This issue of Equipper focuses on preparing us for ministry
during the upcoming Advent-Christmas season when we’ll celebrate
Jesus’ three comings: 1) his future bodily return in
glory, 2) his coming now through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, and 3)
his coming 2,000 years ago through his incarnation and birth.
This season is a great opportunity for us to share Jesus with people who
don’t yet know him, though talking about our Lord and Savior should
be part of our conversation throughout the year.
I was reminded of that recently as I read Gospel Fluency: Speaking
the Truths of Jesus into the Everyday Stuff of Life in which
Jeff Vanderstelt notes that all of life is about Jesus:
God is intent on making everything about Jesus because it is
through him that all things came into existence and it is in him that they
As I read, I asked myself (and I invite you to do so as well): Am I in
the habit of talking about Jesus, sharing with others what it means to be
one of his followers? The apostle Paul gives us this related
Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the
name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Col.
Note the reference to both “word” and
“deed”—the combination provides a powerful, credible
witness to who Jesus is and what he offers.
Vanderstelt’s book motivated me to be more attuned to gospel
fluency—conversations where Jesus, or truths about him can be
addressed. Shortly after reading the book, I was watching a Nascar winner
being interviewed on the nationally-syndicated TV show Sports Center. After
being winless in 40 races, the driver said this: “I want to give credit
to my Lord and Savior Jesus!” Isn’t that the perfect way to begin an
acceptance speech? It made me think of a number of professional athletes or
other prominent people who have become some of the bolder Christians in our
increasingly post-Christian world. Using their notoriety to point to Jesus
is huge in my book.
I had another experience of gospel fluency when
visiting the Philippines recently. I was privileged to spend time at the
Cebu Airport with Eugene Guzon, our GCI-Philippines Mission Developer
(we’re standing together in the picture at right with the young women
mentioned below). Eugene knew a young woman who had grown up in GCI, but
now her job at the airport had taken her away from regular church
attendance. Eugene had set a time for us to meet her and have coffee. I was
moved as Eugene showed thoughtfulness, respect and kindness to this young
lady. Not once did he attempt to make her feel badly about her lack of
church attendance. Instead, he assured her that she was loved by Jesus and
then he purposefully turned to me and had me pray blessings over her. Her
eyes filled with tears and she was moved by the love of Jesus that had
flowed through Eugene. As if that wasn’t enough of a mountain-top
experience, even as we made our way to the boarding gate, there was another
young woman with ties to the church, and the same process began again.
Recently, in a deeply moving experience with one of my sons, I heard
Jesus being proclaimed through my own lips. My son came to me after an
especially tough season. He was struggling with work, with a relationship,
and temptations that were getting the best of him. He was broken and
distraught. The dad voice in me began to rise up and attempt to fix things
(all dads can relate to that internal voice!). Before my list of solutions
could come streaming forth, I simply asked him, “What about Jesus?
Does he know loneliness? Does he know temptation? Is he alive in you? Is he
able to help? What if we cast these burdens on him?” Jesus was
present in a powerful way, transforming both father and son.
I can regale you with more stories, but you have your own. And if you
are like me, the list of stories continues to grow. I invite you to join me
in this exercise of observing where Jesus is proclaimed and shared in
practical acts of kindness. You are likely to see even more examples as we
enter into the Advent-Christmas season.
The stories of Christmas fascinate me. Don’t we discover a kinship
with the shepherds as we rehearse the birth narrative? Aren’t we just
ordinary people like them who have met Jesus? And like the shepherds and so
many others who came in contact with Jesus, aren’t we changed forever and
moved to the place that we want to tell others about Jesus the King and
Luke’s Gospel tells us that “when [the shepherds] had seen him [the
Christ child], they spread the word concerning what had been told them
about this child” (Luke 2:17). This passage is the inspiration behind
the spiritual and Christmas carol, “Go Tell it on the Mountain.”
Vanderstelt reminds us that there is one true story and it’s the story of
God found in the Bible. It is this story of Jesus that redeems, heals and
completes all of our smaller personal stories. It is the story that must be
told and retold.
Perhaps many of us will sing “Go Tell it on the Mountain” this
season (I’ve embedded a sing-along version above). As we do,
let’s not just sing the words—let’s commit to the practice
the song proclaims—let’s go tell the stories of Jesus so that
others can be inspired, motivated and encouraged by the good news that
Jesus is and that Jesus brought.
I pray that, through your words and deeds this Advent-Christmas season
and always, Jesus will be proclaimed into the lives of people all around
you. Please join me in that prayer.
—Greg Williams, CAD Director
On Leadership: Go to the source
This article from GCI-USA Regional Pastor and Equipper writer and
feature editor Rick Shallenberger continues our series on Christian
This is part 5 of a series on Christian leadership. For other
articles in the series, click a number: 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8.
Many years ago, several people “warned” me about a person I was
going to be working with. I was told that this person was really difficult
to work with and I’d better go into the relationship prepared for battle.
I’m ashamed to say I fell for the talk, and wasn’t at all surprised to
find conflict as we started working together.
One day, while praying for this person to be more agreeable and humble,
the thought came to me (credit the Holy Spirit): “Do you even know this
person? You are basing everything you say and do on what you’ve heard.”
Ouch! It was true.
I took the person to lunch and said, “Tell me your story.” By the
end of lunch I had a completely different view of them and realized that
most who had shared things with me didn’t know this person at all. We
ended up having a productive working relationship—once I’d
As leaders, we know how quickly gossip spreads. We can sometimes be
surprised at the things we are quoted as having said. We often hear about
trials people are going through not from the people themselves, but from
others. And we often hear things—about a myriad of topics—and
if we aren’t careful, we can jump to conclusions, making decisions based
on gossip, rather than on what is true.
Go to the source
Allow me to share a valuable tool produced by GCI-USA’s leadership
consultant, GiANT Worldwide. Named “Go to the Source,” it
addresses the related topics of gossip, discretion and discipline. I
believe that by using this tool we’ll be better leaders—ones
who liberate the people they lead.
Go to the Source illustrates what Jesus taught in Matthew 18:15-17.
Granted, his instruction addresses offenses that arise from sin, but the
principle of going to a sinning brother or sister applies to many things we
might hear, and it comes directly against the sin of gossip.
A prime example
In the account of the dividing up of the Promised Land in the book of
Joshua, we are told in chapter 22 that Moses assigned to the Reubenites,
Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh land located east of the Jordan
River. However, before those 2 ½ tribes could settle their territory,
Israel needed warriors from all the tribes to clear the land west of the
Jordan. After doing so, Joshua gave these 2 ½ tribes permission to return
to their land east of the Jordan. Just before crossing over the Jordan
River, they built an “imposing altar” on the river’s
western bank (Joshua 22:10).
Seeing what these 2 ½ tribes were doing, the other tribes became upset
and determined to go to war against their brothers. They sent several
chiefs and the high priest to confront this group who (from their
perspective) were rebels deserting the faith, starting to follow other
gods. These leaders went before the leaders of the Reubenites, Gadites and
the half-tribe of Manasseh and accused them:
The whole assembly of the Lord says: “How could you
break faith with the God of Israel like this? How could you turn away from
the Lord and build yourselves an altar in rebellion against him now?”
Giving those they accused no opportunity to reply, they continued
accusing their brothers of putting all of Israel at risk of the wrath of
God for their unfaithfulness.
The situation here is a good illustration of the issues addressed in the
Go to the Source tool. Israel had been forbidden to build altars of
sacrifice wherever they wanted. There were specific rules to follow. Those
who saw the altar, immediately started gossiping among
themselves—they got upset, they wanted to go over and destroy their
brothers for this rank idolatry! The priests and tribal chiefs served as a
conduit for the people’s fear and anger, rather than as a
firewall. What they should have done is say, “Let’s go talk to
our brothers and see what’s up, rather than prepare for war and storm
over with accusations.”
