Today we continue our 7 week series iDoubt:Questions about Faith looking at 7 questions that were submitted by some of you. We’ve explored questions like: What does it mean to be a disciple? What is salvation and can you lose it? And Is Baptism mandatory for salvation or is it simply a public declaration?
Today we cover probably one of the harder questions that we will explore in this series and it revolves around the text that we gather around each and every week. It revolves around this book that we call the Bible. The question that was submitted was “Is the Bible reliable?” And so we are going to explore this question together. But know that there is no one that I will be able to answer all the questions that come from that question. I can’t explain everything in 20 minutes or so. That is why I have some books and a For Further reading sheet in case you’d like to do some more reading and research around this topic. If you take a book let me know which one you took.
To explore this deep, tough, but essential question we are going to break it down into several sections of the sermon. So we’ll explore what and how the Bible came to be. We’ll talk about why I believe it is reliable through discussion on things like manuscripts, archeology, and facts. We’ll talk about what it is and what it isn’t. We’ll talk about the purpose of the Bible. And lastly we’ll look at what the Scriptures say about itself.
So the Bible is a collection of 66 Books. 39 Old Testament books and 27 New Testament books. These 66 books were written over 1600 years, over 60 generations, by more than 40 authors on 3 different continents, in different circumstances and places, in different times, in 3 different languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek), concerning stories of controversial subjects but it speaks with one unified vision. The New Testament was all written within 2 generations of the time of Jesus which would be somewhere by the end of the 1st century at the latest. It means that many of those who would be reading the gospels could have been eyewitnesses to the accounts in the gospels. The 4 gospels, Acts and the 13 letters ascribed to Paul were regarded as authentic and authoritative from early on- as early as the early to mid end century. We possess literally hundreds of early manuscripts. There are dozen’s of NT manuscripts from the 3rd and 4th century and a few as early as the 2nd century. Let’s compare this to other ancient writings that people don’t normally question the accuracy and reliability of the manuscripts. Look at Plato. He wrote 427-327 BC, our earliest copy fragment is from 900 AD or a time span of 1200 years and only 7 copies. Aristotle was between 384-322 BC. Earliest fragment from 1100 AD or a timespan of 1400 years and there are 49 copies. What about Homer’s Iliad, one of histories best example of reliability, and accuracy. It was written in the 9th century BC. Our earliest fragment is from 400 BC or a time span of 500 years there are 643 copies and the accuracy of these copies is 95%. When we compare these to the Bible, and specifically the New Testament, we see the overwhelming evidence for the reliability and trustworthiness of our Bible that we have today. The NT was written between 40-100 AD, our earliest copy is from 125 AD or only a time span of 25 years. There are over 24,000 copies of the New Testament and the accuracy of the copy is 99%. In fact, when shepherds in Israel in 1946 found what we call the Dead Sea Scrolls, some 981 different texts (not all Biblical texts), researchers found that when they compared those ancient scrolls and texts to the texts that we have today in common use that our modern day texts were 98% similar to the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Not only is the Bible reliable in that we have overwhelming historical evidence in relation to manuscripts, but we also can see the Bible’s reliability in relation to the idea that this work is not a work of mythology. Many of the places that are talked about in the Bible can be found today. When it mentions places like Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Nazareth, etc.. these places can be found on a map and can be visited. Even more obscure places have been found through archeological digs. Many of the names that are in the Bible have also been uncovered through archeology. Almost no one disputes that fact that there was a historical person by the name of Jesus of Nazareth. They might dispute who he was, but almost all historical scholars believer there was a person named Jesus who lived 2,000 years ago.
So let’s turn the corner and talk then about what the Bible is and what it isn’t. The Bible is a place where, according to N.T. Wright, “heaven and earth overlap and interlock.” and “is part of God’s answer to the ancient human quest for justice, spirituality, relationship, and beauty.” The Bible is full of different genres like narrative, poetry, song, law, history, letters and apocalyptic literature. But overall the Bible is a story, a grand epic narrative (think more like Lord of the Rings than like a science text book from school), and a love story. A story in which we are invited to take part and have a role to play. It is also the story of God’s redemptive work in and for the world. It is the story of God’s interaction with humanity and humanities experience with God. This epic narrative has a plot. There are many scholars and theologians who have their own ideas of the plot line of the Bible. You have some who see it as a four act play that starts with Creation, then Fall, then Redemption, then Consummation. Brian McLaren has a 7 chapter story all beginning with C…Creation, Crisis, Calling, Conversation, Christ, Community, Consummation. But probably my favorite is, (surprise) N.T. Wrights 5 act epic where Act 1 is God creating the world, Act 2 is Humanity Falls, Acts 3 is God calls and works through Israel, Act 4 is the climax in the person and ministry and life of Jesus. And then Act 5 is where you and I come in as the church, we are called to live out the story, and also the very ending of Act 5 we know the ending. The question for us then with this concept that the Scripture is story is what story are you a part of? What story are you living out in the world? And then there is a time in every Christians life when we must come to embrace the Bible as our own story and the story of the Kingdom of God.
