The Gospel of Jesus Christ

Dr. Craddock

One of the highlights of attending seminary in Atlanta was sitting under the teaching of Dr. Fred Craddock. Dr. Craddock was a gifted and world-renowned preacher and preaching instructor. It was a privilege and blessing to take a preaching class taught by him.

One of the things Dr. Craddock taught us, something that’s always stayed with me, came from a story he told us. He shared with our class a snippet of a conversation he had with one of his former students who had graduated and was serving a little rural church.

The former student told Dr. Craddock he was going to wake that little country church up. He was going to bring them into the present. He was going to be new and fresh. As an example of this, he wasn’t going to preach the same old tired stuff during Christmas, stuff they all knew. He was going to hit them with something new.

Dr. Craddock lovingly, and I’m sure, convincingly, shared with this eager new preacher that what those people needed, what we all need, especially during the seasons of Advent and Lent, is the old, old story of what God has done in Christ.

The Old, Old Story

It’s not that a preacher shouldn’t seek to know the needs of the congregation and connect with them in their context. The preacher should not seek to be irrelevant. However, the truth is, a clear and honest telling of the old, old story is the most relevant subject there is. Many hymns remind us the “old, old story” is the Good News, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Here’s how the hymn, “Victory in Jesus,” communicates the old, old story,

I heard an old, old story,
how a Savior came from glory,
how he gave his life on Calvary
to save a wretch like me;

I heard about his groaning,
of his precious blood’s atoning,
then I repented of my sins
and won the victory.

O victory in Jesus, my Savior forever!
he sought me and bought me with his redeeming blood;
he loved me ere I knew him, and all my love is due him;
he plunged me to victory beneath the cleansing flood.

That’s the old, old story.

When we think about the Gospel of Jesus Christ – the Good News of what God has done in and through the life, death, and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ, we usually go back 2,000 years. But the story is older than that. In one sense, it goes all the way back into eternity, into the mind of God who’s always existed.

Look for Jesus

We won’t go back quite that far in this chapter, but I do want to show the Good News fulfilled in Jesus was predicted and anticipated in the Old Testament. God didn’t “make it up” on the fly.

When I used to teach Disciple Bible Study, a very detailed and comprehensive study of both the Old and New Testaments, people would often tell me how bogged down they were getting in the Old Testament. They would even tell me they thought it was boring and irrelevant.

In response to this, one of the things I used to encourage them to do to stick with it, was to start looking for Jesus in the pages of the Old Testament. Because he’s there! In fact, he’s all over the place in the Old Testament.

The Testimony of the Apostles

Below are a few Scriptures from the New Testament that help make the case.

Romans 1:1-4 – Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God– [2] the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures [3] regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, [4] and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.

1 Corinthians 15:1-3 – Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. [2] By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

[3] For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, [4] that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,…

Galatians 3:6-9 – Consider Abraham: “He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” [7] Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. [8] The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” [9] So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

Acts 13:26-39 – “Brothers, children of Abraham, and you God-fearing Gentiles, it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent. [27] The people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize Jesus, yet in condemning him they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath. [28] Though they found no proper ground for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have him executed. [29] When they had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. [30] But God raised him from the dead, [31] and for many days he was seen by those who had traveled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They are now his witnesses to our people.

[32] “We tell you the good news: What God promised our fathers [33] he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus… (Emphases added)

Peter and Stephen, in the book of Acts, declare the same truths: all that was accomplished in and through the Person and Work of the Lord Jesus Christ was anticipated and prophesied in the Old Testament.

The Testimony of Jesus

Maybe at this point you are saying, “Well, that sounds good, but that’s just Paul and Peter and Stephen. They’re just men. First, let me remind you Paul’s writings and Peter’s preaching in Acts are just as inspired of God as anything written in the Gospels. However, just for emphasis, let me quote a little of what our Lord himself said, or what was said about him, in the Gospels.

Luke 18:31 – Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled.

Luke 24:27 – And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

Luke 24:44 – He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”

John 1:45 – Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote–Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

John 5:45-46 – “But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set. [46] If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me.

 John 8:56 – Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” (Emphases added)

The “Scriptures” Jesus, Paul, Peter, John, Philip, Nathanael, and Stephen spoke of were, of course, the Old Testament. That’s what I mean when I say we ought to look for Jesus and his Gospel in the Old Testament. It’s far from silent on the subject. That’s why we read so much from the Old Testament during the Advent and Lenten seasons. It points to our Lord. Thanks be to God.