Long story short, the altar was not built for sacrifices—it was
built to be a witness, a constant reminder to all that the brothers and
sisters on both sides of the Jordan honored and worshipped the same
God—the God of Israel. That altar was built to glorify God, not to
I believe that one of the reasons this story is preserved for us in the
Bible is to remind us to always go to the source. As leaders, we
need to be a firewall against gossip, and we need to teach others to be
firewalls rather than conduits. When we go to the source and encourage
others to do so as well, we will have fewer problems with gossip in our
Kid's Korner: Using Christmas to teach children about Jesus
This Kids Korner is from GenMin co-founder and Equipper editor Ted
Johnston. This article excerpts a version published on the GCI.org
Parents or guardians are usually the most important influences in
children’s spiritual development. This reality presents both a
responsibility and an opportunity. Concerning the responsibility, parents
have the God-given assignment to teach their children about God and his
love (Deut. 4:10; 6:7). Concerning the opportunity, young children tend to
see their parents as “god-like” in authority and credibility.
Because this “window of opportunity” may remain open for
only a few years, wise parents are opportunistic—capitalizing on
teachable moments in the lives of their children. One such moment comes
each December as Christmas dominates community, school and family life for
Though we may object to the commercialism of much of these Christmas
celebrations, we can take advantage of this annual opportunity to help
children learn about Jesus’ birth, perhaps the greatest of all God’s
miracles—for through this birth, God took on human flesh in order to
become Immanuel—God with us—God come to be one of us; God come to save
us. Glory to God in the highest!
This biblical message of Christmas, appropriately presented, captures
the imagination and hearts of children everywhere. Think about it —God
chose to enter our world in the flesh of a baby—Jesus, fully the Eternal
Son of God, and yet fully a human baby!
Why God came in this way is part of the mystery of Christ. In coming as
a baby, God fully identified with our lowly state—sharing fully our
experience, including our suffering. What a powerful way to show children
that God loves them—he was once a child, just like they are. The Christ
child grew up, became a man and died and was resurrected so that they can
be with him and share his joy forever.
Christmas offers parents and children’s ministry workers a wonderful
opportunity to share Jesus. This can be done by enacting the stories of
Jesus’ birth—his nativity in a stable, the visit of the shepherds, and
the eventual visit of the Magi. Many children delight to participate in
these dramatic reenactments. They also make powerful outreach events.
Within the home, Christmas decorations can serve as teachable moments
for children. An evergreen Christmas tree can be a captivating illustration
that Jesus is eternal life. Lights on the tree illustrate that Jesus is the
light of the world. The exchange of presents can be used to tell children
about God’s greatest gift—his Son who came wrapped in swaddling
clothes. A manger scene on the mantle can be used to illustrate the entire
My encouragement to parents and congregations is this: use Christmas for
the powerful teachable moment that it can be. Teach about Jesus—and in
particular, the miracle of Jesus’ birth. Don’t miss out on this great
To help you capitalize on the opportunity of Christmas, here are some
ideas adapted from “Help Your Child Discover the Real Christmas,”
published by Gospel Light in 1992.
Help your child know the simple facts of Jesus’ birth
Read the story of the first Christmas to your child from Bible
storybooks or from an easy-to-understand version of the Bible. Tell your
child that they will hear the story again in church. Attend the Christmas
service as a family, no matter how busy your schedule may be! Listen to the
gospel and sing the Christmas hymns together.
Visit your Christian bookstore and choose “Baby Jesus” books or
videos that will appeal to your child.
Help your child feel that Jesus is God’s best gift of love
Remember that much of a child’s response is a reflection of the
attitudes he or she sees at home. Nurture feelings of joy, love and
thankfulness in your child. Avoid (as much as possible) the hectic holiday
bustle that makes a young child feel left out. Concentrate instead on
preparing for the celebration of Christ’s birth in a spiritual way by
praying together and celebrating the Advent season.
In the presence of your child, give thanks to God for Jesus.
Help your child express joy, excitement and feelings of love
Include your child in making Christmas decorations, food, gifts and
cards for family members and friends. Show gladness to your child as you
sing the songs of Christmas. Learn the songs your child is singing at
church so you can sing them together at home, too. Emphasize
Be sensitive to moments when it is natural to talk about God, and
encourage your child to talk to God with thanks and praise.
Celebrate the Nativity
Keep the meaning of Christmas clear throughout the holiday season by
frequently commenting, “Christmas is a happy time because it celebrates
Jesus’ birthday.” Bake and decorate a birthday cake for Jesus. Children
will understand that because Christmas celebrates Jesus’ birthday, there
should be a cake. Sing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus and plan together what
your family can give him for a gift of love.
Give Jesus a birthday present as a family, by doing something extra
special for others. Make cookies (or even a whole dinner) and deliver them
to elderly relatives and shut-ins. Take canned foods or personal care items
to a rescue mission. Adopt a needy family through a charity.
Keep Santa in the proper perspective
Explain that Santa legends are based on the real Christian leader
Nicholas, who loved God and gave generously to the poor.
Avoid the “What do you want Santa to bring you for Christmas?” and
“Be good for Santa!” emphases. When your child wants to talk about
Santa Claus, listen attentively. Then turn the discussion to Jesus and his
Sermon for December 3, 2017 (Advent 1)
Scripture readings: Isa. 64:1-9; Ps.
1 Cor. 1:3-9; Mark 13:24-37
Sermon by Michelle Fleming from 1 Cor. 1:3-9
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord
Jesus Christ. I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace
of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were
enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge—even as the testimony
about Christ was confirmed among you—so that you are not lacking in any
gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will
sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God
is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus
Christ our Lord. (1 Cor. 1:3-9, ESV)
Today begins the season of Advent, which begins a new year of
celebration in the Christian worship calendar. Advent is a time of both
celebration and anticipation in that it celebrates Jesus’ three
“comings” (the word “advent” means
“coming”). These comings are traditionally celebrated during
the Advent season in reverse order:
Advent ends with a celebration of Jesus’ first
coming through the Incarnation, which fulfilled the Father’s
eternal covenant of drawing humanity to himself. That then leads into the
celebration of Jesus’ birth at Christmas.
In the middle part of Advent, we celebrate Jesus’ present
coming, through the Spirit, to dwell with us and in us.
Then at the beginning of Advent the focus is on what is often referred
to as Jesus’ second coming—the time, yet future, when
our Lord will return to earth bodily to establish the fullness of
God’s kingdom on earth and thus to set everything right in the
world. This is the coming of Jesus that we focus on today, the first Sunday
The point I want to make today is that Advent includesexpectant waiting—waiting for Christ’s return; training
our hearts and minds to long for that ultimate hope. Karl Barth put it this
Unfulfilled and fulfilled promise are related to each other,
as are dawn and sunrise. Both are promise and in fact the same promise. If
anywhere at all, then it is precisely in the light of the coming of Christ
that faith has become Advent faith, the expectation of future revelation.
But faith knows for whom and for what it is waiting. It is fulfilled faith
because it lays hold on the fulfilled promise.
The Father’s covenant promise to send a Messiah for the people of
Israel is the same one the church now clings to—the future coming of
Jesus Christ to establish the fullness of the kingdom of God on earth. And
so Advent, which celebrates the reality that Jesus has come and now is
coming, also looks forward with anticipation, grounded in the hope that
Jesus will come again.
The advantage of waiting
The rush toward Christmas celebrations can cause us to overlook the
great spiritual advantage of waiting. In our results-driven
culture, waiting is not given much value. In fact, waiting is often seen as
a negative. We tend to believe that the product is of far greater
importance than the process. But in God’s economy, waiting
is of great value, for it helps us understand where our hope lies—it
helps to show us what we are orienting our lives around.
