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The Ideal Church, Part 7

 

THE IDEAL CHURCH 7

 

We’ve covered some pretty deep truths in our study of the “the ideal church.”  So deep, in fact, some of you might be getting the bends.  This time, I’d like to lighten it up a little bit and deal with a very practical component of the ideal church.  That’s not to say the first six components aren’t practical, because they are.  But there’s no denying they are all very deep, spiritual truths that, as we learned last week, can only be fully grasped as the Holy Spirit reveals them to you.

 

This next essential component is also a spiritual truth, but it’s something most people understand, at least on a very basic level.  The seventh component of the ideal church is love.  Love must be the motive and the moving power of the ideal church.  I said that most people understand love; that might be bit generous, considering the current state of the human race.  Maybe most people think they understand love, or want to understand love.  Almost everybody believes that love is the answer.  Those great wordsmiths England Dan and John Ford Coley certainly did:

 

Name your price
A ticket to paradise
I can’t stay here any more
And I’ve looked high and low
I’ve been from shore to shore to shore
If there’s a short cut I’d have found it
But there’s no easy way around it

 

Light of the world, shine on me
Love is the answer
Shine on us all, set us free
Love is the answer

 

Who knows why
Someday we all must die
We’re all homeless boys and girls
And we are never heard
It’s such a lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely world
People turn their heads and walk on by
Tell me, is it worth just another try?

 

Light of the world, shine on me
Love is the answer (let it shine)
Shine on us all, set us free
Love is the answer (you know the answer is love)

 

Tell me, are we alive, or just a dying planet?
What are the chances?
Ask the man in your heart for the answer.

 

Well, you get the idea.  Human beings instinctively seem to know that “love is the answer.”  What they don’t understand is that not just any love will do.  It has to be the love of God.  We can all empathize with the sentiment behind that song, but only Christians know God’s love is the answer.  Or at least we should.  

 

Ephesians 5 deals with this issue, and it begins like this:

 

As children copy their fathers you, as God’s children, are to copy him. Live your lives in love—the same sort of love which Christ gives us and which he perfectly expressed when he gave himself up for us in sacrifice to God.  (Ephesians 5:1, 2 | JBP)

 

It’s too bad that there are chapter divisions in the Bible.  Ephesians is a letter and nobody divides a letter up into chapters.  What Paul wrote in what we call “chapter 5” is just a continuation of a thought he started to write about in the previous chapter, which begins this way:

 

As God’s prisoner, then, I beg you to live lives worthy of your high calling. Accept life with humility and patience, making allowances for each other because you love each other. Make it your aim to be at one in the Spirit, and you will inevitably be at peace with one another.  (Ephesians 4:1, 2 | JBP)

 

Be worthy of your high calling

 

Christians are to “live lives worthy of (their) high calling.”  But what is the “high calling” of the Christian?  It’s a call to live life on a plane commensurate with the position we have in Christ.  Paul told the Ephesians what their position was earlier in his letter:

 

(God) lifted us up from the grave into glory along with Christ, where we sit with him in the heavenly realms—all because of what Christ Jesus did.  (Ephesians 2:6 TLB)

 

Christians are already seated with Christ in “the heavenly realms.”  That’s quite a position to be in!  It doesn’t get any better than heaven.  If God is so sure of your final destination – if your salvation is so secure – that He sees you already with His Son in heaven, Paul’s very stern advice is “live lives worthy of” that high calling!  He wrote something similar to another church, one in Philippi.

 

But whatever happens, make sure that your everyday life is worthy of the Gospel of Christ.  (Philippians 1:27 | JBP)

 

And the Colossians, Paul wrote with even greater clarity:

 

We also pray that your outward lives, which men see, may bring credit to your master’s name, and that you may bring joy to his heart by bearing genuine Christian fruit, and that your knowledge of God may grow yet deeper.  (Colossians 1:9b – 10 | JBP)

 

If you call yourself a Christians, then according to what Paul wrote, you should live your life worthy of the Gospel.  There are at least two reasons for this. First, you’re being a hypocrite if you don’t.  Saying you’re a Christian but living like you aren’t makes you a hypocrite.  But there’s a second very important reason.  You may not realize it, but if you are a Christian, people are looking at you; they are evaluating whether or not your life lives up to the faith you claim to possess.  That’s not because you’re any more special than the next person, but it’s because people seem to know that Christians are supposed to be different, and the world holds us to a higher standard.  

 

You’re the only Jesus
Some will ever see
And you’re the only words of life
Some will ever read
So let them see in you
The One in whom
Is all they’ll ever need
‘Cause you’re the only Jesus
Some will ever see
And if not you, I wonder who
Will show them love

 

Humility and patience

 

Back to Ephesians 4:1, 2, Paul wrote about accepting life with “humility and patience.”  In the KJV, the word is “lowliness.”  Our attitude should be the very opposite of prideful.  Being humble is a mark of a true believer because it was the mark of our Lord’s life.

 

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  (Matthew 11:29 | NIV)

 

Regardless of what life throws at you or wherever life may take you, you as a Christian, need to remain humble.  How do you do that?  How do you manifest your humility?  Paul gives us an example in something he wrote to the Philippians – 

 

Live together in harmony, live together in love, as though you had only one mind and one spirit between you. Never act from motives of rivalry or personal vanity, but in humility think more of each other than you do of yourselves. None of you should think only of his own affairs, but should learn to see things from other people’s point of view.  (Philippians 2:2b – 4 | JBP)

 

The other word is “patience.”  Some translations use the word “meekness,” but that’s a word that has come to be associated with weakness.  The Greek word is a much fuller word that is more suggestive “endurance” and “patience.”  It’s the idea of a man who is willing to keep pressing on no matter the cost.  For the believer, it means doing the will of God regardless of circumstances and especially regardless of what you think.  You may not feel like living the way God wants you to.  Living according to God’s will may make no sense to you.  But if you want do it right, you’ll willingly submit your will to God’s.  

 

There’s an absurd myth that many Christians have bought into that says you’ll always want to do God’s will with a joyful, grateful, willing heart.  That’s baloney for most of us.  That’s our goal, of course, but most of aren’t there yet.  Hopefully we will get to that point in life eventually.  But until we do, we need to do what Paul told his friends to do:  Put forth a decided effort to live the way we ought to be living.

 

Living like God

 

That’s the gist of what came before the first two verses of the fifth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.

 

As children copy their fathers you, as God’s children, are to copy him. Live your lives in love—the same sort of love which Christ gives us and which he perfectly expressed when he gave himself up for us in sacrifice to God.  (Ephesians 5:1, 2 | JBP)

 

Paul thought it was vital for the future of the Ephesian church that its members copied God.  It may not sound like it, but Paul is actually drawing from his Jewish education and training when he admonished them to imitate God.

 

The Lord also told Moses to tell the people of Israel, “You must be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy. You must respect your mothers and fathers, and obey my Sabbath law, for I am the Lord your God.”  (Leviticus 19:1, 2 | TLB)

 

The Lord gave Moses a pattern of thought and behavior for the Hebrews to follow:  Be holy because God is holy.  In Ephesians, Paul’s admonition follows this – Copy God, mimic or imitate God, which means living your life in love.  This makes complete sense because while God is holy, He is also love.  God is love and He always acts in keeping with His nature; He always acts in love toward all people.  