So if the Bible is an epic narrative, a story of God’s encounter with humanity, and our encounter with God, then what isn’t the Bible? The Bible isn’t a Science textbook or a textbook at all for that matter. I believe we do a huge disservice to the Bible when we hoist our modern scientific worldview back onto the worldview that is found in the Bible. The original authors did not see what they were writing as meeting the critiques of a 21st century audience. And so discrepancies that are in the Bible that we make a huge deal over (like how people were counted) simply weren’t that big of a deal in those days. The Bible isn’t a divine rule book of what we are to do and even more so what we aren’t supposed to do. It isn’t a law book or a constitution. Are there guidelines for living in the Bible? Of course, but it is so much more than that. The Bible isn’t an instruction manual on how to live..or like some people say Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. It isn’t to be compared to an owner’s manual for your new car or your new vacuum cleaner. The Bible isn’t the fullest revelation of God. Yes it is one of the revelations from God which includes Scripture and the creation itself, but he fullest and best revelation of God is Jesus. And the Bible isn’t to be worshipped, that is called biblio-idolatry. Often Christians are called People of the book, but is that what we are called to be? People that are defied by “the book” or people defined by Jesus? Is the Bible important, of course it is. But we need to make sure that nothing comes in between us and Jesus, and that means the Bible as well. Let me ask you a question, when you hear “the word of God” what comes immediately to mind? The Bible or Jesus or both? Jesus is the ultimate Word of God (see John 1) and we come to know the ultimate Word of God through the Bible, the word of God. That is where the Bible points us to.
So now that we have talked about the Bible from the outside looking in, let’s open the Bible and see what the Bible says about itself. Let’s turn to probably the best known Scripture that refers to itself, 2 Timothy 3:16-17 which says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” The Apostle Paul in these two verses lays out what Scripture is and what the purpose of it is. Basically what Paul is saying is that the Bible is inspired by God. God did not physically write the book, and the authors weren’t just being dictated through. Some really conservative people believe in what is called the dictation theory where the authors literally were just dictating. But this theory is more muslim than Christian. Paul is saying that Scripture is inspired by God, written through the authors. Personalities of the authors are definitely alive and well in the text of Scripture. The writers, compilers, editors and even collectors of Scripture were people who, with different personalities, styles, methods and intentions, were nonetheless caught up in the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and the purposes of God. And the Bible therefore is to then enable God’s people to be “equipped for every good work” or in other words, to do God’s work in God’s world. The Bible fashions us, and forms us, it, according to Paul, “teaches us, rebukes us, corrects us and trains us.” Trains us to be God’s people in the world seeking to be the hands and feet of Jesus and to be about his work in the world. We fall inline then with Christians down through the centuries who have said that the Bible was inspired by God or I like to say, as Paul does, God breathed. It was an act of his creativity. What else does this idea of God breathed bring up? It ties into the beginning where God formed mankind from the breath of his lungs and created us. God breathed again into mankind, gave mankind his creativity, and these authors wrote the Bible. N.T. Wright has this to say about the Bible, “The Christian Bible we know is a quite astonishingly complete story, from chaos to order, from first creation to new creation, from covenant to renewed covenant, and all firing together in a way that none of the authors could have seen but which we, standing back from the finished product, can only marvel at.”
So let’s look at another Scripture that the author makes reference to what Scripture actually is and what it isn’t. 1 Thessalonians 2:13 says, “And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe.” Paul writing to the church at Thessalonica calls the Scriptures what it is. It is the word of God. He also says what it isn’t. It isn’t just human words. Yes humans obviously wrote it but as I mentioned before these are the words of God, inspired by Him, and written by mankind. These believers in Thessalonica received the word of God as it actually was, the word of God. God breathed (which is what the word inspired actually means) into 40 different authors who then took up their writing instruments and wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. We, as Christians living in the 21st century half a world away need to do the same thing that the believers in Thessalonica did….receive the Bible as the word of God and not just human words.
So even though we are talking about the Bible, and the Bible is definitely one of God’s revelation, if we make it strictly about the Bible, we are missing the point. We are missing the point of the Bible. Don’t look at the Bible, look through the Bible. Look where the Bible points. It points to and directs our gaze to Jesus. And then we should use the lens of Jesus to then go back into the text and read all of Scripture in the light of Jesus. The Bible somehow becomes an authoritative instrument of what God accomplished through Jesus- particularly his life, death and his resurrection.
So what is my prayer as we come to the discussion part of our time together? One that we would read the Bible more. We are become less and less Bible literate and that needs to be changed. We would spend time in it, reading it, meditating on it, applying it to our lives. Also that we would let it read us. Secondly, that we would begin to see it not just as a book for individuals but that it truly is a community book. It was written in community, to communities, and for communities. And that we as a community would engage the Scriptures together. We do that each Sunday as we gather but we also do that in 2 Community Groups that meet. We can do that by joining our Scripture reading group that reads the same Scriptures on the same day together. But that we could come up with other ways of engaging the Scriptures in community together. Thirdly, that hopefully we have seen that we can know that the Bible is reliable and we can trust it. (And again if you want to do further reading and research on this question, there are a few books that I have that you can borrow). And lastly that we would allow the Bible to point us to Jesus, His Kingdom, and the story that he is writing and wants to write in and through us. So what story are you living out and into? Your own or His?
