For the week commencing 24th November 2019
Many Christian churches celebrate Advent – the period before Christmas – and next Sunday will be the first in our Advent series: “Christ is coming”. But what does it mean? The word “advent” is from the Latin word for coming or arrival. In the Anglican church Advent is a time of repentance and preparation as we celebrate the coming of the Messiah (the Christ). However, we cannot fully understand or appreciate the first advent of Christ unless we consider the reason he came, and the fact that he promised that he will come again (his second advent). He came the first time in humiliation and poverty to suffer and die for our sins, and he will come the second time in power and glory to judge the world. His first advent tells us to make sure we are prepared for when Jesus returns the second time.
For many people Jesus is just a sweet little baby, and there is a lot of sentimentality about his first coming, the time we call Christmas. But we must remember the reason he came, which is clearly taught in Matthew 1:21, “…you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Jesus came in the first place to save us from our sins; he will come the second time as King and Judge to establish his everlasting kingdom. So at Christmas we celebrate his first coming because it is the promise, the guarantee, of God’s plans for Christ’s return and all that that will mean.
So let us consider who Jesus is, what exactly happened when Jesus appeared as a man, and what it will mean for us when Jesus returns and we celebrate the new creation – the new heavens and the new earth.
|01 Dec||What happened when Christ appeared?||Hebrews 9: 26 – 28|
|08 Dec||The marriage feast of the Lamb||Rev 19:6-9; Luke 14:15-24|
|15 Dec||Who Is He?||Lk 1:26-33; Rev 1:10-18|
|22 Dec||Jesus is God||Romans 8:32|
|Christmas||Jesus – the greatest gift of all||Matt 1:18-25; Heb 1:1-4, 2:14-18|
It is important to remember that Advent is not just about Christmas, in fact it’s got nothing to do with how it is celebrated by many people. Advent is about Jesus Christ and his first coming to save us and his second coming to establish his eternal kingdom. While you prepare and look forward to December 25th, are you preparing for and looking forward to the day Jesus comes again?
*Option: What better way to prepare for the coming of Jesus, than to pay attention to the full context of his life and ministry. As we are only issuing one set of reading notes for December, may I suggest you read a chapter of Luke’s gospel each day. There are 24 chapters in Luke, so if you begin on December 1st, you will complete the book by Christmas Eve.
WEEK 1: Read Hebrews 9:24 – 28 ‘What happened when Christ appeared?’ (*Luke 1 – 7)
At the first coming of Christ something big was started. Hebrews 9:26 says, “But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.” You may be surprised to know that we are now “at the end of the ages” (or “the end times”, or “the last days”). Christians often make the mistake of thinking the “end times” are way off in the future, just before Jesus returns again. However that is not the way the Bible uses this term. When Jesus came it was the last thing on God’s covenant calendar; Jesus’ birth and death ushered in the last stage of salvation history. He has fully kept the covenant on our behalf. Nothing more has to be done to save us from our sins. All that remains is for the kingdom of God to come in power and glory when Jesus returns. The final stage in God’s program started with the birth of Christ.
At the same time, something big was ended. Jesus came to “do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.” This is the reason Jesus came to earth as a man – only a perfect man could pay the price for our sins. It is only when we see Christmas in its proper context that we fully understand why this child was born. Only the perfect God-man, Immanuel (God with us) could satisfy a holy God and atone for our sins. Jesus has completely satisfied everything the law demanded – when we turn to Jesus in repentance and faith our sins are fully paid for. All of the sacrifices in the Old Testament tell us that sin is serious and must be atoned for, but these sacrifices had to be repeated day after day – they were not a permanent solution and they pointed to the Messiah who would come to provide a sacrifice for sin that once and for all satisfies the wrath of God. (Hebrews 10:4 tells us “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” and verse 10: “.we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”) So at this time we celebrate the Messiah who came to do away with sin once for all, not by the sacrifice of an animal, but by giving his own life so we could be saved.
We also see that something big was anticipated. Christ’s first advent anticipates his second advent. “He will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.” (verse 28) The circumstances of this second coming will be very different – not in lowliness as a little baby, but in majesty surrounded by angels, as Judge of all the earth, and every knee will bow (including his enemies). Are you ready for that day? You can only prepare for that day by rejoicing in his first coming as your Saviour and Lord, by repenting of your sins and living for him not yourself. We are in the “last days” now, but these are still days of grace. Trust and obey in the Saviour while you can, for one day it will be too late.
WEEK 2: Read Revelation 19: 6 – 9; Luke 14: 15 – 24 ‘A marriage feast like no other’ (*Luke 15 – 21)
The Bible often uses imagery associated with marriage and weddings to illustrate the relationship between God and his people. In the Old Testament Israel is often portrayed as an unfaithful bride, and God her longsuffering husband (for example Jeremiah 3: 20; Isaiah 54: 5-8). In the New Testament Jesus tells a number of parables which liken the kingdom of God to a wedding, for example the parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25:1-13), as well as the one before us in Luke’s gospel Verse 15 tells us the feast being discussed is “the feast in the kingdom of God”, not just any feast. Just as today, there are many who are invited (who hear the gospel and are invited to trust in Jesus), but they are full of excuses. One day it will be too late, there will be no more invitations, only judgement.