 

But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.  (Romans 5:8 | TLB)

 

The ideal church, then, will be a church in which its members demonstrably love one another.  That’s why I said earlier that this component is especially practical.  And the love here is agape.  It’s not eros or philio.  Agape love is unconditional love, pure and self-giving.  It’s a divine kind of love that asks for nothing in return.  Christians are able to have this kind of love because God puts it in them.  It’s the thing about church that non-believers like because they can’t find it in their world.  There is no unconditional love in the world.  It’s only found in the church.

 

And if you, as a church member, want to “walk in love,” your example has to be Jesus Christ.  His life helps us understand what love looks like.  That phrase, “as God’s children” deserves a quick look because if you understand it, it will make loving people like God does make complete sense.  The Greek word for “children” is tekna, which means “born from God” and “one dear to God.  That’s every true believer; they have been born from God and are very dear to God.  They are precious to God.  As God’s children, we grow and take on His characteristics just as we take on the characteristics of our earthly fathers.  You’ve likely noticed this.  The older you get, the more you look like and act like you’re dad.  You can’t fight it.  It just happens.  It’s great if your dad is a strand-up kind of guy.  The more mature you become as a Christian, the more like God you will become.

 

God’s children, like their heavenly Father, have love in their hearts and that love will inform all they think and all they do.  But, not just anything they do qualifies as an act of this divine love.  Paul clarifies and finalizes the issue for us:  Love others as Christ loved us.  Christ’s love for man was determined, purposeful, self-sacrificing, and it benefitted others.  Specifically, Christ’s love for us was manifested by Him giving His life for us.  As a matter of fact, Jesus died for His enemies!  That was the most extreme example of agape love ever.  Our Lord gave up His life willingly for His enemies.  And that’s how we should be loving each other in the ideal church.

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

The Ideal Church, Part 6


THE IDEAL CHURCH 6

 

In the last book book of the Bible, Revelation, we read a fascinating paragraph about the New Jerusalem.

 

One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.”  And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.  It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.  It had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates. On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel.  There were three gates on the east, three on the north, three on the south and three on the west.  The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.  (Revelation 21:9 – 14 | TNIV)

 

The New Jerusalem isn’t here yet.  We’re reading about something that will happen in the future, after our Lord has returned.  What I want you to notice are the number of gates and the number of foundations.  There will be, in all, 12 gates and 12 foundations.  As I say, that’s all in the future.  Today, while we don’t have the New Jerusalem with us, we do have the ideal church and the ideal church has, coincidentally, 12 essential components.  None of these is a man-made component.  John Calvin and his Calvinism are not essential components of the ideal church.  Nor is the Holy See.  Nor is any denomination or any church that refers to itself as “the true church.”  The 12 essential components of the ideal church are all found in the Bible.  So far, here’s what we know about the ideal church:

 

·      It is being built by Jesus Christ and He is its foundation.

·      It has been bought by the shed blood of Jesus; it is the special possession of God.

·      The Holy Spirit is its Chief Administrator, giving gifts to its members.

·      Prayer is the life-blood of the ideal church.

·      Worship is the privilege of each member of the ideal church.

 

The sixth component of the ideal church is that the ascended Lord is its Head.  But what does that really mean?  That’s what we’ll learn this time out.

 

In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, we read this:

 

And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.  (Ephesians 1:22, 23 | TNIV)

 

“God…appointed him to be head over everything for the church.”  That’s a simple statement that has far-reaching implications.  In order to grasp what Paul means here, we need look up the page to the beginning of this letter.  In particular, let’s consider the phrase in the second half of verse 1.

 

God’s holy people in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus… (Ephesians 1:1b | TNIV)

 

That phrase is profound, as is the whole letter to the Ephesians.  That phrase is made up of two smaller phrases:  “God’s holy people in Ephesus” and “the faithful in Christ Jesus.”  First, what does “God’s holy people in Ephesus” mean?  Our English phrase “God’s holy people,” and the word “saint” found in other translations, come from the Greek word “hagios,” which means “separated.”  In the Bible, the word refers to anything or anybody that has been “set aside for the use of God” and “that which belongs to God.”  For example, all the jugs and jars in the Tabernacle were referred to as “holy vessels” because they were used in the worship of God.  They weren’t particularly valuable or special, they were just set aside for this special purpose.  God’s holy people – saints – are simply people who are born again.  The saints in Ephesus had been set apart for God’s use and they belonged to Him.  Dr McGee helps us understand this as only he could:

 

There are only two kinds of people today: The saints and the aint’s.  If you’re a saint, then you are not an ain’t.  If you ain’t an ain’t, then you’re a saint.  

 

Christians belong to God and they are saints.  Christians are used by God and they are saints.  If you don’t think you’re being used by God, that’s your problem.  You’re doing something wrong because if you’re a Christian, you’re a saint and saint is used by God. Saints can be found all over the world.  You and I are saints but we don’t live in Ephesus.  

 

That second phrase, “the faithful in Christ Jesus,” also refers to Christians, saints.  Christians are faithful IN Christ Jesus.  I capitalized that little two-letter word, IN, because it’s much bigger than it looks.  It’s significant that he did not write “the faithful TO Christ Jesus.”  Christians are faithful IN Christ Jesus.  Part of being IN Christ means that Christians have been spiritually joined to Him through the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  Paul covered this in his first letter to the Corinthians.

 

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.  (1 Corinthians 12:12, 13 | TNIV)

 

When we became born again, we were placed into the great body of believers.  We were joined to Christ and joined to each other.

 

But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit.  (1 Corinthians 6:17 | TNIV)

 

That’s an astonishing truth right there.  The Greek verb for “united” is “kollao,” a word that refers to different kinds of bonding.  Literally, it means “to glue” or “to attach.”  Here, it speaks of the closest possible tie between two people. Those who have been “glued to” or otherwise “attached to” the Lord become “one spirit.”  Believers are literally one with their Lord.  Just pause for a second and think about what that means.  Go on.  I’ll wait.

 

You and I, through nothing we have done, through no merit of our own, but through the loving work of Jesus on our behalf, through the power of the Holy Spirit, have been joined to the glorious Second Person of the Trinity for all eternity.  That does not mean we are gods, but IN the Son of God.

 

That truth is found, according to one scholar, 130 times in the New Testament, and among those 130 mentions, is this one, said by Jesus:

 

Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.  (John 15:4 | TNIV)

 

It’s not easy to get our minds wrapped around some spiritual truths like this one.  But two analogies might help:

 

·      We live in the air and there is air in us.

·      Fish live in the water and the water is in the fish.

 

But not only are we joined to Christ, we are also spiritually joined to each other as part of His Body.  The Christian is in Christ and Christ is in the Christian and all Christians are joined together as part of the Body of Christ.  And the Head of the Body is Christ.  

 

You, like me, probably find these deeply profound spiritual truths almost too much to take in and certainly hard to understand.  We know the Ephesians did, and that’s why Paul wrote to them, telling them that he was praying for them a very specific prayer.

 

I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.  (Ephesians 1:17 | TNIV)

 

The things Paul was writing about – like believers being in Christ and being part of His Body – are understandable only as the Holy Spirit reveals them to His people.  It makes no sense otherwise.  That’s why, for example, people who don’t know Jesus as Lord and Savior don’t think going to church is particularly important, and they don’t get why you do.  Or, if you’re an immature Christian you may not understand how vitally important it is for you to be a part of a local body of believers because the Spirit is still teaching you.  The good folks you see in the church whenever possible and involved in the life of the church are the ones to whom the Spirit has revealed these deep truths and have yielded themselves to them.  They’re not only mature, they’re obedient.