So let’s talk about the Bible some more. What other questions do you want to unpack together regarding the reliability of the Bible? What are your thoughts on the Scriptures that we used? And lastly what is God saying to you and to us about his word and how we are to engage with it as individuals and as a community?
1. What other questions, thoughts, comments, insights, etc..do you have around our question “Is the Bible reliable?” that you’d like to share?
2. What are your thoughts, comments, insights, etc… around the Scriptures that we used (2 Timothy 3:16-17 and 1 Thessalonians 2:13)
3. What is God saying to you and to us about His word and how we can engage it as individuals and tougher as community?
So we are on our third week and our third question in our iDoubt: Questions about Faith series. We have covered the questions: “What does it mean to be a disciple?” and “What is Salvation and Can you lose it?” Today we tackle the question, “Is Baptism mandatory for salvation or is it simply a public declaration?” We’ll find out that again this question is strongly tied into our discussion about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, to follow him with your life and not just a mental ascent to a series of propositional truth phrases. That is why we began our series seeking to wrestle to the ground the concept of being a disciple of Jesus, and then seeking to answer the questions based on the dialogue and discussion around discipleship.
So the question for today again is “Is Baptism mandatory for salvation or simply a public declaration?” Now it might seem like this is a simple question to answer from our thoughts and from Scripture but let’s dive deeper into it, and we’ll see it isn’t as simple as it seems. There are various Scriptures that talk about baptism and its’ relationship with salvation. Let’s read two and see what we might learn and how we answer this question about salvation and baptism. And we’ll see that on the surface it might look like these two different Scriptures actually differ in their understanding of the relationship between salvation and baptism.
Let’s look at Acts 10:44-48 first then we’ll turn to 1 Peter 3:21.
Acts 10:44-48 is part of the encounter of Cornelius, the Roman Centurion and Peter. Earlier in the chapter we see that Cornelius has a vision and in the vision God tells him to send people to Joppa to have Peter come and visit him. He sends 3 people to find Peter. Almost at the same time Peter has a vision where a sheet comes down from heaven filled with unclean animals (representing the Gentile population) and God tells Peter to get up and eat. Peter turns him down, and God tells him to not label anything God calls as clean, unclean. The three men get to the house, call for Peter, tell him the story, and Peter goes back with them realizing that God was telling him the gentiles weren’t unclean. Peter preaches the gospel to all who gather including Cornelius and verse 44-48 pick up the rest of the story and their response to Peter’s preaching, “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Then Peter said, “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.”
So let’s break down what happens in order. Peter preaches the gospel, the Holy Spirit comes upon his hearers, they receive salvation, Peter says “no one can stand in the way of these gentiles being baptized.” And then they were baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. It didn’t say that they got baptized and then received the Holy Spirit and salvation. Salvation came when each one of these Gentiles responded to Peter’s message with believing faith in their hearts, so that they were saved while they listened. Once they had received faith, baptism then was a recognition of the salvation that they had already received. Not one of the circumcised could object to Peter’s statement and decision to baptize these gentiles because as he put it, “they have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” They realized that the Jewish believers and the Gentile believer’s were now on the same footing, there was no division anymore between Jew and Gentile. And so then these Gentile believers, after hearing the message of the Gospel, receiving the Holy Sprit, were then baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.
But what exactly is Baptism anyway and what does it mean? Baptism can be described as a symbol and a pledge. It is a symbol, or an external sign of an inward change or an external sign of an interior faith. And it is a pledge to all who witness it to continue to die to self, and raise to new life in Christ. Most Anabaptists believe that baptism is an initiation into “membership” in the church and also see it as a boundary marker for the church community “over and against the world.” Baptism is not a means to salvation but a sign of it. The early anabaptist (or sometimes called The Radical reformers) believed there were was what they called a 3 Fold Baptism. The first fold was the baptism of the Spirit. This meant when the Spirit came upon people, they confessed their sin, they gave their lives to Jesus, and they began to walk in obedience to Jesus. The second fold was the baptism in water. One of the early Anabaptist said this about baptism in water, “Baptism in water in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit … is nothing other than a public confession and testimony of internal faith and commitment.” And the last fold was Baptism of blood. Now when we hear this we immediately think martyrdom, and many early Anabaptists were indeed killed party because of their belief in believer’s baptism. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that. It means that even after baptism and seeking to be obedient to Jesus, followers of Jesus would still face the constant struggle of the flesh and of this world. The Killing of the old man (or women) so to speak was the third, panful and continual baptism.
