Advent

Love (Advent)

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During Advent, we talk this ‘story of amazing love’: a God who so loved the world that he ‘put on flesh’ (incarnated), became human, and took our death penalty upon himself (John 3:16-17). In many different places, the Bible is clear about why that happened: Jesus loves us (1 John 4:19; Romans 8:35-39). This past year we talked for a couple weeks about how Jesus’ love empowers and changes how we love others: “Love others as I have loved you.” (John 13:34)

As plain as that command is, it goes through a filter.  Many of us think we know what it means that God loves; we think that the love we pass on to others is reflective of that, yet at times we recognize that we don’t understand what it means that God loves us, and we see that we have a terrible time loving God and others well.

So let’s talk this morning about how we get past our filters and misunderstandings and learning to understand the love of God.

First, God’s love will never be seen perfectly in people. None of us are Jesus. Because of the work of the Holy Spirit in surrendered lives, we are being transformed into his image, and we are becoming more and more like Christ. But we won’t nail it until we are in Heaven, so on this side of eternity we will fail to adequately represent what the love of Jesus looks like.

We have to be ready for this. We will inevitably distort the genuine nature of godly love and so will others. I don’t mean to be depressing; I’m just trying to be honest. With God’s help, we will often represent God’s love well, but we will never be perfect.

One thing I’ve been learning is that, as meaningful as it when I see God’s people loving well, they can never fully represent to me what God’s love looks like. I have to take people off a love pedestal.

That doesn’t bring me despair; that actually brings me hope. God’s love is better than even the best love that I have experienced when it comes to human love. God’s love is deeper, more faithful, more present, more life-changing, more holy and pure. Awesome. I love the glimpses I get from others, but I’m never going to mistake them for the fullness of the kind of love God has for me.

That gives me the freedom to see failure in others and not be disillusioned. It gives me the freedom to take people off a pedestal and let them be people instead of wishing they were perfect like God. And it gives me hope that people who do it so badly still bring such tremendous love into the world.  If there is this much good in a fallen Earth, I can’t imagine the goodness in the New Heaven and Earth.

Second, God’s love is supernatural.

In the Bible, the word for the love God has for us – the word for the highest love – is agape.[1] The Greeks used a number a words for love:[i] there is one for erotic love (eros), one for friendship love (philia), one for family affection (storge) and one for self-sacrificial love (agape). In the Greek literature we have recovered, there is very little use of agape. In the New Testament, it is used 320 times.[2]  The church took a seldom used Greed word, redefined it, and introduced a radical new way of understanding love.

Agape love is not like a brotherly love or a love between a husband and a wife. It is the most self-sacrificing love that there is.  This type of love is the love that God has for His own children. This type of love is what was displayed on the cross by Jesus Christ.  In John 3:16 it is written that “God so loved (agapao) the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”[3]

Through common grace, all other forms of love are accessible to everyone. Not this one. If I am reading Scripture correctly, no one can experience or give agape love apart from the supernatural work of God. Agape love is God love. “Anyone who does not love (agape) does not know God, because God is love (agape).” (1 John 4:8).[4] So what does this look like?

“Jesus gave himself up for us. Jesus the Son, though equal with the Father, gave up his glory and took on our human nature (Phil 2:5ff). But further, he willingly went to the cross and paid the penalty for our sins, removing our guilt and condemnation, so that we could be united with him (Rom 6:5) and take on his nature (2 Pt 1:4). He gave up his glory and power and became a servant. He died to his own interests and looked to our needs and interests instead (Rom 15:1-3). Jesus’ sacrificial service to us has brought us into a deep union with him and he with us.“ (Timothy Keller)

John Piper has noted that there are several ways we can see the depth of love. [5] Three stood out to me: the costliness of the deed, the undeservedness of the recipient, and the greatness of the benefit.

If I get my wife a sucker after a day when she has catered to my every whim and say “I love you,” that’s easy to say and easy to show to someone to whom I kind of owe a loving response. But if I plan an elaborate date night at Stellas after a week full of tension and anger that was all Sheila’s fault and I say “I love you,” that’s hard to say and costly to show to someone to whom I had every reasons not to give a loving response.

Jesus gave his life for people still at war with God, and in so doing he ensured forgiveness of their sins and eternal life. It is the greatest love story of all time, and it’s the only one of its kind. The cost was a crucifixion for people who deserved death, and the benefit was fullness of life now and eternal life to come. There is no other name under heaven that offers that kind of love (Acts 4:12).

Third, having and showing God’s love is not something we do on our own.

