[Note: I’ve broken my sermon from last Sunday into two parts for navigating convenience. This is the first part: What Should We Expect to Find in the Bible?, and I’ve linked to the second post which was the second half of the sermon: The Gospel According to Gifts.]
This Fourth Sunday in Advent we continue our series Looking for Jesus: Learning to Read the Bible and the World Through New Eyes. This week we consider the question: What should we expect to find in the Bible? And our theme for our case study this week is Gifts.
How does this fit with Advent?
There’s usually a lot of talk around this time of year about finding the true meaning of Christmas. From Charlie Brown to the evening news, this phrase gets batted around and frequently buried beneath a pile of vague, sappy feelings. But you can tell a lot about what’s really going on in the face of tragedy. And we’ve had an up close example in the recent shooting in Connecticut. Some reported that following the shooting people were taking decorations down, others understandably felt the tension of try to celebrate in the face of such heartache. Still others have sought to weave their suffering into the celebration. One report said 20 trees were decorated in one place remembering the 20 children who lost their lives.
In the face of loneliness, in the face of pain, in the face of uncertainty, in the face of failure, in the face of regret, the shallow meaning of Christmas – some kind of warm fuzzy sentiment of goodwill and brotherhood strikes hollow. And if that’s all it is, then by all means, we should take the decorations down.
Hebrews says that all things have been put under the feet of Jesus. He has been made Lord of all things, but right now we do not yet see all things under His feet. There is still cancer. There is still sin. There is still failure. There is still shame. There is still violence and abuse and murder. We know that all things have been put in subjection under His feet. But we do not yet see them under His feet. But Hebrews says: But we see Jesus.
Advent is an annual reminder that we still await the Kingdom of God to come in its fullness. It’s an annual reminder that what was begun at Christmas is still being accomplished in this world. Advent reminds us that though our King has been born, and all things belong to Him. We do not yet see all things in obedience to Him. “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man” (Heb. 2:9).
So we are Looking for Jesus, praying that God would show Jesus to us in His Word and in our circumstances, so that we might not lose hope, so that we have reason to keep decorating our trees, a reason for celebrating Christmas in the face of horror and tragedy. The hard things accuse us of being shallow and glib in our celebrations. But we see Jesus, and there is nothing shallow or glib about His death for us. We need to see Jesus so that we can rejoice in the hope of glory.
What should we expect to find in the Bible?
We should expect to find the grace of Jesus in the Bible. Theologians usually define grace as the unmerited favor or kindness of God. And because of sin, we can speak of it as the “demerited” kindness of God. That is, though we have rejected God’s kindness, despised His goodness, and become God’s enemies, God has nevertheless pursued us in His love and finally in Jesus conquered our sin and death and made us His friends. The whole Bible is about the grace of God, the grace of God that overcomes every obstacle.
1. The grace of Jesus is seen in information about the world in the Bible. God cares for us and tells us about the world we live in and what has happened before we got here. Examples include: God created the world; it didn’t accidentally make itself (Gen. 1:1, Jn. 1:3, Col. 1:16). All men descended from one man (Gen. 4:1, Acts 17:26). Man (male and female) was created in the image of God and sinless, but Adam chose death, and in Him we have all sinned and that sin nature/curse has transferred to all men (except for one) (Gen. 3, Rom. 3:9-23, 5:12-19, Heb. 4:15). There is one God who created all things and has made Himself known (Gen. 1:1, Ps. 19:1-6, Rom. 1:19-20). There was an enormous worldwide flood that likely had significant impact on the geology and climate of the earth (Gen. 6-8, 2 Pet. 2:5). God created and sustains the natural world with predictable seasons and rhythms and laws, but He has and may occasionally intervene and interrupt those same rhythms (e.g. Gen. 1, Ex. 5-14, Josh. 10:12-14, Lk. 7:1-15, Js. 5:17-18). The world is roughly 6,000 years old (Gen. 5, 10, 1 Chron. 1-9, Mt. 1, Lk. 3:23-38). It’s the kindness of God to explain these things to us, to answer some of our questions, to give some of the big picture story to us. It’s grace in the fact of these things, and it’s grace in the knowledge of these facts.
2. The grace of Jesus is found in the Bible in announcing the forgiveness, mercy, healing, and love of God. Over and over, we see God in His infinite love and grace unalterably set on forgiving, reconciling, and restoring a messed up and rebellious human race. In judgment, God clothed Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:21). In Cain’s rebellion and bloodshed, God guarded his life (Gen. 4:15). When Israel complained and rebelled, God sent them daily bread and meat every evening (Ex. 16, Num. 11). When Israel fell into idolatry and slavery in the land, God repeatedly heard their cries and sent them deliverers (Judges). Even in judgment, there was always mercy, always a remnant, always the promise of salvation. “To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified.” (Is. 61:3) “But commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us… for if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life” (Rom. 5:8, 10). “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed. For ye were sheep going astray; but are not returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls” (1 Pet. 2:24-25). From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible announces both that we have alienated ourselves from the God through sin, and that God is always determined to deal with our sin, make us right, and welcome us back home.
3. The grace of Jesus is found in the Bible’s presentation of our hope for the future, for good things, for victory, for glory, for salvation. Reading the Bible should make you profoundly hopeful. “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: by whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in the hope of the glory of God” (Rom. 5:1-2). This why even in Advent, even in exile, we sing out: “Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!” We sing “Joy to the World!” because we also sing, “No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground. He comes to make His blessings flow, far as the curse is found.” Theologians might call this view of the future postmillennialism. But we could just as easily call it Biblical hope. If the prophecies are true that God sent Jesus anointed with the Holy Spirit to preach good tidings to the meek, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, the opening of the prison to them that are bound, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, to comfort all that mourn: if that is in fact what God has sent to us in Jesus, then how can we not rejoice in the hope of the glory of God? “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels” (Is. 61:10). By the death and resurrection of Jesus and the gift of His Holy Spirit, we have been married to God, and He has told us His plan: “He must reign until he hath put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death” (1 Cor. 15:25-26). We do not yet see all things under His feet, but we see Jesus who tasted death for us and has now been crowned with all glory and honor. When we read the Bible, we should see God’s profound love and wisdom in telling the story of history, the story of our salvation, and it should make us unshakably hopeful, knowing that the destination is glory, victory, salvation.
These are all gifts of God, and the Bible tells the whole story of our salvation through gifts: The Gospel According to Gifts.