John 15:19 ESV If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.
The capacity of human nature to zero in on being loved is what makes “fitting in” to the world such a tempting option. Jesus warns us “fitting in” to the world is not a reliable indicator of love. We’ve just celebrated the birth of Jesus as the promised revelation of God’s love for us. Jesus is the pivot point for our world. Pivot points are basically a choice, an intersection [a cross?], that determines direction.
That promise is the mystery Jesus reminds us of with these words; “I chose you out of the world.” The fact is this world is God’s own choice for us. The mystery is solved by this: While we are chosen “out of the world” we still have to live our life IN it. Learning to live IN the world as visible evidence of that Pivot Point is what completely changes our understanding of God’s love and our interaction with the world too.
John 15:10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in [accept and act in accordance with] my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. [NRSV]
This year my Advent posts are going to be like one of those mystery TV shows that begin with the solution and then proceeds to lay out the evidence. My advent begins with the assumption verse 10 is the solution. I plan to continue searching verse-by-verse for evidence that reveals why Jesus Christ deserves the repeated annual observation we call Advent. It shouldn’t be too difficult to find. We have this book of His-tory and John is the recognized expert on Christology [Christian theology relating to the person, nature, and role of Christ]. Expert witness testimony is an important part of the solution to every mystery.
What are the commandments Jesus is referring to? There’s a long list you can find with an internet search but John 13:34 has recorded this from my first witness, Christ himself; “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
My second expert today is the Apostle Paul with evidence that supports Jesus’s new commandment. “For Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.” Romans 10:4
There’s more than beauty to the Advent story that makes it important. God provided a solution to the mystery of life in that cradle that could remind us every year He offers so much more than what we know to expect. Jesus is the reality of our salvation, growth and “abiding” in His and God’s love. My third witness today is John Piper from Come Thou Unexpected Jesus: “Jesus was long expected. But when and how and where and why he came were all unexpected…He did not come to meet [our] expectations but to love [us] in the ways [we] most desperately needed…[that’s] the place [we] are most likely to really adore him.” [edited]
NIV Hebrews 3
• 1…think carefully about this Jesus whom we declare to be God’s messenger and High Priest…
• 7 That is why the Holy Spirit says, “Today when you hear his voice, 8 don’t harden your hearts as Israel did when they rebelled, when they tested me in the wilderness…
• 15 Remember what it says: “Today when you hear his voice, don’t harden your hearts as Israel did when they rebelled.”
There’s a mystery involved in hearing the unspoken Word of this book we call our Bible. We know the mystery involves our training to recognize guidance and respond to Word that can speak truth into the human heart. “There is a beautiful story in the Old Testament where the prophet stands at the mouth of a cave and the Lord is passing. There is thunder, and the Lord is not in the thunder. There is an earthquake, and the Lord is not in the earthquake. There is fire, and the Lord is not in the fire. Then there is a still, small voice, and the Lord is in that voice. (See 1 Kings 19: 11–13.)” Intro to Following Jesus [Finding Our Way Home in an Age of Anxiety] by Henri Nouwen
OK, it’s the Holy Spirit…√. Do you imagine the writer of Hebrews was just casually writing “think carefully about this Jesus” or “today when you hear his voice” or “remember?” The answer of course is no! The Holy Spirit is the vital voice that teaches us to consciously respond to that mystery. The “gentle whisper” that happens “today” when you allow Jesus to teach you is the Holy Spirit speaking the reality of the Word within you despite the noise of the world around you.
The passage from 1 Kings ends with the question of the day. “And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here Elijah [insert your name here]?” I hope your answer is thinking, hearing and remembering.
Luke 1:1 Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, 2 just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. 3 With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught
This chapter’s recent history as part of the Christmas celebration gave me pause as I began. The familiarity of these beautiful Christmas passages can make it easy to overlook other details. I read the chapter several times before something caught my eye. The angel brings up the Holy Spirit when he introduces Mary to what God has in mind for her but the Holy Spirit “filling” John, Elizabeth and Zechariah is a big truth that got lost for me in the familiar.
*15… he [John the Baptist] will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. 16 He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God.
*41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.
*67 His [John’s] father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied
It makes so much sense now that I’ve noticed that truth. The main characters of this unlikely mystery were given the verification of one Spirit to another. The Holy Spirit was a work of God in the flesh for them that knit them together in unique kind of baptism of spiritual recognition.
