The Future Hope of Advent

For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. (Isaiah 65:17)

The Israelites were a people in-between the times. They had been given all the promises of God and a promised land in which to dwell (Rom. 9:4). But they were awaiting the advent of their Messiah. All those who truly loved and worshiped Yahweh and had faith in the Savior’s coming inherited salvation, but it was not final. 

The first advent of Jesus–his birth in a grungy manger in a village called Bethlehem–was the beginning of hope for God’s people. Jesus’ first coming was the fulfillment of the promise God made to Israel that a Messiah, an anointed King, would come to bring salvation to Israel. He accomplished this salvation through his death and resurrection. This salvation event was not just for Israel, however. Even at his dedication in the temple as an infant, Simeon recognized the baby Jesus as much more than an Israelite king: “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace…for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:29-32).

For all who believe (i.e. have faith) in Jesus, God gives them the right to become children of God (John 1:12-13). But life isn’t perfect at that point. Even Christians admit that the world and their own lives are broken, horrifically broken. Christians–Jew or Gentile, rich or poor, male or female, young or old–have inherited salvation, indeed; but it is not final.

Like the Israelites, Christians are people in-between the times. We have the promise of salvation through Jesus Christ. We have faith that his first advent brought about his death and resurrection which inaugurated a new covenant. We have the hope of eternal life. So we wait for his second advent when he will make our salvation final. Paul calls this our “blessed hope” (Titus 2:13). At his second advent, he will bring the new heavens and the new earth. There will be no more crying, no more pain, no more sin (Rev. 21:4). There will be nothing unclean in this new world (Rev. 21:27). We will be perfect. The world will be perfect.

The happiness and peace and music and joy and fun and laughter and good food and generosity you experience at Christmas ultimately points to a world where we will experience nothing but that and a million other charms we cannot begin to imagine. Christmas ultimately points to the fact that Jesus was born for one purpose: to shed his blood to create a new people for God so that they might worship him in glory for all eternity in a new world.

Do you rejoice in the future hope of Advent? Do you believe it will actually happen? Celebrate Christmas this year knowing and treasuring the fact that your Savior will return once more to meet you face-to-face, make your salvation final, and restore this world to be everything it was intended to be.

Life Theology

Jesus Offers the Olive Branch

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. (Hebrews 5:7)

The author of Hebrews explains that in his high priestly role, Jesus  “offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death.” The word for “supplications” in Greek is hiketéria and it only appears here in the New Testament. It carries with it the meaning of “extending an olive branch,” which connotes supplicating for peace on one’s behalf.

This simple word, supplication, should uncover an infinite depth of truth and comfort. It was as if Jesus sat before the Father continually offering an olive branch as a symbol of peace on our behalf. It was as if he cried, “Give them peace through me, give them peace, O Holy Father. Though they are enemies, do not cast them off. Give them peace.”

Jesus accomplished peace for us in his death on the cross. All who receive this sacrifice for sin by faith receive this peace. This is not an inner tranquility (though it will include that). It primarily means that we are no longer enemies of God, that is, we are no longer at war with him. God has drawn us to himself and we have been so loved by him that we have laid down our weapons. There is reconciliation. We are no longer enemies; we are welcomed as friends. We are no longer sons of disobedience; we are ushered in as heirs.

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1).

Life Theology

Passion Week – Maundy Thursday

This is a re-post of the Passion series from last year.

John 18:28-32

Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor’s headquarters. It was early morning. They themselves did not enter the governor’s headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover. So Pilate went outside to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” They answered him, “If this man were not doing evil, we would not have delivered him over to you.” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” The Jews said to him, “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death.” This was to fulfill the word that Jesus had spoken to show by what kind of death he was going to die.

Just hours after Jesus had celebrated Passover with his disciples, washed their feet, and instituted the ordinance of communion, he was on trial before angry Pharisees and an oblivious Roman governor.  What strikes me about our passage from John 18 is one line about the Pharisees.  It’s in verse 28: “They themselves did not enter the governor’s headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover. So Pilate went outside to them.”

Though Passover was observed the night before (Thursday), it existed as part of a week long celebration that the Pharisees wanted to continue through the Sabbath (Saturday).  Jesus’ accusers, in the midst of murdering an innocent man, were never more rigid in their observance of the law.  All that mattered to them was their moral checklist.

In Matthew 23, just two days before, Jesus condemned the legalism of these same Pharisees, saying, “You have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!” (vv. 23-24).  The Pharisees were not just or merciful toward Jesus, and they were drastically unfaithful to God’s message and kingdom.