“So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” (I John 4:16)

“We love him because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)[6]

We don’t love him because we study the Bible. We don’t love him because we pray, or sing.  We don’t love him because of we are in awe of his character, or because we study his world and admire his handiwork. Those can all build our faith and love as we learn about God, experience God’s presence, and surrender ourselves, but that’s not why we love Him. We love Him because He first loved us.[7]

God loves people. Not because he needs us. Not because we complete him. Not because we are worthy, or lovable, or pure, or spiritually impressive. Not because we please God or represent Him well. Not even because we are His children. He offers to make us His children because He loves us, but He doesn’t love us for that reason. “While we were yet sinners” – that is, before we were His children – “Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). As one pastor noted,

While eros and philia thirst, agape simply overflows. This means – please stay with me here – that God’s love for us, in the end, has absolutely nothing to do with us. In other words, God does not love us because of who we are. Or because of what we do, or can do for God. Or because of what we say, or build, or accomplish, or change, or pray, or give, or profess, or believe… God simply loves us...[8]

God loves because God is God. If He is love, He must love in same way that if God is truth, God must be truthful. We earned nothing. We deserved nothing. We were spiritually dead; our rebellion against God was killing us and ruining the world. And God loved us, because God is love.

  • When I pray regularly and passionately, God’s love does not fail. When I don’t, God’s love does not fail.
  • When I was chained in sin and when I was freed…
  • When I ignore Him and when I am enamored with Him…
  • When I am depressed or happy, anxious or at peace, self-loathing of self-loving…
  • When I pastor well and when I do it terribly...
  • When I am loved by others and despised by others…

God’s love does not fail, because God’s love has nothing to do with how good or deserving I am, and it has everything to do with God.  If you ever think, “How can God possibly love me? I’m a disaster,” take heart: God has never waited to love people until they were good enough to be loved. He loves people because He is God. And that gives me great hope indeed.

Fourth, God’s love helps us love others well.

When we have trouble loving God or others well, we often focus on how to love better. That’s a good and necessary focus, but it’s the wrong starting point. We need to first refocus on the one who loves us. We need to experience and understand God’s love.

If a person is not loving, John says, he or she does not know God (1 John 4:8). How will that individual become more loving, then? Can we grow in love by trying to love more? No, our attempts to love will only end in more frustration and less love. The solution, John implies, is to know God better. This is so simple that we miss it all the time: our means for becoming more loving is to know God better. (Marva J. Dawn, Truly the Community: Romans 12)

The fact is, I need God to help me love God. And if I need His help to love Him, a perfect being, I definitely need His help to love other, fault-filled humans. Something mysterious, even supernatural must happen in order for genuine love for God to grow in our hearts. (Francis Chan, Crazy Love)

Other theologians such as C.S. Lewis talk about the importance of acting loving even if we don’t feel it.[9] I agree with them in the sense that we ought to be committed to doing the right thing even if we don’t feel like it, and in so doing we often find that the proper emotions follow. But that’s not the ultimate solution.

We are thirsty, thirsty people. We long to know that we have worth, and value, and beauty. We ache to belong, to be included. But we run around our whole lives going after the sorts of love which will never completely satisfy this thirst. But in Christ, in the agape love of God, we find a love, the only love, which can fill us, and satisfy us so that we find ourselves, now overflowing, finally able to also love in a way that no longer seeks to take, but only to give.

Yes, Jesus wants you to love God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, all your strength. Jesus wants you to love your neighbors as you love yourself. He wants us to love with agape love. But if we try to love others, even God, like this without first realizing that we are already loved like this, all our efforts will only lead to despair. You see, agape love never flows from us. It only flows through us from the one who loves like we, on our own, never could.[10]

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oWnvmKoLWUU[/embed]

[1] http://www.agapebiblestudy.com/documents/is%20hesed%20the%20same%20as%20agape.htm

[2] http://www.patheos.com/blogs/christiancrier/2014/05/02/what-is-agape-love-a-bible-study/

[3] http://www.patheos.com/blogs/christiancrier/2014/05/02/what-is-agape-love-a-bible-study/

[4] See also Romans 5:5; 8:35-39; 2 Corinthians 5:15; Gal 5:22-23; Ephesians 3:17-19; Philippians 1:9; 1 Thessalonians 3:12; 2 Thessalonians 1:3; 3:5; 1 John 4:7-21)

[5] http://www.desiringgod.org/messages/the-depth-of-christs-love-its-undeserving-objects

[6] I John 4 and 5 are also excellent chapters to read concerning how God’s love changes us into the image of Christ.

