz the King of Judah was under attack by an alliance of Israel and Syria. Ahaz was considering enlisting the help of the Ayssyrians. While this would neutralize the threats of his Northern neighbors, it would also require entering into an alliance with the “evil empire” of the day. What should Ahaz do? Isaiah urged Ahaz to stand firm in faith, trust in God and refuse coalitions with other countries. Thus reassuring the King that God would prove all the protection required and that the birth of a child would serve as a sign of this. But is that what happened in the end? No, Ahaz didn’t listen to Isaiah and did enter into an alliance with the Assyrians who did conquer both the northern territories and Syria. But then the Assyrian army kept on coming south and began to attack Judah and Jerusalem.
And so Isaiah, speaking the words that God gave him, tells Ahaz this, “Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan” Isaiah is telling the people of God that the gloom will be no more for those who are in distress. He is referring to the gloom that carries over from Isaiah 8:19-22 which says, “When someone tells you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living? Consult God’s instruction and the testimony of warning. If anyone does not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn. Distressed and hungry, they will roam through the land; when they are famished, they will become enraged and, looking upward, will curse their king and their God. Then they will look toward the earth and see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom, and they will be thrust into utter darkness.” Isaiah in chapters 7-9 is warning Judah about the coming invasion from Assyria. And this invasion of the Assyrians would be terrible for the Jewish people especially for the northern regions. That when they look around all they see if distress, darkness, and gloom and have no hope. You see they were first to be overrun in the Assyrian invasion, the first to suffer, and would be the first to see the light of the Messiah. In fact, fast forward 700 years to Matthew 4:13-16 and we find these words, “Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali— to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah: “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.”
So the Northern Kingdom overrun by the Assyrian empire cried out for deliverance and Isaiah said, that the people who live in darkness would see a great light and that those who lived in the shadow of death would see light dawning. That all wasn’t lost. That hope was on the horizon. In Isaiah 9:2 we see the word “walking” in the phrase “the people walking in darkness” and it means to live and denotes a thick darkness that brooded over the country- sot that they lived or walked among it. That all they could currently see was darkness and loss. So they cried out for deliverance, for hope. You see, even in this text, there is a cry for hope, for deliverance, for God to intervene in their condition, and to set it right. This text, especially verse 2 and 6-7 are anticipating the coming of the anointed one, a messiah. You see God’s people were abused by power hungry Kings, led astray by self-centered prophets, and lulled into apathy by half-hearted religious leaders, there arose among some for God to raise up a new King who could show them how to be God’s people. They yearned for the return of God’s dynamic presence in their midst. A deliverer who would come and free them from the hand of the oppressive regimes and empires.
The question that this immediately brings to my mind relates to who Isaiah was writing about. Was this great light that Isaiah was writing about just about a prophecy about the coming of Jesus? Did Isaiah understand that he was writing something that wouldn’t come true for 700 more years? Or was there another closer reality? Was this about the Messiah Jesus only or could there be dual fulfillment? The immediate connection seems to require us to understand it of deliverance from the calamities that were impending over the nation then. They would be afflicted by the Assyrian empire, but they would be delivered. Now Isaiah may have reaffirmed that there was an immediate deliverance of the nation from impending calamities, but there is also a fullness and richness of the language that seems to be only applicable in reference to Jesus. And Matthew usage of this passage confirms that fact. That yes there was a deliverer that was going to come and free the people from the hands of the Assyrian empire, but that one was to come that would deliver us from the hands of the true evil empire of sin, death, evil and hell.
The next question that I wrestle with then would be, yes we know the primary and most important deliverer who brings true and lasting hope, that of Jesus. But who would be the deliverer for the people of God who lived under the thumb of the Assyrian empire? Many scholars believe that historically the deliverer, the light that Isaiah is referring to is more than likely Hezekiah. Hezekiah, who ruled after Ahaz, was one of the very few royal heroes of Kings, who receives rare praise from the book’s deuteronomistic editors: “He [Hezekiah] did what was right in the sight of the Lord just as his ancestor David had done” (2 Kings 18:3). Hezekiah’s reign is described in 2 Kings 18-20. He receives even higher praise in the Chronicler’s parallel version (see 2 Chronicles 29-32), where he is depicted as both a new David and a new Solomon.
Significantly, Hezekiah’s reign also plays an important role in Isaiah (Isaiah 1-39). Contrary to his father Ahaz who trusted in foreign assistance from the Assyrians rather than Yhwh (see Isaiah 7:10-17), Hezekiah is the paragon of faith and faithfulness. When Sennacherib’s armies threatened Jerusalem, Hezekiah trusted in Yhwh’s faithfulness and his power to save the city from Assyrian aggression (Isaiah 37). Hezekiah’s greatness, then, is not in his ability to bear the load of authority or to create an era of “peace” with his own hands. Rather, his greatness lies in his willingness to trust in God who can bring about these things, on earth as it is in heaven, and even we might add in a place as contentious as Jerusalem.
