Week commencing 19th November 2017   With a PDF found here

Notes for our 2017 Advent series

We are about to enter Advent, the church season that leads up to our celebration of Jesus’ birth. In the Anglican church, Advent is a time of repentance and preparation. Preparation for what? For the coming or arrival of Jesus (advent is the Latin word for arrival). In the years that led to Jesus’ birth, God urged the people – through the prophets – to get ready for the coming of the Messiah: the Day of the Lord. It would be a time of destruction for God’s enemies but a time of purification and vindication for God’s chosen people. Mark’s Gospel opens (Mk 1:1-4) with quotes from the OT prophets Isaiah and Malachi, in which the prophets had urged the people to get ready for the Messiah and had foretold that God would send another prophet to prepare the people when that coming was imminent, ‘and so John came….’ John the Baptist was that prophet sent ahead of the Lord to announce that he was on the doorstep. John preached that the people should prepare for the Messiah by undergoing ‘a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.’

While we often associate Advent with the events surrounding Jesus’ birth 2000 years ago, we are reminded that he has promised to come back again. This new ‘Day of the Lord’ will be similarly double-edged: destruction for those who oppose Jesus; purification and vindication for his chosen ones. As we enter Advent for another year, let’s take some time to reflect on the New Testament teaching regarding this second coming, the new Advent.

NOTE: For this series we are producing just one set of reading notes covering all four weeks. Please use them as you will.

WEEK 1: Read 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 “We will be with the Lord forever”

Paul visited Thessalonica with Silas and Timothy during his second missionary journey (Acts 16-18). The city, in Macedonia (modern northern Greece), was an important trade centre and had a mixed population, including some Jews but mostly pagans. Through the Holy Spirit, many responded to the message of the gospel spoken by Paul and his friends. Unfortunately, there was also opposition from Jews who rejected the message and the missionaries had to leave with the Thessalonian church barely established. Moving from city to city, Paul sent Timothy back to them from Athens, before writing this letter to them, probably from Corinth. Imagine being part of the only Christian church in your city, with none of you having been a Christian more than a few months! No wonder Paul felt motivated to write to them and encourage them!

Paul commends them in ch1 for the great love and devotion for which they are becoming famous throughout the region, even despite the strong opposition they are facing. He has been prevented from returning to them in person, but to encourage them, he now writes to them a letter that picks up some of the theological themes that he had apparently already opened with them in person. A key theme is the return of Jesus. It has already been mentioned in Ch 1:10; 2:19; and 3:13, but now it emerges – in this chapter and the next, also in 2 Thessalonians – as a major reason for writing to this young church.

So what do they need to know about this day of the Lord?

First, it will mean the long-awaited resurrection! Daniel’s prophecy was the clearest (Dan 12:1-2), but other scriptures like Ps 49:14-15 contributed to an almost universal understanding among God’s people that there would be a resurrection of all people. (The Sadducees, famously, did not believe in this resurrection.) When Jesus’ friend, Lazarus, was lying cold in the grave, Jesus’ conversation with Lazarus’ sister, Martha (Jn 11:23-26), is telling:

23Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”  24Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

Martha clearly expresses her faith in the general resurrection, but Jesus makes it personal in a way that nobody else could: 25Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; 26and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

Jesus would show in a moment that he had power to raise another from the grave, and not long after he showed his personal victory over the grave. In Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, though, he unpacks how Jesus IS the general resurrection!

His teaching here is probably in a response to concerns they had raised with Paul either in a letter or via Timothy. What happens to those who have died trusting in Christ? There is an answer, and it is an answer that separates Christians from non- Christians; the difference between healthy grief and hopeless grief. The difference is Jesus. Jesus has not only conquered death for himself, he has also conquered death FOR US WHO BELONG TO HIM!

And this is how it will all pan out on that wonderful day of the Lord: Jesus will come down from heaven, not on a silent night, like the first time, but with the heavenly version of flashing lights and sirens (v16), and the dead in Christ will rise first. (Incidentally, I believe this suggests that those who have died up until then have moved into their new rooms – Jn 14:2 – spiritually but not physically) What a sight that will be! We are not talking about gruesome reanimated corpses, but rather, whole people, given their spectacular resurrection bodies by the death-crushing, life-giving Lord Jesus! (See 1 Cor 15:35-44; Phil 3:20-21) With this airborne victory parade in progress, those of Jesus’ followers who have not tasted death will find that they never will. They will get the express pass to join those resurrected saints in the wonderful procession into their eternal home, ‘and so we will be with the Lord forever.’ Encouraged? I am! ‘Therefore, encourage one another with these words.’

WEEK 2: Read 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 “We belong to the day”

Whatever discussion might have been going on in Thessalonica regarding the exact timing of Jesus’ return, Paul reminds them that it is pointless to speculate. They already know that it will be sudden and unannounced. Jesus had been very clear on that point. In his ‘apocalyptic discourse’ (Mt 24; Mk 13; Lk 22:5-38), Jesus talked about his second coming in a way that made it very clear that it was the same event as the Day of the Lord foretold by the prophets, who had likewise taught about its suddenness. Now, as Paul alludes to Jesus’ teaching, he makes the point that Jesus’ return is not a good thing for everybody! It is truly double-edged: for those who belong to Christ, it the day of vindication, resurrection and exaltation; for those who reject Christ, it is the day of judgement and separation from God and all the goodness he has lavished on the righteous and the wicked alike.

