Posts Tagged ‘belief’


The Prophet’s Story

The story begins with Adam and Eve, who listened to the voice of the devil instead of God. They disobeyed, and mankind’s perfect relationship with God was broken.

They became the first to experience sin and the death sin causes. They tried to hide themselves with tree leaves to cover their shame, but God was not pleased with these coverings. He covered them instead with animal skin garments. God Himself made the first animal sacrifice to cover their shame.

Adam and Eve had two children: Cain and Abel. Cain made an offering to God from the food he had grown while Abel offered an animal sacrifice—a blood sacrifice.

God accepted Abel’s sacrifice but not Cain’s. Why? Because sin demands death, separates us from God, and must be paid for . . . with life. In Cain’s jealousy, he killed Abel and led a large portion of humanity down a dark path.

Hundreds of years later, things had gotten so bad that God said there was no one on earth that deserved to live . . . no one except Noah and his family. God called Noah to build a boat—a big one—and in doing so preach this message: Judgment for sin is coming, and there is only one way to escape and receive the mercy of God—the ark.

They laughed and ridiculed Noah until rain came from the sky and the water burst up from the deep while the people were unprepared. The flood killed every person and animal, and the world perished for their sins. Only Noah, his family, and the animals God had brought to the ark were saved.

Then came Abraham, the Father of Faith. God told him to take his son and sacrifice him on a mountain. Abraham was disturbed by this command, but he obeyed God. He proved his faith with action and took his son to Mount Moriah. But just as Abraham was about to sacrifice his son, God stopped him and provided an animal to take his son’s place. The animal redeemed, replaced, bought back his son—blood for blood, life for life.

Four hundred years passed and God sent Moses to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt. Pharaoh, the King of Egypt, didn’t like this, so God punished him with ten plagues. For the final plague, God sent an Angel of Death to kill the firstborn son of every household. But there was a way out. The people were commanded to sacrifice a lamb and put its blood on the doorpost of the house. If the Angel of Death saw the blood, he knew the children inside had been redeemed by sacrifice. Whether Jew or Egyptian, slave or freeman, if they obeyed the command of God, their child would be saved. If not . . . their child would not be saved. That night it happened just as Moses prophesied and a great weeping went up all over Egypt in any household that had refused God’s mercy by sacrifice.

Later, Moses gave the people the Torah in which God prescribed a ritual for covering the sins of the people. The offender brought an animal sacrifice to the priest, laid his hands on its head symbolizing the way his own sin and shame was transferred to the animal. Then the animal was sacrificed—its blood spilled out—and the offender’s sin was covered. King David and the prophets followed the Torah given by Moses, but they wondered, “Can the blood of animals really cover the sins of a man, or are they signs and symbols pointing to the future?”

David prophesied a Coming One, a King, a Messiah, a descendant of King David who would rule and reign in power, yet be a humble man with a heart of compassion. This Messiah would be sinless, perfect, blameless, innocent. He would suffer and die and be a worthy sacrifice. He would become “the Great Sacrifice.” Jesus was born in a barn because nobody had room for him. Born of a virgin, born pure. A royal, but poor, descendent of King David. Poor country shepherds and wealthy wise men from the East came to honor the child and testify that He was indeed the Coming One, the Messiah, whom the Scriptures had promised.

Jesus preached love, truth, peace, humility. He was a humble carpenter, but brilliant philosopher. He offended religious hypocrites who cared about rituals more than loving God, but He was loved by the poor, the humble, the repentant, the sinner. He healed the deaf, blind, deformed, and demon possessed. He even raised dead men back to life again. A homeless man, a wandering teacher, a revolutionary calling Lovers of God to live full lives. Jesus even called God His “Father,” and showed mankind that “the All Powerful” loves you like a Daddy.

God wanted to relate to humans as His children, but there was a problem. They were still sinful and God is Holy! Man’s sin, starting with Adam, had separated the people from their God, and the Messiah knew what He had to do to bring them back.