What is the Gospel?

Thus far we’ve seen the old, old story is much older than we usually think. But what is the old story about? What isthe Gospel, the Good News, of Jesus Christ?

The shortest and easiest answer is given to us by the Apostle Paul in Romans 1:16,

I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the power of God for salvation. It’s God’s answer, his response, to our sin and sinfulness, fallenness, brokenness, rebellion, foolishness, hurts and pain, suffering, and lostness.

God isn’t an aloof deity who sits in heaven, detached from his creation. Even though he created us in his image and declared his creation was good, very good in fact, we, along with our first parents Adam and Eve, have gone our own way. We’ve rebelled against God. We’ve declared ourselves in charge and have resisted him.

And even though God in his perfect holiness and righteousness would have been justified in pouring out his wrath upon us, in his grace he poured out his love instead.

As the Scriptures we’ve already seen tell us, God sent his deeply beloved, one and only Son to live, die, and be raised from the dead for us. Here’s how Paul makes this point.

Romans 3:21-26 – But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. [22] This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, [23] for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, [24] and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. [25] God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished– [26] he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. (Emphasis added)

Our sinfulness, rebellion, foolishness, and willfulness, were paid for (atoned for) on the Cross by the Lord Jesus Christ. The Scripture says Jesus, who knew no sin, became sin for us. He received the punishment we deserved.

Your Choice

Because of that great expression of love, we can know God. We can enter into a personal, deep, and abiding relationship with God. We can actually start becoming more and more like Christ in our daily lives. We can be made holy and whole. We can receive both abundant and everlasting life.

But it’s not automatic.

This is where we must choose to enter into the old, old story. We must respond. We must not listen to the story of God’s good news and simply smile and say, “Well, that’s a nice story.” There’s no place for indifference to this story. We must believe the story.

We must place our faith, our trust, in Christ – in who he is, the very Son of God – Son, Savior, and Lord. We must trust in his Work on our behalf – his death upon the Cross for our sin and his resurrection from the dead for our salvation.

We must repent, which means to turn away from our sinfulness, selfishness, and rebellion, and turn instead toward God, in love for him and faithfulness to him. Turning away from sin and toward God doesn’t earn us our salvation. Our salvation is a free gift from God, just as Jesus is a gift to us. But it is a gift we must open, so to speak. We must respond to it. We must receive it in trusting faith.

When we do, not only are we declared righteous before a holy God, but our lives will begin to bear fruit. We’ll show we really love and trust God and his Son Jesus Christ by seeking to live for him, desiring him, obeying him, and by loving our neighbors.

Faith and repentance are not two separate things. They are two aspects of the same thing. They are, if you will, two sides of the same coin.

That’s why Jesus says in Mark 1:15, “Repent and believe the good news!” This is the Gospel of Jesus Christ and there is no other.

Enter the Story Yourself

The United Methodist liturgy for Holy Communion describes all this in a beautiful way. It invites us to enter into the story – to become a part of it.

In the United Methodist Church we believe that, through his Holy Spirit, we meet the main character of the old, old story, the Lord Jesus Christ. As we gather with our brothers and sisters in Christ and bow before him, Christ gathers with us in our midst. He is with us in and through his Spirit as we receive his body and blood he so lovingly and freely gave on our behalf.

However, you must enter into this story by faith. United Methodists believe this sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. In other words, we don’t receive this grace simply by going through the motions. Instead, it’s with joyful, thankful, love-filled hearts, we receive the bread and cup in faith, trust, and repentance. Our liturgy, based in Scripture, reminds us,

Christ our Lord invites to his table all who love him,
     who earnestly repent of their sin 
    
and seek to live in peace with one another.

A few pages further in the hymnal, another order of Communion says this,

Ye that do truly and earnestly repent of your sins
     and are in love and charity with your neighbors
     and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, 
     and walking henceforth in his holy ways:
Draw near with faith, and take this Holy Sacrament to your comfort, 
     and make your humble confession to almighty God.

If you’ve never genuinely and consciously repented of your sin and placed your trust in Christ as your Savior and Lord, today is the day of salvation. 