And so when we break it down baptism is about obedience and discipleship. We seek, as followers of Jesus, to live and walk like he walked. Jesus was baptized so we should as well. But the waters of baptism are not salvific or regenerative. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t important or not necessary. Plenty of places in the New Testament salvation and baptism are intertwined. Many places when the gospel was preached and received the texts say the people “believed and were baptized.” Always in that order. And when the jailer in Acts 16 asks what he could do to be saved, Paul and Silas answered him, “Believe in the Lord Jesus.” The jailer and his family did so, and then they were baptized. Also the story in Acts 8 where Philip shares the gospel of Jesus with the Ethiopian Eunuch, the Eunuch pulls the chariot over near some water, and asks Philip basically, “what can stop me from being baptized” and we see Philip and the Eunuch getting out of the chariot, going into the water, and Philip baptizing the Eunuch.
So from the whole of Scripture it looks like an open and shut case regarding our question, “Is Baptism mandatory for salvation or is it simply a public declaration?” It seems like everywhere we turn salvation and baptism are linked, in that people come to believe in the Lord Jesus, are saved and then are baptized. It seems pretty clear that salvation happens first, and then people in accordance with following Jesus are baptized as believers. That baptism is not a means of salvation but a sign of it. But is it possible then to be a follower of Jesus, be a disciple, and not be baptized as a believer? I believe it is possible. It is possible to be saved without being baptized. But another question that I have is if Jesus was baptized, and we are to follow his example, his lead, and have our lives emulate his life, shouldn’t we follow his example of being baptized and then be baptized ourselves as believers?
But let’s take a look at another Scripture that on the surface might seem that it contradicts the idea that baptism itself isn’t salvific. Let’s look at 1 Peter 3:21 which says, “and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ,” From a quick first reading it looks like Peter is saying that baptism saves. But let’s take a deeper look at what he is saying to see if that is indeed what he is saying. In this text (3:20) Peter is making the connection between Noah and the ark and baptism. He is saying that Noah’s building of the ark to rescue his family points forward to baptism. Noah’s ark involved people begin rescued through the great flood and is a fairly obvious picture of baptism. And so the flood is an antitype of baptism. The flood and Noah’s ark symbolizes baptism and baptism symbolizes salvation. Just as the water of the flood washed away sin and wickedness and brought a new world with a fresh start before God, the waters of baptism does the same thing, providing a passage from the old to the new. From death to life.
So baptism washes away sin and wickedness just like the flood, but Peter is careful here to point out that it isn’t the actual water of baptism that saves us but the spiritual reality behind the immersion in water. In fact, it is quite evident at the end of the passage what saves us. It is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 3:21 shows us that the water of baptism symbolizes a spiritual cleansing through the power of the Holy Spirit gained through Christ’s victory over death. Baptism then places us alongside the Messiah in his victory over death, sin, evil and hell by his resurrection. Baptism means that we die and then we raise to new life with the Messiah.
So I believe it is pretty clear from the whole of Scripture that salvation and baptism are linked together. That Scripture calls us to be saved and to show that salvation, that inner faith outwardly through the sacrament of baptism. But this doesn’t mean that baptism is in anyway salvific or brings salvation. Only belief in Jesus, his life, death, and resurrection brings that salvation. But at the same time, salvation is worked out in fear and trembling, and every day when we get up. And I believe part of that working out of our salvation, is being a disciple, and seeking to follow Jesus, his life, and his example. And I truly believe then that as a disciple of Jesus, if we want to follow him that that will eventually lead us into the waters of baptism. Do I believe baptism is mandatory for salvation? No, they are as I said two different parts but are linked together in Scripture. I would encourage anyone who has either not been baptized before (at all) or who was baptized as an infant before coming to faith in Jesus for yourself, to pray and seek God and see if he might be calling you to seal your commitment to him in the waters of baptism. To symbolize your inner faith externally by being baptized. To go down into the waters, dying to yourself and your old flesh, and rising out of the water into new life with Jesus. I would be more than happy to sit down with anyone, answer questions, and have a dialogue about baptism.
So let’s unpack this question a little bit further together. What are your questions about this question, the Scriptures and/or the message? What are your thoughts about the connection between salvation and baptism? How does this play out in our missional engagement in the wider world? 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?
1. What thoughts, comments, questions, insights, etc.. do you have about the question, the Scriptures and/or the message?
2. What are your thoughts about the connection between salvation and baptism? How does play out in our missional engagement with the wider world?
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?
Today we tackle our second question in our series iDoubt: Questions about Faith. As I mentioned last week, this series came from 7 questions that people here at Veritas submitted. Also as I mentioned last week there will be times during this series in which we might disagree during our time of exploration and discussion. We might come at the question from different places and end up in different places, and I believe that is okay. Let’s agree today that in the midst of disagreement that we’ll stay in the tension, stay in the relationships, and agree to disagree. Too often in the church when we disagree with each other, there goes the relationship. So let’s buck that trend, and actually stay in relationship, even if you disagree with someone.