John the Baptist prophesied of Jesus saying, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.” Jesus was the Messiah, the Chosen One—chosen to become the Great Sacrifice. Having never sinned, He was holy, pure, perfect, and worthy to pay the price for sin. The innocent one in exchange for the guilty. The Holy One in exchange for sinful people. He did this for His Father to pay the price for mankind’s sin, to free them from their slavery to sin, and to restore to them what Adam had lost—a perfect relationship with God. Jesus died on the cross, not because of the Jews, nor the Romans, but by the hand of God, his Father. God sacrificed Jesus to fulfill what was written by the prophets—that He would become the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, yours and mine. But He didn’t stop there. Three days later God raised Jesus, the Messiah, from the dead as a promise to those who believe in Him, that they too will rise again to eternal life. After this, Jesus promised his disciples that He would return again, but this time as Judge and King!

The Messiah is God’s gift to mankind so they would not die in their sins and be separated from God. By receiving Jesus’ sacrifice they could be restored back into a perfect relationship with Him. But like any gift, it’s not yours until you take it.

“I told you that you would die in your sins, for you will die in your sins unless you believe that I am He.”  (John 8:24 NRSV)

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A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis

The short book entitled “A Grief Observed” by C.S. Lewis relates how the author joined the human race when his wife and spirited poet, Joy Gresham, died of cancer. Lewis, the Oxford professor whose Christian apologetics make it seem like he’s got an answer for everything, experienced crushing doubt for the first time during her illness and after his wife’s tragic death. A Grief Observed contains meaningful reflections on that period: “Your bid–for God or no God, for a good God or the Cosmic Sadist, for eternal life or nonentity–will not be serious if nothing much is staked on it. And you will never discover how serious it was until the stakes are raised horribly high,” Lewis writes. “Nothing will shake a man–or at any rate a man like me–out of his merely verbal thinking and his merely notional beliefs. He has to be knocked silly before he comes to his senses. Only torture will bring out the truth. Only under torture does he discover it himself.”

This is the book that inspired the film Shadowlands but it is more wrenching, more revelatory, and more real than the movie. It is a beautiful and unflinchingly honest record of how even a stalwart believer can lose all sense of meaning in the universe, and how he can gradually regain his bearings.

Although this book is non-fiction it is written like the author of so many famous books of fiction can write.  Yet, from a very personal standpoint, Lewis comes to grips with the reality of terminal illness.  It is always from the viewpoint of “this can’t be happening to me!”  He goes through stages of denial, first of the illness itself, and second of the untimely death of his wife.  Sharing his feelings with her son was very hard for Lewis.  Lewis and Joy’s son Douglas became very close.  The relationship started because he enjoyed reading Lewis’ classics.  Douglas truly admired and respected Lewis. Lewis was always the professor and statesman, and always had that stiff upper lip of the Englishman.  But when it came down to facing his feelings, Lewis was the first to really get in touch with them.  His wife, Joy, helped him get through the times of unknowing before she died.  Lewis and Douglas grew very fond of each other and mourned the loss of Joy together, arm in arm.

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Joy was very warm and caring toward him during her therapy and temporary recovery.  She insisted on spending as much time with Lewis as possible.  They basically did everything together.  What is really touching about this story is what became of their marriage, and the reason why they married in the first place.

From the first meeting of Lewis, Joy Gresham, and her son Douglas, the beginning of their lasting friendship, through the courtship that took many years, A Grief Observed blends the two worlds or cultures of American values and those of the British.  The book brings you into the heart of Lewis like no other book he had written.  When you finish this book, your heart will be warmed and your mind will rest assured of the possibility of loving someone so deeply as to suffer more than the one who is sick.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is going through the illness of a loved one, especially if he or she has been diagnosed as terminal.

 

Kerygma

Kerygma

What is kerygma and what does it mean?

During the last seven weeks of the Communication in Ministry course I am taking, we are concentrating on preaching or delivering sermons or messages to our congregations.  We are studying structuring sermons, how to select our passages and how to interpret the biblical passage. We are learning how to relate the interpretation of the biblical passage to our “audience.” We are learning all the ways and means to creating a great sermon.

This brings me to the word kerygma. Dictionary.com gives the definition of kerygma as “the preaching of the gospel of Christ, especially in the manner of the early church, and the content or message of such preaching.”