Walking Points

  • Did you know the Gospel was anticipated in the Old Testament, or did you think it was something entirely new in the New Testament? Go back over the Scriptures listed in this chapter and meditate upon them, giving thanks to God for his wonderful plan of redemption.
  • Have you ever asked God for forgiveness, repented of your sins, and trusted in Christ alone for your salvation? If not, do so right now. Don’t let another minute pass without reaching out in trust to the God who has already reached out to you in love.
  • If you already have trusted in Christ and repented of your sins, prayerfully consider one or two friends with whom you can share this good news. Write down their names on an index card and begin to pray for them daily. Pray also that the Lord will provide you with an opportunity to share his old, old story with them.

Feel free to share this devotional with your friends and family. You can find more resources at my website, Every Sphere.

Jesus

Read Matthew 1:18-25 and Luke 1:26-33

The name “Jesus” is the Greek form of “Joshua” and was a common Jewish name. It literally means, “the Lord is salvation,” or, “God saves.”

  1. What do the verses above say about why God commanded Mary and Joseph to name their baby, “Jesus?”
  • In what ways did Jesus fulfill the meaning of his name?
  • What do the following verses say about “the name” of Jesus?
  • Acts 4:12
  • Acts 10:42-43
  • Luke 24:46-47
  • John 20:31
  • There is a hymn that declares, “Jesus, there’s just something about that name.” From reading the New Testament, we know the Apostles not only preached and taught in the name of Jesus, but also were able to cast out demons and heal people “in the name of Jesus.” What does the name, “Jesus” mean to you? Why?
  • Christian author, Josh MacDowell once suggested that people could go to a cocktail party and discuss great thinkers of the past and religious figures such as the Buddha or Confucius without an eyebrow being raised, but as soon as the name of Jesus was mentioned, the party would come to a screeching halt. Do you agree with that? Why or why not? (If so, why do you think that would happen?)
  • We know it is not merely the name of Jesus, but the person connected with it who has the power to forgive sin, heal the sick, and drive out demons. What does the Bible say about how a person can know Jesus and gain access to the power associated through his name?
  • Does it encourage you to know that God did not remain aloof from his creation, but entered our world – into our very lives – through the person of his Son, Jesus? Why or why not? Describe the difference it has made in your life to be able to call upon the name of Jesus.
  • Take some time throughout this week to reflect upon “the name of Jesus” and give thanks to him for how he has worked (and continues to work) in your life.
  • Is your Jesus your temporal and eternal hope?

Kingdom Reformation

Matthew 6:10 – Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

God, Grant Us Reformation

In his book, Hot Tub Religion, J.I. Packer makes this observation,

“…we look at the church of our day and say, ‘We need another reformation.’ But do we know what we are saying? …We are in danger of settling for too narrow a perspective of what reformation is – too narrow a notion of what it was in the past and too narrow a notion of what it will be in the future if God visits us once more.”

Packer asks a good question. Do we indeed know what we are saying when we cry out for reformation? I was awakened to how little I comprehended the word when I began to study what reformation, biblically understood, truly means. I have discovered that this simple word is filled with great meaning. Contained within the word reformation are the ideas of revival, renewal, awakening, restoration, and even overhaul.

As I have considered these words, I have come to realize that the coming of the Kingdom of God was and is a reformation. As our Lord Jesus ushered in the Kingdom of God, he brought forth revival and renewal to people’s hearts, minds, and spirits. He awakened them to their great need for the living God. He brought forth restoration where only brokenness existed before. He turned existing ideas about God and humanity upside-down as he revealed God and his good news. He exchanged the temporal perspectives of man for God’s eternal perspective for every sphere of life. Because of this, I have come to see the need for reformation, biblical reformation, in three essential areas of life.

Reformation and the Individual

God uses individuals to touch and transform the church and the world. A.W. Tozer writes,

“It is mere common place to sing or pray, ‘Lord, send a revival, and let it begin with me.’ Where else can a spiritual quickening take place but in the individual life? There is no abstract ‘church’ which can be revivified apart from the men and women who compose it.”