Today our second question also ties into our discussion from last week. Last week the question was “What does it mean to be a disciple.” We talked about the fact that a disciple is one who apprentices themselves to Jesus. We stand at his shoulder watching and learning from him, and then seeking to live his life in and through ours. He calls us to be disciples by taking up our cross, denying ourselves and following him. Not an easy thing to do.
Today the question is “What is salvation and can you lose it.” Many of us in our lives have probably experienced a time when someone we had spent time with, maybe discipled, been in youth group or church with, decided to walk away from Jesus. And we are left with questions like, “Were they really Christians to begin with?” “Are they still saved because they made a profession of faith at some point in their life.” “have they lost their salvation?” And so we thought we’d explore this question because, I believed, we probably have all been there and have known people who used to follow Jesus.
But actually when this question was submitted it just referred to losing your salvation. But salvation is one of those words in which we think we know what it means but a lot of time we don’t really. So I thought I would explore what salvation is, and then we can go from there to answer the question about whether you can lose it or not. Because I believe how you define salvation will lead to seeing whether or not you could lose your salvation. And as we’ll see in a bit, I truly believe our discussion about discipleship ties neatly into how we view salvation and our question that we’ll explore today.
I believe that if you mention the word salvation to any western Christian and you’ll probably hear the answer that it means going to heaven when you die. But is that what salvation truly is biblically speaking? I think if we believe salvation is a one time contractual agreement that we enter with God. (ie…when I say yes to making Jesus my Savior- not necessarily my Lord- then he is obligated to let me into heaven when I die. But I don’t necessarily have to be a disciple and actually follow him) than we think of salvation in terms of an end destination. And when we think in those terms, then questions like can I lose my salvation take on a bigger role in our life. But if salvation is something other than just about going to heaven when we die, we can see the question about losing salvation as actually less important than before. (Not that it isn’t important). We start to see how salvation and being a disciple are wrapped up together. It is like two parts of the same coin. Jesus rescues us from sin, death, evil and hell and also rescues us for life and life to the fullest (John 10:10) (that’s his part) and then our response needs to be to accept his rescue, but then live it out on a daily basis (and that is our part). Taking up our cross and following him. NT Wright says this about salvation, “the work of salvation, in it’s fullest sense, is 1. about whole human beings, not merely souls. 2. about the present, not simply the future and 3. about what God does through us, not merely what God does in and for us.” We need to realize this idea that we have been saved, we are being saved, and we will be saved. That we have been saved 2,000 years ago when Jesus died on the cross to set the world right (including our relationship with God, others, and the world) as well as when we said yes to following him. That we are being saved each day as we take up our cross, follow him and live a life of a disciple of Jesus Christ. And that one day if we continue walking in him, that we’ll be rescued fully, but not just ourselves but the entire cosmos will be saved and put right, the way that it has always meant to be.
Looking at salvation then as connected to discipleship, we begin to realize the importance of the everyday decision of taking up your cross, as some translations say, daily. You see, most anabaptist never thought of salvation in terms of a transactional guarantee of passage to heaven, but more concerned with the following of Jesus. The discipleship that he calls us to. Salvation then is something we attain by remaining on a path of obedience to Christ. Not that we can save ourselves, only God does that. But, it is like the Scripture that says, “work out your salvation with fear and trembling”, Jesus calls us to work it out.
Now you probably know by my discussion of salvation how I answer the question about whether we can lose our salvation. But let’s know look at a Scripture and see how it might help us unpack this question even further. Hebrews 6:4-6 says this, “It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.”
The first thing we need to know about this passage is related to it’s wider context within the book of Hebrews. One of the reasons for writing the book of Hebrews was a call for the church to be faithful and to persevere till the end. You see the book of Hebrews was primarily written to Jewish Christians who were familiar with the Old Testament and were being tempted to revert back to Judaism or at the very least Judaize the gospel (add Jewish rules and regulations to the practice of the gospel). And so we see this call for the church to persevere to the end throughout the entire book.
Another thing we need to be aware of in the book of Hebrews is that it is filled with what is called warning passages. There are 5 warnings passages, of which the text that we read is part of 1. The 5 warning passages are 2:1-4, 3:4-4:13, 5:11-6:12, 10:19-39, and 12:1-29. Each warning passage follows the same pattern. First the subjects or audience are in danger of committing a sin. Secondly, the sin that leads to. Third, there is a exhortation to not fall into sin, which then if not followed, leads to 4. consequences of that sin.
There are 4 views of this particular warning passage. Or put another way there are 4 views of who the intended audience is for the warning. The four views are the hypothetical view, the false believer view, the true believer view, and the covenant community view. The first view is that this warning is real but the sin (the falling away) has neither been committed nor can be committed since, according to this view, true believers can’t fall away. It is a way to jar people back into perseverance. The false believer view is that the audience of these warnings are not true believers and that those who could commit that sin couldn’t be true believers. The covenant community view is that individual Christians aren’t in mind of the author, that the warnings are directed to Christian communities, and they are being warned about the rejection of God as a community. The last view, which I personally hold to is the true believer view. This view is that the audience of the warning passages are true believers in every observable sense, can commit the sin of following away, and can lose their salvation. Hence the call and warning to persevere to the end in their faith.