Today’s reading in 1 Corinthians reminds us that Advent is not
just about celebrating Christ’s first coming—it’s also
about waiting for his return:
…as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus
Christ, who will sustain you to the end guiltless in the day of our Lord
Jesus Christ. (1 Cor. 1:7)
Note that this is not worry-filled, nervous waiting, trying to earn our
way into the kingdom. Instead, it’s a hope-filled,
stand-on-the-tip-of-your-toes, excited waiting. Paul encourages the
Corinthians by pointing out that they already have received the
gifts they need to sustain them until Christ returns. This grace-filled
passage is a reminder that, through Jesus, we already are included in the
life and love and thus already are experiencing his kingdom rule and
While we wait for his return and the fullness of his kingdom, we
experience the naked vulnerability of trust. No matter how disciplined,
organized and prayerful we are, we never outgrow God’s invitation to
wait. The learning curve through this waiting is life-long.
Advent is the season to keep learning and practicing the discipline of
waiting that challenges us all. It’s an opportunity to see the good
fruit that waiting with patience and in hope produces in our lives.
The perils and pitfalls of waiting poorly
In and through Jesus, we have every spiritual blessing needed in order
to wait well for his return—for our one true hope, which is the
fullness of his kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven. Sadly, in the
verses that follow our reading, Paul scolds the Corinthians for not waiting
well—for comparing and thus quarreling over their own little kingdoms
(1 Cor. 1:10–16), rather than orienting their hope and identity in Jesus
and his kingdom. Their quarreling was a denial of the reality of the rich
life that is ours in Christ as we await his ultimate return.
We are prone to the same pitfalls that befell the Corinthians. We tend
to focus on the world “that is” rather than the one that is “to
come.” We build routines and schedules, relying on the systems of this
world, rather than leaning on the person of Jesus. Due to a focus on the
world, we are shaken when we see events occuring that are so disconnected
from what we were created for—events like natural disasters,
divisions, senseless violence, the list goes on and on, giving us reasons
to lose hope. Advent reminds us that our ultimate hope is not in this
Active, hope-filled waiting
Awaiting Jesus’ return, we have hope despite the chaos and
confusion of the fallen world around us. Jesus does not leave us
alone—by the Spirit he brings comfort and counsel, helping us wait
with hope. Knowing for whom and for what we wait, our waiting during
Advent, and always, is not passive. Instead it’s active and
expectant. We are reminded that we are not looking for a king or kingdom of
our own—our King has come, and invites us to help build his kingdom
as we await his return in glory.
When Jesus first came to earth, he lived as fully human—in the
beauty and brokenness of relationships, the temptations and struggles we
all have. When he died in our place, he did not do so theoretically. He
knew you by name, in each day-to-day moment—not your dream or ideal
life but the actual life you are living.
What if we lived out of the truth that Jesus has redeemed both the big
and small moments of our lives, intentionally joining his continued rescue
and redemption of the whole world? In our active waiting this Advent
season, let’s live out of the righteous and just life that Jesus came
and died to give to us. We each have a specific calling, and so our
participation in Jesus’ love and life may look a bit different for
each of us, but here are some ways that, like Jesus, empowered by the
Spirit, we can enter the chaos and confusion of the world around us and
Bringing reconciliation to our relationships by being the first to
apologize to our spouses, co-workers, children, or friends when there is a
place of brokenness in the relationship.
Asking about then deeply listening to someone with a different
experience or worldview than ours—sharing our own story only if asked
to do so.
Resting in the abundance of God’s economy, blessing someone who has
limited time, health, or financial resources, meeting a need they have
during this Advent-Christmas season.
I encourage you this week to prayerfully consider how you are being
called to actively and expectantly wait during this Advent season.
As we end our time today, let’s stand together as a symbol of our
active waiting, and read, pray, and declare some words of hope
Note: it will be helpful to print this
reading in the bulletin
or project it on a screen. Source: www.crivoice.org.
[Leader] O Lord, stir our hearts as we
prepare for the coming of your one and only Son.
[People] We wait. We wait with expectant hope. In a
world that often seems hopeless, we wait in anticipation of the hope only
you can bring.
[Leader] From ages past, no one has heard, no ear
has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you who works for those who
wait for him.
[People] We wait in expectant hope. Come, long
[Leader] The people who walked in darkness have seen
a great light; on those who lived in a land as dark as death a light has
[All] O God, rejoicing, we remember the promise of
your Son. May Christ our Savior bring light into the darkness of our world,
and to us, as we wait for his coming. We ask this through the hope we have
in Christ our Lord. Amen.
Sermon for December 10, 2017 (Advent 2)
Scripture readings: Isa. 40:1-11; Ps.
2 Pet. 3:8-15a; Mark 1:1-8
Sermon by Ted Johnston from 2 Pet. 3:1-15a
(drawing on commentary from Warren Wiersbe in The Bible Expository
Commentary and David Wheaton in The New Bible
Today on the second Sunday of Advent, our focus continues to be the
promised return of Jesus. A classic passage addressing that advent is found
in 2 Peter chapter 3. In chapter 2, Peter is addressing the problem of
false teachers troubling the churches in Asia Minor with their
“destructive heresies” (2 Pet. 2:1). He pulls no punches,
calling them out to warn his readers to steer clear of their false
teachings (also good advice in our day!).
Then in chapter 3, Peter counters the false teachers’ heresy by
pointing to three foundational precepts of the orthodox Christian
Precept #1: God’s word is truth
In 2 Pet. 3:1-4, Peter reminds them that because God’s word is truth
(truth that, ultimately, is found in Jesus), they must pay careful
attention to it (thus blocking out messages to the contrary). Part of that
truth is that judgment is coming upon all evil—a judgment that will
occur when Jesus returns—the very return that the false teachers were
scoffing at. Instead of this judgment being one of condemnation, it will
involve a decisive intervention that will convey visibly and conclusively
the truth of all truths—namely, who Jesus truly is. This “unveiling”
or “revealing” of Jesus will also mean
Precept #2: God’s work is consistent
In 2 Peter 3:5–7, Peter notes that the false teachers who scoff at
the idea of Jesus’ second coming argue that because God has not
interrupted the stable operation of his creation before, the promise of
Jesus’ return must be false. But Peter refutes that argument, citing
evidence that the false teachers deliberately ignore, namely the work of
God at creation (3:5), and the work of God through the flood in Noah’s
day (3:6). He then concludes by noting that God will intervene again in a
time of judgment, which he says will be a cleansing “fire”
Despite the scoffing and heretical teachings of the false teachers,
Peter assures his readers that Jesus will return and that it will involve
God’s judgment. And lest his readers be scared out of their wits by this
assertion, Peter reminds them of a third foundational precept:
Precept #3: God’s will is merciful
In 2 Peter 3:8–10 (NRSV), the apostle both reassures and exhorts his
readers with some important facts:
Do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one
day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The
Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is
patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will
pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire,
and the earth and everything that is done on it will be
The scoffers are not only ignoring what God has done in the past
(creation and the flood), but they are ignorant of what God is like. They
have re-created God in their own image, ignoring the fact of God’s
eternality. God has neither beginning nor ending. God’s eternity is not
just “extended time.” Rather, it is existence above and apart from
time. In this passage, Peter is quoting Psalm 90:4: “For a thousand
years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch
in the night.”
Since a thousand years are as one day to the Lord, we cannot accuse him
of delayed fulfillment of his promises. In God’s sight, the whole
universe is only a few days old! He is not limited by time the way we are,
nor does he measure it according to our standards.
