It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Advent

Text: Isaiah 64:1-4

My wife hates it when folks play Christmas music before Thanksgiving. And so you can imagine how it has been to learn that people here in Central Florida begin celebrating Christmas on the second week of November. Lights are up and trees and wreaths are hung all over town well before Thanksgiving. And the really remarkable thing is that nobody feels at all bad about it. You people are totally unapologetic in your Christmas creep. And you know what, I’m kind of ok with that. That’s right, I’ll come out into the open with my secret. I’ve been quietly singing Christmas carols to myself for weeks now. One of my favorites is “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas.” You know how it goes:

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, everywhere you go. Take a look in the five and ten, glistening once again with candy canes and silver lanes aglow. It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, toys in every store. But the prettiest sight to see is the holly that will be on your own front door.

The song goes on to mention “A pair of hopalong boots and a pistol that shoots” as well as “Dolls that will talk and will go for a walk.” It concludes by saying “Soon the bells will start, and the thing that will make them ring is the carol that you sing right within your heart.” That imagery reflects the classic Americana Christmas. It’s all about shopping, sweets, and feeling that warm spirit down in your heart. And I don’t mind this sort of American Christmas too much. It’s a lot of fun, and it reminds me of my childhood. But you know, none of those things have much to do with the Biblical picture of Christmas. Now, I’m not talking about the problem of consumerism or greed. I’m sure we could talk about those things some other time. I’m just talking about the general picture. What I’m talking about is Advent. Continue reading

Mary, Martha, and Enjoying God Forever

Text: Luke 10:38-42

You all know the famous 1st question and answer to the Westminster Shorter Catechism: “What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” It’s such a great answer, mostly because of that unexpected verb “enjoy.” But I’d like to put the focus on the question for a moment. What is a chief end? The word “end” there means goal or purpose, and so the “chief end” is the ultimate or final purpose. A chief end is the most important goal, and so man’s chief end ought to be the thing that he pursues above all else. Everything else in his life should work to support that goal and bring him closer to it. Anything which distracts him from it or pulls him further away from it is working against that goal. The religious term for something like that would be sin. Everything that we do should cause us to glorify God and enjoy Him more and more. And that is what our text is about this morning. Continue reading

He is not here but is risen

320px-Matthias_Grünewald_-_The_Resurrection_(detail)_-_WGA10756Luke’s account of the resurrection is unique in several ways. He emphasizes the role of the women at the empty tomb more than any of the other gospels. He also tells us that there were a great many women, more than just a few. Luke’s gospel is the only gospel that doesn’t mention Jesus appearing to the women before they relayed the story to the disciples. In fact, Luke’s gospel seems to emphasize doubt, on the part of the disciples but even on the part of the women.

And the women who had come with Him from Galilee followed after, and they observed the tomb and how His body was laid. Then they returned and prepared spices and fragrant oils. And they rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment. (Luke 24:55-56)

Who were these women? Continue reading

And they rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment

It is well known that Jesus’ empty tomb was first discovered by women. We know that these women were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Joanna, and Salome. But Luke’s gospel, unique among the canonical gospels, tells us that there was a large group of women at the tomb, and it also tells us that this group of women had been following Jesus for some while. “And a great multitude of the people followed Him, and women who also mourned and lamented Him” (Luke 23:27). After Jesus died, Luke says, “all His acquaintances, and the women who followed Him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things” (Luke 23:49). These women– the ones who had followed Jesus to the cross, the ones who watched to see where he was buried, and the ones who rushed to his tomb on Easter– did one other thing as well. They waited.

And the women who had come with Him from Galilee followed after, and they observed the tomb and how His body was laid. Then they returned and prepared spices and fragrant oils. And they rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment. (Luke 23:55-56)

Can you imagine having to keep this Sabbath? After seeing Jesus die, after mourning him throughout the day, and after watching him be taken away to be buried, these women had to go back to their homes, and they had to rest. They could not mourn properly. They could not stay at the grave (which we know they would have liked to have done). They could not even complete the burial preparations, since we see them bringing extra spices on the Easter morning. Their funeral was cut short for the Sabbath. This is Holy Saturday.

Holy Saturday is about waiting. It is the final Old Covenant Sabbath. From the human point of view, nothing is happening. It is a test of faith. Did it work? Is Jesus victorious? What will happen? Can we keep the faith?

But invisibly, something else is going on. Jesus is in Hades proclaiming His victory. He is preaching to the spirits below, binding the Strong Man, and taking captivity captive. Jesus is standing on the neck of Death even now.

This is Holy Saturday.

And yet here, lonely and sorrowful, we wait. We pray. We keep the Sabbath.

We look for tomorrow.

What further testimony do we need?

One of the chief ways Biblical Christianity is unlike other philosophies and world religions is that it does not merely teach us how to be free of “the bad guy.” It tells us that we are the bad guy. This isn’t simply because of our limited natures, our lack of knowledge, or our being at the mercy of some other bigger bad guy. No, this is because we have chosen to like ourselves more than God. The Apostle Paul writes, “although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful” (Rom. 1:21). And this is especially true of Good Friday. The religious leaders of Israel were not simply upset with Jesus for who he claimed to be. It was not as if they simply didn’t believe him. No, they actually recognized who Jesus was. They knew, deep within themselves, that he was the messiah. And they hated him for it.

As soon as it was day, the elders of the people, both chief priests and scribes, came together and led Him into their council, saying,  “If You are the Christ, tell us.”