 

Among the other deep, spiritual truths Paul prayed that the Spirit would reveal to his friends in the church at Ephesus are these:

 

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that can be invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.  (Ephesians 1:18 – 21 | TNIV)

 

In Scripture, the “heart” often refers to the intersection of faith and feeling, of words and actions.  Sin has blinded the “eyes” of the heart to the truths of God.  In other words, until a person is reborn by the Spirit, he cannot see, experience, understand, or appropriate the things of God.  All people need two things:  The Gospel of Christ and the supernatural ability to understand it.  Hendrickson comments:

 

He removes their mists of ignorance, clouds of lust, selfish and jealous dispositions, etc., and imparts to them sorrow for sin and faith working through love. The spiritual eye is enlightened when the heart is purified. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8)

 

Once a “heart” has been redeemed and the process of enlightenment and spiritual illumination has begun, that person will finally begin to see the hope they possess in Christ and of all that the Lord has done for them, is doing for them, and will do for them into eternity.  Believers will also grasp the incredible power resource in them to live a God-pleasing life.  The exact same power that raised Christ from the dead, brought Him back home to the seat of ultimate authority in the universe resides in every believer, in the precious Person of the Holy Spirit.  

 

That gets us to the verses I wanted to discuss.

 

And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.  (Ephesians 1:22, 23 | TNIV)

 

Because Christ is supreme in all of creation, all of creation is subject to Him.  Nothing exists that can be seen or that is invisible that escapes the Lordship of Christ.  He is greater than anything He created and God the Father has put Him over all of creation.  This great Ruler and King is also the appointed “head over everything for the church.”  In other words, Jesus Christ, the great Sovereign of the universe is God’s gift to the Church – to the communion of saints.  He is head over all of creation FOR the church.  That’s an awkward sentence, mainly because it’s unexpected.  In Ephesians and elsewhere, Paul wrote about Christ as the “Head of the church, which is His body.”  But here, Paul wrote that God has essentially given all of Creation – including all powers and authorities in this world and the next – to His Son and has gifted His Son and all that His Son rules over to the Church.  What that means is mind-blowing.  It means that all of creation – nature, power, governments – exist for the Church.  The Church of Jesus Christ has the authority and power to overcome any and all opposition to her because the Head of the Church, Jesus Christ, is Lord of all.  

 

Now, you’ve probably noticed that the church on earth is pretty impotent at the moment.  You’d be hard pressed to tell that is possesses all this supernatural authority.  And yet it does, and one day, when the Lord returns and all is set right, the Church, made up of all the saints from all dispensations, will take its rightful place alongside the majestic, glorious, and exalted Son of God as He becomes the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

 

The ideal church knows this to be true and is patiently waiting and praying for the consummation of all things and vindication of its faith.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ideal Church, Part 5

THE IDEAL CHURCH, PART 5

 

So far in our study of the ideal church, we have discovered that it really does exist.  But don’t confuse the ideal church with the perfect church.  That elusive thing is just a myth.  Searching for the perfect church for you and your family to attend will result in a futile search and a frustrated attitude about the issue.  No church is perfect.  When you start thinking that your church might be the perfect church, you’ll find out the hard way it isn’t when your favorite board member ignores you in the supermarket or the pastor snubs you in Wal Mart or worse, the pastor’s wife insults your covered dish.  As much as we wish it were different, there are no perfect churches.  There are, however, many ideal churches.  If yours is, then good!  Make sure you do your part to keep it ideal.  If it isn’t, it has the potential to become an ideal church.  Here’s what the ideal church looks like so far in our study.

 

·      Jesus Christ is the foundation of the ideal church, not some preacher or some pet teaching of man.  Matthew 16:18

·      The precious blood of Jesus bought the church and therefore the ideal church is the special possession of God.  It is not owned by the pastor or the denomination or the board of elders.  Acts 20:28

·      The ideal church allows the Holy Spirit to move in its midst because it recognizes that the Holy Spirit is the administrator of the church.  The Spirit has provided its members with Spiritual gifts that every need of that congregation will be met, and the ideal church knows enough to allow the Spirit to move.  1 Corinthians 12:28

·      Prayer is the life of the ideal church – both the prayers of its individual members and the prayers of the congregation corporately.  Acts 12:5

 

Continuing along the same vein as prayer, something else intensely spiritual and practical is part of the ideal church:  Worship.  Most Christians misunderstand the meaning of worship, so it’s no wonder most Christians don’t.  Hopefully by the end of this study, we’ll all have a clearer understanding of what real worship is and what it is not.

 

Worship is not…  

 

The first thing we should clear up is that worship is not really the name of the Sunday morning church service.  It’s a small thing, but technically speaking that meeting you attend every Sunday morning isn’t “the worship service.”  We call it that.  Even in my church we talk about the “Sunday worship service,” but that’s really a lazy, habitual use of the word.  When we gather together on Sunday morning, we’re actually fellowshipping together in a formal or semi-formal setting where, hopefully, we’ll all be worshipping the Lord, praising the Lord, learning the Scriptures together, praying together, and enjoying God’s presence together.  Singing hymns or so-called “worship songs” or choruses is not necessarily worshipping God, although those things may be part of worship.  To assume otherwise is to cheapen what worship is. You can’t reduce worship of God down to a series chords and musical notes and words that send shivers up and down your spine.  Nor can you restrict the worship of God to an hour on Sunday morning or assume that worship of God is taking place during the hour.

 

Part of the widespread misunderstanding of what real worship is revolves around what we think of the church service.  All across America on any given Sunday, you’ll find most Christians going to church for the exactly the wrong reasons.  How many times have heard things like this:

 

·      I didn’t get much out of the service today.

·      We need to find a church that has a good children’s program.

·      My church just doesn’t meet my needs.

 

I can tell you that as a pastor, I’ve heard things like that my whole career and while I feel like taking a pneumatic drill to my ears when I do, let me make one thing clear:  You aren’t supposed to “get anything out of the service.”  The church doesn’t exist to meet your needs or keep your spoiled children occupied.  

 

Worship of God has nothing to do with you or with me.  It has nothing to do with top notch choirs or a full “worship band” banging out the newest praise chorus or a hip pastor who never looks at his notes when he preaches.  Those things, by the way, may be great to have in your church, but they don’t indicate that any worship of God is going on.  In fact, they may distractions.

 

What real worship is

 

If you want to understand what real worship is, you need to see what the Bible says about it.  A good starting point could be a verse is Psalm 29 – 

 

Ascribe to the Lord the glory due to his name; worship the Lord in the splendour of his holiness.  (Psalm 29:2 | NIVUK)

 

Just so you know it’s not a one-off, something very similar is found elsewhere in the Bible:

 

Ascribe to the Lord, all you families of nations, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.  Ascribe to the Lord the glory due to his name; bring an offering and come before him.  Worship the Lord in the splendour of his holiness.  Tremble before him, all the earth!  The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved.  (1 Chronicles 18:28 – 30 | NIVUK)

 

Ascribe to the Lord, all you families of nations, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due to his name; bring an offering and come into his courts.  Worship the Lord in the splendour of his holiness; tremble before him, all the earth.  (Psalm 96:7 – 9 | NIVUK)

 

There are more passages just like these, but three are enough to give you the correct idea that the worship of God has absolutely nothing to do with you, your feelings, the style of songs you sing, or the size of your church, but everything to with God.  We go to church to GIVE something.  To “ascribe” means “to give.”  We gather together to “give” something to God.  Essentially, worship is giving God, or ascribing to God, or publicly acknowledging certain attributes of God – things like His glory, His strength, His holiness.  There’s a very good reason why, as noted in the verses we looked at, when true worship of God takes place, there’s a lot of “trembling” going on.  Of course, we’re reading poetry, but the idea is that the more we ascribe to God aspects of His character, the greater He becomes and the worse we get.  Generally, most American Christians assume it was a good worship service when they feel good.  “Feeling good” is not “trembling.” That’s not to say God wants you scared.  It is to say that when you worship God correctly, you are seeing Him as He is, and in comparison, you aren’t so great, are you?  There’s nothing like a clear picture of God to put things into perspective!