When we study the works of God, especially in the Old Testament, we see
that he is never in a hurry, but he is never late. God could have created
the entire universe in an instant, yet he preferred to do it over a very
long period of time. He could have delivered Israel from Egypt in a moment,
yet he preferred to invest 80 years in training Moses. He could have
brought about the first advent of Jesus much sooner, but he waited for
“the fulness of the time” (Gal. 4:4, ASV).
Though God works within time, he exists outside our time and is thus not
limited by it. Thus to God, a thousand of our years is like one day, and
one day is like a thousand years. God can accomplish in one day what it
would take others a millennium to accomplish! He waits to work, but once he
begins to work, he gets things done!
The false teachers did not understand God’s eternality and they did
not understand his mercy. Why is God delaying Christ’s return and
other yet-coming aspects of the final judgment? It is not because he is
unable or unwilling to act. He is not tardy nor off schedule! Nobody on
earth has the right to decide when God must act. God is sovereign in all
things and does not need prodding or even counsel from sinful humans (Rom.
11:33–36). Rather, God “delays” Jesus’ coming and the judgment
his coming will bring because he is merciful—patient as it says in the
NRSV—wanting to give lost sinners the opportunity to awaken to and
embrace their salvation in Christ. Peter said it this way: “Bear in mind
that our Lord’s patience means salvation” (2Pet 3:15).
There should be no question in anyone’s mind about God’s desire
for every person: God is “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to
come to repentance” (2Pet 3:9). 1 Tim 2:4 affirms that God “wants all
people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.” These verses
assure us that God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked as is noted
in Ezek. 18:23, 32; 33:11. Indeed, God shows his mercy to all (Rom. 11:32)
even though not all will embrace the salvation he has secured for them.
A call to repentance
2 Peter 3:9 is the only place in his two letters where Peter uses the
word repentance, but that does not minimize its importance. To
repent is to change one’s mind. It’s not about regret (being
sorry for being caught), nor is it about shame or remorse (a hopeless
attitude that can lead to despair). Instead, repentance is a change of
one’s mind resulting in action of the will. The sinner who changes
their thinking (repents) about God and his will and work, turns to God in
faith (trust), receiving with a receptive mind what God has secured for
them already in Jesus.
But when will Jesus return?
Having reaffirmed the certainty of Jesus’ return and the judgment
that comes with it, Peter anticipates his readers’ next question:
When will Jesus return? His answer is that nobody knows, because it will
come unexpectedly “like a thief” (3:10, and see Matt. 24:43 and 1
Thess. 5:3). Moreover, he shows that the coming of Jesus and judgment will
be earth-shattering. Kenneth Wuest gives an accurate and graphic
The heavens with a rushing noise will be dissolved, and the
elements being scorched will be dissolved, and the earth also and the works
in it will be burned up. (2Pet. 3:10)
In short, it will be a time of unparalleled transformation of the entire
cosmos, making room for a new heavens and new earth (2 Pet. 3:13).
In this cataclysm, the empty works of rebellious humankind (including
the false teachers) will be burned up. All that humans boast of in their
arrogance—their great cities, great buildings; inventions and
achievements—all these will be destroyed in a moment of time.
Peter’s point is that when we all stand before Jesus at his
return, we will have nothing to point to as evidence of our own greatness.
The only thing that will be seen is who Jesus is and who and what we are in
him. We will either joyfully acknowledge and accept that truth, or we will
turn from it in continued obstinacy. God will not force anyone to receive
and live in his gift of salvation, which is our inclusion in the love and
life of Jesus.
In the remaining verses of this letter, and the latter part of our
reading in 2 Peter today, Peter applies the truth of the life we have in
Jesus to daily living. But before we go there, I think it’s
appropriate that we should push the “pause button” to ask
ourselves an important question: What is my relationship with Jesus,
God’s Truth? Is my life grounded on him—the Solid Rock of my
existence? Or is my life grounded on the sinking sand of human ideas and
achievement—all which are destined for the ash heap that gives way to
a new heaven and new earth when Jesus returns? My prayer for us all is that
we will rejoice and live fully in Jesus right now, every day. He is God’s
Truth, our Life, our everything.
A call to diligence
Having established the reality of who God is, and of Christ’s
promised return with the judgment that will bring about, Peter now
concludes his letter with a call to diligence—he admonishes his
readers to be responsive to the truth that is in Jesus—the truth that
establishes their very identity as the people of God on journey with Jesus
toward a new heaven and new earth.
Peter’s call to diligence is prevalent in this letter. He already
has told his readers to be “applying all diligence” (2 Pet. 1:5, NASB)
and to “be all the more diligent” (2 Pet. 1:10, NASB). Then he says of
himself, “I will also be diligent” (2 Pet. 1:15, NASB). And now he
concludes, telling them:
Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for these things,
give diligence that ye may be found in peace, without spot and blameless in
his sight. (2 Pet. 3:14, ASV)
This diligence is not about self-effort motivated by fear or by
superstition. Rather it is joy-filled participation in Jesus’ own
diligence, which is expressed in the hope and expectancy of his life and
message (the gospel). Peter ends his letter with three admonitions for
Admonition #1: Be diligent to live the gospel
A key word in 2 Peter 3:11–14, NASB, is look (or looking).
This looking is not about physical sight, but spiritual sight—a hope and
expectancy grounded in the truths of the gospel, including the promise of
Jesus’ return, which is the believer’s “blessed hope” (Titus 2:13).
Because we realize that the world and its works will be “destroyed,” we
fix our hope not on the things of this world, but on Jesus and his
enduring, ever-expanding kingdom.
The believer who hopes in the things of this world, rather than in
Jesus, develops a worldly orientation that leads to an unfaithful life
(Luke 12:35–48). Like the false teachers, they may even begin to scoff at
the very idea of Jesus’ return as they pursue their own evil desires. But
a gospel-centered attitude of hope and expectancy yields positive changes
in personal conduct (2 Pet. 3:11). These changes don’t come from
self-effort as though we could change our own nature (can a leopard change
its spots?). Rather, changes come because in union with Jesus we
“participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world
caused by evil desires” (2 Pet. 1:4). Through this participation in
Jesus’ relationship with the Father in the Spirit, we are transformed
from the inside out and thus begin to live differently from the people
whose lives are not centered in this hope.
Peter says that a Jesus-follower lives a “holy and godly” life (2
Pet. 3:11b). In his first letter, Peter wrote: “Just as he who called you
is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy,
because I am holy'” (1 Pet. 1:15-16). God’s holiness, which we
share with him by grace in union with Jesus, is grounded in God’s own
being—it is his relational “wholeness” as an eternal triune communion
of love: Father, Son and Spirit.
As we participate in God’s triune, divine nature, we participate in
his communion of love. And this communion transforms our lives—it
conforms us to God’s own relational wholeness (holiness). Through this
transformation, we become vessels of God’s self-giving love toward
Amazingly, Peter says that hope-filled, expectant looking “forward to
the day of God” will in some way “speed its coming” (2 Pet
3:12a). Though we don’t know how this works (and Peter may just be
using a figure of speech), his overall point is clear: Jesus includes us in
his ministry in the world, and our participation has a real impact on how
his ministry proceeds. The same God who ordains the end also ordains the
means to that end, and we, by his grace, are part of that means. Our task
is not to speculate but to participate—and to do so with diligence.