And what then is the result of this light that will come to those living and walking in darkness, in the midst of a shadow that seemingly will never end. Where hope is at a loss? What happens when the light (or in this case Hezekiah) comes? Look at verses 3-5 which says, “You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder. For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire.”
So Hezekiah came and brought hope to the people, but it didn’t last. It was only temporary because he died, the people went into captivity in Babylon, and the cycle continued. That is until Jesus came. Jesus is the true and deeper fulfillment of this text. He is the one that we can trust to bring hope in it’s fullness, when he comes again. When he comes again, hope will break forth. The world will be set right again. And our world, while currently living in the shadow of death, darkness, decay, and defeat will be remade. Jesus brings hope. You see Christmas and Advent is all about the coming of the world’s true King, the one who stops wars, who forgives debts, who establishes true justice and judgment on the earth and who brings true hope.
So two final thoughts on this idea of hope and how Jesus is the one who brings true hope. First, maybe you need some hope today. Maybe looking at the pain in the world, pain in your life, pain in the life of friend’s has taken away hope in your life. Hope that it will ever get better. Know that Jesus can give you hope if you seek after him and ask him to, and continue to ask. Secondly, who do you know that needs hope? As a embodiment of Jesus in the world, as a vessel of the Kingdom, Jesus calls us to embody and live lives of hope. You can be a vessel of hope to people that God sends you to.
So where do you need hope in your life? Where are you waiting for hope in your life? Who is God calling you to share hope with in the world? Who is waiting for hope that God may be calling you to live and embody hope in front of them? Those are some of the questions that we’ll wrestle together with.
1. What thoughts, questions, comments, insights, etc.. does the Scripture and/or the message bring to your mind?
2. Where do you need hope in your life right now? Where are you waiting for hope?
3. Who is God calling you to share hope with in the world? Who is waiting for hope that God may be calling you to live and embody hope in front of them?
4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?
Advent is a time of waiting. A time of waiting and drawing closer to Jesus. So we thought we would help you draw closer to Christ and wait by putting this Advent devotional together. So download a copy, and use it each day during advent and wait upon Him.
Here are some pictures from our Veritas Service Sunday yesterday. We partnered with Binding Love Scarves and helped cut recycled clothing so they can be made into scarves and sold and the proceeds go to help fight Human Trafficking. A great way to serve and be a blessing.
So today we come to the conclusion of our 4 week series For, With, One of, In. In the incarnation of Jesus, we see the way that God and Jesus interact with all of humanity. First of all, God is for us. Secondly, God is with us. Thirdly, Jesus became one of us. And lastly when we receive him, Jesus comes to live in us. When we follow this model of incarnational living we become for people, we are with people, we become one of them, so that Jesus then comes to live in them. And so we have spent a great deal amount of time talking during this series of what it means to live an incarnational life.
The first week we talked about the fact that God is actually for us. All too often we have a mistaken view that God the Father is just waiting for us to screw up so that he can crush us. That he is for us as long as we don’t screw up or get out of line. Then when we do, watch out. The Father’s anger comes raining down. But if we are to believe John 3:16-17 (especially verse 17) then we have to believe that Jesus is absolutely for us. And then when we realize that, and seek to live a life that is informed and shaped by God being for us, we become for people. Just ask the regular person on the street if they believe the church and Christians are for people or against them, and we all know what they will say. That Christians are against them. In fact, it is true that we are known more for what we are against than what we are for. How do we change that? We realize that God is for us (and for all people) and then we become for people.
Then we spent time talking about God being with us. Emmanuel, God with us. Jesus. What we celebrate at Christmas. That God the Father isn’t just some deity in the sky who is distant and unapproachable. He showed the Israelites that he was with them on their journey from Egypt to the Promised land through the presence of a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. And that God took them through the desert. We talked about the fact that God meets us in the wilderness as well. And that he is with us and calls us then to be with people.
Last week we talked about God being one of us in the person of Jesus. How he came to earth, taking on flesh and blood and moving into the neighborhood. And that Jesus truly understands what it means to be human. He became one of us and calls us who follow him to incarnate and become one of the people, networks, and neighborhoods that we are a part of. That we are already one of.
This week we finish our series For, With, One of, In by looking at In and to do that we’ll use one verse from the Apostle Paul’s letter to Galatian church. So let’s look at Galatians 2:20 and see what it might say about God living in and through us.