Kerygma is the Greek word κήρυγμα kérugma, translated proclamation or preaching. Kergyma is the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in spoken words, or even viewed in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. It is the proclamation of Jesus redemptive work. Proclamation was usually followed by teaching and instruction in the elements of the faith, or the reading of a Creed. What Jesus did and taught in His ministry was included within the basic proclamation. Ok, so lets break this definition down. 

1. Kerygma is the preaching of the Gospel.

2. Kerygma is preaching in the manner of the early church.

3. Kerygma has to do with the content or message of what is being preached.

What is the Gospel? It is the Good News of the life, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. The Gospel includes the facts of Jesus’ incarnation as the Word. It includes the fact that Jesus is the Son of God. It includes the fact that Jesus was begotten of the Father and not a creature that the Father made. Jesus is in the Father as the Father is in Him. It includes the fact that salvation from sin, sickness, death, and the devil is only through Jesus the Messiah. It includes the fact that we are made right with God, declared righteous because of the righteousness of Jesus the Messiah. The Gospel is Good News!

2. What was the manner of preaching in the early church? The book of Acts clearly demonstrates that the early church preached the Gospel focusing on Jesus Christ; on repentance, faith, baptism and the forgiveness of sins, especially that salvation is through Jesus alone. The early church preached Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, and His ascension to the right hand of the Father, and the gift of the Holy Spirit. The reason is that the Apostles were witnesses to the life, ministry, death, burial, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. The early church preached what they heard from Jesus, the Apostles, and what they witnessed – it is the Gospel.

3. What is the content or message of what was being preached by the early church? When looking into the book of Acts we see:

  • All of the messages mention the doctrine of God.
  • All of the messages mention Jesus the Messiah.
  • Seven messages mention Jesus’ death.
  • Seven messages mention His resurrection.
  • Four messages declare that Jesus is now exalted in heaven at the right hand of the Father.
  • Four messages mention the giving of the Holy Spirit.
  • Seven message mention the forgiveness of sins.
  • Five messages mention repentance.
  • Three messages mention the need for faith.
  • Five messages mention Scripture.
  • None of the messages use the word Kingdom, because the Kingdom of God was brought to the earth in Jesus the Messiah.

Therefore, the content or the message preached by the early church included everything mentioned above. The church today must preach the Gospel like the early church. The early church preached the Gospel within the context of her audience, whether Jew or Gentile, or whether it was in Palestine or Athens, Rome or Crete. The kerygma was the same. They preached and taught the Gospel. The early church preached and taught the Gospel as it was given to them by the Apostles. The kerygma is the Apostolic Gospel message. The Church should be preaching the Gospel the same way the Apostles preached it: in the wisdom and power of God.

St. Paul gives an example of the kerygma:

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then He appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared also to me.” 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 (ESV)

In conclusion, based upon the Four Gospels and Acts, there are seven elements to the ancient kerygma of the Church:

1. God loves you and seeks after you.
2. Sin will destroy you.
3. Jesus Christ died to save you.
4. Repent and believe the Gospel.
5. Be Baptized – receive the Holy Spirit.
6. Abide in Christ and His Body the Church.
7. Go make disciples.

Lastly, there are four elements (Acts 2:42) to living the Christian life revolving around the kerygma:

1. The Apostles’ Teaching – The Church steadfastly went on in the study of ancient Scripture and the sacred teachings of the Faith given them by the Apostles.
2. The Fellowship – They were daily interacting within Christ’s Body the Church, frequently gathering for worship, and other gatherings as the Body of Christ.
3. The Breaking of the Bread – This is another way of saying that they faithfully received Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper, or the Eucharist and, by extension,  all the Sacraments.
4. The Prayers – Using forms of prayers, in both the personal and community contexts.

Westminster

The Westminster Creed

I believe man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever;
I believe God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in His being,
wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth;

I believe there is but one true and living God;
that there are three persons in the Godhead:
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost;
and that these three are one God,
the same in substance, equal in power and glory;

I believe God has foreordained whatever comes to pass;
that God made all things of nothing,
by the word of His power, in the space of six days, and all very good;
and that God preserves and governs all His creatures and all their actions.