How do we maintain eager expectancy that motivates holy living? A key
element is keeping “his promise” of a “new heaven and new earth”
clearly in our view (2 Pet. 3:13). The promise of Jesus’ coming is a
light of hope that shines in an often dark world (2 Pet. 1:19). We must be
sure that “the morning star” is brightly aglow in our hearts as we
continue to eagerly await Jesus’ advent at the end of the age. Let us
be diligent to live in the hope of this gospel. And let us also be diligent
to share that hope with others…
Admonition #2: Be diligent to share the gospel
In 2 Peter 3:15-16, which ties in with 2 Pet. 3:9, Peter explains why
the Lord has not yet returned in judgment to usher in the new heaven and
new earth. God had every reason long ago to judge the world and burn up its
works, but in his mercy, he is patient, “not wanting anyone to perish,
but everyone to come to repentance.” God continues patiently to give
opportunity for the human race to embrace the salvation it has in
Jesus—to repent, to trust, and to follow Jesus. Peter’s inference here
is that we, as Jesus-followers, need to share his heart for peopple who are
walking in darkness and join him with diligence in sharing with them the
good news of God’s redeeming love in Jesus. Thus our motivation for
sharing the gospel with others is God’s love and our participation in his
love, which is reaching out to all humanity (see 2 Cor. 5:14).
In 2 Pet. 3:15-16, Peter refers to Paul’s writings, perhaps because
Paul, more than any other New Testament writer, addresses the outworking of
God’s plan for salvation which is in Jesus and by grace alone. But, as
Peter notes, some “ignorant and unstable people” have been
distorting what Paul taught. A common accusation against Paul was that his
teaching about grace encouraged people to sin. But this was a false
accusation, as Paul himself asserted in Romans 3:8.
Admonition #3: Be diligent to grow in the gospel
In 2 Pet. 3:17-18, Peter ends his letter by warning his readers to be
on their guard. What particular danger did Peter see? That his readers
might be “led away together with the error of the wicked” (literal
translation). The false teachers and their followers “live in error” (2
Pet. 2:18) rather than within the sphere of the truth (2 John 1–2). These
false teachers are “lawless men” (2 Pet. 3:17, with the word
“lawless” being translated as “unprincipled” in the NASB). These
false teachers use unprincipled (deceitful and devious) tactics to turn
people away from the truth that is in Jesus. Beware! The danger being
addressed here is not losing one’s salvation, but falling from one’s
“secure position” or “steadfastness” (NASB) in Jesus.
Believers are vulnerable to becoming unstable when they believe
untruths. Peter therefore urges us to be “firmly established in the
truth” (2 Pet. 1:12). Our stability as followers of Jesus is directly
related to our grounding in the truth and our confidence (trust) in that
truth. To embrace lies rather than truth has devastating consequences. This
danger is particularly great for young believers, “just escaping from
those who live in error (2 Pet. 2:18). New believers need to be taught the
basic biblical doctrines of the Christian faith so that they will not be
“carried away with the error of lawless people” (2 Pet. 3:17, ESV)
How can we as believers maintain our secure position and avoid being
among the unstable ones who are led astray? Peter’s answer is that we
must continue to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior
Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18). “Be constantly growing” is one
translation. It’s about a lifetime of growth—constant, steady
development within the sphere of the grace and truth that is in Jesus.
a. Grow in Jesus’ grace
This has to do with the traits of Jesus that, by the Spirit, he shares
with us. Peter reviewed these in 2 Pet. 1:5–7 and Paul wrote of them in
Galatians 5:22–23. We were saved by grace (Eph. 2:8–9) and through
grace we are being formed by the Spirit into Jesus’ own likeness. Our
life in Jesus is about his grace from start to finish. To grow in grace
means to share more fully and actively in the life that is ours in Christ,
from whom we receive all the grace that we need (John 1:16).
b. Grow in Jesus’ knowledge
Knowledge without grace can be a terrible weapon, and grace without
knowledge can be very shallow. But when we combine grace and knowledge, we
experience most fully our connection to the love and life of Jesus who is
the fullness of grace and truth.
The knowledge in which we are to grow is “the knowledge of our Lord
and Savior Jesus Christ.” It is one thing to “know the Bible,” and
quite another thing to know Jesus, who is the central theme of the Bible.
The better we know Jesus, the more we grow in the experience of his grace;
and the more we grow in that grace, the more accurate and meaningful will
be our knowledge of Jesus and of the Bible given to teach us about him.
This growth in the grace and knowledge of Jesus involves
diligence—setting priorities and having the discipline to live
accordingly. It involves spiritual nurture and development—a journey
of growth with Jesus that occurs best within the context of a loving
faith-family, and this is where the local church comes in. It is God’s
“nursery” for the care and feeding of Christians—the God-ordained
environment that encourages growth in the grace and knowledge of Jesus.
And what is the result of this growth? A sharing in Jesus’ own glory!
“To him be glory both now and forever!” Our growth glorifies Jesus and
leads to a fuller experience of his glory, which is his love and life
shared with the Father in the Spirit. As Peter has already told us, it is
our calling to be participants in this divine (triune) nature (2 Pet. 1:4).
Our growth is about “growing deeper” in our participation in that life
As we look back on the broad sweep of this second letter from Peter, we
are struck by the urgency of its message. False teachers are at work! They
are seducing immature Christians! So be on guard and be diligent in living
the gospel, sharing the gospel and growing in the gospel. In these ways we
participate more and more in Jesus’ own life and love, which he shares
with the Father in the Spirit. To and with this Jesus, our Savior and Lord,
be all glory both now and forever! Amen.
Sermon for December 17, 2017 (Advent 3)
Scripture readings: Isa. 61:1-4, 8:11; Ps.
1 Thess. 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28
Sermon by Martin Manuel from Ps. 126 and John 1:6-8, 19-28
Baptism, Jesus and Joy
We are in the midst of the Advent-Christmas season when, more than any
other time of the year, joy is in the air—the joy we read about in
When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like
those who dreamed. Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with
songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done
great things for them.” The Lord has done great things for us, and we are
filled with joy. (Ps. 126:1-3)
Let’s sing about that joy in a popular Gospel song:
The focus of our Gospel reading today, the third Sunday of Advent, is
the ministry of John the Baptist. His message was a call to
repentance—preparing for the coming of the Messiah. He proclaimed
that the Messiah was about to be revealed to the world, and that he would
transform the world by taking on its sin and by baptizing with the
But what does John’s ministry of baptism have to do with joy? As
we’ll see in this sermon, the answer is
“everything”—for John the Baptist proclaimed the
source of the true and lasting joy that Advent and Christmas
A messenger divinely appointed and sent
It is a special occasion when God sends a human messenger to our world.
One such occasion occurred around A.D. 27 in the Roman Province of Judea.
The apostle John wrote about that sending in his Gospel:
There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came
as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all
might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to
the light. (John 1:6-8)
It had been about 400 years since the prophet Malachi had shared this
promise from God to Israel:
I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before
me. Then the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of
the covenant, whom you desire, will come (Malachi 3:1)
For 400 long years the Jews had suffered the oppressive rule of the
Medo-Persians, then the Greeks and now the Romans. Throughout this time the
Jews awaited the coming of their Messiah to his temple, which would begin
the long-awaited new age of the Kingdom of God. Until the time of John the
Baptist, that coming had not occurred.
Nevertheless, the anticipation grew during those 400 years. Think of a
bride and groom awaiting their wedding! Think of a mother and father
awaiting their child’s birth! These are times of great, anticipatory
joy. In a similar way, the people of Israel were waiting, their
anticipation growing, looking forward to the promised time of great
Before our passage in the Gospel of John, introducing John the Baptist,
we are told of one called “the Word,” who was with God and was
God. He is said in John 1:9 to be the “true light” that shines
in the darkness of this fallen world. John the Baptist was sent to witness
to—to testify concerning—this special person, the Word, the
Because of the Jew’s great national anticipation of deliverance,
John the Baptist received a lot of attention as he baptized large numbers
of people who went out to the Jordan River to hear him preach. This
activity was noticed at the highest levels among the Jewish leadership.
They wanted to know who he was and what his ministry was about. John
Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in
Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. He did not fail
to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.” They asked
him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.”