Galatians 2:20 says, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
To truly understand this one verse in chapter 2 of Galatians we need to take a look at what the Apostle Paul was writing about in this letter. Paul is writing to the Galatian church regarding their position before God, what set them in right relationship with God. The Galatian church had Judaizers come and teach them that they not only needed to follow Jesus, but that they also had to abide by certain Old Testament rites, especially circumcision. You see Judaizers were Jewish Christians who believed, among other things, that a number of practices from the Old Testament were still binding in the New Testament church. And Paul here in this letter to the church at Galatia is stating that it is by grace through faith alone that people are justified and it is by faith alone that they are to live out their new life in the freedom of the Holy Spirit. It is not the law, and the Old Testament rituals that set us right with God and redeems us. It isn’t whether we are Jewish or Greek, our heritage that puts us in right relationship with God. It is Christ, Christ crucified and Christ alone that redeems, reconciles, sets us right, and by which forgiveness comes. That is what Paul is trying to get across to the followers of Jesus in the Galatian church.
What Paul is getting at in verse 20 is that he realized that on the cross a great exchange happened. He gave Jesus his old try to be right before God by the law life and it was crucified on the cross. Then Jesus gave Paul his life to live. Christ came to live in him. So Paul’s life wasn’t his anymore. It belonged to Jesus. Paul didn’t own his own life, that life was dead, he was simply stewarding or managing the new life that Jesus gave him by his death on the cross. Martin Luther puts it this way, “Faith connects you so intimately with Christ that He and you become as if you were one person. As such you may boldly say ‘I am now one with Christ. Therefore, Christ’s righteousness, victory, and life are mine.’ On the other hand Christ may say ‘I am that big sinner. His sin and death are one because he is joined to me and I to him.”
So we who are in Jesus, our old self was crucified with Jesus, and our new self is bound with Jesus. Our old identity is dead, and our new identity is in Jesus. Whatever you were before Jesus, you are no longer that. We are the Messiah’s people with his life now at work in us. If we are ‘in” the crucified Jesus that means that our previous identities are irrelevant. They are to be forgotten. And if we have a new identity, one drawn from the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and if our new identity is because Jesus now lives in us, we have a different life. Our old life, lived under the law (think about why this letter was written- the OT ceremonial laws that the Judaizers wanted the Galatian believers to follow) is now dead. Now we are alive to Jesus Christ and he is alive in us.
And so if Jesus resides in us, if he comes to live within us, that means our life is no longer ours. It is his. And that life, the life of Jesus, lived through our lives need to be cruciform. What is the cruciform life? It means a cross shaped life. Our life is shaped by the cross into the shape of the cross. The cross, representing the life, death, and resurrected life of Jesus is the soul and life shaping core of the disciple’s existence. What Jesus did while walking on this earth is what he wants to do in and through us out in the world. How he lived his life while on earth is how he is calling us to live, since he has taken up residence within us. Taking up his home with those of us who have received him into our life.
So maybe the first thing that I need to ask is have you been crucified with Christ, and have you allowed Jesus to take up residence within you? To give your life for his life? To take up your cross and follow him? To begin living a cruciform life, a life shaped by the cross into the shape of the cross? If not, that is the first thing that you need to do before looking at anything else or hearing anything else that I say. Because you can’t seek to live out this For, With, One of, In reality out in the world, in your neighborhood, networks, and friends unless the reality is that you have received Jesus in your life. Have you traded places with him? Come to a place where your old life is dead, on the cross with him. And that your new life is Jesus living in and through you? If not, I pray that today you would give your life to him, and become a steward of the new life in Jesus that he will give back to you. (This is a beautiful picture of what we do when we baptize someone. Like the other week when Luis got baptized. He went into the water. His old life dying on the cross with Jesus. He came out of the water with Jesus’ new life within him).
And so when we do that, when our life is crucified with Jesus, we receive the new life through Jesus. The new life of Jesus living in and through us, we take on a new name. The name of Jesus. We become Christians, in the best and truest sense of the word, which means little Christs or little Jesus-es. (That is how the early followers of Jesus got their name because they looked like Jesus in the way that they lived his life in and through them).
And so as we have been walking through this incarnational journey, hopefully we have all begun to understand the implications of this journey. The implications of God being for us, with us, and one of us which then often times leads us to invite Jesus to be in us. And that changes everything. God passes the DNA of Jesus into our lives. Because we then possess the DNA of Jesus within us, we are empowered to live as Jesus lived while here on earth. And so when we then possess the DNA of Jesus within us, when our old life is crucified with Jesus, and our new life is cruciform, looking like the cross, then we, like God, must be for people, we must be with people, we must be one of people, so that the DNA of Jesus can be passed through our lives into the lives of others and Jesus will come and live in them as well.