I believe our first parents, though created in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness,
sinned against God, by eating the forbidden fruit;
and that their fall brought mankind into an estate of sin and misery;

I believe God determined, out of His mere good pleasure,
to deliver His elect out of the estate of sin and misery,
and to bring them into an estate of salvation by a Redeemer;
I believe the only Redeemer of God’s elect is the Lord Jesus Christ,
Who, being the eternal Son of God, became man,
and so was, and continues to be,
God and man in two distinct natures, and one person, forever;

I believe Christ, as our Redeemer,
executes the office of a prophet, of a priest, and of a king.

I believe Christ as our Redeemer underwent the miseries of this life,
the wrath of God, the cursed death of the cross, and burial;
He rose again from the dead on the third day, ascended up into heaven,
sits at the right hand of God, the Father,
and is coming to judge the world at the last day.

I believe we are made partakers of the redemption purchased by Christ,
by the effectual application of it to us by his Holy Spirit;

I believe God requires of us faith in Jesus Christ,
and repentance unto life to escape the wrath and curse of God due to us for sin;

I believe by His free grace we are effectually called, justified, and sanctified,
and gathered into the visible church, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation;

I believe that we also are given in this life such accompanying benefits
as assurance of God’s love, peace of conscience, joy in the Holy Ghost,
increase of grace, and perseverance therein to the end;
that at death, we are made perfect in holiness, and immediately pass into glory;
and our bodies, being still united in Christ, rest in their graves, till the resurrection;
and at the resurrection, we shall be raised up in glory,
we shall openly be acknowledged and acquitted in the day of judgment,
and made perfectly blessed in the full enjoying of God to all eternity.

~ adapted from the 17th century Westminster Shorter Catechism

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Thoughts after Resurrection Sunday: Jesus Christ, the Power of God

Remember how the Roman Governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate approved a military guard for a cemetery plot and how they took pains to seal the stone to permanently close the tomb of Jesus? That was Pilate’s final word to Jesus, whom he had interrogated earlier that day. During that trial, Pilate and Jesus touched the third rail of worldly politics: Power. Pilate denied that power must be based on truth. Power was his to wield as he decided.

Jesus insisted on the primacy of Truth and that there was only one Power in the world: God’s. All other power was either delegated or allowed until the time of judgment, which rested in the hands of no magistrate, no emperor, no Supreme Court, but in God Almighty. Pilate had no power over Jesus that had not been given to him. And Pilate had no power over the Tomb-although he thought otherwise.

Those wielding power may mistakenly forget about the primacy of truth. When Jesus was questioned by Caiaphas about his teachings, he said, “Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me, what I said to them; they know what I said.” A soldier struck Jesus with his hand, saying, “Is that how you answer the High Priest?” The soldier used power, trying to coerce Jesus, who had noted that truth could be found in the testimony of others about him.
Jesus refused to give in, saying, “If I have spoken wrongly, bear witness to the wrong, but if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?” What could the soldier say in response? We are not told. Did Jesus’ penetrating presence and words pierce the soldier’s conscience?

When a truth is spoken to the consciences of those in power, one or the other must give way. Power must yield or truth must be silenced. Classic examples of this confrontation are the peaceful civil rights protests in the U.S. Power at first may seem to win the day-the state may whip, beat, imprison protesters and “restore order” and silence. But if the protesters speak truth to a power that is built on falsehood, they have the power of truth behind them. In the case of civil rights, the broader national conscience had to face the racism for what it was.

Many were willing to suffer to confront racism. In history, the state often does not back down and attempts to silence those who are dissident. It may even knowingly punish the innocent, as did Pilate.

In our current cultural crisis, those who speak truth to power about human life in the womb, the nature of marriage, and religious conscience are often targeted for silencing. Yet we, unlike the state, cannot use coercion in this conflict. Yes, there is power to be had in speaking the truth, just not in the way worldly men prefer to use it, like James and John who wanted to sit on thrones with Jesus. The power of Christians only comes through the Cross, through the willingness to suffer for the truth-and live according to it.

The power that raised Jesus was not meant as an assault on the guarding soldiers. They and the sealed stone were not the point. God did not unseal a tombstone to prove that he could empty a tomb. No, Jesus was raised because of a divine truth about the Incarnate Son of God: “It was not possible for him to be held by death.” (Acts 2:24)
Power comes and goes. Truth is truth and stands forever. It cannot remain suppressed. Even the stones will cry out. Yes, stones, and even tombstones. “Suffered under Pontius Pilate” was never the end of the story.