 

Real worship, then, begins when we ascribe to God His perfect character.  There are all kinds of ways to do this during a “fellowship service.”  Most naturally we think about singing.  The Bible is replete with references to singing to the Lord.  Let’s look at a couple.

 

Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.  Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song.  (Psalm 95:1, 2 | NIVUK)

 

You can’t really see it in English translations, but the two Hebrew words for “let us sing” and “let us shout” or, as in the KJV, “Let make a joyful noise,” sound almost the same in Hebrew.  It’s a quirk of Hebrew poetry, but you also get the sense that singing to the Lord should be something that is a joy-filled experience.  It may cause you to “tremble,” but in the good sense, not the terror-filled sense.  What would cause you to sing for joy to the Lord?  Following on in this psalm, the psalmist gives us a few good reasons:

 

For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods.  In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him.  The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land.  (Psalm 95: 3 – 5 | NIVUK)

 

Why should you worship God?  Well here we see that God is in total control of all the extremes of our existence.  He is in control of the all deep regions of the earth.  What do you think this would include?  How about things like:  the graves; the lowest parts of the oceans; the lowest valleys and caves.  But He also owns the highest mountain peaks.  Both of those extremes were made by God and are controlled by Him.  It’s important to give God credit for these things.  First because they are all true, but second, because of this verse:

 

Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? saith the Lord. Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the Lord.  (Jeremiah 23:24 | KJV)

 

When you worship God correctly, as I mentioned earlier, you come off lacking.  Because God controls the extremes, He controls everything in between, including the places you use to hide from Him.  Adam and Eve, Jonah, and Job couldn’t hide from God.  Neither can you.  Worship of God may not be all about us, but we can certainly learn more about ourselves as we properly worship Him!

 

Psalm 95 goes on, giving another good reason to ascribe to God His character.

 

Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care.  (Psalm 95:6, 7 | NIVUK)

 

A couple of things are worship-worthy here.  First, God is our Maker, so how can we, the creature, look up and not marvel at the One who made us?  The Creator doesn’t worship us!  We’re not worthy of His time or attention.  But we, who were fashioned of the dust of the earth should look at Him in wonder.  But our Maker is a benevolent one.  He cares for us because we are the “people of His pasture, the flock under his care,” both allusions to the shepherding profession the Hebrews would have understood right away.  

 

Over in the New Testament, Paul wrote about singing to the Lord together.

 

Don’t get your stimulus from wine (for there is always the danger of excessive drinking), but let the Spirit stimulate your souls. Express your joy in singing among yourselves psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, making music in your hearts for the ears of God! Thank God at all times for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.  (Ephesians 5:18 – 20 | JBP)

 

Here’s a group of verses that should set us all straight.  Our worship of God should not be motivated by wine.  Paul used drinking wine because back in his day, pagans believed that if a worshipper got drunk enough, he could touch the divine. Alcohol was seen by pagans as worship aid.  We don’t think that way today, but the modern Christian uses other things as stimuli.  For example, certain songs are used to “get you in the mood to worship.”  A song should never move you to worship.  An arrangement of musical chords and notes may tug at your emotions, but that’s got little to do with God.  As Paul wrote, and as J.B. Phillips translated, the Holy Spirit should “stimulate your souls.”  In other words, your motivation to worship should be God Himself.  

 

But there’s something very important going on in what Paul wrote here.  If you read the whole chapter, you’ll see that Paul is not talking about “the worship service” on Sunday morning!  This is highly suggestive, isn’t it?  Worship of God takes place – or should take place – any day of the week, any time Spirit-filled men and women are together.  We who call ourselves Christians ought to be speaking to each other in the language worship, for example, in psalms.  It’s not that you should quote Bible verses to your Christian friend all the time or when you see me on the street,  you stop and belt out a verse or two of A Mighty Fortress is Our God!  But rather Paul has in mind here assuming a worldview where God is at the forefront of our thoughts and conversation.  So talking about the things of God – an answered prayer, for example – should be a part of our everyday conversation. We should encourage each other, not with meaningless cliches or platitudes, but with words from Scripture or a moment of prayer.  

 

Having a God-centered worldview is part of worship, believe it or not.  It’s acknowledging His omnipresence – that He is all in all – that He is wherever you are and is part of all that you do.  

 

The rub

 

And here’s why worship is so hard for so many of us.  When you go to church on Sunday morning, you should already be worshipping the Lord.  But that’s not how it works in the average church.  The average church member is lucky to get to church on time, probably hasn’t read his Bible since last Sunday or maybe since Wednesday night, is peeved with his spouse or kids, is thinking about the big game after church or work on Monday, and expects that if he’s to get anything out of being in church, the pastor better get to it and be lively and lead him in worship.  That’s not how it’s supposed to work.  But we want it to work like that because most of us are lazy, non-serious Christians who don’t want to invest the time or the energy to develop that God-centered worldview.  

 

If you’re like me, you’re a lazy Christian sometimes, and maybe worship doesn’t come all the easy.  In Romans Paul teaches us a very basic, simple motivation for our worship:

 

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!   Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?  Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.  (Romans 11:33 – 36 | TNIV)

 

That’s a powerful doxology that should move you to feel somewhat small in His presence.  But at the same time, Paul didn’t stop there.  In the next chapter he gives us the only reasonable response to such a majestic, great God:

 

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is true worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.  (Romans 12:1, 2 | TNIV)

 

When we consider who God is and what He has done for us, we ought to present our bodies to Him. In other words, as part of worship we acknowledge that we belong to Him and because we belong to Him we need to live as though that were true.  And that means making a real, determined effort, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to come as close to the “ideal” as we can.  That means living a life of worship, walking in God’s presence, knowing He is going before you and behind you, and that all your words, work, and deeds should in some way bring glory to Him.  When you and I start living like that, then when we come together for church, we will be in the midst of worship as we walk through the doors.  

 

 

 

 

The Purpose of Advent, Part 4

 

 

Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.  (Hebrews 9:28 | TNIV)

 

It’s hard to believe, but we are at the end of our four week study, The Purpose of Advent. Advent is celebrated by many churches, and it’s the four week period just before Christmas Day. I’ve tried to answer the question, Why did Jesus come to us? There is, to me, a four-fold purpose to that first Advent. He came, first of all, to destroy all the works of the Devil. Second, He came to take away sins. And third, Jesus came the first time to reveal the Father. 

 

So far, we’ve been looking backward at the first Advent – that first coming of Jesus into our world. For the fourth reason of the first Advent, we look in the other direction; we look forward to His Second Advent because the fourth reason for the first Advent is that that Jesus came the first time to prepare to come a Second time.