So as we have been walking this incarnational journey together over the last 4 weeks who has God been laying on your heart? Who do you need to walk through this process with (not in a formal way or even an explicit way). But who needs to know (experience) that you are for them, that you are with them, that you are one of them with the hope and dream that the Jesus that lives within you can come and live within them? Who is God calling you to be on mission for? Who is God calling our community to be on mission for? Who is God calling us to be for? Who is God calling us to be with? Who is God calling us to be one of? So that the Jesus that lives, and breathes through our Veritas community, can come and live, and move and have his being in their lives?
And maybe that person is you. Maybe these four weeks have been for you. That you are the person that needs to first realize that God is for you. That he isn’t against you. That he is with you. That he meets you in the mess, the pain, the struggle, the wilderness, and the beauty as well. That he became one of us, took on flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood. He understands everything that you go through and because he came as a human (all the while still being God) he can be the only one who can set us right with God. And because he is for you, with you, and one of you, he wants to come and live within you.
So let’s spend some time discussing, talking, and applying what it means that your old life is crucified with Jesus and that he is now living in and through you. Let’s talk about who God may be calling us to walk through this process of For, With, One of, In with. And let’s see what part of this series spoke to you the most and what you are sensing God’s call on your life is through the series.
1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, etc… does the Scripture and/or message raise in your mind?
2. Who is God calling you (and us as a community) be be For, With, One of so that Jesus comes to live within them? Who do you need to walk through this process with?
3. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?
4. What stood out to you during our For, With, One of, In series? Which one of the 4 do you need to internalize and externalize?
Over the last 2 weeks we have been exploring our series For, With, One of, In. 2 weeks ago Matt kicked off our series by looking at John 3:16-17 and sharing with us the fact that God is for us (and for all people, not just followers of Jesus) and that because he is for people, that we should be for people as well.
Last week we talked about the idea that God is with us. That the ultimate reality of that fact is Emmanuel..God with us, in the form and life of Jesus. We talked about the Israelites leaving Egypt and going into the wilderness on their way to the promised land. On that journey the tangible presence of God was with them guiding, directing and being with them in the form of a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. We talked about God being with the Israelites in the wilderness and how he is with us in our times of wilderness. We also talked about the idea that if God is with us, and that we are vessels of the Holy Spirit and seeking to follow in the footsteps of our Lord, Savior, and Redeemer, then we need to be with people as well.
Today we are entering the 3rd of the 4 weeks and looking at One of. Next week we’ll round out our series by looking at In.
To dig into this idea of One of, we could go many places. Obviously the first and best place to start in relation to the fact that God was one of us is in relation to the incarnation of Jesus, that we celebrate at Christmas time. And while we won’t be using the Scripture narratives from Matthew and Luke regarding that first Christmas, we’ll be using 2 other Scriptures that shed light in what it means and what it meant for God to be one of us, in the person of Jesus.
First, let’s turn to Colossians 2:9 and see what the Apostle Paul says to the Colossian church regarding Jesus, the incarnation and the fact that God was one of us in Jesus. Colossians 2:9 says, “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form”
To understand what Paul is getting at in this text we need to do a little historical research on why Paul was writing the letter to the church at Colossae in the first place. You see the Colossian church was being besieged with some beliefs about Jesus that weren’t correct and Paul was seeking to combat the erroneous beliefs that had infiltrated the Colossian church. Colossians 2:9 is a declaration of the full deity of Jesus. Paul is saying that all the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Jesus and that Jesus couldn’t have been halfway God or a junior God. You see there were three prominent heretical views about Jesus that were making their rounds in the early church and these views needed to be combated with a strong message that Jesus was fully God and fully human at the same time, as hard is that for us to believe at times. 100% human. 100% God.
One of the false teachings among the Colossian Christians was something like an early form of Gnosticism, that would come later. This belief made a radical separation between the spiritual and the physical. That the spirit is 100% good and the physical is 100% evil. So Jesus, if he was 100% good couldn’t have been physically human. That is why Paul says, “fullness of Deity in bodily form.” That Jesus literally took on the bodily form of humanity and not in some strange mystical, spiritual sense.
Another false teaching of the day that some in Colossae may have held to was called Docetism, coming from the Greek word dokeĩn which means to seem. Docetism claims that Jesus wasn’t truly human, he only seemed human. That he didn’t have an actual human body, and that he only seemed to have a human body.
Lastly, the other false teaching was called Cerinthianism and it taught that “Jesus the man” was separate and distinct from “the Spirit of Christ.”
Hopefully knowing what teachings the early church was struggling through, we can see why Paul was strongly stating the fact that, unlike all the other teachings that we looked at, that “in Jesus all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.” The Apostle Paul was saying that Jesus literally became human, he became one of us. But at the same time, even though he became one of us, a human, he still retained his deity. It wasn’t like he had to give up his divinity in order to take on his humanity. God became one of us in the person of Jesus. And that this Jesus who came from heaven to walk among people, was also fully divine.