“Are you the Prophet?” He answered, “No.” Finally they said, “Who
are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you
say about yourself?” John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet,
“I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the
way for the Lord.’”
The primary religious leaders of the Jews were the priests and a council
of religious leaders called the Sanhedrin. From Jerusalem, where they
worked, they sent representatives to investigate this intriguing new
preacher, wanting to know if he was the one prophesied to come. King David,
the prophet Daniel, and others had prophesied the coming of the Anointed
One, the Messiah (Psalm 2:2; Daniel 9:25); the prophet Malachi had
prophesied the coming of Elijah (Mal. 4:5); and Moses had prophesied the
coming of “the Prophet” (Deut. 18:15). Jewish scholars considered that
these three highly-anticipated historical figures would bring radical
transformation to Israel, leading the people to faithfully fulfill their
covenant as the people of God.
But John the Baptist made it clear that he was not one of these three.
Instead he quoted Isaiah’s prophecy (Isaiah 40:3) about one who would
prepare for the coming of the Lord. Instead of pointing to himself, John
pointed to Jesus, an even greater deliverer than the scholars
Unveiling the all-time historical leader
A delegation of Pharisees sent to investigate questioned John: “Why do
you baptize if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”
(John 1:24-25). Typically, baptism was reserved for non-Jewish people who
repented of their pagan practices and converted to the Jewish religion as
proselytes. Surprisingly, instead of baptizing proselytes, John was
baptizing large numbers of Jews. The Pharisees sensed that something highly
unusual was taking place, but they could not figure out what it was. They
thought it centered around John the Baptist, and hoped that he would tell
them more about his reasons for baptizing such a large number of Jews.
Apparently, they did not understand Isaiah’s statement about “the
voice in the wilderness,” especially that it signaled the impending
arrival—advent—of none other than Israel’s Lord himself.
“I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you
stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the straps of
whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” (John 1:26-27)
John the Baptist was only immersing people into water after a confession
of sin as evidence of repentance. Although that confession was significant
and a good thing, it was not extraordinary. The far bigger matter was who
already was present in the nation (incognito, as it were) and
what he was about to do! John describes this individual as so special that
he, John, was not worthy to do for him the most menial of
servant-tasks—untie his sandals to wash his feet.
Simply put, this person was greater than anyone else on earth!
The higher baptism
What caused John the Baptist to think so highly of this person? He
explained later, probably to his followers, as we read in John 1:31-34:
I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came
baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John bore
witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it
remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize
with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain,
this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have
borne witness that this is the Son of God.”
John the Baptist was sent by someone, he does not say who, and this
someone told him to baptize and proclaim to those who came that the great
revealing—the advent of the promised Messiah—was about
to take place. As John was baptizing Jesus, an amazing sight occurred that
John witnessed: the Holy Spirit descended from heaven in the form of a dove
and lit upon Jesus! Just as the sender had told John, this unusual sight
would pinpoint for him who this person he had baptized actually was: none
other than the Son of God, who would baptize not with water but with the
Some Christian groups teach that the higher baptism is done by the Holy
Spirit and comes as a “second blessing” after baptism in water, which
signifies conversion and receiving of the Holy Spirit. This passage in
John, and the related passages in the other Gospels, teach that Jesus is
the one who baptizes with the Spirit. The Pentecost miracle described in
the book of Acts confirms this teaching. Let’s consider what that baptism
The joy of advent
John the Baptist prophesied about the outcome of his experience and
encounter with Jesus, noting that Jesus would fulfill the promise of the
outpouring—the baptism—of the Holy Spirit upon humanity. We
read prophecies about this outpouring in Joel 2:28-29, Jer. 24:7; 11:19;
36:25-27 and 37:14. These prophecies describe a time of cleansing of the
people by sprinkling—another type of baptism—that refreshes
them as the Spirit of God renews their minds. Radical repentance moves them
to turn away from idolatry to God with all their hearts. Motivated to want
to obey God’s law of love, they come to know the God they profess.
The fulfillment of these prophecies began at Pentecost in Jerusalem with
the followers of Jesus, and continued from there, sweeping through the
world. The process takes time—millennia of human experience—and
is still progressing today, like an ever-expanding flood. Those overtaken
by this out-pouring believe in Jesus and trust in his promises, living with
an underlying hope that the purpose of the Father through the Son and in
the Spirit will be accomplished.
Faith and hope then spark in them a deep sense of joy in the midst of
their still-broken present lives. It is the joy of anticipating the
promised future. This joy is not our doing, but the outcome of Christ in
us, preceded by our own repentance and baptism.
The song, Joy, that we heard as we began this sermon,
poetically expresses this process. The singers acknowledge their brokenness
as only a repentant heart would. Nonetheless they see beauty in their
brokenness. Why? Because they are experiencing the marvelous exchange of
God’s love and forgiveness for the pain that is the consequence of
sin. At the same time, they recognize the seeming contradiction of being
free, yet being captured by the Lord—in knowing the Lord they know
what it is to be truly free. Consequently they experience joy instead of
As individuals, we now have joy to mollify the relentless sorrow, pain
and brokenness of this world. It is a joy that resides down deep in the
soul where nothing can dislodge it. We are confident knowing that,
eventually, we will experience the fullness of our Lord’s joy.
I would like to conclude by sharing my own story of joy [speaker,
substitute your own story here]. I was baptized at 21. At the time, I was
a rather confused and troubled young man. Sensing a call from God, I had
abandoned the ways of my past. So much changed about me that I found myself
at odds with many of my friends and family members. Most of this was a
result of my misunderstanding of God and what he expected of me, but the
result was that I became sad, lonely and depressed. But God is gracious!
Immediately after my baptism in which I confessed faith in Jesus Christ as
my Savior, I experienced a period of about a week of sheer ecstatic joy.
When the week passed, I resumed a more normal temperament, but no longer
was I sad, lonely, and depressed. To this day, I don’t know how to
explain it except to acknowledge that the Holy Spirit gave me a
gift—a down payment, so to speak—of joy and I can truthfully
say that this joy has never left me.
Despite temptations, sins, disappointments, big mistakes, setbacks,
obvious failures, personal illness, loss of loved ones, and many times of
sorrow, anguish, and despair, deep down the joy remains. I wake up every
day reminded that Jesus Christ is my Savior, and that gives me security.
Despite the miserable state of world conditions and even conditions of
people close to me, I continue to have hope for a better future. I know
that my God is right, and there is no other way, so I can live in
confidence, continuing to grow in knowing him.
I relish enjoyable times and blessings, but the joy I experience is not
the result of something good happening in my life—it’s deeper than
that. It is not the result of anything I have or have gained—it’s
deeper than that. The joy I experience comes from outside me, but resides
within me. It is with me in measure, but always there. No, I don’t
have it in full, but I know who gives it, and his name is Jesus. It’s
a fruit of his Spirit in my life. Without Jesus, I would be simply an older
version of who I was at 21 before my repentance, baptism and the gift of
the Holy Spirit through my precious, wonderful Lord! Amen.
Sermon for December 24, 2017 (Advent 4)
Scripture readings: 2 Sam. 7:1-11, 16;
Rom. 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-28
Sermon by Sheila Graham from Luke chapter 1, and 2 Samuel chapter 7
Jesus, a Promise Fulfilled
As we come to the close of our celebration of Advent and look forward to
Christmas Day tomorrow, we continue to look back and also forward to the
overwhelming significance of what the Incarnation of the Son of God means
to us as human beings. From Genesis on, the Scriptures point to the
fulfilment of the promise that God would send a Messiah to save his people.
God promised both Abraham and later David that the Messiah would come from
God made many promises concerning the Messiah in the Old Testament. As
we saw in our reading today from 2 Samuel, God said no when David wanted to
build a house for him. Instead, God would make David a house—a
lineage that would include the Savior of the world.