The Gospel truth is that Jesus’ Name is above every name, to which every knee will bow, even Pilate’s.

~  James M. Kushiner, Executive Director, The Fellowship of St. James

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View the Story

 

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Perhaps during some late November, you have given or received an Advent calendar. Chances are, it was decorated with a religious picture and twenty-five perforated windows for each day in the month of December. When the window was opened, you could read a Bible verse or religious thought for that day. In more expensive calendars, a small piece of chocolate might be found. Parents in particular find that Advent calendars can help children “wait” during the interminable 24 days preceding Christmas, by giving them a little treat each day in December.

The word Advent comes from the Latin word adventus, which means coming. Christians celebrate the four weeks before Christmas as a time to reflect on and anticipate the “coming” of Christ at Christmas as well as the “coming” of Christ at the end of time. Preparing for the birth of Christ is a reminder of God’s great love for us—a love so vast that Christ lived and died as one of us. Preparing for the final coming of Christ is a reminder of the glory and grandeur that we will one day share in the Kingdom of God.

Customarily in the Christian tradition, the focus has been on these two “comings” of Christ. However, St. Bernard in the 11th Century identified a “third coming” that Advent leads us to await—the coming of Christ in our own soul. While the birth of Christ and the second coming of Christ are important to Christians, we must all still move through this earthly life on a day-to-day basis with Christ in our hearts.

Keeping a watchful Advent reminds us that we do not tread these days in isolation. We can live in expectation of the movement of Christ in and through every moment of those days. Even though we are frequently distracted and diverted from attention to this movement within us, the season of Advent reminds us to turn inward yet again and seek God, the Holy Spirit within us.

Advent is a time to notice the longing that runs through the silent crevices in our souls. It helps us learn to wait in patience for that longing to be filled rather than hiding it or numbing it by shuffling through the mall, standing in front of the open refrigerator, or sitting stone-like in front of the television. Advent is also a time to embrace silence and stillness in order to see more clearly and hear more keenly the movement of the Spirit of God. Finally, Advent is a time to rejoice with hope and expectation that what we say we believe will, in fact, be revealed in the ordinary and extraordinary moments of our lives.

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The Season of Advent

Advent is the beginning of the Church Year for most churches in the Western tradition. It begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day, which is the Sunday nearest November 30, and ends on Christmas Eve (Dec 24). If Christmas Eve is a Sunday, it is counted as the fourth Sunday of Advent, with Christmas Eve proper beginning at sundown.

The Colors of Advent

Historically, the primary sanctuary color of Advent is Purple. This is the color of penitence and fasting as well as the color of royalty to welcome the Advent of the King.  Purple is still used in some traditions (for example Roman Catholic).  The purple of Advent is also the color of suffering used during Lent and Holy Week.  This points to an important connection between Jesus’ birth and death. The nativity, the Incarnation, cannot be separated from the crucifixion. The purpose of Jesus’ coming into the world, of the “Word made flesh” and dwelling among us, is to reveal God and His grace to the world through Jesus’ life and teaching, but also through his suffering, death, and resurrection. To reflect this emphasis, originally Advent was a time of penitence and fasting, much as the Season of Lent and so shared the color of Lent.

In the four weeks of Advent the third Sunday came to be a time of rejoicing that the fasting was almost over (in some traditions it is called Gaudete Sunday, from the Latin word for “rejoice”). The shift from the purple of the Season to pink or rose for the third Sunday Advent candles reflected this lessening emphasis on penitence as attention turned more to celebration of the season.

In recent times, however, Advent has undergone a shift in emphasis, reflected in a change of colors used in many churches.  Except in the Eastern churches, the penitential aspect of the Season has been almost totally replaced by an emphasis on hope and anticipation.

In many churches the third Sunday remains the Sunday of Joy marked by Pink or Rose. However, most Protestant churches now use blue to distinguish the Season of Advent from Lent. Royal Blue is sometimes used as a symbol of royalty. Some churches use Bright Blue to symbolize the night sky, the anticipation of the impending announcement of the King’s coming, or to symbolize the waters of Genesis 1, the beginning of a new creation. Some churches, including some Catholic churches, use blue violet to preserve the traditional use of purple while providing a visual distinction between the purple or red violet of Lent.