 

The first Advent was a joyous time. Two thousand years on, we still “celebrate” that first coming of Jesus, with all kinds of joyous activities. We give and receive gifts; we spend time with friends and family; we sing cheerful Christmas carols; we decorate our homes, churches, and offices with pine trees and bright lights. Much of that is the “secular” side of Christmas. If you’re an atheist, you can thank a Christian that during the lousiest, darkest, most miserable time of year, you probably get a few days off and can enjoy some “goodwill toward men.” 

 

The first Advent was announced like this, by angels, no less!

 

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”  (Luke 2:10 – 12 | TNIV)

 

“Good news of great joy!” That was how the Advent was announced to a bunch of lonely shepherds on a cold, dark night. But to Mary, the mother of Jesus, the announcement went like this:

 

But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”  (Luke 1:30 – 33 | TNIV)

 

And even the prophet Isaiah, many centuries before the first Advent, wrote about it is a positive and upbeat manner:

 

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 increase 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.  (Isaiah 9:6 – 7 | TNIV)

 

And yet, we now know that almost none of that happened. The birth of Jesus came and went almost unnoticed. He lived His life, not venturing more than a few miles from His home town. He did a lot of good things, changed some lives for the better, and was even the reason for the growth of the greatest movement of faith ever in history. And yet, we are all very aware that the world, for the most part, hasn’t changed. Nothing is perfect, much of what He came to do, is still undone. Look around you on any given day, and you can see all the works of the Devil on full display. Sin is still all over the place, too. Most of the world still has yet to discover the Son of God, who came to us on that first Advent. 

 

There must be more. The first Advent demands something else.

 

We don’t know who wrote it, but the letter to the Hebrews states in no uncertain terms that, “Christ will appear a second time…” There’s no other way to interpret that statement other than the obvious way. At some point in time, Jesus Christ will come back here; He will be seen by everybody. As a matter of fact, the Second Advent is a major teaching of the New Testament.

 

For example, when the risen Christ ascended to heaven, leaving behind a group of bewildered followers on the mountainside, we read this:

 

“Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11 | TNIV)

 

Three decades earlier, an angel announced the immanent arrival of Jesus to the earth, and as He left to return home, an angel declared that one day, Jesus would come back, “in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” In other words, human beings will see Him coming back with their own eyes! He’s coming back, or the angels were wrong.

 

The apostle Paul, in his letters, was well aware that Jesus absence was just a temporary one – that one day He would be back. In his letter to the church at Thessalonica, he wrote this:

 

For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  (1 Thessalonians 4:16 | TNIV)

 

This hope in the Second Advent was one the driving forces behind the incredible growth of the early church. Peter, when he wrote a letter to encourage some discouraged believers, used the reality of the Second Advent as a way to bolster their faith.

 

Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming.  (1 Peter 1:13 | TNIV)

 

Look at the words Peter used and you’ll realize that believing in and hoping for the Second Advent is no pie-in-the-sky, escapist fantasy. Our minds are to “alert and fully sober” even as we wait for and anticipate our Lord’s return. James, the half-brother of Jesus, used the fact that Jesus was coming back as a way to encourage his readers to live better lives.

 

Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!  (James 5:7 – 9 | TNIV)

 

The apostle John, who loved the Lord like no other, also wrote a powerful truth about the Second Advent as a way to encourage hope for the future and holy living for the present:

 

Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.  (1 John 3:2, 3 | TNIV)

 

This is just the briefest sampling of what the New Testament says about the Second Advent. Every single New Testament writer presents the Second Advent as a common believe of the Christian faith. It motivated them to live better lives, to treat each other better, to spread the Gospel to the lost, and to take seriously the Word of God. I believe that the church today needs to rethink the Second Advent – to start looking for the event to happen; to start talking about it; to live with the expectation that Jesus could come back any time. 

 

The writer to the Hebrews not only declared that Jesus would appear again, but that when He appears next time, He will “not bear sin.” The first Advent was all about Jesus coming to deal with the sins of the world; to destroy the devil’s works. It’s no exaggeration to say that while all the work Jesus did during His first Advent paved the way for His Second Advent, the Second Advent will bear NO resemblance in any way to the first. Man’s sin necessitated the first Advent. Jesus came to deal with sin. By our Lord’s first Advent, the awfulness of sin was revealed. From the “slaughter of the innocents” which accompanied His birth to His own death on the Cross, Jesus’ presence on earth the first time showed man just how bad sin was and the extreme effect it has on people.

 

At the Second Advent, our Lord will come to “bring salvation to those who are waiting on him.” What does that mean? Well, there are actually three tenses or phases to the salvation you possess. To all of you who have heard the message of the first Advent and believed it and have trusted in Christ to be your Savior, then you are saved. But you are also being saved in the present tense as you are grow in your faith and in holiness and righteousness. And you will be saved when the Lord returns in the future tense because at His Second Advent there will be complete salvation for you – you will be made completely righteous, you will be actually sanctified, and your body redeemed.  

 

There is so much more waiting for us than what we have received thus far. The Second Advent will be for those who are watching and waiting for it. In fact, all of creation is waiting for the Second Advent to take place.

 

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.  (Romans 8:18, 19 | TNIV)

 

The Lord is coming back. I trust this is your hope today, as we are days away from Christmas. Jesus came to begin a great work which He will finish when He returns. You and I, today, stand between the two Advents. Our relation to the first creates our relation to the Second. I hope you’re ready for the Second Advent. Jesus can come back any time!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Purpose of Advent, Part 3

THE PURPOSE FOR ADVENT 3

 

To Reveal the Father

 

There is one, four-fold purpose Jesus came to us the first time. Our Lord came to us in the first Advent to destroy the works of the devil. The works of the devil include all the things that separate man from God, that cause disunity and disharmony on earth, that cause violence, sickness and disease, injustice, poverty, pain, war, and death. Jesus came to to do away with all those works. He is slowly unwinding all the devil’s accomplishments until the day He returns when the devil and all his works will be completely and forever banished from this planet. Second, since the Fall, sin had been rampant on earth, corrupting and destroying everything it touches. Jesus came to free man from its clutches. Sin is still reigning on earth today, but for all who have found Jesus to be Lord and Savior and are born again, sin no longer reigns in them! 

 

The third reason for the Advent is found in a very simple declaration of our Lord’s, found in the fourteenth chapter of John’s Gospel.

 

Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. (John 14:9 | TNIV)

 

John 14 records the last hours of Jesus with His closest friends. The evening began in chapter 13, where He washed their feet, ate with them, taught them, and prayed for them. As Jesus was talking to them, the disciples interrupted Him no less than four times.

 

First came Peter:

 

Simon Peter asked him, “Lord, where are you going?”  (John 13:36 | TNIV)

 

While our Lord was answering Peter, Thomas, the doubter,  jumped in:

 

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” (John 14:5 | TNIV)

 

Then Philip came along, and while Jesus was dealing with Thomas’ question, asked:

 

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” (John 14:8 | TNIV)

 

Barely answering Philip’s question, the unfortunately named Judas (not Iscariot), said:

 

Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?”  (John 14:22 | TNIV)

 

It must have been a frustrating evening for Jesus. Here He was with His closest friends, trying to give them some very important last minute teachings and instructions, and He patiently deals with their confusion, objections, and fear of the future.