Tozer points out that which should be obvious; that the church and world will not be reformed until faithful men and women begin chasing after God and his ways. Individuals do not have to wait for the church before they can be renewed to newness of life and the things of God. Our own faith must be real and personal before it can be social and corporate. Tozer adds,

“Every prophet, every reformer, every revivalist had to meet God alone before he could help the multitudes. The great leaders who went on to turn thousands to Christ had to begin with God and their own soul. The plain Christian of today must experience personal revival before he can hope to bring renewed spiritual life to his church.”

It is true, or course, Christianity is about community and relationships. No Christian is called to live alone on an island. However, this community is a community of men and women who have been personally and individually touched by the Holy Spirit and brought forth from death to life.

Reformation and the Church

One aspect that unites great leaders from Christian history, such as the Apostle Paul, Martin Luther, and John Wesley, was their prophetic word to the church in their day. Sadly, they were sometimes viewed as John the Baptist – as lone voices crying in the wilderness. However, the Holy Spirit moved through these faithful men to bring about reformation in the church in their day. God is still using people the same way in our day. In my own denomination, the United Methodist Church, I see faithful men and women standing up for the true and living God and his Word.  I also see God renewing lives in his church through a variety of renewal groups.  And I know it is through the prayer of these men and women that God will bring a mighty reformation to our denomination. This is true for churches in every denomination or no denomination at all. However, we need to be guided by a proper understanding of reformation, so we might know what direction to take, and therefore, what path not to take.

The puritan pastor and writer, Richard Baxter, has helped provide clarity concerning the notion of reformation. In his book, The Reformed Pastor, Baxter showed that the idea of reformation, biblically understood, combines the heart and mind. In other words, we are not experiencing true reformation in the church when only one aspect is emphasized. Baxter points out that there must be inward spiritual renewal as well as outward correction of doctrine in Christ’s church. It does the church little good if she is only emphasizing correct doctrinal adherence and ignoring inward spiritual vitality. So too, a church that cares little for doctrinal faithfulness and only concerns herself with “religious feelings” cannot rightly be called faithful either. Instead, genuine reformation will reflect these two sides of the same coin. J.I. Packer comments,

“The Bible records many striking movements that textbooks usually call reformations. In every case this same two sidedness applies. These movements had an outward aspect; immorality and idolatry were put away. But they also had an inward side; men and women were stirred to seek God and renew their covenant with him.”

This is true reformation experienced in the Bible and in Church history. These two works, the inward and outward works of God, are really one work seen from two points of view. We cannot have one without the other. Prophetic voices must call Christ’s Church back to both emphases if we are going to experience real reformation. Martyn Lloyd-Jones declared that we have no reason to expect God to usher in reformation and revival if we are not being faithful to God in our present situation.

Reformation and the World

The Lord Jesus Christ came to a dark and lost world with the good and transforming news of the Kingdom of God. Individual believers, and the church, are called out of the world to bear witness to the Light of the world. We are called Christ’s ambassadors as we proclaim God’s message of reconciliation. Along with that beautiful, life-transforming message, God calls us to love our neighbors by serving them and standing up for them. We are called to be who we are in Christ – salt and light to a dark and decaying world. We live in the world though we are not of it.

Our faithfulness in our little part of the world will help bring about the reformation God desires. The Kingdom Jesus ushered in and proclaimed was not about slight adjustments here and there. It was about a complete overhaul – in our thinking, speaking, attitudes, values, priorities, beliefs, and behaviors. As God’s will is done in our lives as it is in heaven, God’s Kingdom-influence will be extended to the various spheres of our lives.

So, let us pray that God will bring biblical reformation into our lives for his greater glory and the blessing of our families, churches, workplaces, communities, and world.

Walking Points

Meet with some fellow Christians to discuss the following questions.

  • What areas of your life do you need biblical reformation? Explain each.
  • What are you presently doing to grow more faithful in these areas?
  • Do you regularly pray for God to bring reformation and revival into your life? Why or why not?
  • If you are part of a group of Christian men, watch the video and read the material, “If Men Will Pray.” (Click here for link) Discuss your thoughts with your group.
  • For one month, commit to regularly praying for reformation and revival for yourself and your group of men. At the end of the month, discuss what insights the Lord revealed to you.

If Men Will Pray

I am part of a spiritual fellowship that, among other things, seeks to encourage and equip men to become godly men who seek first the Kingdom of God and desire to extend it into every sphere of their lives.