Now with that background in mind we can see that this warning follows the same pattern. The subjects in Hebrews 6:4-6 appear to be believers. We read verse 4-5 which lays out the case that the people the author is talking about were believers. Verses 4-5 read, “it is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age” We see that these individuals, I believe, had experienced the grace of God. They received the Holy Spirit (how can you share something you don’t have?) And they had been enlightened. I truly believe they were saved. Even the author of the Hebrews, I believe, treats these people as true believers. Obviously, only God truly knows this but by every observable method, these people were Christians.
Secondly the sin in this warning passage is the sin of apostasy, which is the abandonment or renunciation of following Jesus. This is understood, in this passage and other places, as the deliberate and public refusal to submit to God and his will for people in Jesus Christ. We read this in verse 6 in relation to falling away and being brought back. We also have to see that this falling away is in relation to rejecting Jesus. As long as people are in the act of rejecting Jesus they can not feasibly turn back to him. That is why at the beginning of this text, the author uses the word impossible. Not that it is impossible for someone who was walking away to return to faith. But that according to Scot McKnight, “The contention that “impossible to repent” means only an inability to return to a former state of intimate fellowship with God is rendered at most unlikely by our synthetic approach. If one examines the list above, especially the threatening dangers found at 10:26-31, one is pressed to agree what the author is not dealing here with the impossibility of reclaiming a recalcitrant sinner (who will nevertheless be saved in the end) but with eternal damnation because that person has apostasized from a former commitment to God’s salvation in Christ.”
When we break it all down, this text is honestly not really about losing your salvation or even the question can one lose their salvation. What this text is really calling each of us to is to continued maturity in our discipleship. To not get comfortable with where we are and get stagnant. But to continue moving forward and growing deeper in our journey with Jesus. The author of this book puts it this way, “Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity.” What we see also before the text that we looked at is the author’s call for the church to move beyond the milk and grow deeper in Jesus. In Hebrews 5:11-14 we read, “We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.”
My prayer in relation to this question of whether you can lose your salvation is that we would see salvation as being connected to Jesus in discipleship and that discipleship is an everyday, day in and day out, get out of bed, and make a decision to follow Jesus. Salvation isn’t just a one time decision. It is an every day decision to follow Jesus. And that when we encounter someone who once walked with Jesus, we will continue to walk with them, loving them, serving them, and praying that they would return and begin to walk with Jesus again. We wouldn’t either say, “Well they were saved before and you can’t lose it so they are good.” or “You can lose your salvation and they have lost it for good.” The good news in the second situation is that the journey is not done and there is time to help disciple people back into the Kingdom.
How is this passage speaking to you? How do you read it? How have you encountered this question before and how have you handled it with others who have “walked away”? How are you growing in your faith each and every day? What spiritual disciplines are helping you work out your salvation with fear and trembling? And how are you discipling people who seem to be going away from Jesus? Those are some of the questions we’ll unpack together.
1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, etc.. do you have about the question, the Scripture and/or the message? How do you read this text?
2. Have you experienced this question in a personal way? Share a story that connects to the question? How have you or how are you continuing to disciple this person?
3. How are you growing in your faith each and every day? How are you working out your salvation with fear and trembling?
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 we begin a 7 week series called iDoubt: Questions about Faith. We will spend 7 weeks answering and dialoguing around questions that you have submitted that you have about faith, God, the Bible, following Jesus, and a bunch of other themes and topics. I’m excited to begin to explore these questions together and dialogue around them. But I also wanted to say something right from the start. During this series and in the topics of discussion, we might come to a place where we disagree with each other. You might disagree with where I come out in relation to one of the questions and I want you to know that that is okay. And that when we begin to dialogue let’s keep the dialogue open, loving, and respectful. It is okay to disagree, but we need to do it in love and grace. And I also want to say, let’s stay in the tension and in relationship. All too often when the church disagrees we feel this need that we need to split and not be in relationship. So let’s fight against this tendency, stay in relationship, love each other, even in midst of the tension. With that being said, I don’t think this week we’ll have much to disagree with each other about.
This week’s iDoubt: Questions about Faith question is “What does it mean to be a disciple?” I chose this question to explore first because I believe this question lies at the center of everything. I believe this question is the crux of the matter. I believe if we get the answer to this question wrong, than everything falls apart. And if we are honest with ourselves, the modern American church has in fact gotten this wrong. Dallas Willard in his book The Great Omission says this, “The greatest issue facing the world today, with all its heartbreaking needs, is whether those who, by profession or culture, are identified as ‘Christians’ will become disciples – students, apprentices, practitioners – of Jesus Christ, steadily learning from him how to live the life of the Kingdom of the Heavens into every corner of human existence.” And so according to Willard, people truly believe that it is possible to be a Christian but not be a disciple. That we can have Jesus as our savior, so that we can go to heaven when we die, but we don’t have to have him as Lord impacting how we live our life in the world until we die. This is not the gospel. This is not possible. You can’t be a Christian without being a disciple. But what does it actually mean to be a disciple?