 

Philip’s interruption, though, was due to the fact that he understood that Jesus had some kind of special relationship with God, the Father. He had walked with Jesus for three years, and had heard Him talk about His relationship with the Father; He had heard Jesus, over and over again, refer to God as, “My Father.” His question was an important one, but you can sense our Lord’s frustration with him.

 

Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?  (John 14:9 | TNIV)

 

That verse is paradoxically the simplest, and at the same time the deepest answer to Philip’s profound request. Philip and all these men gathered with Jesus this night had spent three years of their lives with Him. They listened to His teachings over and over and over again to the point where they had those teachings memorized and would later repeat those teachings as they evangelized the world.

 

In answering Philip’s request, Jesus declared with absolute clarity that He and the Father not only had a special, close relationship, but that the two were inseparable, literally. And that’s the setting of the third reason for Advent: Jesus came to reveal the Father.

 

What did man know about God before Christ came?

 

Before the Advent, God had been slowly and patiently revealing Himself to man through a variety of means. We’ve looked at this before – how God used nature, His Law, angels, prophets, and supernatural interventions into our world to show man something of Himself, His thoughts, and His expectations for His people. 

 

And as you read through the Old Testament, you can see how man’s intellectual understanding of God had grown. There is a clear progression of man’s understanding of just how holy and righteous and loving God is. But at the same time, while man’s knowledge of God was growing, there was gradual and clear regression of his morality. The more man could know of God, the worse man got in terms of his personal morality. 

 

You’d think the opposite would be true, wouldn’t you? And yet, the apostle Paul saw this and he gave us the reason for it.

 

Well then, am I suggesting that these laws of God are evil? Of course not! No, the law is not sinful, but it was the law that showed me my sin. I would never have known the sin in my heart-the evil desires that are hidden there-if the law had not said, “You must not have evil desires in your heart.” But sin used this law against evil desires by reminding me that such desires are wrong, and arousing all kinds of forbidden desires within me! Only if there were no laws to break would there be no sinning.  (Romans 7:7, 8 | TLB)

 

It’s a quirk of man’s sinful nature that when he learns he can’t have something, that’s the one thing he wants more than anything else! God’s Law did that in man. It wasn’t God’s fault, it was man’s fault that God’s perfect Law resulted in more sin and not less. 

 

And that was the state of the world before Advent. Man’s knowledge of God had been steadily increasing. But sin and the effects of sin were increasing all the more. Incidentally, this is the shortcoming of all rule-based religions. You can’t force people to become moral people. 

 

It was into this darkening world that the angels heralded a solution.

 

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”  (Luke 2:10 – 12 | TNIV)

 

No wonder the angel called it “good news!” You and I can’t imagine the hopelessness of humanity during this time. Through the Advent and the ministry of Jesus, one generation would change the course of the world. Think about it for a moment. Jesus had just three years to teach a dozen men, minus one, everything they would need to know to evangelize the world and turn it upside down. And they did! It was to this rag-tag group of evangelists that Jesus spoke those fateful words, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.”

 

What effect do those words have on the individual? Let’s take Philip as our example. It was his request, after all. Let’s look very closely at the words Jesus said in response to the apostle’s request to “show them the Father.”

 

Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?”  (John 14:9 | TNIV)

 

Basically, what Jesus told Philip personally was that he personally had seen enough of Jesus to come to the conclusion that Jesus was exactly what he was asking for. But just what had Philip seen? What was Jesus referring to? 

 

Let’s take a quick look at four times we encounter Philip in the Gospel of John, and then you’ll know precisely what Jesus meant.

 

First, Philip was the very first man Jesus called to follow Him. He was the first one called, not the first one to actually follow Jesus. There were, in fact, two men who preceded Philip, but they approached the Lord first, then followed Him. But it Philip who was the very first man Jesus personally  approached.

 

The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.”  (John 1:43 | TNIV)

 

Jesus found Philip and he was the first man to whom our Lord used the “Follow me” formula. Philip’s response is, to me, extremely interesting.  

 

Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”  (John 1:45 | TNIV)

 

Don’t love it? Philip’s response was to leave Jesus for a minute to go and find Nathanael! The first thing Philip saw in Jesus, according to his own words, was that he had found the One who embodied all the ideals of Moses and the prophets. In other words, Philip found the one Man who fulfilled everything written in the Law and prophesied by the prophets! It’s amazing that in a moment of time, Philip saw all that in Jesus.

 

Second, the next time we run into Philip, it was just before the hungry crowd was miraculously fed.

 

When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “It would take almost a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” (John 6:5 – 7 | TNIV)

 

Jesus didn’t need Philip’s help, or anybody else’s for that matter, but He was testing Philip. Because we know the events of John 14, we now know why Jesus was testing him! At this point, as far as Philip was concerned, feeding all those people was impossible. But that didn’t stop him for doing what Jesus told him to do.

 

Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there).  (John 6:10 | TNIV)

 

Philip and the others had everybody – 5,000 men plus their wives and children – sit down in an orderly fashion and Philip watched as Jesus miraculously fed all those people, with food left over! What did Philip see? He saw Someone who had the resources to satisfy the needs of hungry people. What’s more, Philip heard Jesus’ teaching that went beyond physical hunger to spiritual hunger and His ability to meet that need: I am the Bread of Life!

 

The third time we see Philip is in the 12th chapter.

 

Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.  (John 12:20 – 22 | TNIV)

 

Just why Philip found it necessary to tell Andrew is unknown. But Jesus’ response to these Greeks is so profound, it echoes down to this very day.

 

Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Those who love their life will lose it, while those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” (John 12:23 – 28 | TNIV)

 

That was Philip’s third vision of Jesus; the vision of One acting in complete harmony with the Father; bending His will to His Father’s.

 

And lastly, we see Philip in the Upper Room with Jesus, just hours before Jesus would face the Cross, alone. When Jesus looked at Philip and replied:

 

“Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?”  (John 14:9 | TNIV)

 

But Philip hadn’t seen. Not really. He was there, he saw and heard the things we just talked about, but they didn’t make sense to him. Philip saw it all, yet he saw nothing until the work of Christ on earth was finished and He sent the Holy Spirit, and then all the things that Philip saw and heard suddenly came into sharp focus and he finally realized that he had, in fact, seen the Father because he had seen Jesus.


Before the Advent, God the Father was a mystery. The very concept man had of a God in heaven was very different from what we know today. The way people thought about God was vastly different from the way you and I think of God today because we have Jesus!  We have seen Him, and because we have seen Jesus, we know what God the Father is like. 

 

 

 

 

 

The Purpose of Advent, Part 2

 

 

There is a four-fold purpose for Advent; that is, the coming of the Son of God to our world. Last time, we looked at the first reason: 

 

The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.  (1 John 3:8 | TNIV)

 

The apostle John makes it very clear that the first reason Jesus came was to “destroy the devil’s work.” The works of the devil are things like: death, deeds done in darkness, hatred, and lawlessness in general. Essentially, you could distill all the works of the devil down to one word: Sin. All the ills that have plagued mankind since the fall of Adam are due to sin. Sin causes death. Sin causes sickness. Sin causes hatred. Sin is what separates man from God, one man from another, and even man from himself. This very simple fact leads us to the second reason for Advent: Jesus came to take away our sins.

 

But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin.  (1 John 3:5 | TNIV)

 

The One who never sinned came to take away our sins. 

 

1 John 3 is all about holy living. That sounds like a quaint notion to the modern Christian ear, but the fact remains, even the modern, sophisticated believer is expected to be holy.