On the brink of murdering the Son of God, the Pharisees refused to enter a Gentile’s courthouse to discuss the case for fear of being “unclean.”  How often do I find myself in this position? I care more about maintaining a pristine image than I do about a holy heart.  We are like the Pharisees.  In their neglect of mercy and love in favor of sacrifice and external religion, they were already as unclean as they could be. So are we apart from Jesus. They did not see that the Passover they celebrated was being fulfilled before them. Jesus, the ultimate Passover Lamb, was being sacrificed for them, and for us, so his blood might cover our sins and make us  right with God.

Father, forgive me for me plastic, external religion. Help me see the big picture and know what is precious in your sight instead of simply trying to be ‘good’ and ‘moral.’  Wash me continually with your blood, Lord Jesus. Thank you for being my Passover Lamb.


What does it mean to have the peace of God?

J.I. Packer gives the answer in his book Knowing God:

Too often the peace of God is thought of as if it were essentially a feeling of inner tranquility, happy and carefree, springing from knowledge that God will shield one from life’s hardest knocks.  But this is a misrepresentation, for on the one hand, God does not featherbed his children in this way, and anyone who thinks he does is in for a shock, and on the other hand, that which is basic and essential to the real peace of God does not come into this concept at all…

The peace of God is first and foremost peace with God; it is the state of affairs in which God, instead of being against us, is for us. No account of God’s peace which does not start here can do other than mislead. One of the miserable ironies of our time is that whereas liberal and radical theologians believe themselves to be restating the gospel for today, they have for the most part rejected the categories of wrath, guilt, condemnation and the enmity of God, and so have made it impossible for themselves ever to present the gospel at all, for they cannot now state the basic problem which the gospel of peace solves.

This has application for when we pray for people, especially. How many times have you prayed for someone who is not even a Christian, “Lord, give them peace.” I’ll raise my hand on that one. What kind of peace are we praying for? in a situation? with a friend? It’s impossible for them to experience any kind of peace, as Packer points out, unless they have peace with God himself.

The only way for anyone to have that peace is to receive Jesus as their substitute Savior — as the one who took their place on the cross in order to satisfy God’s wrath against sin. When sin, condemnation, and guilt are out of the way, a river of peace will rush in and overwhelm the most weary of souls.


What Tiger Woods Needs Most

I didn’t want this to be my first real post since returning from South Africa, but I couldn’t help it after I heard the news about Tiger Woods.  Yesterday, Omaha World Herald columnist Tom Shatel wrote a short blog about Tiger.  In the post, Shatel said:

[The media] weren’t there for Mickey Mantle or Paul Hornung or the countless other sports heroes who hopped from bed to bed. Nobody knew. Nobody cared. The press took better care of them. That’s the way it goes. But if a kid wants a role model, it should be his parents.

Will this stick with Tiger? I say no way. Sports fans don’t care about steroids or drug use and there are many who don’t hold gambling against Pete Rose. Infidelity is way down on the list of the sins that make sports fans cringe. Heck, many of the red-blooded American males I’ve talked to this week are actually proud of Tiger’s ever-growing harem. They say, “You’re Tiger Woods, why would you even get married?” Infidelity is accepted more often than not in this country, and around the world for that matter. Tiger will escape from this. He’ll pay the piper in terms of millions of dollars. But this will all go away eventually, if not sooner (my emphasis).

I normally love Shatel’s thoughts, appreciate his humor, and respect his morals.  But he’s wrong in this case.  Oh, he’s right that infidelity is accepted more often than not around the world.  But does that mean Tiger can escape?  Does that mean he can buy his way out of this one?  Does it mean that if he wins the Master’s next year by coming back from two strokes on Sunday people will forget?  Will this really “go away eventually”?  In a worldly sense, maybe. But in the words of Maximus, from Gladiator: “What we do in life echoes in eternity.”

The glorious truth is that Tiger doesn’t have to “pay the piper in terms of millions of dollars.”  The truth is that the piper has already been paid, and it was paid on Calvary by Jesus Christ when he shed his blood for the sins of the world, including Tiger’s adultery.  All Tiger has to do is confess and repent and trust in Jesus.  That’s all anyone has to do.  The debt has been paid for him, for you, and for me.  So, to the Christian reader: God is offering Jesus to Tiger.  Are you?  After all, you and I still need Jesus, too.

There is the other hand, of course, which is the hard truth that if Tiger does not repent, his sins will not just go away.  Not eventually.  Not ever.  And this is true for you and me as well.  People might forget.  But a holy God does not.  The sins of those who do not repent will cause them to suffer under God’s wrath for eternity in hell.  But on the cross, the Son took the Father’s wrath and satisfied it, so that whoever looks to him and believes will be saved.

God is loving and just.  He hates sin and punishes those who are unrepentant.  But he freely offers grace to every single person — including Tiger Woods — and whoever would have it will be saved.

What Tiger needs most is not a mulligan.  He needs a Savior.  Just like everyone else.