[7] There is discussion in Christian circles about whether or not God loves every individual the same. What you conclude is probably connected with your view on election (some Calvinists argue that God only loves the elect; Arminians argue God loves everyone). This article offers a helpful discussion on this issue. http://www.gty.org/resources/questions/QA193/does-god-love-whom-he-does-not-save

[8] http://faithpresby.org/archives/sermons/written/files_4d2a59265361b.pdf

[9] This is a good article talking about this famous quote. http://www.bradhambrick.com/lewisonfakeit/

[10] http://faithpresby.org/archives/sermons/written/files_4d2a59265361b.pdf

[i] https://www.neverthirsty.org/bible-qa/qa-archives/question/how-many-words-are-there-in-the-greek-language-for-love/

Peace (Advent Series)

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F756Mjxxrvc[/embed]

It was an interesting group to whom the angels gave this message: “Glory to God in the Highest; and on earth, peace to those on whom His favor rests” (Luke 2:14).     

The shepherds were probably watching a temple flock destined for sacrifice in and around a tower called the Midgal Eder, the 'watchtower of the flock,' a lookout and a place of refuge close to Bethlehem for their flocks in case of attack.  Shepherds brought ewes there to give birth. The priests maintained ceremonially clean stalls, and they carefully oversaw the birth of each lamb.

The prophet Micah had written years before: “As for you, O watchtower of the flock, (Migdal Eder)… kingship will come to the Daughter of Jerusalem.” (Micah 4:8) I don’t think it’s coincidence that angels announced Jesus’ birth to these shepherds. They were temple-trained; they knew the fulfillment of prophecy when they heard it.[1]

But their watchtower was overshadowed by another tower. Herod’s mountain fortress, the Herodian, overlooked the town of Bethlehem.

  • More than 200 feet in diameter, it loomed seven stories high, with an eastern tower that stood more than 40 feet higher. 
  • It contained a garden, reception hall, Roman baths, countless apartments.
  • The lower palace included an enormous pool, a colonnaded garden, a 600-foot-long terrace, and a building more than 400 feet long.  
  • Its buildings covered forty-five acres of land and were surrounded by nearly two hundred acres of palace grounds. 
  • The Herodian’s circular upper palace could be seen for miles and literally overshadowed surrounding villages.

The Herodian was built on top of an artificial mountain that Herod had created specifically for this project. According to Josephus, there were originally two hills standing next to each other. Herod paid thousands of workers for many years to demolish one of the hills and level off the other.  He built his massive and grandiose palace-fortress on top of the remaining hill. [2]

A little background on Herod is in order.

  • Herod made his name when he broke the resistance of the rebels who were hiding in caves on the side of a cliff. Herod commanded his troops to make platforms with fires to be let down with ropes to the openings of the caves. The smoked-out refugees were pulled out with long, hooked poles and dropped down the sheer cliff.
  • Herod also laid siege to Jerusalem. The soldiers raped and slaughtered the women and children, and the Jewish soldiers were tortured and chopped to pieces.  Herod executed 45 of the 70 Sanhedrin members who resisted him.
  • Herod executed his brother-in-law; an old friend who had given him his start; his wife; then his mother-in-law. Hundreds of friends and family members and citizens were slaughtered on the slightest of accusations. Countless members of his family and court were tortured, as were his own two sons.
  • Herod went to Jericho to die in agony, hated even by his family. Truly mad and fearing that no one would mourn his death, he commanded his troops to arrest important people from across the land, lock them in the Hippodrome, and execute them after he died; if people would not mourn him, at least they would mourn.

Into this web of hatred and suspicion, "Magi from the east came... and asked (the Roman appointed King of the Jews), 'Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?” 

No wonder that, when King Herod heard this news, he was “disturbed.”  He was disturbed by everything. It’s really no surprise that he had the Israelite babies under two years old slaughtered. 

It’s in this context, the angels said they were there to proclaim peace on earth because Jesus had arrived.

The expected Messiah was supposed to free the Israelites from bondage. That meant peace after a revolution, right?  I’m sure they were encouraged later when Jesus said, “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34).  That sounded more promising. And yet he didn’t bring the kind of sword they were expecting. When he entered Jerusalem to a palm-waving crowd of Zealots who expected him to overthrow Rome, he wept because what they actually needed to have peace – the spiritual freedom that Jesus would bring– was hidden from your eyes (Luke 19:42).

While he spoke of a day when there would be circumstantial peace, he spoke and lived in a world in which circumstances were anything but peaceful in many ways. Jesus’ spiritual sword of truth didn’t displace the Romans; He didn’t come to bring that kind of peace. In fact, His message actually brought relational division between those who believed He was the Messiah and those who did not.

So what is this peace?

The absence of strife is a part of peace:

  • Matthew 5:9  “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”
  • Romans 14:19: “Let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.”
  • 2 Corinthians 13:11 “Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.”
  • Mark 9:50  “Be at peace with one another.”