First, before we jump into the Scripture for the morning, I think it might be a good idea to look at the word disciple and what the word actually means. This isn’t a term that we use in our world a lot unless we are talking about it in religious circles. But disciples were very common in the 1st Century Jewish world. The term “disciple” is derived from the Koine Greek word mathetes, which means a pupil (of a teacher) or an apprentice (to a master craftsman). I like the idea of an apprentice. In the trade world we have master plumbers (builders, etc..) who have apprentices who learn everything they can about the trade by basically staying on the hip of their “master”, and then doing the same thing that their “master” did. A disciple is no different in religious terms. In following Jesus we learn how to live the Kingdom life by watching how Jesus lived, and then seek to emulate his life in our own life. What he did, we are then called to do.
So if we were to then ask Jesus to answer this question for us what would he say? “So Jesus what is a disciple?” In Mark 8:34-38 we read words that Jesus speaks that, I believe pretty clearly defines for us what He believes a disciple of Jesus is. Mark 8:34-38 says, “Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”
According to Jesus, to be a disciple means simply (it is simple to understand and incredibly difficult to live out) to deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow him. That’s all. Jesus is saying that to be his follower you must die. That you won’t truly live until you walk down death row with Jesus. You can’t live a resurrected life in the way of the Kingdom without dying first.
When Jesus mentions the cross, all his listeners knew exactly what he was referencing. Everyone knew that the cross was an instrument of death. The cross was a way to execute people. His listeners walked by crosses everyday where those who got out of line were placed. Where “criminals” hung dying in front of everyone to see. And so the cross, the Roman cross, was an instrument of torture, of death, of execution.
The problem that we have now is that the cross has been sanitized. We have beautiful crosses that adorn our church buildings. We have gold crosses that are put around our necks. They are shiny, beautiful, and unlike the real thing. The cross was the ultimate instrument of death in Jesus’ day and his hearers knew that if they were to follow after Him, that it would lead to their own cross. Maybe not an actual cross and an actual death (though many who did follow him were put to death, some even on a cross) but a death to self, their own desires, and what they wanted.
What would restore the horror and true meaning behind these words in context for us? What if the text said something like “denying yourself, sit down in the electric chair, and follow me”? How does that come off? Jesus doesn’t promise us an easy life for those of us who have chosen to follow him. Jesus says that if we want to follow him, we must seek to do what he did, and that means death. It means the cross (or the electric chair if you like that picture better)
But what does it mean to take up your cross. Well Jesus said to deny yourself. So denying yourself equals taking up the cross. Denying yourself means to live as an others centered person. Jesus was the only person to do this perfectly, but we are to follow in his footsteps. So if a disciple is called to deny themselves and take up their cross, then a disciple of Jesus by definition is an other centered person. A disciple of Jesus puts other people before themselves. A disciple of Jesus puts other people’s needs before their own. I think all too often we have made being a disciple about things we do, like we pray, read the Bible and go to church. And also about things we don’t do; we don’t swear, drink, chew, or hang out with those who do. When in reality the life of a disciple is a lot about love of God and love of others. After all didn’t Jesus say, “They will know we are disciples by our love”?
So if we, as a group of people who are seeking to follow Him, don’t put others before ourselves. If we don’t live out the truth of this statement made by former Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, “the church is the only organization that exists primarily for the benefit of those who are not its members.” If we care more about our comfort in here, and our ease in here, and our safety in here, than taking risks, being on mission, and loving people out there. Then I would say we aren’t disciples. We aren’t truly following Jesus, who we claim to love and serve, if we aren’t living life together on mission, and following his footsteps. We haven’t denied ourselves, taken up our cross and followed him.
Taking up your cross also means letting go of yourself and making God the center and focus of you life and in turn living each day for him. You are no longer your own. You have been bought with a price, the price of Jesus death on the cross. Now because you have been bought, live like the one who purchased you for himself. Living like the one who purchased you for himself means loving others, even our enemies. In fact, I would even say that loving his enemies was central to who Jesus was. So loving your enemies needs to be a huge part of being a disciple of Jesus.
And that point, when you’re no longer willing to carry your cross (whatever that point may be…may be it relates to loving your enemy, may be it relates to holding a grudge and wanting the other person to get their just deserts, maybe it relates to holding onto unforgiveness, bitterness, etc..), is the point at which you are no longer following Jesus. Where in your life do you struggle at carrying the cross? Where do you need Jesus help in picking up that cross and continuing to follow him? Jesus calls us to live a cruciform life, shaped by the cross into the shape of the cross. So a huge part of what it means to be a disciple is about living a cross like existence.