Resources for Godly Manhood

Below are some resources from The Fellowship of Ailbe that are intended to help men do just that (a video, booklet, article, as well as the opportunity to subscribe to an email newsletter that focuses on how men of God can pray for themselves, their families, churches, communities, and so on. (And, of course, you can always check back here to the “Godly Manhood Blog” where I hope to provide helpful resources, as well as my own reflections, that will spur you on to love and good deeds as godly men.

(You can also take a look at… and order… these booklets on the different facets of godly manhood that I wrote. I’ll soon be putting together some videos on these booklets to share details concerning what to expect in each booklet, as well as ways to make the best use of them.)

The Question

And so, here’s the question: What might happen if men truly begin praying… crying out to God in petition and intercession? How might God move in and through the lives of godly men who are calling on him to do a great work of reformation and revival? The possibilities are as limitless as God. And so, on that note, please take a look at these resources from The Fellowship of Ailbe…

“God is seeking men who are earnest about seeking Him in prayer. He promises great blessings to us if we will heed His call and take up the work of prayer with greater consistency and power. Our booklet, If Men Will Pray, can lead you through 30 days of prayer to a richer, fuller, more powerful and more satisfying life of prayer. Watch this brief video, then order your copy of If Men Will Pray.”

Advent Devotional: Day 19

Advent 2021
Day 19: Thursday, December 16, 2021

Opening Prayer

“Most merciful God, who so loved the world as to give thine only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life: Grant unto us, we humbly pray thee, the precious gift of faith, that we may know that the Son of God is come, and may have power to overcome the world and gain a blessed immortality; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” (Methodist Book of Worship, 1965)

Scripture Reading

Matthew 25:1-13

“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

“At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’

“Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’

“ ‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’

10 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.

11 “Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’

12 “But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’

13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.

The Great Tradition

“The wise virgins are those who, embracing the time available to them, were prepared at the first onset of the coming of the Lord. But the foolish were those who were lax and unmindful. They troubled themselves only over present matters and, forgetting what God said, did not direct their efforts toward hope for resurrection.” (Hillary of Poitiers)

Prayer of Confession

“Lord, so often we have tended to take the salvation you came to bring the world for granted and we have forgotten the price you paid that we might have eternal life. Forgive us, Lord, and where there are those who need to hear the Good News, send us; and where there are those who need your ministry, lead us to their side. In the holy name of Christ we pray. Amen.” (James R. Wilson)

Reflection

We sometimes forget that the season of Advent is a time of repentance. That is how the early church thought of it. We often think of repentance as purely a Lenten emphasis. That is because we focus primarily on the first coming (advent) of our Lord. However, if you have been keeping up with these Advent devotions, you have no doubt noticed the number of Scriptural texts that focus on the Lord’s return, (second advent), on being ready for “the Day of the Lord, etc. Today’s text is no exception.

Perhaps you have heard the saying, “Don’t be so heavenly-minded that you are no earthly good.” But those Christians who have made the greatest impact throughout Christian history are those who have been so heavenly-minded that they couldn’t help but be earthly good. That’s because they took the words of Scripture seriously. When our Lord calls us to “watch,” he is not commanding us to sit on the top of a mountain and think spiritual thoughts. While we do want to have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16) and let our hearts and minds dwell in heaven (Colossians 3:1-2), that doesn’t mean we never leave our proverbial (or literal) prayer closets.

Instead, we faithfully watch and wait for the Lord by bearing witness and serving in his name. That is why hospitals, schools, orphanages, and a whole array of evangelistic, mercy, and justice ministries have been around for as long as the church. And yes, we worship, pray, read and study Scripture, enjoy the fellowship of the saints and more. It’s a both/and form of discipleship and not an either/or. Therefore, let us be like the wise virgins who were prepared for the bridegroom’s return. Let us be like the wise man who built his house upon the rock who (Matthew 7), according to Jesus, not only listened to the words of Jesus, but also obeyed them.

Walking Points

  • Are you drawn more to a contemplative life or an action-oriented life? In what settings do you feel closest to the Lord? Why do you think that is?
  • If you are more contemplative, how can you stretch yourself and find ways to bear witness for Christ and serve in his name? If you are more action-oriented, in what ways do you find time alone with God to renew your mind and rest your soul?
  • How are both ways faithful expressions of watching and waiting for the Lord?
  • Pray for God to lead and empower you to pursue this important balance.