The day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night, in that the day and hour are unknown and there will be no lengthy advertising campaign – complete with countdown – leading up to it. For those who are part of the darkness, who have rejected the light of the world, this will be devastating. But for those who are Christians, it ought to hold no fear value. It may still come with a jolt, but it will not be devastating, because we are ready at a deeper level and the Lord knows who are his (2 Tim 2:19 We are children of the light, our eternal future is secure, our forgiveness certain, even if we happened to be doing something embarrassing or unworthy of the Lord at the exact moment he returned. However, because we are children of the light and children of the day, let’s live like it! Control yourself! Avoid sin! Keep yourself nice!

Our sanctification, the process by which the Holy Spirit files away our rough edges to make us more like Jesus, is primarily the work of the Spirit, but we are nonetheless called to be partners with him in this work. We can put on faith and love as a breastplate: if we live in a way that acknowledges our faith, our understanding that Jesus is Lord of our lives, it protects us from spiritual harm. If we live determined to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbour as ourself, it protects others also. We can put on the hope of salvation as a helmet. If our head is the seat of all the thinking in our body, and we are beset by doubts and the intellectual attacks of our society, the hope of salvation, the knowledge that our eternal future is as certain as it is wonderful, will protect our minds from all evil.

But wait, just how certain is that salvation? Look at v9-10:

9For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.

Certain enough? You bet! ‘11Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.’

WEEK 3: Read 1 Peter 3:8-18 “Coming like a thief”

At the start of this chapter, Peter alerted his readers to the fact that scoffers would come, seeking to shake the believers’ faith in the promised coming of Jesus. But, as Peter reminds them, our concept of time means very little to God, who is eternal. For him, a thousand revolutions of a small planet around a fairly minor star are just a blip. On the other hand, he can bestow enormous significance on just one earth day if he so chooses.

With that context understood, Peter gives the reason for God not wrapping up human history right then and there, in case some of his readers were getting impatient. The reason for God taking his time before sending Jesus back was because he himself is patient! Like the ferry master who delays bringing in the ramp for the sake of the tourists who are running and flapping along the wharf, he has not yet sent Jesus because to do so is to close the door of salvation. He wants everyone to repent and be saved!

Two thousand years later, we stand at essentially the same point in history as Peter’s readers. There is nothing else that needs to be completed apart from some of God’s chosen ones yet to come into the kingdom! And when will that be? Today? Tomorrow? Another hundred or thousand years? God knows (literally, not just using the fatalistic expression). If you are like me, most days on this blue marble are quite pleasant, but on occasion we are so strongly reminded of the world’s brokenness that we say, “Come, Lord Jesus!”

Peter reminds his readers – ancient and modern – that the day is coming. And like Paul, he picks up on the language of Jesus and the prophets: the day of the Lord will come like a thief – it will be unexpected and unannounced – and it will be both mighty and destructive. If everything we see and touch is earmarked for destruction, what really matters? The spiritual realm! We are both physical and spiritual. We know that our bodies – as they are – are earmarked for destruction in that we will die. However, we know the promise that Jesus will grant us new, spiritual, indestructible bodies. Even so, what we do with these bodies morally and ethically, is spiritual, and as such has eternal consequences. For this reason, we ought to live holy and godly lives (v11). And just as our earthly bodies are both earmarked for destruction and promised a glorious resurrection, so too the heavens and earth that are our physical realm. They will be destroyed, yet gloriously remade. So then, v14 is the natural consequence. It’s very similar to Paul’s teaching on ‘children of the day’ from 1 Thessalonians 5. In fact, Peter notes that they have both taught on this topic. (Isn’t it heartening to know that even Peter the Apostle struggled to understand some things that Paul wrote!?)

May v17-18 be our prayer for each other.

WEEK 4: Read 1 Corinthians 1:1-9 “Blameless on the day”

Paul starts his letter with the customary ‘From: ____; To: ____’ of the day. He states his own credentials for writing: he is an apostle by the calling of Christ Jesus. And he is writing to people who are sanctified – made holy – in the same Christ Jesus. He is writing especially to those in the church at Corinth, but also ‘to all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ – their Lord and ours,’ – that includes people in Noosa! Note that because of Christ, there is a tight bond between the apostle and his readers.

After adding a greeting, Paul thanks God for the Corinthians. What does he thank them for especially? For all that God has done for them in and through Jesus. God has brought about a revolution, a renovation, in the heart of each member of the church. Corporately, it is not so much a renovation as a birth, given that these were a diverse people who in many cases would have had nothing to do with each other were they not brought together by the gospel of Christ.

They therefore lack nothing that is necessary – v7: God’s grace is sufficient. Living as God’s people is hard in a society that has set itself against him. In Corinth, Christians were at odds with almost everyone: with their pagan neighbours who celebrated their immorality; with the Roman authorities who did not tolerate the worship of Jesus; with their Jewish neighbours who saw Christianity as a dangerous and distasteful cult. Furthermore, there were dangers within: divisive behaviour and immorality are just some that Paul deals with in this letter. Nonetheless, Paul wants his readers to know that God has given them every spiritual gift they need for enduring until the day when Jesus returns. Indeed, this event ought to be always dawning on the horizon of their minds as they eagerly wait for it.

With this teaching, Paul offers a wonderful promise in v8-9. Our own faith and faithfulness may be wishy-washy at times, but God’s is never in doubt. If he has determined that we will be part of his chosen people, he will also keep us strong to the end. If he has called us into fellowship with his Son, he’s playing for keeps.

How wonderful to know the peace, purpose and protection of God! May these meditations on the Day of the Lord sharpen us, inspire us and encourage us.