The Apostle Paul talks a lot about the intersection of Jesus’ divinity and his humanity. It seems like, to me, that this was one of Paul’s central doctrine of his faith. That Jesus was truly God and truly man. As I said a lot of the book of Colossians deals with the supremacy and primacy of Jesus and his divine and human nature, but Paul also writes about this in other letters.
One of the letters where he tackles what happened when Jesus took on flesh and blood is found in Philippians. Let’s look at Philippians 2:5-11 and see what this might say to us about how God became one of us in the person of Jesus.
Philippians 2:5-11 says, “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
In this text, which many theologians believe is a ancient hymn, Paul talks about the nature of Jesus’ humanity and his divinity. In verse 6 we read, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;” First, it is openly clear from this verse that Paul is not denying the fact that Jesus was in his very nature God. But at the same time Jesus did not cling to the privileges of deity. It wasn’t that Jesus was trying to achieve equality with God the Father, he already had it and he chose not to cling to it. This is a crucial statement because it is the reason that he became one of us. That he didn’t cling to the privileges of deity. He could have stayed with his Father, ruling and reigning from heaven, without ever putting one foot on the soil of his creation. He could have pronounced us redeemed, set right, forgiven, and whole all the while sitting at the right hand of the Father. But he didn’t. He chose not to use equality with God to his own advantage. No, he submitted himself to the will of the Father and took on the flesh and blood of his creation. Entered into our reality. Entered into the mess of humanity. Became one of us. Understanding everything we go through. Understanding the brokenness that we struggle with. If you ever ask the question “Does God understand what I’m going through” all we need to do is to look at Jesus and his incarnation, his becoming human to walk among his creation and experience everything that his creation experiences.
NT Wright has this to say about verses 6-7 and the fact that Jesus while becoming human didn’t stop being divine, “Let’s clear one misunderstanding out of the way in case it still confuses anybody. In verse 7 Paul says that Jesus ‘emptied himself’. People have sometimes thought that this means that Jesus, having been divine up to that point, somehow stopped being divine when he became human, and then went back to being divine again. This is, in fact, completely un-true to what Paul has in mind. The point of verse 6 is that Jesus was indeed already equal with God; somehow Paul is saying that Jesus already existed even before he became a human being (verse 7). But the decision to become human, and to go all the way along the road of obedience, obedience to the divine plan of salvation, yes, all the way was not a decision to stop being divine. It was a decision about what it really meant to be divine.”
Jesus, in all respects, was in appearance and likeness, a man. If you cut Jesus, he bled like any other human. It’s not like some of the artwork we see where it’s almost like if you cut him, light would come shining through because he just put on the outer form of humanity over his divinity. No, he was human through and through. You cut him, he bled. When he was tired, he slept. When he hurt for people, he cried. He was one of us. The song that we listened to at the beginning of our gathering was a question, “what if God was one of us?” And the answer has to be, he was one of us. Jesus was one of us. But at the same time, as hard as it is to fathom, Jesus was at the same time God. He was God in the flesh. God and Human all wrapped up together in the package of Jesus.
Now was does it mean to you and I that God was one of us in the person of Jesus? What does it mean to us as followers of Jesus in this time and in this place? Let me throw out some thoughts about what the incarnation means and how to apply it to our lives before we open it up for our discussion time.
First, as I mentioned above, Jesus entered into our reality. He entered into the mess of what it means to be truly human. He enters into our mess. He enters into our struggles, our pains, our darkness. He isn’t afraid to get dirty. He understands what it means to be human. To struggle, to be tempted as we are tempted (though he didn’t sin), to be in pain, to hurt. He can not only sympathize with you in your struggles, he can also empathize with you. He has been where you are. He meets us where we are because he was and is one of us.
Secondly, because God came in the flesh in the person of Jesus, when we become followers of Jesus, than he calls us to incarnate him into the world. To be one of. Who are you called to be one of? To incarnate the gospel of Jesus into the people of which you are already a part of? As followers of Jesus, he commissions us to love the people we are one of. Who is it for you? Who are you already one of? There are a few of you who are college students. Love the students you are already one of. Love and live like Jesus on the F&M, Millersville, and HACC campus. What about being one of those who live in your neighborhood? Love and be a blessing to the neighborhood that you are already a part of. Throw a party. Invite people to dinner. Get a bunch of your neighbors together and serve together. Serve someone in your neighborhood who could use some help.
What neighborhood or network of people are you already one of? As we have talked together over the last 3 weeks, does that network of people or neighborhood known that you are for them? Are you with them? Do you actually like them? Maybe some better questions would be things like: Would the people in my network or neighborhood say that I am for them? Would they say that I am with them? And would they consider me to be one of them?
