Advent is a term originally derived from the Latin word adventus, meaning "coming" or "arrival". During Advent, the Christian church remembers Jesus' first coming and joyfully anticipates His second. From His lowly birth in a feed trough to His humble life among the people of Israel, Advent is a focused time to remember God's humility and faithfulness and to “fan the flame” of expectation for Jesus’ return to gloriously rule the earth from Jerusalem and to be worshipped as LORD by every living creature.
This year, Advent runs from Sunday, December 1st through Tuesday, December 24th.
I've put together a brief guide that provides a schedule of Scripture readings from the Gospels and from the Old Testament as well as several recommended short videos from my Opening Up the Gospels series. I hope it helps you to keep Jesus as your supreme treasure this holiday season.
When something is known to possess worth or value, we seek to honor it, show it, tell others about it, and treasure it for ourselves. Just take one of Apple's latest inventions as an example. Corporate executives, wedding DJ's, high school football players, and stay-at-home moms want to own it and show it off to others. Technology geeks want to do more than just own it - they'll talk about it, write about it, hack it, and buy all sorts of accessories for it. Thieves will break into stores or snatch purses to steal it. Without question, that small metal box of silicon transistors, glass, and dangerous chemicals known as the iPhone is esteemed by many in the modern world as something having a great deal of worth and value. This is externally evident by the lengths many will go to in order to have one.
Almost 2000 years ago, something of tremendous worth and value had captured the attention of a former Jewish Pharisee we call Paul the Apostle. In his letter to the Ephesians, he said:
“To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ,”
(Ephesians 3:8 ESV)
The horrors of sin in this present evil age have ensured that we've all been wronged, taken advantage of, used, or manipulated by someone else in our lives. The fleshly mind responds vehemently to accusation, seeks retaliation on those who have wronged us, and ensures as many people as possible know that we've been wronged.
But Paul said: "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you." (Ephesians 4:32)
Paul says that being forgiven by God should shape the way that we deal with others who have wronged us. If Jesus, the One who never did anything wrong, endured the cross and grants forgiveness of sins and eternal life those who put their faith in Him, we too should forgive, not hold grudges, and not be bitter.
This is such a simple point, but I shudder at how much my own heart forgets it and seeks to harbor bitterness instead of forgiveness.
Acts 17:1-4 records a portion of Paul the Apostle's second missionary journey where he traveled to Thessalonica, a large Roman city in ancient Macedonia. While there, Paul preached in the synagogue and laid the foundations of the Thessalonian church. Though he was forced to leave after only three weeks because of violence from envious Jews, his words had persuaded many to put their faith in Jesus.
Paul visits the church again later (Acts 20:1-3) and subsequently writes them two letters of encouragement. In both of the letters, he opens by saying he and his companions continually thank God for them. The gratitude they had about the Thessalonian church was not generic, but rather very specific:
"We give thanks to God...remembering...your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Thessalonians 1:2-3)
"We ought always to give thanks to God for you ... because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing." (2 Thessalonians 1:3-4)
I'm so excited for the launch of my weekly video series, Opening Up the Gospels. In 7-10 minute episodes every Tuesday, I will be chronologically walking through the events of the life of Jesus as Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John narrate it. I'm not sure how many episodes I'll have before it's all over, but if the Lord wills, I'll make it all the way to Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, and John 21!
The LORD, the Creator of all, clothes Himself with unapproachable light as a garment (Psalms 104:2, 1 Timothy 6:16), yet there was a time in history where He humbly clothed Himself with human skin and tabernacled among us. In the 89 chapters of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, we are privileged to behold the life of our Maker, the Man we call Jesus of Nazareth.