There are several passages in the New Testament that liken the church to the bride of Christ. For example in Ephesians 5:25, Paul says husbands are to love their wives “ just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, to make her holy, cleansing her …to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” Of course the “church” here is all of God’s believing people throughout history, not a building. We then come to that beautiful scene in Revelation 19 of the “wedding of the Lamb”, where Jesus and his glorious bride (the church) are feasting together in heaven. This is a wedding to which all have been invited, but not all of those invited will be there. Only those who are wearing “fine linen, bright and clean, (which) was given her to wear.” In other words, those who made excuses will not be there; those who think their own clothes are good enough will not be there. Only those who “have made themselves ready” will be there – those who love and trust the Lord Jesus Christ as their only hope. This is what we consider at Advent – only those who lovingly embrace Jesus who came in humiliation to save us from our sins, will be present at the wedding feast of the Lamb when Jesus comes again. This Christmas, make sure you will be there.
WEEK 3: Read Isaiah 53: 1 – 6; Revelation 1: 14 – 16 ‘Who Is He?’ (*Luke 8 – 14)
In a couple of weeks we’ll be celebrating the birth of Jesus, and the question we must all face is, “Who is He?” Who is the child born to Mary, worshipped by wise men, announced by angels? Isaiah tells us about his coming, but he focuses almost entirely on the achievements of Jesus at Calvary (for as we have seen, this is why he came). We are told that Jesus was despised and rejected, crushed for our sins. We cannot think of Jesus’ birth in isolation – he was born to die. He was born to die for our sins. He is the great High Priest (Hebrews 2:17) making atonement for all the sins of his people – that is why he was born.
The proof that Jesus paid the price for our sins and satisfied the wrath of God is seen in his resurrection. He has conquered sin and death. Jesus is not merely resurrected to life, he is the essence and definition of life…”I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me shall live even if he dies.” (John 11:25) So we who turn to him in repentance and faith will live forever with him.
At Advent we also remember that this Jesus who was born in such humble circumstances and rose from the dead now inhabits heaven. One day he will return as the all-conquering king and judge. We remember him “veiled in flesh” but then we will see him in great glory. John in the book of Revelation struggles to describe the great majesty and glory that now belongs to King Jesus. This is the reality of Advent – Jesus is coming again. May we be ready for him!
WEEK 4: Read Colossians 1: 15 – 23; Philippians 2: 6 – 11 ‘Jesus is God’ (*Luke 22 – 24)
Who is this child who was born? The key teaching of Christianity is that Jesus is God. He is God with us (Immanuel); he is the “fullness of God”. But how do I know that Jesus is God? There are many ways to answer this question but here are 3 to consider:
His coming: He was actually born; he is a real historical figure – in fact history is divided by his birth (BC and AD – the idea of changing to Common Era is a very recent attempt to appease non-Christians). What is so unique about Jesus? – he is God incarnate (God in the flesh).
His claims: Jesus made claims about himself that cannot be ignored, for example he claimed he is the only way to the Father (John 14:6), he claimed to be the judge of the whole world (John 5:23), he forgave sins (Matt 9:2), and his miracles attest to the fact that he is God. We cannot ignore these claims – this is who was born at Bethlehem: the God-man who demands our wholehearted love and allegiance.
His character: Although Jesus had many enemies not one of them was able to point to a single flaw in his character. At his trial Herod and Pilate both agreed there was no fault in him. Even Judas (Matt 27:3-4) agreed that he had betrayed innocent blood. So, we are faced with the fact that both Jesus’ words and his actions proved he was the sinless lamb of God, born to take away the sin of his people.
Christmas: Isaiah 9: 6-7; Matthew 1: 18 – 25; Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:14-18 ‘Jesus, the greatest gift of all’
Our society thinks that Christmas is all about gifts, food and family. While these are not bad things in themselves, they blind us to the reality that Christmas is all about Jesus, who is the greatest gift of all.
Consider a gift you buy for a special someone – you choose it carefully and get them something you know they need and will appreciate. When the Father gave his only Son, he knew that our greatest need is to be saved from our sin. All the sacrifices in the Old Testament indicate nothing provides a permanent solution to sin (the sacrifices had to be repeated day after day). God provided that solution by giving us Jesus to take away sin once and for all.
Even the name Jesus was given (which means Saviour) shows why he came, “because he will save his people from their sins.” This Jesus is no ordinary child, but “Immanuel”, or “God with us”. His other names include “Mighty God” and “Prince of Peace”. He is the same one who created the universe, who is far superior to angels, the radiance of God’s glory, the exact representation of his being, and the sustainer of all things. This is the Saviour who was given to us, whose first coming we remember on December 25th, and who IS coming again in power and great glory. In the midst of the gifts you may receive today, remember the greatest gift of all – Jesus, God with us, who died to save us from our sins, and who will return in power and great glory one day. Are you ready for him?
Thank you, Jesus, for coming to this earth to save us from our sins. Lord, may I take time this Christmas season to remember that you are coming again one day in great glory and power to judge the world. May I be ready for you. May I repent of my sins and live each day to your glory by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; Mild he lays his glory by,
Hail, the incarnate Deity Born that man no more may die,
Pleased as man with man to dwell, Born to raise the sons of earth
Jesus our Immanuel! Born to give them second birth.
By Lesley Bloomfield