Advent Devotional: Day 17

Advent 2021
Day 17: Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Opening Prayer

“Thank you, my God, for the Good News which awaits my coming to you today, and always. Thank you for the grace and mercy which promise to set me free of all the sins and disappointments of life which hinder me on my journey toward your kingdom.” (Rueben Job)

Scripture Reading

Matthew 24:32-44

36 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.

42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

The Great Tradition

“All who listen to the depths of the gospel and live it so completely that none of it remains veiled from them care very little about whether the end of the world will come suddenly and all at once or gradually and little by little. Instead, they bear in mind only that each individual’s end or death will arrive on a day and hour unknown to him and that upon each one of us “the day of the Lord will come like a thief.” It is important therefore to be vigilant, whether in the evening (that is, in one’s youth) or in the middle of the night (that is, at human life’s darkest hour) or when the cock crows (at full maturity) or in the morning (when one is well advanced in old age). When God the Word comes and brings an end to the progress of this life, he will gather up the one who gave “no sleep to his eyes nor slumber to his eyelids”10 and kept the commandment of the One who said, “Be vigilant at all times.” (Origen)

Prayer of Confession

“Almighty God, we who are aware of your power made known to us in the Babe of Bethlehem, realize that we ought to prepare the way for your coming into the lives of others. You have given us the task of witnessing to the hope for renewal that you hold out to all, but we confess that we have not always taken up our responsibility. Forgive us for our shortcomings, Lord, and encourage us as we try to proclaim the good news that Christ came into the world that everyone might have life, and have it abundantly. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.” (H. Burnham Kirkland)

Reflection

There was a day when biblical texts like today’s Scripture unnerved me. The thought of Jesus returning in the middle of this sentence was more than I could handle. But why? What could a Christian desire more than to be in the immediate and unveiled presence of his or her Lord? And yet, when I was in college, I wanted Jesus to return, but only AFTER I graduated, then AFTER I got married, then AFTER my children were born, etc. I feel silly even typing that sentence out.

I like Origen’s take on this verse very much. He wrote, “All who listen to the depths of the gospel and live it so completely that none of it remains veiled from them care very little about whether the end of the world will come suddenly and all at once or gradually and little by little.” The truth is, we will each stand before the Lord, whether he returns tonight while we’re sleeping or not. Thus, we are to faithfully live each day as though it was our last, making the most of the time given us… never being presumptuous (and mistaken) about a guaranteed tomorrow.

However, we should not miss the point of our Lord’s warning. Because we do not know when our Lord will return, we had better make sure we are presently in a right relationship with him. I don’t know if it’s ignorance or arrogance to assume one will have ample time to make a deathbed confession to get one’s “fire and life insurance.” Moreover, even if a person received notice that today was their last, if they didn’t care about Christ and the things of God enough to trust and follow him before, what makes them think they will be able to muster the sincerity of a true confession later?

Therefore, Jesus says, “keep watch,” for we do not know when he will return. We want to be ready to meet him whenever our Father in heaven decides. Besides that, true and abundant life begins here and now. Knowing Christ isn’t only eternal life, but is also the only way to become all God created, redeemed, and calls us to be here and now. Since that is true, why in the world would we wait? And on a dramatic, yet serious note, why would we try to play the odds of turning to Christ in faith and repentance five minutes before we stand before him? I have a better idea: why not enjoy the fulness of life he offers you right now.

Walking Points

  • Are you presently in a saving relationship with God through Christ? Do you know what that phrase means? Share your story or any questions you may have about those two questions with a mature Christian friend.
  • How do you react to reading Christ’s words comparing his return with a thief in the night? What is he saying by using that comparison?
  • What does it mean to “keep watch,” as Jesus put it? Why should a Christian even care about Christ’s return?

Advent Devotional: Day 16

Advent 2021
Day 16: Monday, December 13, 2021

Opening Prayer

“O God, who has set before us the great hope that thy kingdom shall come on earth, and has taught us to pray for its coming: Make us ever ready to thank thee for the signs of its dawning, and to pray and work for that perfect day when thy will shall be done on earth as it is in heaven; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” (Methodist Book of Worship, 1965)

Scripture Reading

Matthew 11:7-15

As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written:

“ ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you,

who will prepare your way before you.’ 