This does not eliminate any sense of penitence from the Season.  With the focus on the Advent or Coming of Jesus, especially in anticipating His Second Advent, there remains a need for preparation for that coming. Most liturgical churches incorporate confessional prayers into the services of Advent that relate to a sense of unworthiness as we anticipate His Coming. It is appropriate even in more traditional services of worship to incorporate confessional prayers as part of the anticipation and preparation of the Season.

With the shift to blue for Advent in most non-Catholic churches, some churches retain pink among the Advent colors, but use it on the Fourth Sunday of Advent.  It still remains associated with Joy, but is sometimes used as the climax of the Advent Season on the last Sunday before Christmas.

Red and Green are more secular colors of Christmas. Although they derive from older European practices of using evergreens and holly to symbolize ongoing life and hope that Christ’s birth brings into a cold world, they are never used as liturgical colors during Advent since those colors have other uses in other parts of the church year.

The Meaning of “Advent”

The word Advent means “coming” or “arrival.” The focus of the entire season is the celebration of the birth of Jesus the Christ in his First Advent, and the anticipation of the return of Christ the King in his Second Advent. Thus, Advent is far more than simply marking a 2,000 year old event in history. It is celebrating a truth about God, the revelation of God in Christ whereby all of creation might be reconciled to God. That is a process in which we now participate, and the consummation of which we anticipate. Scripture reading for Advent will reflect this emphasis on the Second Advent, including themes of accountability for faithfulness at His coming, judgment on sin, and the hope of eternal life.

In this double focus on past and future, Advent also symbolizes the spiritual journey of individuals and a congregation, as they affirm that Christ has come, that He is present in the world today, and that He will come again in power. That acknowledgment provides a basis for Kingdom ethics, for holy living arising from a profound sense that we live “between the times” and are called to be faithful stewards of what is entrusted to us as God’s people. So, as the church celebrates God’s inbreaking into history in the Incarnation, and anticipates a future consummation to that history for which “all creation is groaning awaiting its redemption,” it also confesses its own responsibility as a people commissioned to “love the Lord your God with all your heart” and to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

The Spirit of Advent

Advent is marked by a spirit of expectation, of anticipation, of preparation, of longing. There is a yearning for deliverance from the evils of the world, first expressed by Israelite slaves in Egypt as they cried out from their bitter oppression. It is the cry of those who have experienced the tyranny of injustice in a world under the curse of sin, and yet who have hope of deliverance by a God who has heard the cries of oppressed slaves and brought deliverance!

It is that hope, however faint at times, and that God, however distant He sometimes seems, which brings to the world the anticipation of a King who will rule with truth and justice and righteousness over His people and in His creation. It is that hope that once anticipated, and now anticipates anew, the reign of an Anointed One, a Messiah, who will bring peace and justice and righteousness to the world.

Part of the expectation also anticipates a judgment on sin and a calling of the world to accountability before God. We long for God to come and set the world right! Yet, as the prophet Amos warned, the expectation of a coming judgment at the “Day of the Lord” may not be the day of light that we might want, because the penetrating light of God’s judgment on sin will shine just as brightly on God’s people.

Because of this important truth, especially in the Eastern Orthodox Churches, the Season of Advent has been a time of fasting and penitence for sins similar to the Season of Lent. However, a different emphasis for the season of Advent has gradually unfolded in much of the rest of the church. The season of Advent has come to be celebrated more in terms of expectation or anticipation. Yet, the anticipation of the Coming of the Messiah throughout the Old Testament and Judaism was not in connection with remembrance of sins. Rather, it was in the context of oppression and injustice, the longing for redemption, not from personal guilt and sin but from the systemic evil of the world expressed in evil empires and tyrants. It is in that sense that all creation groans for its redemption as we witness the evil that so dominates our world (Rom 8:18-25).

