Sermon for Dec. 23, 2018 (Advent 4)

Note: This sermon is for the last Sunday of the season of Advent, which spans the four Sundays that precede Christmas day. To read a Surprising God post explaining the meaning of Advent click here. For four GCI-produced videos for Advent, click here.
Scripture readings for today:
Micah 5:2-5 • Ps. 80:1-7 • Heb. 10:5-10 • Luke 1:39-55)

Doing God’s Will

(Hebrews 10:5-10)

Introduction

Note to preacher: You may want to share a personal anecdote that answers one of the introductory questions.

Have you ever struggled trying to determine God’s will for you life? Have you ever feared that your decisions would lead you out of God’s will? Have you ever struggled trying to figure out how to determine God’s will? Have you ever felt guilty about the decisions that seemed to take you outside God’s will? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you are not alone. It is not uncommon for such feelings of fear and anxiety to arise among those who seek to discover and then do God’s will for them. But we need not be anxious; we need not fear. Let us be instructed by Jesus’ words and example.

Jesus’ example

Jesus, who always obediently followed God’s will, was rarely anxious or fearful in doing so. Even when following the will of God meant stepping into trying circumstances, Jesus obeyed. The author of Hebrews put it this way:

When Christ came into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll— I have come to do your will, my God.’”

First he said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them”—though they were offered in accordance with the law. Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (Hebrews 10:5-10)

Here the author of Hebrews takes poetic license in having Jesus speak to us about God’s will. Quoting Psalm 40:6-8, he puts David’s words in Jesus’ mouth, letting us know that the incarnate Son of God has come to do the Father’s will.

Jesus is the Father’s will

Through the birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, who took on flesh (incarnation), we see the Father’s will of bringing all his children back to a right relationship with him—a goal accomplished once for all in and through Jesus. Jesus is the superior sacrifice that sanctifies us. It is through Jesus’ sacrifice that God’s will for us is finally accomplished. We have been made holy (sanctified) in Jesus. When Jesus came to do the Father’s will, he becomes God’s will for us.

That being the case, when we wonder what God’s will is for our lives, we need look no further than Jesus. He is God’s perfect will for us all. God is not looking for us to perform some perfect physical sacrifice that will earn us a spiritual standing with him. Nor is God looking for some spiritual sacrifice that has nothing to do with our physical existence. Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, is the spiritual sacrifice offered in a physical body. It’s in Jesus that God’s will of being in holy communion with his people has been fully realized—once and for all time.

Coming to know Jesus

Understanding this reality changes how we approach knowing and doing God’s will. As we come to know Jesus by walking with him, step-by-step, day-in-and-day-out, we come to know God’s will. We live into a deeper relationship with the Father, through the Son, by the Spirit.

Coming to know Jesus is coming to know God’s will. Out of this knowing flows our doing. To do God’s will is to participate in what Jesus is doing.
Our journey with Jesus is not one in which we are trying to figure out our every next move under a cloud of fear. We rest in knowing him and in following him. Jesus leads us to know him, and his Father through him, and that is doing God’s will.

Another way to speak of doing God’s will is to speak of embracing and so receiving what God is doing, rather than offering our works as a sacrifice to appease him. God’s will is a work in Jesus that is to be received, not a work from us to be achieved. The apostle Paul put it this way:

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess. 5:16-18).

Notice that, in this case, doing God’s will is not about discerning and then moving into a particular circumstance. Rather it’s about being thankful in whatever circumstance we find ourselves, and then receiving God’s work within that circumstance. God is not sitting back waiting for us to find our way forward. He has sent his Son to bring us forward into our future home in relationship with his Father.

An analogy

Maybe an analogy will be helpful here: Have you ever had to navigate your way while driving in a storm? It’s hard enough seeing the road in front of you and the cars around you, let alone the road signs that need to be read to keep from getting lost. Maybe you were driving and trying to read a map at the same time. While doing so, you feared crashing into an unexpected obstacle in the road. Even with modern-day GPS devices, this would be an anxiety-causing experience: What if we make a wrong turn? Will we ever find our way back? How long will we have to hear the rather obnoxious voice  of our GPS saying, “Recalculating! Recalculating!” Does this sound like your experience in trying to find God’s will for your life? If so, there’s little room for rejoicing and thanksgiving.

Now imagine you are in the same car, in the same storm, but you are not driving. Jesus is. Your job is to ride in the passenger seat, trust the driver, enjoying the ride, despite the story. He knows the route and knows a thing or two about storms. Even when you don’t see the road ahead clearly, you can relax because you trust the driver—so you keep your eyes on him, enjoying your conversation with him; resting in him, knowing you are right where you are meant to be.

Though not perfect, this analogy illustrates the difference between trying to find God’s will for your life and receiving Jesus as God’s will for your life. Hopefully it helps us understand what God has done for us and what he is up to in sending his Son Jesus as the gift of knowing and being in relationship with him and his Father.

Why did God give Israel the sacrificial system?

The author of Hebrews goes on to tell us that it was never God’s intent that we should figure out our way home to him:

“Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them”—though they were offered in accordance with the law. (Heb. 10:8)

“High Priest Offering Incense”
(public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Does it seem like a contradiction for God to give the Law of Moses with its sacrifices to Israel, then say that he does not desire sacrifice and offerings? But there is no contradiction—what we are learning is that these sacrifices were not God’s ultimate purpose—not his final goal. They were given as a temporary form of worship until the reality in Jesus Christ was revealed. God took this approach as an act of love, in order to bring his people Israel to a fuller understanding of who he is.

God is an accommodating God. He entered the pagan culture of Israel’s time and joined himself to them where they were. Though God did not want a relationship with them built on rules and regulations, he used the sacrificial system to help Israel feel comfortable journeying with him until Jesus would come. Thus, even the sacrificial system was God’s grace to Israel. The people of Israel did not need to approach the altar of sacrifice fearing that their sacrifices were not good enough. God, who provided the sacrifice, told them exactly what to bring and when.

The sacrificial system God gave Israel was very detailed. The people were not left guessing what God required of them. Thus, the Israelites could relax and come to know this God as the gracious God that he is. They did not have to anxiously wonder if they were outside God’s will. As they then followed God’s directives, they were gently led in the direction of where the sacrificial system was designed to take them—toward Jesus. However, as we know, they did not follow, though this disobedience was also part of God’s plan to take them to Jesus where they find forgiveness and reconciliation.

Conclusion

As we near the end of Advent Season, may we let go of any anxiousness or fearfulness concerning God’s will for us. Yes, we should strive to both understand and do God’s will, but we do so in faith, with hope and love, knowing that Jesus, who is God’s will, is in the driver’s seat and has us, by the Spirit, in his loving, superintending care. We can let go of the steering wheel—it’s in good hands—the hands of God’s perfect, complete and final sacrifice given on our behalf. As we journey with him, we come to know the Father’s will—his grace and peace to us in the person of his incarnate Son.


Small Group Discussion Questions

  • This week’s sermon addressed the frustration of trying to figure out and do the will of God. What is a time when you’ve been frustrated?
  • If God does not desire or take pleasure in sacrifices and offerings, what is it that he does desire and take pleasure in?
  • What so-called “sacrifices” in our day might we confuse with God’s will for our lives?
  • If Jesus is God’s will for us, what does it mean for us to do God’s will?

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