Then in our reading today from the Gospel of Luke we were reminded that
when the young virgin, Mary, was approached by the angel Gabriel, she
already knew what was prophesied in the Scriptures. Though she was shocked
at the appearance and words of the angel (and who wouldn’t be!), she had
been told about God’s promises to Abraham and to David. She knew a
Messiah would come, and he would be from the line of Judah, of the house of
David. What she didn’t imagine was that God would actually choose her,
from a God-fearing but humble family to be the mother of the Savior. She
expressed her sense of joy at being the one chosen to bear the long
promised Messiah in a poem called the Magnificat (Luke
The significance of Christmas
In this harried season, filled with frenzied consumers who, in many
cases, dread Christmas, if we’re not careful, we can be caught up in the
commercialism of the holiday. We can overlook the significance of what we
are supposed to be celebrating. All the decorations, some beautiful and
some not so much, don’t begin to express the joy we should feel about
We are celebrating the birth of God into this world, our world. God came
to earth to become one of us so we could be reconciled to the Father! So we
could be saved from our sins! So we could live with him for eternity!
How great is that!
Arguments over whether or not “Merry Christmas” or “Happy
Holidays” should appear in stores and on other types of greetings can
steer our minds away from the momentous truth that God has come down to
earth to be born as a human to dwell among us and to lead the way for us to
have an eternal relationship with him. But, how is it possible that God,
who is spirit, could become human? It’s a question that’s been
asked and argued about over the centuries.
Let’s look at Mary’s important role in God’s plan of salvation. We
don’t learn a lot in the Bible about the girl God chose to be the mother
of his Son. She was, most likely, betrothed to Joseph at a young age. The
Jewish custom was for girls to marry as young teens. Mary may have become a
mother as early as age 14.
Mary, we are told, was God-fearing and trusted God with her life. She
could have been a candidate for stoning for being pregnant outside of
marriage. And, even if that didn’t happen, she would (and did) have to
suffer rumors that Jesus was illegitimate. Yet she agreed to be the mother
of the Messiah.
Some think Mary had no choice, but that isn’t true. Maybe you’ve
noticed in the Bible that angels are rather abrupt when they bring messages
from God. There’s no “if you agree” or “if you feel
like doing this” in their proclamations. But the Scriptures also show
there’s room for negotiation. Think Abraham and Gideon. Both negotiated
with God. Mary had a choice.
Did you notice the difference in the way Gabriel treated Mary as opposed
to how he treated Zechariah? When Gabriel told Zechariah that his wife
Elizabeth would become pregnant with John, and Zechariah asked how that
could be, Gabriel punished his lack of belief by making him unable to
speak. But when Mary asked basically the same question, Gabriel patiently
answered her. Perhaps there was a difference in attitude. It seemed he
decided to treat this young girl with more patience than he did an old
priest who should have known better than to question God’s abilities.
Zechariah’s time of silence helped emphasize how his child was special;
Mary’s role was already difficult enough.
When Mary affirms that she is willing to bear the Christ child, she
becomes the first disciple of Jesus. How? Listen to this; it’s important:
She received Jesus from the Holy Spirit by responding in faith, not through
any other actions on her part. Further, even the faith to do so came from
God. Contrary to what some teach, she wasn’t perfect—she had not
earned the right to have a Savior, much less to give him birth.
Mary’s response to God, despite her imperfections, is a model for us.
She was a human being like you and me. When we come to Christ, we come as
imperfect sinners, with empty hands. We have nothing to give to show we are
worthy of him. Like Mary, we respond to Christ by faith, by the Holy
Spirit, and then—and right now would be a good time to shout Hallelujah,
praise God—we are in Christ and Christ is in us!
Mary’s reaction to the shepherds’ words and Simeon’s prophecy and
her response to her own son’s words when she finds him in the Temple,
continue to show she was a believing disciple of Jesus:
She knew Jesus could perform miracles before he had publicly done
She was totally confident he could take care of the embarrassing lack
of wine at the wedding feast.
Though she and her family sometimes wondered about and questioned what
Jesus was doing, they eventually understood.
Though some in past centuries have gone overboard and even come to
worship Mary, we shouldn’t shy away from honoring the mother of our
Savior. Her role was significant.
The promises are for all
Mary was an Israelite. The prophecies were written that the Messiah
would come to Israel. In Romans, the apostle Paul also refers to the Old
Testament prophecies of a Messiah, a Savior, but he shows the promises go
beyond the nation of Israel and the house of Judah to include the gentiles.
Now, not only Israel but also the gentiles (that’s most of us, folks) are
blessed to understand, through Jesus Christ, what God had planned from
eternity, to make salvation available to all humankind. At the close of the
book of Romans, Paul writes:
Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my
gospel and proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the
mystery that was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed, and
through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according
to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of
faith—to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory
forever! Amen. (Romans 16:25-27, NRSV)
Paul speaks of messianic prophecies not even the prophets themselves
fully understood at the time they were given. Only through the life, death
and resurrection of Christ could these mysterious prophecies be
God is God of both the Jews and the gentiles. His purpose for all
eternity has now been revealed through his Son. God’s plan of redemption
includes all humankind. A sense of wonderment and joyful praise fuel
By faith, not works
Now, through the incarnation of Jesus Christ, our obedience is through
faith, not works. And salvation through Christ has come to the whole human
race, both Jew and gentile. We can say with Paul, “through Jesus Christ,
to whom be the glory forever!” Praise God for his love and mercy!
Speaking biologically, you can’t explain the incarnation of Jesus the
Son of God as a human being apart from any male involvement, any more than
you can explain the creation of Adam without any female involvement.
Jesus’ birth as a human being was a new creative act of God.
Death came through Adam’s and Eve’s sin, and God’s incarnation as
Jesus conquered sin and death and saved the whole of humanity—both
male and female. Thomas F. Torrance in The Ministry of
Women writes that the incarnation was “the healing of our complete
The significance of the virgin birth of Jesus, of the Incarnation in
which God became human (adding our humanity to his divinity), cannot be
overestimated. As noted by the apostle Paul, from the beginning, from
Genesis to Revelation in God’s Word and through Jesus Christ, who is also
God’s Word, God promised a redeemer, a savior of humankind. God did not
create us and then abandon us. In the first Adam we disobeyed and abandoned
him. But in the birth, life, resurrection and ascension of the second Adam,
Jesus Christ, through his grace and mercy and love, God made a way for
us—all of us, Jew and gentile—to be reunited to him for eternity.
Worth celebrating? I should say so.
Sermon for December 31, 2017
Scripture readings: Isa. 61:10-11; 62:1-3;
Gal. 4:4-7; Luke 2:22-40
Sermon by Ted Johnston from Gal. 3:26-4:12a
(drawing on the writings of John Stott,
G. Walter Hansen and Gary Deddo)
Live Like Adult Children, Not Slaves
Today (December 31), is the 7th day of Christmas in the Western
Christian tradition. During this season, we are exploring the truth that
with Jesus’ birth, a new day dawned for humanity. But do we
understand fully the implications of Jesus’ first advent? Down
through the ages, some Christians have not—they have erred by looking
to the Law of Moses or other rules as the basis for their life in
Having encountered this error among Gentile Christians in Asia Minor,
Paul wrote them the letter we know as Galatians. In its first
three chapters, Paul points out that their attempt to earn God’s
favor through obedience to the Law is wrong-headed, for in their union with
Christ, by the Spirit, through faith, they already have received
the covenant promise given to Abraham. Attempts to secure that promise by
observing the Law are therefore foolish. Note Paul’s summary
statement at the end of chapter 3:
So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through
faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed
yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile,
neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one
in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s
seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Gal.