Of course, there is the problem of longing for vindication from an evil world when we are contributors to that evil. This is the power of the images of Amos when he warns about longing for the “Day of the Lord” that will really be a day of darkness (Amos 5:18-20). Still, even with Amos’ warning the time of Advent is one of expectation and anticipation, a longing for God’s actions to restore all things and vindicate the righteous. This is why during Advent we as Christians also anticipate the Second Coming as a twin theme of the season. So, while some church traditions focus on penitence during Advent, and there remains a place for that, the spirit of that expectation from the Old Testament is better captured with a joyous sense of expectancy. Rather than a time of mourning and fasting, Advent is celebrated as a time of joy and happiness as we await the coming of the King.

There will be time enough during the rest of the journey through the Church Year to remember our sins. It begins in Epiphany when we hear about the brotherhood of the Kingdom, and realize our failure to effect it. Then as we move toward and through Lent we realize that the coming of Jesus served more to lay bare our own sin than it did to vindicate our righteousness. There will be time to shed Peter’s bitter tears as we realize that what started with such possibility and expectation has apparently ended in such failure.

It is only as we experience that full cycle, beginning with unbridled joy in Advent that slowly fades into the realization of what we have done with and to the Christ, that the awful reality of Good Friday can have its full impact. And in that realization we can finally be ready to hear the Good News on Resurrection Sunday! That is the journey that the disciples took. And so there is value in taking the same journey beginning with the anticipation and joy of Advent!

So, we celebrate with gladness the great promise in the Advent, yet knowing that there is also a somber tone as the theme of threat is added to the theme of promise. This is reflected in some of the Scripture readings for Advent, in which there is a strong prophetic tone of accountability and judgment on sin. But this is also faithful to the role of the Coming King who comes to rule, save, and judge the world.

Because of the dual themes of threat and promise, Advent is a time of preparation that is marked by prayer. While Lent is characterized by fasting and a spirit of penitence, Advent’s prayers are prayers of humble devotion and commitment, prayers of submission, prayers for deliverance, prayers from those walking in darkness who are awaiting and anticipating a great light (Isa 9)!

The spirit of Advent is expressed well in the parable of the bridesmaids who are anxiously awaiting the coming of the Bridegroom (Matt 25:1-13). There is profound joy at the Bridegroom’s expected coming. And yet a warning of the need for preparation echoes through the parable. But even then, the prayer of Advent is still:

Come, O Come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel!

Evergreens and The Advent Wreath

The beginning of Advent is a time for the hanging of the green, decoration of the church with evergreen wreaths, boughs, or trees that help to symbolize the new and everlasting life brought through Jesus the Christ. Some churches have a special weekday service, or the first Sunday evening of Advent, or even the first Sunday morning of Advent, in which the church is decorated and the Advent wreath put in place. This service is most often primarily of music, especially choir and hand bells, and Scripture reading, along with an explanation of the various symbols as they are placed in the sanctuary.

The Advent wreath is an increasingly popular symbol of the beginning of the Church year in many churches as well as homes. It is a circular evergreen wreath (real or artificial) with five candles, four around the wreath and one in the center. Since the wreath is symbolic and a vehicle to tell the Christmas story, there are various ways to understand the symbolism. The exact meaning given to the various aspects of the wreath is not as important as the story to which it invites us to listen, and participate.

The circle of the wreath reminds us of God Himself, His eternity and endless mercy, which has no beginning or end. The green of the wreath speaks of the hope that we have in God, the hope of newness, of renewal, of eternal life. Candles symbolize the light of God coming into the world through the birth of His son. The four outer candles represent the period of waiting during the four Sundays of Advent, which themselves symbolize the four centuries of waiting between the prophet Malachi and the birth of Christ.

  • 1st CANDLE– (purple) THE PROPHECY CANDLE or CANDLE OF HOPE – We can have hope because God is faithful and will keep the promises made to us. Our hope comes from God. “And again, Isaiah says, ‘The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; the Gentiles will hope in him.’ May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:12-13)
  • 2nd CANDLE– (purple) THE BETHLEHEM CANDLE or THE CANDLE OF PREPARATION – God kept his promise of a Savior who would be born in Bethlehem.  Preparation means to “get ready”. Help us to be ready to welcome YOU, O GOD! “As is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: ‘A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all mankind will see God’s salvation.‘ (Luke 3:4-6)
  • 3rd CANDLE– (pink) THE SHEPHERD CANDLE or THE CANDLE OF JOY – The angels sang a message of JOY! “…and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 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 Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’ Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.’ When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” (Luke 2:7-15)
  • 4th CANDLE– (purple) THE ANGEL CANDLE or THE CANDLE OF LOVE – The angels announced the good news of a Savior.  God sent his only Son to earth to save us, because he loves us! “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:16-17)
  • 5th CANDLE– (white) “CHRIST CANDLE” – The white candle reminds us that Jesus is the spotless lamb of God, sent to wash away our sins! His birth was for his death, his death was for our birth! “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!‘” (John 1:29)