Let’s talk about what the incarnation of Jesus into the world, taking on flesh and blood and moving into the neighborhood means personally for you and I. Let’s talk about what it means to be one of. Let’s ask the question about who we are one of and how we can be for, with, and one of. Let’s talk about the incarnation and how Jesus calls us to be incarnational.
1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, etc.. does these Scriptures and the message bring up in your mind?
2. What does it mean to you that God became one of us in Jesus? How does this impact you on a daily basis? How does it feel to know that God has entered into our mess and our reality?
3. Who are you already one of? How is God calling you to incarnate the love of Jesus in the networks that you are already one of? How can you love, serve and bless who you are already one of?
4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?
So today we continue our 4 week series called For, With, One of, In. In the incarnation of Jesus, we see the way that God and Jesus interact with all of humanity. First of all, God is for us. Secondly, God is with us. Thirdly, Jesus became one of us. And lastly when we receive him, Jesus comes to live in us. When we follow this model of incarnational living we become for people, we are with people, we become one of them, so that Jesus then comes to live in them.
Last week Matt did a great job of kicking off the series by looking at the fact that God is for people. He did a great job of unpacking John 3:16-17 especially verse 17 (which sits right beside probably one of the most well known scripture of all time, and verse 17 which isn’t even that well known). Verse 17 says it best regarding the fact that God is for us, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” And Matt helped us understand that if God is for people (and not just those of us who follow him, but for ALL people) than we need to be for people. We need to become a people more known for what we are for than what we are against. The Church in our world today is seen as being against people and not for people. Jesus, if he is our model for life, which he should be, was sent into the world to love people, not condemn people and to be for people. So if he is our model for life then we should be the most loving, least condemning people on the planet and we should be for people.
Today we are going to look at the second part of our series, the with part. Now when we talk about the fact that God is with us, we should immediately think of Emmanuel, which means God with us. Jesus, taking on flesh and blood, and moving into the neighborhood as the Message translates John 1:14. That is the ultimate picture of God with us. That is the quintessential example of God with us. But there are other examples, other accounts, within the Scriptures that speak of God with us. God entering into the world of humans, and engaging with us. Yes they aren’t as revolutionary, as important, as central to the idea of God with us, as Jesus, the incarnate one is. But they are still examples of God being with humanity, guiding, directing, leading, and engaging in relationship with his creation. One of these stories of God being with humanity is found in Exodus 13:17-22, in which the people of God, the Israelites are leaving slavery in Egypt and heading towards Canaan, the promised land.
Let’s look at Exodus 13:17-22 and see what it says about God being with us, and what it looks like then for us to be with people.
Exodus 13:17-22 says, “When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea. The Israelites went up out of Egypt ready for battle. Moses took the bones of Joseph with him because Joseph had made the Israelites swear an oath. He had said, “God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up with you from this place.” After leaving Sukkoth they camped at Etham on the edge of the desert. By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.”
Now as I said this is the part of the story that is telling us what happened once Pharaoh let God’s people, the Israelites, leave slavery and Egypt. This is the account of the beginning of their 40 year journey in the wilderness. The first thing we read in verse 17-18 is God leading the people out from Egypt. Verse 17 and 18 says, “When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea. The Israelites went up out of Egypt ready for battle.” Here we see God leading them in which way to go. He is with them and helping them make a crucial decision on what route to take from Egypt to the promised land. You see, just like today, when there isn’t just one way to get somewhere, there were possibly three various routes that people took throughout history. There are only two possibilities mentioned here. The first being the way of the Philistines, which would have been the shorter route, but the Israelites would have faced the most opposition. First they would have probably come across many Egyptian army outposts on their way out of Egypt, and then when they got out of Egypt they would have ran into Philistine armies. The second mentioned here, in which God led them, was into the wilderness. They went on the desert road towards the Red Sea. This was by far a longer trip, but it was probably just as dangerous in other ways.
But God led them to the desert road, and the wilderness, and he would be with them throughout their journey. When they had a decision to make, or needed wisdom or direction for the next steps, God was with them. They knew that, without a doubt, that God was with them. They knew this because they had something to look at. God was faithful to provide the Israelites with a visible manifestation of His presence, protection and guidance. We find what that visible manifestation of his presence was in verse 21-22 which says, “By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.” The pillar, we are told, was constantly with them and never left (or failed) them. God continually gave his people evidence of His presence with them. What is interesting about the Pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night is that the Persians and the Greeks used fire and smoke as signals in their marches and in a well known Papyrus, the Commander of an Egyptian expedition is called “A flame in the darkness at the head of his soldiers”. By this sign then of the pillar of cloud, basically what is being said is that the Lord himself is the leader or the head of the people of God, the Israelites. He was going before them and he was leading them. He was with them and he was never going to leave them nor forsake them. Deuteronomy 31 verse 6 sums up pretty well the Israelites journey out of Egypt, “ Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”
So no matter whether it was day or night, there was a tangible presence of God. Whether it was the pillar of cloud by day or pillar of fire by night, the Israelites knew that God was with them and was leading them. That God was protecting them. And with that protection came their allegiance to their King. Not a king in the fleshy, human sense (that would come later) but God as their King. With the presence of the cloud during the day and pillar of fire at night, the Israelite people knew that their King, God (Yahweh) wasn’t some distant ruler, who ruled from a far. Who demanded allegiance without being for his people and with his people. No. This King Yahweh was for his people. This King Yahweh was present with his people. And because he was for and with his people, they followed him and gave allegiance to him (in this part of the story at least)
I believe there are a few things that we can draw from this passage and apply to our lives today in the 21st century.