Seeing Jesus as the LORD changes the way we read the first four books of the New Testament that we call the Gospels. This single truth is what makes the Gospels exceedingly important to our growth in the knowledge of God. All four of them open up with the story of Jesus' relative, John the Baptist. According to Matthew 3:3, Mark 1:3, Luke 3:4, and John 1:23, John's ministry is set within the context of Isaiah 40:3-10, where the prophet speaks about a voice that proclaims "the gospel" and cries out to "prepare the way of the LORD" and to "make straight in the desert a highway for our God". John the Baptist identifies himself as that voice, and the very next person on the scene is none other than Jesus of Nazareth. This is the way that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John open and all say with piercing clarity: “Don't forget - Yahweh is who you're actually seeing as you look at Jesus”.
Evangelical Christians are united in the belief that salvation is essential. However, various streams in the church have deviated in articulating what we have been saved from and when that salvation would be evident. Some say we are saved from sin, others say we are saved from sickness, poverty, and lack, and still others say we are saved from hell and unending torment. Yet as Jesus, John the Baptist, Paul, and the rest of the New Testament writers present straightforwardly, salvation is about being saved from the future wrath of the day of the LORD (Matthew 3:7; Luke 21:23; Romans 10:9, cf. Joel 2:32; 2 Thessalonians 1:9-10, cf. Isaiah 2:12,19; 2 Peter 3:10; Romans 2:5-10; 1 Thessalonians 5:2).
The day of the LORD was not just a concept fabricated by the New Testament writers but was spoken about by virtually all of the Old Testament prophets. Since that dreadful day in Eden's garden, the LORD promised to restore all that humanity's fall had torn asunder. Though His patience would afford men time to repent (2 Peter 3:9) before the day He had fixed to renew all things by Jesus (Acts 17:31), humanity would scorn His mercy and the atonement provided in His own Son, "storing up wrath for [themselves] on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.” (Romans 2:5)
Pentecost Sunday marks the day when Jesus poured out the Holy Spirit on some of His followers after His ascension back into the heavens. The church celebrates Pentecost 10 days after the ascension and 50 days after Easter. Some call this day "the birthday of the church" because over 3,000 souls in Jerusalem put their faith in Jesus (Acts 2:41).
The two major events of Pentecost as recorded by Luke in Acts 2 are:
The pouring out of the Holy Spirit on 120 Jews in the upper room
Peter's sermon to the inhabitants of Jerusalem
If we are to rightly understand the significance of Pentecost, we must do more than acknowledge the giving of the Holy Spirit - we must understand why He was poured out. This is what Peter explains in his sermon. The sign of tongues was meant to do much more than spice up their prayer meeting - it was to confirm the truth about Jesus. Therefore Pentecost has everything to do with who Jesus is.
Today, Christians in the Western tradition celebrate "Ascension Day", commemorating the day of Jesus' ascension into the heavens to retake His place on His throne of glory. The church calendar marks 40 days following the day of His resurrection, according to Acts 1:3:
“He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.” (Acts 1:3 ESV)
The magnitude of the ascension is overwhelming. This was not just Jesus' "disappearing act". The place where He ascended to was not unfamiliar to Him, because that's where He had come from (John 8:14; John 16:28). He went to a physical, tangible locale in the heavens with an authentic human body that has real bones, real hands and feet, and a real face with a beard, eyes, and nose. Where He went to and what He is doing there is what is enormously significant to understand as we celebrate His ascension today.
In all of the social media/blogging buzz on the grace of God, it is troubling to me that the second coming of Jesus has been largely absent from the discussion. According to Paul, anticipating Jesus' return was the goal of grace. Jesus' return will bring an end to all unrighteousness, therefore true grace motivates sober, self-controlled living before that day. And because His return is the culmination of all of our hope, grace also teaches us to eagerly anticipate that day:
“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”
(Titus 2:11-14 ESV)
To be presently forgiven and loved by God is joy indeed, but the true fruit of our salvation is an ever-increasing preoccupation with the glory of Jesus and a longing to dwell with Him on the earth again. Our friendship with Jesus begins with the glorious introduction of the cross and His "finished work" but grows through relational knowledge. To preach a gospel that subtly marginalizes or neglects Jesus' current absence and future return is no gospel at all because the gospel at its core is relational and has its culmination on a future day.
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