The Law of Moses was temporary
In chapter 4, Paul emphasizes the temporary nature of the Law of Moses,
which was added to the covenant God made with Abraham to form what
Scripture calls the old covenant. Paul shows that life under that form of
the covenant was a type of slavery, which is to be abandoned by Christians
in order to live in the freedom that is theirs as mature children of God
under the new covenant:
What I am saying is that as long as an heir is underage, he
is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. The heir
is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father.
The Law of Moses was given to Israel under the old covenant in order to
illustrate God’s grace in the coming Messiah. But with Jesus’ death and
resurrection, this God-given purpose of the Law was fulfilled and the old
covenant came to an end. Paul makes this point about the temporary nature
of the Law by noting that it was like a guardian of a child. Under
that guardianship, the child was moving toward the time when he would
receive his full inheritance. The old covenant is thus portrayed as
temporary, replaced by the new covenant, which comes at maturity.
Don’t misuse the Law
So also, when we were underage, we were in slavery under
the elemental spiritual forces of the world. (Gal. 4:3)
Paul then refers to the Galatians’ wrong-headed misuse of the Law as
slavery to “elemental spiritual forces of the world.” In verse
9 these forces are called “weak” because the Law has no
strength to save, and “miserable” (“beggarly” in
the RSV) because it has no wealth to bestow. “Elemental” has
two possible meanings (and Paul may intend both):
It can mean “elementary things,” like the
ABC’s learned in kindergarten. In this way Paul is likening the Law to
rudimentary education preceding maturity.
It can mean “elemental spirits” associated
in paganism with the physical elements (earth, fire, air and water) and the
heavenly bodies (sun, moon and stars). This second definition fits verse 8
where we are said to have been “slaves to those who by nature are not
gods,” namely evil (elemental) spirits.
Paul’s point is that by seeking to live under the Law of Moses, the
Galatian Christians, who were largely Gentiles, were returning to a way of
approaching God that was functionally equivalent to their former paganism.
But Christ, argues Paul, has set us free from all that. As Christians, we
are not called upon to seek God’s favor through rituals (specifically
rituals of the Law of Moses under the old covenant). As mature children,
our identity and receipt of God’s favor is not from what we do, but
because of who God is and what God has done for us in and through Christ.
That is the gospel; and the Galatians were abandoning it for legalism and
The old covenant has ended
But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born
of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we
might receive adoption to sonship. (Gal. 4:4-5)
Here Paul notes that the new covenant replaced the old covenant (with
its reliance on the Law of Moses) at a specific moment in
history—”when the set time had fully come.” Humanity’s
bondage under the Law of Moses thus continued for about 1,300 years. It was
a long and arduous time of being immature and under the age of adulthood.
But, at last, the time came when the children should attain their majority
(legal age of maturity) and thus should inherit the promise, having been
freed from guardians and trustees. This “fullness of time”
(RSV) arrived at Christ’s advent, when “God sent his Son, born of
woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might
receive adoption to sonship.”
God’s purpose: to redeem and adopt
Notice that God’s purpose was both to redeem and
to adopt—not just to rescue from slavery, but to make
slaves into his own children. The metaphors of redemption and adoption come
from Roman law whereby a wealthy childless man might take into his family a
slave youth who thus ceased to be a slave and became an adopted son and
Paul is emphasizing that the one whom God sent to accomplish our
redemption was perfectly qualified to do so. He was God’s Son. He was
also born of a human mother, so that he was human as well as divine, the
one and only God-man. And he was “born under the law,”
that is, of a Jewish mother, into the Jewish nation, subject to the Jewish
Law of Moses, which was central to the old covenant. Throughout his life,
Jesus submitted to all the requirements of the Law and succeeded where all
others before and since have failed—he perfectly fulfilled the
righteousness of the Law. So the divinity of Christ, the humanity of Christ
and the righteousness of Christ uniquely qualified him to be humankind’s
Through a double sending: the Son and the Spirit
Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his
Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls
out, “Abba, Father.” (Gal. 4:6)
The Greek verbs translated “sent” in verses 4 and 6 are the
same word in the same tense. There was, therefore, a double sending forth
from God the Father. Note the Trinitarian reference: First, God sent his
Son into the world; second, he sent his Spirit into our hearts. And
entering our hearts, the Spirit immediately began to cry out “Abba!
Father!” Abba is the word Jesus himself used in prayer to
God the Father.
Thus God’s purpose was not only to secure our sonship and our
legal inheritance by his Son, but to assure us of it by his Spirit. He sent
his Son that we might have the objective “status” of sonship,
and then sent his Spirit that we might have the subjective
“experience” of that sonship—that we might know of and
then live in accordance with who we truly are in Christ—God’s
It is “because you are sons” that God has sent the Spirit of
his Son into our hearts, says Paul, and no other qualification is needed.
Therefore, there is no need to recite some formula, to strive after some
experience, or to fulfill some extra condition (such as obedience to the
rituals of the Law of Moses). Paul says clearly, that “because”
we are God’s children, God has sent his Spirit into our hearts. And
the way he assures us of our sonship is not by some spectacular gift, sign
or experience, but by the quiet inward witness of the Holy Spirit who leads
us to pray, “Abba! Father!”
So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since
you are his child, God has made you also an heir. (Gal.
Don’t be fooled!
This radical change in status is not the result of our own merit nor our
own effort—it is not the result of adherence to the Law of
Moses—it is because of what God has done, through his initiative, who
first sent his Son to die for us and then sent his Spirit to live in
Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to
those who by nature are not gods. But now that you know God—or rather are
known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and
miserable forces? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? (Gal.
Paul points out the folly of turning back to the Law of Moses. He
contrasts the Galatians’ former ignorance and enslavement within paganism
with their present state as adult children of God, describing them as
people who have come to know God—or, more accurately, are known by
him. The latter phrase eliminates any presumptuousness and recognizes
God’s initiative in our redemption.
Turn to God and away from self
The advent of Christ, which we have just recently celebrated at
Christmas, is the great turning point in redemption history. It is a point
in which we are called to turn away from ourselves—from what we are,
from what we are able to do—and turn to God, to who and what God is,
and to what God in his love has done for us in Christ.
You are observing special days and months and seasons and
years! (Gal. 4:10)
Paul makes it clear that the law he is referring to is none other than
the Law of Moses, which has at its core the observance of “special
days and months and seasons and years.” This terminology, which is
taken from the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the
Septuagint) is a reference to the weekly, monthly and annual
worship rituals specified for Israel under the Law of Moses. Paul’s point
is that these gentile Christians in Galatia were leaving behind the free
and joyful communion of children with their heavenly Father and
substituting the outmoded religion of the old covenant—doing so was
nothing more than religious formalism and legalism that was functionally
equivalent to pagan superstition and thus a form of slavery.
I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on
you. (Gal. 4:11)
Paul fears that all the time and trouble he has spent over them has been
wasted. Instead of growing in the liberty with which Christ, through the
Spirit, has set them free, they have slipped back into legalism, which is a
form of bondage.
I plead with you, brothers and sisters, become like me, for
I became like you. (Gal. 4:12a)
Paul appeals to these Galatian Christians with deep feeling and
tenderness, noting that when he first visited them in the Province of
Galatia, he did not stand aloof or separate from them, but identified
himself with them. Although he was a Jew, he lived like the Gentiles that
they were. How odd, then, that they were now seeking to live like Jews!
As believers, we are not slaves, nor are we underage children—we
are adult children of God living under the new covenant, not the old
covenant (which includes the Law of Moses). And so we must not be tempted
to return to the Law. Doing so is a distraction at best, and at worst a
form of bondage. Instead, let’s understand and fully embrace the
freedom that we have as mature children of God—freedom to live by the
Spirit of God, in union with the Son of God, under the grace of
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