11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12 From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it. 13 For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. 14 And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come. 15 Whoever has ears, let them hear.

The Great Tradition

“There are several views about the meaning of this verse. Most likely, this is a reference to Jesus’ opponents. Jesus was explaining that as his Kingdom advanced, attacks against it by violent people would increase. He referred not to just one type of opposition, but to opposition in general. John the Baptist, as herald of the arrival of the Kingdom of Heaven, was already experiencing the attacks of evil men (Herod) against God’s Kingdom. The conflict had begun.”

Prayer of Confession

“Lord, we wait for a new heaven and a new earth where righteousness will reign, but we confess we have not been leading lives of holiness and godliness. We know that your Son came into the world to show us the way, but while we sing ‘Joy to the world, the Lord is come,’ we have failed to be faithful disciples. Forgive us we pray, and through your Holy Spirit enable us so to live that we might help your kingdom to come, and your will be done here on earth. Amen.”

Reflection

One of the emphases of my ministry is to call followers of Christ to “extend the Kingdom of God into every sphere of life.” The word “extend” means to stretch, lengthen, prolong, continue, expand, enlarge, offer, put forth, give, impart, and present, just to name a few. While each of those words is similar, each represents a slightly different emphasis which is key in understanding our Christian mission.

Interestingly, the 1984 NIV translation of our Scripture emphasizes God’s Kingdom as “advancing.” This has a military ring to it. Jesus adds that forceful (violent, NIV 2011) people lay hold of this forcefully advancing Kingdom. My NIV footnote says,

They enter the kingdom and become Christ’s disciples. To do this takes spiritual courage, vigor, power, and determination because of ever-increasing persecution.”

John Piper says advancing the Kingdom of God in such a way requires a “wartime mentality.” The Kingdom of heaven is forcefully advancing yet the kingdom of darkness actively resists it. As people seeking godliness, we are daily fighting for our lives and for the lives of those we love and who’ve been entrusted to our care. The world, the flesh, and the devil are formidable adversaries. If we do not maintain a wartime mentality, being ever vigilant and standing firm in our faith, then we, and those we love, will suffer the ravages of war, the consequences of our poor preparation.

Therefore, we must fight the good fight of faith. We must enter the battle through the narrow gate, for wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life and only a few find it (Matthew 7:13-14). This narrow gate is Jesus himself. Living life as his disciple means entering into new life through him and traveling the “Kingdom road” he has set before us, regardless of how narrow and hard it is. Peter says many will leave this Kingdom road and wander off because they love the wages of wickedness (2 Peter 2:15), which results in death (Romans 6:23). The battle rages all around us, but we must stand firm in our faith, or we will not stand at all (Isaiah 7:9).

Standing firm takes a wartime mentality. We cannot assume we are ever safe from attack. We must be ever watchful and on our guard. We are called, commanded, and expected to fight, persevere, press on, and stand firm. But we are never asked to do this in our strength, but the Lord’s.

The wonderful paradox of Scripture is that while we persevere, our hope is not in ourselves. Our hope is in the Lord. The battle is ultimately his.

Forceful people lay hold of the Kingdom of God, which our Lord causes to advance in and through his power. Therefore, we work through his power (Colossians 1:29). God’s Kingdom advances as faithful followers of Christ represent their King in every sphere of their lives, even in enemy-occupied territory. 

Such faithful witness will not be easy. After all, it is a war. There will be a cost which we’re commanded to consider before we enter the fray. The enemy shoots his fiery darts at us daily (Ephesians 6:16). He hides and waits to devour us (1 Peter 5:8). The world sends out its false teachers to lead us astray (2 Peter 2:1ff). 

In John 17, Jesus does not pray to take us out of such a world, but all throughout Scripture our Lord promises to never leave us nor forsake us. More than that, he fights on our behalf. And in so doing, he advances his Kingdom. Don’t you want to be a part of such a glorious Kingdom? Don’t you want to know such a glorious King?

Walking Points

  • What are ways unbelievers resist the Kingdom of God? What are ways believers resist the Kingdom of God?
  • How have you been guilty of resisting God in your life? What were some of the reasons you did so?
  • What are three practical ways you can “stand firm in the faith” in the various spheres of your life – home, work, community, etc.?