One of the greatest promises of Scripture is that one day violence will end (Isaiah 11:6). Until that happens, God gives us the privilege of partnering with Him to make parts of the world better. “Pursue peace; aim for restoration”: those are action verbs. We have to invest some sweat equity into circumstantial peace. We are called to get involved through pray and action to bring peace where there is conflict. God will help us, but we must be faithfully present.

  • Do we want peace between Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter?
  • Do we want peace between immigrant communities and those of us who grew up here?
  • Do we want peace at the Dakota pipeline?
  • Do we want peace in our homes, our church, our schools, or our city?

We should pray for peace – and get involved where we can to bring about that peace. Blessed are the peacemakers. That should be pursue peace and aim for the restoration that begins in Jesus and flows through us. But that’s not the deepest, or primary, meaning of peace. As important as it is to be peacemakers, that circumstantial peace will only be a helpful Band-Aid if it doesn’t find its foundation in a different, deeper kind of peace.[3]

When peace entered the world in the person of Christ, it did not mean that all the sources or circumstances of strife were suddenly neutralized. Herod was still there; the taxation was still going to happen; the Jewish community was still divided along political lines.   The Prince of Peace showed up to change the world, but not in a way people expected.

 Not much has changed in 2,000 years. Just look at the past year.

  • Every election leaves about half the population without political peace, and this one was no exception. 
  • The attack at Ohio State reminds us of the ongoing reality of violence and terrorism.
  • The recent shootings by and of policemen and the protests and riots in the streets before and after the election remind us that the violence has not left the world even though Christ entered the world.
  • Hurricanes and other natural disasters devastate the lives of people who are impacted.
  • The shadows stretch into our personal lives as well. How many of you in this past year have felt the impact of pain and suffering of some sort? How many of you have had inner turmoil or even despair over things happening to you or around you?

There’s always a shadow from a tower of death that reminds us why it  so important that a light has come into a dark world.

When the angels came and announced that peace had arrived on earth, it was not because Herod was dethroned, or because the Jewish people agreed on who the King of the Jews really was, or because the world is exempt from tragedy, or because we would never cry or mourn again. They announced that peace had arrived on earth because Jesus had arrived.  The circumstances didn’t look much different the day before he was born vs. the day after – and yet in the most important way everything had changed because Jesus had now entered into those circumstances.

Years later, Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you…not as the world gives do I give to you.  Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27)

 You don’t have to say, “Don’t be troubled and afraid” unless there are reasons to be troubled and afraid. Jesus spoke these words in the middle of the most tumultuous and violent events of his life. 

  • Judas Iscariot was hatching a plot to betray him.
  • The crowds were in an uproar.
  • The chief priests, scribes, and Pharisees were disturbed and fearful, hatching their own plots to rid themselves of this menace to their power and position.
  • And then he was killed, which did not bring what we think of as peace to his disciples.

Yet in the midst of all this, Jesus talks about peace.

The peace Jesus brought is not merely the absence of strife, though when that happens we are reminded there will be a day when that kind of peace characterizes the New Heaven and Earth. The peace Jesus brought is not defined by the lack of something. A fuller definition has to involve the presence of Christ: 

 “Remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.  But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

 For he himself is our peace, who has…destroyed the dividing wall of hostility… His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace,  and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.  He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.  For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.“ (Ephesians 2:12-17)

For us, peace is found when we are in right relationship with Christ. The blood of Christ brought us near, and we have access to the Father by the Holy Spirit. As a result, because Jesus is our peace, our hostility with God is resolved. Real peace begins in us when our war with God ends.

Every Bible verse I quoted that was not from the gospels was written by Paul. Paul was jailed, beaten, shipwrecked, and chased; people tried to kill him; he had his infamous ‘thorn in the flesh’ that God refused to take away so that Paul would understand God’s grace was sufficient. Yet Paul clearly believed he was one who had experienced the peace that Jesus brought.

Peace begins in us when our war with God ends.

The holidays are often stressful. It’s not just schedule; it can also be reminders that our families are far away or full of pain. Holidays can make loneliness worse; they can be a reminder of what you don’t have or what you have lost.

May I encourage you with this reminder: Our deepest, eternal hope for peace is not found by having everything in our life just like we want it (though that would be really nice J).  And once again – all the times that we live in peaceful circumstances are glimpses of the day God will bring about a New Heaven and New Earth that is peaceful in every possible sense of the word.  However, our hope is that no matter what happens, Jesus has brought our war with God to an end, and we can still experience spiritual and everlasting peace with God because of Christ’s death, resurrection, and ongoing presence within us.

Many other kinds of peace may well follow as Christ works within our surrendered lives, but the foundation and the focus of our peace is always and only Jesus Christ.