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, ‘Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.’ In reply Jesus declared, ‘I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.’ ‘How can a man be born when he is old?’ Nicodemus asked. ‘Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.‘” (John 3:1-8)

– Adapted from various sources.

“Come, Follow Me!” – A Gospel Journey

 Come Follow Me

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To follow Jesus Christ means:

  1. We are chosen by Him

After Jesus temptations in the wilderness and preaching begins…

Matthew 4:19* And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (“Come, follow Me!” means His call is effective and He equips us)

John 1:43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” (Present active imperative – it is a direct command to Philip to follow Him)

Jesus speaks about those who are really His, and Who the real Shepherd is…

John 10:27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. (God chooses us we do not choose Him)

  1. We are to deny and die

While Jesus deals with many crowds and a centurion…

Matthew 8:21-22 Another of the disciples said to him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.” (The spiritually dead bury their own dead, while the spiritually alive follow Christ, and preach the Gospel – when God regenerates the one He calls, they become spiritually alive.) cp. Luke 9:60

There are two types of followers:

  1. Those that are chosen
  2. Those who are fans or groupies

Matthew 10:38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. (Taking up your cross is not a metaphor; it means to be willing to deny yourself and die for Christ)

After speaking to the crowds and Pharisees, Jesus explains…

Mark 10:21 And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (Following Christ means giving up all you have and all you are)

Now look at verses 28-30:

“Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.”

After doing many miracles and healings, Jesus sees Levi…

Luke 5:27-28 After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi (who is Matthew), sitting at the tax booth. And he said to him, “Follow me.” And leaving everything, he rose and followed him.  (When God calls us to Himself, the call is irresistible. {Note: Greek imperfect active tense meaning Matthew began at once to follow Jesus and kept following Him}

After feeding the 5000, Jesus explains what it means to follow Him…

Luke 9:23** And he said to all, “If anyone would come (present tense) after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. (God calls us to denial of self {i.e. totally reject ourselves} and to death, i.e., take up our own cross – daily.)

     3. We are never to look back

Luke 9:59-62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (There is a reluctance to break from the world system; whoever looks back to the world is not appropriate for the Kingdom of God)

  1. We are equipped to serve and multiply

Jesus explains to Andrew and Philip that He must be sacrificed and glorified…

John 12:26 If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him. (We must follow Christ before we can serve Him)

Jesus tells Peter of his responsibilities…

John 21:19 (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.” {Greek describes a union of a particle with a word; You, Peter, follow me!}

John 21:22 Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” (In this verse, John uses a primary pronoun; You, Peter, keep on following me!)

Jesus is saying here that:

  1. Our main concern is to follow Him.
  2. There are areas of the disciple’s life upon which we exercise a proud and presumptuous curiosity. Jesus reproves all that curiosity.
  3. Jesus assures us that He will take care of all His true disciples, and that we should not be unduly concerned about anything or anyone else.
  4. To follow Him means we should go forward to whatever He calls us to, whether persecution or death – not envying any other person, and anxious only to do the will of God.

5. We are to possess certain “qualities” – 2 Peter 1:1-10:

“Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ: May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.

The idea here is not making sure that we retain our salvation by doing something, but the fact that we do possess salvation! Peter says; “doing these things,” testify that we are indeed followers of Christ.

To recap:

There are five ways to illustrate what it means to follow Jesus Christ in the Gospels.

To follow Jesus Christ means:

  1. We are chosen by Him.
  2. We are to deny and die.
  3. We are never to look back.
  4. We are equipped to serve and multiply.
  5. We are to possess certain “qualities.”

For the audio message only: Come, Follow Me

Jesus

 

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