This whole text in Mark is kind of like the book “Alice through the looking glass” by Lewis Carroll. The idea being in the book, that if you want to go towards a place, in that world you actually need to go “away from it” to get there. Jesus calls us to a “looking glass” like existence he calls the Kingdom of God. He says that if we want to live, we have to die. If we want to save our lives, we must lose them. If we want to be great in the world, we have to be a servant. To be a disciple is to live out the upside down Kingdom of God in our world today. NT Wright has this to say about denying yourself, taking up your cross, following Jesus, and the upside down Kingdom that Jesus calls us to, “Jesus’s call to follow him, to discover in the present time the habits of life which point forward to the coming kingdom and already, in a measure, share in its life, only makes sense when it is couched in the terms made famous by Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “Come and die”. Jesus didn’t say, as do some modern evangelists, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” Nor did he say, “I accept you as you are, so you can now happily do whatever comes naturally.” He said, “If you want to become my followers, deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me” (Mark 8.34). He spoke of losing one’s life in order to gain it, as opposed to clinging to it and so losing it He spoke of this in direct relation to himself and his own forthcoming humiliation and death, followed by resurrection and exaltation. Exactly in line with the Beatitudes, he was describing, and inviting his followers to enter, an upside-down world, an inside-out world, a world where all the things people normally assume about human flourishing, including human virtue, are set aside and a new order is established.”
So what does it mean to be a disciple? What does a disciple of Jesus look like in America in the 21st century? In one way it looks exactly the same as it did 2000 years ago. It means apprenticing yourself in the ways of our Master Jesus. It means standing on his hip watching how he lived his life. (We stand on his hip watching the master through classic spiritual disciplines like Bible Reading, Memorization, Prayer, Solitude, etc..) And then it means putting into practice the things that he did, in our life. It means loving like he did, and loving the people he did. It means serving like he did. It means living like he did. It means getting on your knees to wash the feet of people. It means loving your enemy when you would rather hate them. It means turning the other cheek when you want to react violently. It means blessing and not cursing. Wishing the best and not hoping the worst about people. And it means climbing up and putting yourself on the cross time and time and time again. To be a disciple of Jesus means dying to yourself in order to live for him.
So let’s talk more about what it means to be a disciple? What other questions come up in your mind? Where do we need to flush this question out more? In what area of your life do you find it harder (harder than normal…dying to yourself is hard as it is) to die and live for him? What might God be saying to each and every one of us today about being a disciple of Jesus?
1. What thoughts, questions, comments, insights, etc.. do you have about the question (what does it mean to be a disciple), the Scripture and/or the message?
2. If someone asked you the same question (what does it mean to be a disciple) what would you say? To what Scriptures would you point them? Would you use Mark 8: 34-38?
3. In what area of your life do you find it hard to die to yourself and live for him? (Not like that it is easy in any area). Where do you need work as a disciple?
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?
Below you will find a link to our January 2015 Prayer Calendar. It is a way to be unified in our prayers in relation to Veritas. So download a copy, print it out, and then put it somewhere where you’ll see it and pray for Veritas each day in January. Help us kick of 2015 unified in prayer.
January 2015 Prayer Calendar
(This blog is written by an F&M Student who is part of our Veritas community and when I saw it I knew it needed to be shared.)
What an elusive word. What a powerful–but elusive–word.
Even now as I’m trying to describe it words escape me. There was a time when I thought I knew what peace meant. There was a time when I glided blissfully through life in my rediscovered faith, with the deepest, most intimate knowledge of peace that “surpasses all understanding.”
Confession: I don’t feel that anymore.
I think I used to operate under the implicit assumption that being a Christian would allow me to cruise through the pain and suffering of life as if I were above them. Like, the Spirit of God would shield me from that or something, desensitize me and dose me with unlimited peace and joy instead. I thought I’d be able to forgive easily because I wouldn’t feel pain and anger as deeply. I thought I’d be able to come to terms with my past because it wouldn’t matter as much anymore. I thought my faith in God’s promises would be so strong that it would not discourage me when I saw the world so, so far away from that hope.
Turns out that’s not the case at all.
They say he is the Prince of Peace.
And yet sometimes I wonder how much of that peace he actually experienced for himself, even. How could he, knowing full well the depth and breadth of the brokenness of every human being and the world, still walk in that? The two seem incompatible for a heart that has experienced only one or the other at a time.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Today, as I flounder in my own spiritual, relational, and emotional brokenness and continue to feel burdened and exhausted by the hatred, fear, and violence of the world, I’m starting to think that engaging in peace-making is just as much a part of experiencing the Lord being at hand as actually seeing that reality. Engaging in peace-making confronts you with the reality that there is so little peace, and so much left to be desired of this world. And yeah, I guess I could try to ignore all of this in my pursuit of feeling the blissful calm I used to feel.
But maybe what God really calls his people to do is to seek Him while practicing peace, not seeking him just to feel “peace”.
I want to believe so strongly that the peace promised by my God is something larger than selfish naivete. I want to hope for a peace that means something beyond quarantined, desensitized psychological well-being.
I am ever restless. But maybe that’s not a sign of disobedience or spiritual immaturity that I guilt-tripped myself into believing.
Maybe restlessness is the actual way to true peace.
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?