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BX_50AERr8M[/embed]

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[1] What better area for someone to be born who was the Lamb of God, destined to be a sacrifice who takes away the sins of the world? (John 1:29)

[2] It is likely that when Jesus talked about the kind of faith that moves mountains (Matthew 17:20) he was within eyesight of the Herodian. There is probably more to unpack from that passage than we see on the surface. 

[3] Another way of thinking about this: you don’t need to be a Christian to bring circumstantial peace to the world. There is a lot of ‘conflict resolution’ that happens all over the world with invoking the name of Jesus. And if you don’t need to be a Christian to bring about better circumstances in this manner, then I don’t think that can be the kind of peace that only Jesus can bring.

Hope (Advent Series)

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3fLhw9XiQqs[/embed]

During Christmas, we talk about a Messiah, a King and Savior who was anointed or appointed as our deliverer. There are a lot of things that need fixing in the world – the song rightly included a whole list of things that Jesus fixed while he was on earth – but the most important thing is that “the child you delivered will soon deliver you.” All of his miracles, as wonderful as they were, served to confirm that He had the power to deliver us from sin and the spiritual death that comes with it. [1]

What should we expect this deliverance to look like in my life and in the world around me?  When I pray, “Thy Kingdom come, they will be done,” I have a pretty good idea of what I think that ought to look like. But does my expectation align with reality? What will a world look like in which Jesus is the Messiah, King and Savior?

I ask these questions because they are intertwined with our Advent focus today: hope. How can we understand and experience a godly hope in this life?  In order to answer this question well, we need to understand what it means that Jesus is the Messiah and what kind of hope he meant to bring, or we will experience a lot of frustration and anger because we have false expectations about what a Messiah will do.

So, let’s do history.

Every king of Israel was known as “anointed one,” (the prophet or high priest anointed him); the Hebrew term was “messiah.”  When the line of kings in both Israel and Judah ended with the exile to Babylon, the title “anointed one” gradually began to mean a future king who would save Israel. [2]

The Jews believed that “the covenant will be renewed: the Temple will be rebuilt, the Land cleansed, the Torah kept perfectly by a new covenant people with renewed hearts.” (N.T. Wright) A lot of hope was placed in this “age to come,” or the messianic age. The ‘salvation’ would be a rescue from the national enemies, the restoration of the national symbols, and a state of peace.[3]

The Jews were waiting for a Messiah, a King. And they waited…. and waited… through captivity and bondage and despair. Not surprisingly, false Messiahs arose.  They were longing for God’s Kingdom to come - and they had a pretty good idea of what it ought to look like.

There were three main Messianic movements around the time Jesus was born (it’s more complicated than my overview. These are broad, very general categories).  

First, the Warrior/Politician Messiah.  For those who wanted to fight, the Messiah would free them from Roman oppression; there would be a physical rule on earth where other kingdoms would bow to them. These were the Zealots. Just to give you an idea of how serious they were, about 100 years after Jesus died a man named Simon Bar Kochba amassed an army of  200,000 men. When he went to war he would pray: ”Master of the Universe, do not help us and do not help our enemies.” (He was crushed by the Romans and tens of thousands were slain. Some Orthodox Jews still consider him the closest to a real Messiah the Jews have seen).

When Jesus entered Jerusalem, people spread coats (a sign of a king – see 2 Kings 9:13) and waved palm branches.  Here’s why. Solomon dedicated the Temple during the Feast of Tabernacles using palm branches; when Judas Maccabeas, one of the founders of the Zealots, briefly freed Jerusalem from Roman rule and purified the Temple in 165 BC., the Jews celebrated with palm branches – a symbol which continued to be used by the Zealots. Many of the Jews likely greeted Jesus with palm branches because they thought He would be the new Judas Maccabeus, fighting for the Temple and God’s people. (Jesus apparently had a Zealot among his followers - Simon, on whom the Bible is largely silent).

Second, the Torah or Temple Messiah. Under this Messiah, the temple and the Law would finally be exalted over all the earth. The Sadducees were pretty elitist about the priestly class, though they had no problem with working with Greek culture. The Essenes moved into the desert to get away from everybody else – including the Sadducess. This wasn’t so much a revolt as a movement toward holiness and piety. If they could just have the space to recreate the theocracy of old and follow the Law freely, fully and publicly, the world would notice and change. That’s how the Kingdom of God on earth would arrive.

Third, the People’s Messiah. This messiah would do those other things, but most importantly he would he would bring about world peace and comfort.  He would bring freedom from economic inequality and class oppression. They were most inclined of all the Jewish groups to long for a day when everybody would get along. The Pharisees were the most closely aligned with this idea.