First, let’s take another look at the beginning of the text. Look at where God took them. He took them, not by the easiest, quickest route, but into the wilderness. That his presence, symbolized by the pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night, was with them in the wilderness and the desert. Now, I’m not saying that if you find yourself in a desert place, a wilderness place, a dark place that God led you there. Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. Maybe you are in a place where God seems distant. Where you haven’t felt God in a long time. That you haven’t sensed his leading. And it might feel like when you pray that you are screaming to the sky and no one is listening. You need to know, that if that is you today, you aren’t alone. You aren’t alone in a number of ways. Many people, even people who are renown for their faith in Jesus have felt that way. There is a book/poem by mystic St. John of the Cross called Dark Night of the Soul. The main idea of the poem can be seen as the painful experience that people endure as they seek to grow in spiritual maturity and union with God. Also Mother Teresa, known for her deep love and service also struggled with not feeling God. In her journal she once wrote, “In the darkness . . . Lord, my God, who am I that you should forsake me? The child of your love — and now become as the most hated one. The one — you have thrown away as unwanted — unloved. I call, I cling, I want, and there is no one to answer . . . Where I try to raise my thoughts to heaven, there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives and hurt my very soul. Love — the word — it brings nothing. I am told God lives in me — and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul.”
Others have gone through the desert as well. So you aren’t alone in that. But you are also not alone. Even though it doesn’t feel like God is present with you in the wilderness, he is. If we believe this text, and others like it (especially in relation to Emmanuel..God with us) God enters into our wilderness, our suffering, our pain. Sure you might not feel him. And you most definitely won’t see a pillar of cloud by day or a pillar of fire by night. But that doesn’t escape the fact that God, through Jesus, has entered into our world, and is with us in a very real and profound way. Especially those who are suffering and going through wilderness experiences. So if that is you today, know that God is with you, walking with you through this experience, and that those of us who are followers of Jesus are also with you, and want to walk with you through your wilderness experience.
Secondly, when we look at the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire we see a tangible reality, that God was and is with people. He didn’t wait for people to come be with him. He didn’t sit in heaven and just wait for people to climb a ladder (so to speak) and be with him. And so this story of God coming down in a pillar of cloud and pillar of fire shows us that God is with us. But we see this best in Jesus. In Jesus we see that he came to be with us, that is what we celebrate at Christmas, Emmanuel, God with us. And so, logically, if we, who call ourselves Followers of Jesus, follow after Jesus in the way he lived his life, than we need to wrestle with the idea and fact that Jesus was with people, and that we then need to be with people. We don’t sit inside our “sanctified buildings” and wait for people to be with us. No. We take a cue from this text and from Jesus, and go out into the world to be with people. One great way that I can think of to be with people is to help out with Circles. God is calling us to go out and be with people. He might not lead us by a cloud and by fire, but he is leading us nevertheless. To get out of the bubble, and engage with people who are all around us. To love our neighbor. To learn their names if we don’t know them. To serve people. To bless them. To spend time over a dining room table eating with people. Let’s not only be for people, but let’s take another step on this incarnational journey and be with people.
So what does this look like for you? What does this look like for us? What does it mean to you that God is with us? Are you experiencing a time in your life where that reality needs to sink in to your life? How can you and I be with people? Let’s spend some time wrestling together with these questions and applying them to our individual and corporate lives.
1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, applications do you have regarding the Scripture and/or the message?
2. What does it mean to you that God is with us? How do you need this reality to sink into your life? Are you in a time where you need to know that God is with you?
3. How can you and I be with people? What does it look like for you to be with people? What does it look like for us as Veritas to be with people?
4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?
Start of new series For, With, One of, In
“The theme for the day is For and the idea that God/Jesus is For us and that because he is for us we can be for people. This is especially played out in verse 17 which talks about Jesus not condemning the world and then if we follow him shouldn’t that be the way we engage with people, that we are really for them? Yet, so often, Christians are perceived (and maybe rightly so) as against people.”