This is truth for us today too. Living a life of faith is still a mystery of God that only becomes recognizable to the eye or mind when the Holy Spirit verifies itself in the flesh, one to another.
NIV Colossians 1:19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him [Christ], 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. 21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel…28 He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.
Maybe you’re wondering why my mind searches for such different ways to read Scripture each morning. It’s really pretty simple…I desire to do it but I have to look for ways to trick my mind into denying the lie that I already “know it all.” It’s not a particularly flattering confession but sometimes concentrating on one word or idea from Scripture is what God uses to reconcile the mystery of those two very different realities for me. That word from this Word is “fullness.”
“God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in [Christ]” “and through him to reconcile to himself all things.” Once I was “alienated from God” but God in Christ has changed my mind and given me what I need. Mystery solved! It’s a new reality that’s become a promise I can depend on from “the hope held out in the gospel: ”fullness…mine because of his.
V28 MSG The mystery in a nutshell is just this: Christ is in you, so therefore you can look forward to sharing in God’s glory. It’s that simple.
TLB Romans 3:27 Then what can we boast about doing to earn our salvation? Nothing at all. Why? Because our acquittal is not based on our good deeds; it is based on what Christ has done and our faith in him. 28 So it is that we are saved by faith in Christ and not by the good things we do.
The mystery of salvation is that giving everything to Christ is really we have “nothing at all” to give. Even our “faith in Christ” is a gift he’s given us. We’re just returning what we’ve been given, a little worse for the wear, so that solves the boasting problem too.
Thank God that he saw something worth saving…be worth the price!
Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. 2 This is what the ancients were commended for…13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.
Oswald Chambers said “Believe God is always the God you know Him to be when you are nearest to Him.” The mystery of living by faith is how easy it is to forget that. Sometimes circumstances seem more real than faith
Hebrews 11 is called the “By Faith” chapter. The real life stories of those notable “ancients,” elsewhere in the Bible, tell us the human side of their lives as well. They were not perfect. Their circumstances were very real. Faith was just as mysterious, and the evidence just as elusive, for them as it is for us today and yet they were commended for it. Why?
Twenty one times Hebrews 11 gives us the simple answer to what makes “living by faith” a reality that works even today for our lives. It’s all summed up in that one small preposition, “By.” That little word is the agent of change that makes possible a faith that impacts what we’re able do. Remembering our most intimate moments with God is what makes living “by faith” something that’s more real than circumstances. That’s commendable.
The observance of Advent and Christmas has served it’s purpose. The darkness of night was lit up with the special lights we hung. We heard the annual music of bells being rung outside many stores. Those once-a-year cookies were both the taste and the aroma of the season.
It’s complete, but it’s not over.
Everything around us in that season was designed [by God] to reawaken our physical senses. Once again we’ve been stimulated by the external celebration to see for ourselves whether the fullness of these words from Mark 12:30 can become real in us: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”
The season is complete, but it’s not over.
These words from I Timothy 3:16 are our challenge now to carry on: “Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great: He appeared in the flesh, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.”
We’ve moved beyond the external stimulation of this Christmas season and that long-ago story of God’s intervention to restore “our” broken world. Now it’s become personal; can Jesus, the Christ, restore “my” broken world?
It’s not over, it’s just beginning.
Colossians 4:3 And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. 4 Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. 5 Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. 6 Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. 18…Remember my chains. Grace be with you.
This is Master-full writing and really good news. No more how-to books on evangelism, no more intimidating classes and no more role-playing exercises needed. This is Paul’s perfect, clear and concise plan for speaking of the mystery of Christ.
• Proclaim it clearly
• Be wise in your actions toward outsiders
• Make the most of every opportunity
• Let your conversation be always full of grace
• Seasoned with salt
What…you’re a little intimidated…don’t know how to answer everyone? Well Paul has covered that for us too in v18…Remember my chains.” Was Paul only speaking of actual iron chains? I don’t think so.
Those three words were not his plea for sympathy. They were his reminder that the power of his words was bound to the “mystery of Christ” by Chains of Grace, not ability as a public speaker or personality and certainly not circumstances.
• Remember my chains. Grace…
That’s the vital last line to the list.