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J4raabf7zVo[/embed]

Jesus’ three temptations in the wilderness were loosely connected to these three Messianic hopes (Matthew 4:1-11):

  • to rule the world (Warrior Messiah)
  • to restore the glory of the temple (Torah/Temple messiah)
  • to turn stones into bread (People’s Messiah)

Perhaps these all point toward a New Heaven and New Earth, where all these longings will be perfectly fulfilled; however, that was not Jesus’ primary mission while on earth. His mission was focused on a spiritual salvation, not a physical one.

Human nature being what it is (and the world being what it is), it is no surprise that we all long for some type of messiah. You don’t have to be a Christian to know that something is wrong in us and around us. It may be something we did or something done to us, but we know that the world needs help. We, too, run the danger of missing the hope of our Deliverer if we expect the salvation Jesus offers to be something different than he intended.

We can long for a Warrior Messiah who offers hope through power.

If we aren't careful, we will confuse the Kingdom of God with the empire of America. We will think, “If my culture or my government is for me, who can be against me?” We will begin to believe that winning whatever culture war is in front of us is the answer to the world’s problems. In its worst form, we will long for a God of Judgment who gives the world what’s coming to it, and we will just settle in and watch as all the pagans get what's coming to them. 

I’m not saying we shouldn’t be involved in our culture. We are called to be ‘salt’, and salt preserves (Matthew 5:13-16). Our faithful and bold presence is necessary.  I’m talking more about where we place our hope. I’m talking about the danger of seeing ‘winning the culture wars’ as the salvation of our culture. If we do that, we will see religious, political, and celebrity leaders as messianic figures, and we will see all those who aren’t on the same page as we are about particular issues as lesser Christians.[4]

We can look for a Temple Messiah, a savior who offers hope through the Law.

If we aren't careful, we will locate the Temple Messiah within the walls of a withdrawn, internally focused, know all the right phrases, build an impressive theological resume, look just right, volunteer for the right things Christian community. Our hope is in our ability to follow the Law and in so doing usher in a compelling vision of the Kingdom of God.

The Saducees became elitist; the Essenes retreated. That’s the danger. If we place our hope for ourselves and our culture in being good, we will begin to inevitably judge ourselves and others by our conformity to the Law, and we will either become elitist (if we think we do it well) or we will withdraw from culture because we think that’s the only way to keep ourselves pure. Either way, our hope is not in Christ, and we will end up in a place where we have no real hope to offer a world that desperately needs it.

We can limit Jesus to being a People’s Messiah, one who offers hope through the eradication of injustice.

The People’s Messiah is a social justice warrior, convinced that God’s Kingdom will come to earth in the form of equality, fairness, justice, and an environmental and global consciousness. We provide clean water, and buy fair trade products, and talk about carbon footprints. None of these are bad things, right? They just a bad foundation for hope.

  • We provide clean water – to people who are sold into human slavery. We buy fair trade products – from people whose local government takes their profit.
  • We raise the standard of living - and people are no more happy, loving or generous than they were before.
  • We change our Facebook profile with a logo Facebook so helpfully provides so you can help promote what Facebook wants us to promote, and we radically change our lifestyle to support all things socially conscious - and yet the world does not look saved.

We can run ourselves silly in good causes while forgetting that the problem causing all these symptoms hasn’t been addressed.

I want to be clear: to whatever degree you get involved in helping to offset the ravages of a fallen world, it is commendable. God cares about all the ways in which the world is broken, and we should too. I’m not suggesting that you don’t get involved in social issues, or that you don’t seek to live holy lives within the confines of God’s law, or that you don’t get involved in politics or entertainment. These are good and just ways to offset the impact of sinfulness in a fallen world, and we ought to be faithfully present to be the ‘salt’ in our world. These just can’t be the things in which we place our hope. 

The reason the world is broken – the reason we long for a Messiah to save us -  is that sin has broken the world, brought spiritual death to us, and hurt those around us. The Bible is clear that we  - and by connection, the world - are dead without Christ in our trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1).  And because of that part of our nature, we do not steward the world as we should; we don’t share our wealth like we should; we don’t pass laws like we should; we don’t live the holy lives we should.  In and of ourselves, we can never be good enough, and we can never make the world good enough. Until God fixes the sin inside of us, nothing will successfully or fully fix the impact of sin around us.

There is only one solution for this: the life, death and resurrection of the Messiah, Jesus, “who takes away the sin of the world!" ( John 1:29; Matthew 1:21). That is our hope. If we want the fallenness of ourselves and the world to be addressed, there is no other name under heaven by which we can be saved (Acts 4:12). 

Since we have been acquitted and made right through faith, we are able to experience true and lasting peace with God through our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One, the Liberating King. Jesus leads us into a place of radical grace where we are able to celebrate the hope of experiencing God’s glory. And that’s not all. We also celebrate in seasons of suffering because we know that when we suffer we develop endurance, which shapes our characters. When our characters are refined, we learn what it means to hope and anticipate God’s goodness. And hope will never fail to satisfy our deepest need because the Holy Spirit that was given to us has flooded our hearts with God’s love.