To start this new series, we will begin with a verse that I think I can say without any exaggeration is the best-known Bible verse of all. One that, if you grew up in the church, you probably learned as a little kid, one that you can probably quote without looking it up, one whose reference is sometimes found on big posters held up by fans at sporting events. We are looking at John 3:16-17 today. Let’s read:
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. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.
Verse 16 seems simple enough, right? It encapsulates Jesus’ earthly ministry & why it is important to us, His followers these 2000 or so years later. It is a beautiful summary of the humble, selfless act of the Son of God becoming a human, becoming one of us, & His atoning death on the cross, together with His resurrection, His work of conquering sin & death. Verse 16 is rightly very well-known.
But what about verse 17? Did you have that one memorized before we looked at it just now? And what does it mean that these two verses are one right after another, that Jesus spoke them in nearly the same breath? Let us look at the context in which these verses were spoken for some insight.
These verses are part of a late-night conversation between the Pharisee Nicodemus & Jesus.
Nicodemus was a member of Jewish society’s religious elite, the Pharisees. While we look at them now through the eyes of hindsight, they would have been educated, likely well-respected men who knew the Scriptures inside & out. For Nicodemus to be coming to Jesus, a carpenter’s son without nearly as much “formal religious training” as he himself likely had, showed some humility. And some embarrassment, too – he probably met with Jesus at night because he was ashamed to be seen “consorting with the enemy” – clearly the way that the Pharisees of Jesus’ day viewed Jesus – & asking Jesus questions. Nicodemus found himself in a position in which it likely wasn’t okay to have questions about faith.
Jesus seemed perfectly willing to spend time with ANYBODY – including a member of a group that he knew was plotting to kill Him – & tell Him about His plan for His Kingdom & the salvation that he offers.
As for John 3:16 itself, Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers remarks that “most young preachers have sermons upon it; older men learn that its meaning must be felt & thought rather than spoken. Still less can it be written; & this Note may not attempt to do more than indicate some lines of thought which may help to lead to others…While the words of the verse are quite familiar to most of us, they were uttered to Nicodemus for the first time”. The sacrificial system of the Old Testament was being fulfilled in the person of Jesus, & this would have likely rocked Nicodemus’ world. The Jews of Jesus’ time were figuring on a Messiah who would wipe out the Gentiles, a military Savior who would obliterate their political enemies. There is, after all, an abundance of talk about judgment for sin in the Old Testament, especially in the prophetic books like Ezekiel & Isaiah. But Jesus shows another plan at work – something that is also hinted at by those same prophets, Isaiah in particular. He paints the picture of a Father & his only Son – a picture that suggests the man of faith that the Jews looked up to most – Abraham. God provided a substitutionary sacrifice to take Isaac’s place on the altar then, & Jesus is saying here that God is providing Jesus Himself in place of the guilty parties – all of sinful man, every single person. He doesn’t draw a boundary & say that the salvation would be only for Israel, either, but the whole world. The one & only condition: “That whosoever believes on Him (Jesus)”. Any relationship needs to be two-sided, so Jesus included the fact that each individual person needs to choose to follow Him. Which leads us in to John 3:17.
In verse 17, Jesus seems to be directly taking on the notion of a vengeful Savior. He says, “ For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” Jesus is FOR us – He wants to see us saved, & He gives us the avenue for that – Himself. Earlier in the Gospels, in Luke 4:16-21, Jesus ties it all together beautifully. Let me read it:
“16 So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. 17 And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written:
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He has anointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,[j]
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed;
19 To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”
20 Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. 21 And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Jesus makes it clear that He is FOR us. He loves us, & God the Father loves us so much that He gave Jesus for us & raised Him from the dead, so that we can spend eternity in fellowship with Him. And also so we can follow Him in life, in building His Kingdom, & in being His hands & feet in the world as we know it.
Let me also make it clear, though that Jesus wants EVERYONE to be saved, to experience His love, to know Him truly. It is all too easy to fall into the trap that the Pharisees & the Jews were likely prone to – the idea that God was only for them. I feel that American Christianity has all too often come off as a judgemental club of easily-offended finger-waggers, breathing condemnation on those who don’t believe as they do. But Jesus is not only FOR us as Veritas, or as American Christians, or as members of the developed Western world. We can’t treat the truth that Jesus communicates in John 3:16-17 as something on which we have cornered the market. This salvation, this life, this relationship is available to all who want it, without restriction. That includes our loved ones, our enemies, total strangers, people on the other side of the world, homeless people, rich people, saints, criminals, you, & me. Simply put, Jesus is FOR us, FOR all people – let us live in the light of that truth.
1. What thoughts/comments/questions/pushback do you have about these verses of Scripture/this message?
2. Jesus is FOR us – what does that mean to you personally? To Veritas as a community? How might this change your perception of other people?