But He said to them, “If I tell you, you will by no means believe. And if I also ask you,you will by no means answer Me or let Me go. Hereafter the Son of Man will sit on the right hand of the power of God.”

Then they all said, “Are You then the Son of God?”

So He said to them, “You rightly say that I am.”

And they said, “What further testimony do we need? For we have heard it ourselves from His own mouth.”

(Luke 22:66-71)

Continue reading

“He found them sleeping from sorrow”

One of the most prevalent misconceptions that people have about the gospels is that the disciples of Jesus were dummies. They’re always misunderstanding things, coming to the wrong conclusions, and even showing moral failure. But this isn’t true at all. When the disciples misunderstand things, it isn’t because they are dummies. It is because the situation was mysterious and the teaching of Jesus was challenging. When the disciples exhibit moral failure, it is because the situation was difficult and nearly-overwhelming. The disciples were fallible men, to be sure, but they were men who had been trained by Jesus and walked with him for three years. They would have been impressive to us. And we need to remember this when we read about them falling asleep in Gethsemane:

When He rose up from prayer, and had come to His disciples, He found them sleeping from sorrow. Then He said to them, “Why do you sleep? Rise and pray, lest you enter into temptation.” (Lk. 22:45-46)

Continue reading

Death is Swallowed Up in Victory

1 Corinthians 15:50-58

Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption.  Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed— in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.  For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.  So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”

“O Death, where is your sting?
O Hades, where is your victory?”

The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.

Continue reading

The New Adam’s New Body

1 Corinthians 15:35-49

But someone will say, “How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?”  Foolish one, what you sow is not made alive unless it dies.  And what you sow, you do not sow that body that shall be, but mere grain—perhaps wheat or some other grain.  But God gives it a body as He pleases, and to each seed its own body.

All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of animals, another of fish, and another of birds.  There are also celestial bodies and terrestrial bodies; but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for one star differs from another star in glory.

So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption.  It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power.  It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.  And so it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being.”  The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.

However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual.  The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord from heaven.  As was the man of dust, so also are those who are made of dust; and as is the heavenly Man, so also are those who are heavenly.  And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man.

 

Well here I am again getting my holidays all mixed up. 1 Cor. 15 is certainly an Easter text, and I could give you all a noble-sounding reminder that as Christians we are free not to keep seasons, days, new moons, and the like, but really I’m just trying to finish my ongoing series on the book of First Corinthians. Still, it is not inappropriate to connect Christ’s birth with His resurrection, as each phase of ministry was connected to the other, and the resurrection does have a direct relationship to the incarnation. You see, Christ’s first birth was really a preliminary to his second, as He had come to triumph over death and secure regeneration for all believers, and this required resurrection Continue reading

12 Days of Christmas Carols- God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen

Over the next two weeks I’d like to highlight some of my favorite Christmas carols.  Since the 12 Days of Christmas start on Christmas Day and last until Twelfth Night, I’m actually a day early, but I don’t plan on doing any sort of work, not even blogging, tomorrow, so I figured I’d start early.  The first one will be “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentleman.”  

Mr. Fezziwig's Ball

I like “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” because of the minor mode (I like pretty much anything in a minor key), but also because of the rich and unique words.  As with most hymns and carols, the number of stanzas differs from place to place, and you might even find, to much chagrin, that a few words get changed here and there.  Most versions of this carol have five stanzas, but some have less.  A few even have as many as eight!  I’ll just stick with the first stanza and the refrain, since they are the most famous.

God rest ye merry, gentlemen, let nothing you dismay,
Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day;
To save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray.

O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy;
O tidings of comfort and joy.

The first thing to note is the grammar of the opening line.  It is not actually “God rest ye, merry gentlemen,” as most people assume.  It is instead, “God rest ye merry, gentlemen.”  The “gentlemen” are being addressed, and the song is wishing that God will “rest” them “merry.”  The verb “rest” simply means “to be” or “make,” much like we might tell someone to “Rest assured.”  And so what’s being sung is a request for God to make us merry.  Why?  Well, that’s what the rest of the song is about.

I also appreciate this carol’s inclusion of Satan.  The big man downstairs is too often left out of the Christmas season, but that just can’t be.  In a certain sense, Satan is the reason behind the “reason for the season.”  He was the one who held all mankind under his sway, causing the people to dwell in darkness and needing to be set free.  It was Satan who Christ came to defeat, and that meant that Christ had to come.  So I say, “Keep the Satan in Christmas.”  You really can’t tell the story any other way.

Never forget, the gospel is good news in the face of bad news.  It is salvation from sin and death.  Jesus is God’s answer to sorrow, suffering, alienation, and despair.  Christmas has to have room in its story for the darkness, or else it becomes just one more romance among the many sentimental stories we tell this time of year.  But of course, Christmas is also the story of how Light came into the darkness and filled it from within.

And that’s precisely what gives us hope, what gives us comfort and joy.  We remember that Christ our Savior was born on Christmas day.  That’s good news.  Christ is born!  Glorify Him!

Merry Christmas, y’all.

This is the Word

John 1:1-18

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.  In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.  And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it…

He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him.  He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.  But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth… And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace.  For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.

The prologue of John’s gospel is as majestic as it is mysterious. The Apostle is giving us a picture of deity, a view from eternity, as well as what it means for that Eternity to enter into time. John is telling us that God became man, and this message can find no more appropriate time of the year than Christmas. As we celebrate so many things: family, gifts, and love, let us remember the foundation of it all. God loved us so much that He gave us His son so that we might become His children. In response, we should show forth His son to the world so that they too might become children of God through faith in His name. Continue reading