When the time was right, Jesus died for all of us who were far from God, powerless, and weak. Now it is rare to find someone willing to die for an upright person, although it’s possible that someone may give up his life for one who is truly good. But think about this: while we were spiritually dead because of our sin, God revealed His powerful love to us in a tangible display— Jesus, the Anointed One, died for us. As a result, the blood of Jesus has made us right with God now, and certainly we will be rescued by Him from God’s wrath in the future. If we were in the heat of combat with God when His Son reconciled us by laying down His life, then how much more will we be saved by Jesus’ resurrection life?  In fact, we stand now reconciled and at peace with God. That’s why we celebrate in God through our Lord Jesus, the Anointed. (Romans 5:1-11)

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xl69i3jLdNE[/embed]

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[1] Think of what Jesus said to the paralytic in Mark 2: “Why do My words trouble you so? Think about this: is it easier to tell this paralyzed man, “Your sins are forgiven,” or to tell him, “Get up, pick up your mat, and walk”? Still, I want to show you that the Son of Man has been given the authority on earth to forgive sins. (to the paralytic) Get up, pick up your mat, and go home.”

[2] Here is a great explanation of ‘Messiah’.  http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/messiah/

[3] Here’s a good article on false Messiahs. http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/12416-pseudo-messiahs

[4] We read in Luke 9:52-55 about a time when the disciples were angry at the Samaritans and asked Jesus if he wanted them to call down fire and obliterate those terrible people. Jesus said, “Of course not: I came to liberate people, not destroy them.” If you think the Messiah can’t wait to burn the evil out of the world, and you can’t wait to burn it with Him, you have missed the mission of the Messiah.

Peace (To Those On Whom God's Favor Rests)

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“Glory to God in the Highest; and on earth, peace to those on whom His favor rests.”  (Luke 2:14)

 When the angels appeared to the shepherds, they proclaimed a message of peace - but not peace to the whole world. This is very specific: peace to those who have God’s favor. So what is this favor? And what is this peace?

The shepherds were probably watching a temple flock as they watched them from a tower called the Midgal Eder, the 'watchtower of the flock,' a lookout and a place of refuge close to Bethlehem for their flocks in case of attack.  The priests maintained ceremonially clean stalls, and they carefully oversaw the birth of each lamb. The shepherds probably thought this angelic 'favor' was connected to their observance of the Law. Unfortunately, being ‘favored’  had not brought them the peace they were expecting.  There was hardly a more obvious reminder than the palace that cast a shadow over their tower.

Herod’s mountain fortress, the Herodian, overlooked the town of Bethlehem. According to Josephus, there were originally two hills standing next to each other. Herod paid thousands of workers to demolish one of the hills and level off the other.  He dug his palace into the top of the remaining hill. It contained a garden, reception hall, Roman baths, countless apartments,  an enormous pool, and a 600-foot-long terrace. Its buildings covered forty-five acres of land and were surrounded by nearly two hundred acres of palace grounds. The Herodion literally overshadowed the surrounding villages.

Keep in mind what this represented to the Jewish people.  Herod made his name when he smoked out Jewish refugees hiding in cliffside caves, pulled them out with long, hooked poles and dropped them down a cliff. When he laid siege to Jerusalem, his soldiers raped and slaughtered the women and children and chopped the soldiers to pieces.   When he saw that his death was near, he commanded his troops to execute other public figures when he died so people would mourn even if they did not mourn for him. 

It’s in this context that the angels proclaimed peace on earth to those on whom God’s favor rests. So the Jewish people were certain they were favored, but they sure hadn’t found peace. So what is this favor?  Where is the promised peace?

The proclamation clearly did not mean that peace would occur when Herod was dethroned or the Jewish people agreed on who the King of the Jews really was. It did not meant that schools were exempt from tragedy, hurricanes would disappear, or cancer would be cured. They announced a peace that could be found not around those who have God’s favor (though that happens too) but within those who have God’s favor. This ‘peace’ in Greek has the idea of wholeness, of having all the parts knit together. It's when heart, soul, mind and strength all love God. It's when our skin and soul are unified in purposeful, godly living.

This is not a promise of external calm. This is promise of internal stability. The Jewish people were expecting something to change in their political, religious or financial realities. But that was their definition. No wonder they were disillusioned and disappointed time and again.