 

Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.  (1 John 3:2, 3 | TNIV)

 

I love the sentiment behind verse 2: “What we will be has not yet been made known.” We are all “works in progress,” aren’t we? The complete revelation of our final nature is yet to occur. In other words, what we will finally be like when our salvation is at last complete is a mystery. John doesn’t even speculate what our final, eternal state will be like. It’s enough for him to know – and he hopes his readers will understand – that when Christ appears, we will be like Him. Paul wrote along similar lines to the believers in Rome – 

 

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. (Romans 8:29 | TNIV)

 

This is what predestination is all about. All believers have been predestined to become like Jesus! What a glorious thought that is. Even now, though you may not notice it happening, believers are being transformed – transfigured – into His likeness. Now, I know some of you find that hard to believe. The reason why you find that hard to believe is that way too many believers think that this transformation is all accomplished by God doing some kind of mysterious, supernatural work in us. That’s not altogether incorrect, by the way. He is doing a supernatural work in all Christians. But, the key to this transformation is found in the third verse. If you, as a believer, truly believe that when Christ appears we shall be like Him, then you will be doing your best to be like Him right now, before He appears! You see, you are not a passive participant in this miracle. If you honestly believe in the Second Advent, then you should be trying to live holy lives; the kind of life Jesus lived when He came the first time. This is one John’s favorite techniques to encourage holy living: He holds up the incarnate Lord as an example for us follow. And it’s a brilliant technique. If you call yourself a “Christian,” you are necessarily claiming to be like Christ, and if you claim to be like Him, you must start living like He did in this life, even as you wait for Him to return. To live otherwise is showing the world you’re not a serious Christian or that you’ve given up hoping in Him.

 

If you think this teaching is extreme, or unique only to John or Paul, think again! Jesus once said something very similar.

 

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.  (Matthew 5:8 | TNIV)

 

The “pure in heart” is a person who is trying to live a holy life; he is a work in progress.

 

But not only is looking forward to the Second Advent a good motivator for holy living, as is looking back to the First Advent to the example set by our Lord’s perfect life, John gave us a little help and encouragement in reaching the goal of holiness. It’s good that he did this, because I can hear what some of you are thinking: Holy living is almost impossible! How can I live without sinning? John gives us the answer.  First, the ugly truth about Christians is that they are all sinners. 

 

Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness.  (1 John 3:4 | TNIV)

 

Here are two universal truths in a single verse. First, everyone sins. The text does say, “everyone who sins,” but there isn’t a human being who has ever lived who is excluded from this truth, except Jesus, of course. Everyone sins. That’s the horrible extent of the sin problem in mankind.

 

The second universal truth is that “sin is lawlessness.” When a person sins, he breaks God’s law; he rebels against what God wants. It’s a deliberate choosing to go your way, not God’s way. Lawlessness isn’t the result of sin, rather, it’s what sin is. 

 

So, can you enumerate your sins so far today? Nobody can look back over a day and add up all the sins they committed. It’s impossible to do this. Nevertheless, you are responsible for them. Thank God for Advent, which helps us all out.

 

But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin.  (1 John 3:5 | TNIV)

 

This verse should give us all some hope. Jesus came to take away our sins.  The word “sins” here means “missings of the mark,” and includes our willful missings of the mark and our missings of the mark that are done in ignorance. It includes every thought, word, and deed in which we have missed the mark of God’s purpose for our lives. It includes all the things that stand between man and God. John declares with authority that Jesus came to take all those “missings of the mark” away from us. 

 

But, how does Jesus do that? What did John the apostle mean when he wrote it? Think back to when Jesus came the first time; when His cousin, John the Baptist said this:

 

Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”  (John 1:29 | TNIV)

 

John the Baptist used the same word that John the apostle used for “sins,” only in the singular. Jesus was the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” When John the Baptist wrote that Jesus “takes away the sin of the world,” he meant was that Jesus “bore the sin of the world,” or “carried the sin of the world.” The Hebrew equivalent for that phrase, “take away,” is found in the story of the scapegoat in Leviticus 16. It was a goat upon which was placed, symbolically, the sins of the people, then driven out into the wilderness, taking the sins of the people away from them. The suggestion is that the sins of the people were lifted off of them and placed on the unfortunate animal, and then the animal was forced out in the wilderness, where it would just wander around and die, forever separating the sins of the people from the people themselves. 

 

John the apostle declared that Jesus appeared so that He could come into a relationship with human beings, get underneath them, lift the burden of sins from them, and take it far, far  away.

 

In the deepest part of every human being, there is a regret we all share. We all regret our sinfulness. Maybe some people don’t call it that, but everybody, if they were to be completely honest, hates the “bad things” they have done in their past. Everybody has entertained, however briefly, the whimsical desire to go back and change their sinful behavior; to make right the wrong they caused. I’d wager that some of you would give up your right eye or your right hand to do that. But we can’t do that. There’s no going back, is there?

 

To all those who know their sin and hate it; to the men and women who carry around the knowledge of wrongs done in years gone by as a perpetual burden upon their souls, John’s declaration that Jesus came to take all that away is the greatest blessing of all. Jesus appeared somehow, in some way unknown to us, to carry that burden from us.

 

Let’s look for a moment at that last phrase of verse 5, “And in him is no sin.” Or, as we have been saying about sin, “He never missed the mark.” The One who never missed the mark appeared for the express purpose of lifting, carrying away, and erasing the missing marks of others. This sheds a light on the famous Christmas promise:

 

She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.  (Matthew 1:21 | TNIV)

 

It’s interesting and significant that it says, “…he will save his people from their sins.” You’d think that Jesus would “save His people from Hell,” or “…from damnation.” The problem is sin; it’s the thing nobody can save themselves from. Get rid of sin, and the threat of Hell and damnation vanishes. Jesus, the One who never missed the mark, came to do just that for us. 

 

And you can see how He did that on a small scale during His three years of ministry on earth. Just think about the teachings of Jesus. All of them were designed to free man from his sins. Think about the works of Jesus – all of His miracles and deliverances; the signs and wonders – all designed to reverse the results of sin. Yes, our Lord’s miracles were supernatural, but all of them – the healings and deliverances – were simply the restorations of what had become unnatural to the natural. Jesus’ earthly ministry was simply taking away the results of sin. Over and over again for three years, Jesus showed His power to lift sin from people, set them free from the results of sin, and send them on their way, whole once again.

 

That was the first Advent. When our Lord returns, He will do on global scale what He did on a local scale the first time He was here. We talk about “the Passion of the Cross,” which was really the passion of God for His lost creation. Imagine, a loving God who paid a visit to His damaged creation for the purpose of returning it to the way it was before sin ruined it. 

 

The second reason for Advent was to take away our sins, and in doing so, we and all creation will be completely restored and made whole.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Purpose of Advent, Part 1

 

To Destroy the Devil’s Work

 

The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.  (1 John 3:8 | TNIV)

 

As we approach the Advent season, we know that Christmas is just a few weeks away. Many churches celebrate Advent, the four Sundays before Christmas. It’s a way to focus our attention on the real meaning of Christmas, as opposed to the secular idea of Christmas. The importance of the real meaning of Christmas can’t be overstated. The whole teaching of Scripture places Advent at the very center of God’s plan for saving sinful man. Toward Advent, all of human history had moved until it happened. The messages of the prophets and the songs of the psalmists all pointed the coming of Jesus. 