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Skip ahead about seventy years after the birth of Christ. Paul was writing letters to the start-up churches helping them to better understand the true message of the gospel. When he wrote to the church in Ephesus, he was writing to a largely Gentile (pagan) audience. They were having trouble forming a church community with the Jewish converts. Paul lets them know that God has broken down the divide between God’s “chosen” people and the “unchosen” Gentiles. Here we begin to see an even clearer explanation of peace: 

 “Remember that at that time you (Gentiles) were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.  For he himself is our peace…. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.  For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.“ (Ephesians 2:12-17)

What is peace?  Reconciliation with God through Christ, empowered by His Spirit.* 

In this case, it should end hostility between the Jewish and Gentile converts – but that’s the fruit of peace, not peace itself. That’s what peace looks like when it’s embodied, but it didn’t start there. It started at the cross, and moved inside. Only people full of peace within them can truly bring about peace around them.  We think of peace as the end of hostility, so we often start there: “Everybody stop fighting!”  That’s good…but it’s the veneer of peace. Peace begins within. When writing to the church in Galatia, Paul had more to say about peace:

“Those who want to impress people by means of the flesh are trying to compel you to be circumcised… May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation. Peace and mercy to all who live by this principle—they are the Israel (the chosen people) of God.” (Galatians 6:13-16)

Because Christ died, Paul has been made part of this new humanity. Anything good in him is because of the person and work of Christ. There are no “works” that can save him or give him worth. He understood God’s peace – he’d been reconciled with God through Christ and empowered by His Spirit, and now he had unshakeable identity. He understood mercy – a covenantal, compassionate love for others. Paul had been given much by grace; he would extend this principle to others. You can have this too (says Paul) if you live by this principle.

All that matters is that, through Christ crucified, we are made a “new creation.” That is what knits us together inside and makes us whole. That is the source of meaning, worth, and self-image.  Peace begins in us, not around us when we are in right relationship with Christ. Here’s how this looks practically.

  •     "You look like you are putting on weight!”  My body grows older. My boast is in Christ.
  •      “Where did you buy that!?”  My fashion taste is lousy. My boast is in Christ.
  •     “You have a dead-end job! Wow, you really wasted your Saturday!” My accomplishments are straw. My boast is in Christ.
  •     “How could you have forgotten that thing? How could you overlook that person?” I am not perfect. My boast is in Christ.
  •     “I can’t believe you haven’t heard of Mr. X or the latest international event!” I don’t know everything. My boast is in Christ.
  •      “You haven't gone anywhere cool, have you?” I don’t have much money. My boast is in Christ.
  •     “People are gossiping about you.” Let them. My boast is in Christ. 

There is great peace in being able to say, I am nothing on my own, but I am reconciled with God through Christ and empowered by His Spirit.  I will not fear my failures or worship my successes. He must increase and I must decrease. My boast is in Christ.”

Peace and mercy to all who live by this principle – they are the blessed children of God.

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* "New Testament The Greek word eirene corresponds to the Hebrew shalom expressing the idea of peace, well-being, restoration, reconciliation with God, and salvation in the fullest sense. God is “the God of peace” ( Romans 15:33 ; Philippians 4:9 ; 1 Thessalonians 5:23 ;Hebrews 13:20 ). The Gospel is “the good news of peace” (Ephesians 6:15 ; Acts 10:36 ) because it announces the reconciliation of believers to God and to one another (Ephesians 2:12-18 ). God has made this peace a reality in Jesus Christ, who is “our peace.” We are justified through Him (Romans 5:1 ), reconciled through the blood of His cross (Colossians 1:20 ), and made one in Him (Ephesians 2:14 ). In Him we discover that ultimate peace which only God can give (John 14:27 ). This peace is experienced as an inner spiritual peace by the individual believer (Philippians 4:7 ; Colossians 3:15 ; Romans 15:13 ). It is associated with receptiveness to God's salvation (Matthew 10:13 ), freedom from distress and fear (John 14:27 ; John 16:33 ), security (1 Thessalonians 5:9-10 ), mercy (Galatians 6:16 ; 1 Timothy 1:2 ), joy (Romans 14:17 ; Romans 15:13 ), grace (Philippians 1:2 ; Revelation 1:4 ), love (2 Corinthians 13:11 ;Jude 1:2 ), life (Romans 8:6 ), and righteousness (Romans 14:17 ; Hebrews 12:11 ; James 3:18 ). Such peace is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22 ) that forms part of the “whole armor of God” (Ephesians 6:11,Ephesians 6:11,6:13 ), enabling the Christian to withstand the attacks of the forces of evil. Thus, the New Testament gives more attention to the understanding of spiritual peace as an inner experience of the individual believer than does the Old Testament. In both the Old and the New Testament, spiritual peace is realized in being rightly related—rightly related to God and rightly related to one another."

 

 

From the Holman Bible Dictionary. “Peace, Spiritual.” www.studylight.org