 

Over the next four Sundays, I’d like to talk about the four-fold purpose of Advent:

 

·      To destroy the Devil’s works;

·      To take away our sins;

·      To reveal the Father;

·      To set the stage for the Second Advent.

 

Nobody loved Jesus quite like John did. Of course, the other disciples loved Jesus, too. But John seemed to have deeper understanding of who this Man was. We know Peter loved the Lord, but it’s hard to imagine Peter sitting quietly beside Jesus just listening to Him. Peter was the one who was quick to interrupt, quick to get moving and get things done. But John was quite content to sit and listen. If anybody heard the heartbeat of God in Jesus, it must surely have been the apostle John. 

 

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.  (1 John 1:1 – 4 | TNIV)

 

Those four verses are one long sentence in the Greek, and as you read it, you can sense the excitement with which it was originally written. And you can also sense how close John was to Jesus. All the apostles were close to Jesus, but especially John. John conveys that closeness using an odd phrase about “touching the Word of life.” How can you touch a word? How can you touch life? But this is what John and his friends had done. John was very conscious that in this Man Jesus was the very Word of God and the life of God. He was conscious of the flesh, but very conscious of the deity of Jesus. 

 

John wrote that “the life appeared.” Other versions use the old fashioned word, “manifested.” The Greek word presupposes a prior existence to manifest or to reveal. That’s a mouthful John wrote in one phrase! In this Man from Nazareth, there was the manifestation of One who had existed long before the Man from Nazareth. That existence is hinted at with the opening words of this first letter of John’s: “That which was from the beginning.” They remind us, as they reminded this letter’s first readers, of the opening words of Genesis. This One John is talking about has been around for a very, very long time. From all of eternity, in fact. 

 

The incarnation of the Son of God was not the beginning of the Son of God. It was not an act by which God began to come close to man. It was an act by God showed man how close He really was to them. In fact, God has always been close to His creation, but His creation is so spiritually dull, it can’t sense Him. So in these opening verses of 1 John, John was telling his readers that this Jesus Christ, whom he and his friends all knew so well, had been with the Father in the beginning before creation itself.

 

In his Gospel, John tells us something else about creation. None of it would be here had it not been for this Word of life.

 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.  (John 1:1 – 3 | TNIV)

 

Had it not been for the Son of God, none of creation would exist. We wouldn’t exist. All things were made through Him. So when the Son of God came, He was visiting that which He had created.  As to why He paid His creation a visit, John gives us the reason:

 

The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. (1 John 3:8b | TNIV)

 

But just what are the devil’s works on earth? Again, John tells us. Consider:

 

You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. (John 8:44 | TNIV)

 

[21] After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, “Very truly I tell you, one of you is going to betray me.” [26] Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. [27] As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him. So Jesus told him, “What you are about to do, do quickly.”  (John 13:21, 26, 27 | TNIV)

 

Those verses tell us exactly what the devil’s works are:

 

§  He is a murderer;

§  He is a liar;

§  He is the betrayer.

 

Murderer

 

Satan is first and foremost a murder; a destroyer of life. The highest form of life, is naturally, spiritual life. Satan does his best work when he is able to kill a person spiritually because that results in that person being forever lost to God. But He’s subtle about it. He doesn’t come at us with guns blazing. He blinds us to God’s purposes and His love. He causes us to have hard hearts towards God and the things of God. These are symptoms of the slow acting poison with which Satan kills man. 

 

But, all sickness and disease can be traced back to the presence of sin in the world, which Satan himself put here. So, in the broad sense, all sickness and disease, war and poverty, all the things that slowly kill a man are the devil’s work, too.

 

The word translated “murder” in John 8:44 can be translated as “man-slayer.” And that’s what the devil is. He isn’t your friend. Nothing good comes from him. He will kill you the first chance he gets if you get too close to him. His work in this regard is to spoil your life any way he can until you’re dead on the inside; a zombie husk of what God intended you to be. All ignorance, all despair, all wandering over the trackless deserts of life are do to man’s spiritual life bleeding out of him, thanks to the murdering work of the devil.

 

Liar

 

The devil is also a liar. And he’s good at it! He is able to cause the world to believe is lies. His lies are all designed to blind the sinner to God’s love; to cause irreparable damage to the human heart even as he promises otherwise; to sow discord between people; to make people as miserable as he his! And his lies to the believers are just as bad. 

 

Years ago, somebody compiled a list of the devil’s top ten lies.  Here they are, in no particular order.  How many have you bought into:

 

1.     God doesn’t exist. Over the last few years, atheists have become far more outspoken and seem to have been able to win over more and more converts.

2.     There is no such place as hell. In spite of the fact that the Bible talks a lot more about hell than heaven, still the devil’s lie persists: A loving God would never send a person to hell!

3.     Sin isn’t really that serious. Just be a good person. One of the devil’s most easily believed lie is yours sins aren’t really a big deal. After all, you haven’t killed anybody, right? In fact, the Gospel teaches that, while all sins are not the same, any one of them will keep you our of heaven.

4.     God wants you to be happy. So, just do what makes you feel happy. Well, while God doesn’t anybody unhappy, your happiness isn’t His chief concern! It’s the state of your eternal soul that eats up most of the Lord’s time and concern.

5.     Getting more still will make you happy. Satan would have us perusing some shiny object rather than God. 

6.     This life is all there is. Once you die, that’s it; you no longer exist.

7.     God really doesn’t love you. He may love other people, but not you.

8.     I can’t be saved. I’ve gone too far. Jesus didn’t give up heaven and being in the form of God and travel to the cross of Calvary—all that work and effort—to save other people but not you.

9.     Once you’re saved, regardless of how you, you can ever lose your salvation. The purpose of the gospel is to change us to make us like Jesus.The New Testament is clear that we are to live holy lives, but if we walk according to the flesh, God will reject us and send us to hell (see 1 Pet. 1:13-16; Gal. 1:6-9; Heb. 10:24-26).

10.  You’re saved by saying “the sinner’s prayer.” Nowhere in the Bible does it say anything like that. A lot of people have said “the sinner’s prayer,” and I’m sure some meant it and were saved in a moment. But the Christian life is not the same thing as a conversion experience. Satan’s big lie is that you get saved and that’s the end of it. In fact, the Bible teaches that salvation is life-long pursuit. You were saved when you confessed Christ and repented of your sins – you are saved by living the way God wants you to – you will be saved when the Lord returns.

 

Betrayer

 

Judas betrayed Jesus after the devil entered him. As the ultimate betrayer, the devil did essentially what Judas did: He took the love of God threw it back in God’s face. That’s really what Judas did. Jesus opened up His heart to this man. He called Judas a “friend.” And in a moment of time, Judas took a relationship three years in the making and tossed it in the cosmic trash can.

 

But if you think Judas is the only one who has ever betrayed the love of God, think again. History is littered with the human wreckage of men and women who once supposedly loved and served God, but who, for reasons known only to them, turned their backs on Him.

 

Jesus came to destroy all of the devil’s works. He destroys death by giving sinners the gift of new life. The new life in all believers undos the murderous work of Satan. In Christ, there is no hatred for others, only love. Hatred, avarice, jealousy, selfishness, all those things are destroyed and being destroyed by the light of God’s love in Christ Jesus.

 

Jesus destroys the devil’s lies with the truth of His Word. That means the more of the Bible you know, the fewer lies you will believe. 

 

Jesus came the first time to destroy the works of the devil, the first reason for Advent.

 

 

 

 


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