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The Fulfillment of Hope

For the past couple of weeks, we’ve been looking at the Bible as a History of Hope. Sometimes it’s difficult to put the whole Bible together – to see how one story connects with the others – to see how the old Testament fits with the new Testament. But over the past couple of weeks, we’ve been trying to do just that and what we’ve discovered is that the whole Bible is actually  the Christmas story. Everything in the old testament points us ahead to the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ – and everything in the new testament is the result of the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

Jesus Christ the central figure of the Bible. He’s the central figure in world history. All of history is HIS STORY.

And so today we’re going to continue looking at God’s story. Just by way of a quick recap: Two weeks ago we started in the beginning – with God creating the heavens and the earth. And He setup mankind to have a perfect life. As long as mankind looked to God as the source of everything they needed and as long as they acknowledged God as their ultimate authority, their relationships would be sweet and life would be awesome. 

But of course, we know that Adam and Eve chose to reject God as their source and to reject Him as their authority – and as a consequence, their relationship with God and with each other was broken. Life became very difficult and painful for them – and all of us. The consequences of their sin would effect mankind for the rest of history, but God made a promise to Adam & Eve – that one day He would set things right again.

Then last week we fast-forwarded to Mount Sinai – where God made a covenant – or an agreement with the Israelites. And the basic gist of that agreement was that as long as the Israelites looked to God as the source of everything they needed and as long as they acknowledged God as their ultimate authority, their relationships would be sweet and life would be awesome. Sounds familiar doesn’t it?

But the trouble was, everyone of the Israelites was already born with a sinful nature. Every single one of them was already naturally inclined to reject God. Sin was their default. And with that sinful nature, there was NO WAY that they, (or anyone else for that matter), could possibly obey all of the terms of that covenant that God had just made with them. Our sinful nature makes it impossible for us to fully obey God.

But of course, God knew that, and so in that covenant, He gave the Israelites another glimpse of hope. Even though the penalty for sin was death, God allowed the Israelites to bring an animal and offer it in place of the person who had sinned. Instead of the person being put to death for their sin (as they deserved), the animal would be put to death in their place. It would take their punishment and it’s blood would temporarily cover their sin.

Of course, the blood of those bulls and goats couldn’t take away their sin, but it served as a symbol of hope – hope that one day, God’s promised Messiah – the Lamb of God – would come and would die in their place and His blood would take their sins completely away.

So that was last week – now again today we’re going to be doing a lot of fast-forwarding – we’ve got about 1000 years to summarize and nearly 35 books of the Bible to go through – so let’s jump right in.

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The Unexpected Source of Joy

We’ve been preaching through the season of Advent – remembering the first (and looking forward to the second) coming of Jesus. These Advent candles remind us of the many gifts we have (and the gifts we look forward to) because of Jesus’ coming.  We started two weeks ago with God’s gift of hope – last week was a reminder of the gift of peace – and this week, of course, we want to look at God’s gift of joy.

This gift of joy is made possible only because of Jesus’ arrival into the world as a little baby. We read at our Christmas Celebration on Friday in Luke chapter 2 of how, on the night of Jesus’ birth, angels appeared to the shepherds outside of Bethlehem and announced to them this good news that would bring great joy to all people. Let me read for you in Luke 2 – starting at verse 8.

8 That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. 9 Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people.11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” Luke 2:8-12

This little baby boy, born in the Bethlehem some 2000 years ago would be the source of joy to the world – even for us here in Penhold in 2017.

And I know this probably isn’t necessarily ‘new’ news for you this morning. Chances are, you many of you have heard this good news before. Especially if you’ve been here for the past two weeks.

One of the concerns that I had when we decided to do these Advent messages was that hope, peace, and joy are so intertwined with each other that I feared I’d be preaching the same message every week – just using a different word.

  • I could talk about how Jesus gives us hope because our sins are forgiven and he has promised to return and make all things right.
  • I could talk about how Jesus gives us peace because our sins are forgiven and He has promised to return and make all things right.
  • And I could talk about how Jesus gives us joy because our sins are forgiven and He has promised to return and make all things right.

And of course, that would all be very true! Christmas really is a ‘buy one, get two free’ kind of a deal. Hope, peace, and joy are all part of the same package. They are all made possible by Jesus coming to earth, being born as a baby in a manger – living and then dying on the cross and being raised back to life again.

But even though they are all so closely related, I do want to talk a little bit today specifically about joy. As I was studying up on the topic of joy this week – I found that even defining ‘joy’ could be a little tricky. There was no one clear definition of joy.

  • Some would say that joy is another word for happiness. Others would say that joy is certainly not the same thing as happiness.
  • Some would say that joy is a feeling or an emotion. Others would say, no. No it’s not.
  • Some would say we can choose to be joyful – that is it an act of our will – but others see joyfulness a natural by-product of something else.

There are lots of different ways to define joy – I think there can be good arguments made for all of those different ways.

So how do we understand joy? What exactly did the angels mean when they said that this good news would bring great joy to all people? How does this good news help you and I experience joy today?

Regardless of how we define it, joy sure sounds like a good thing – so how do we get it? I guess that’s really our bottom line – how do we experience joy in our lives today?

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God Is With Us (or What’s the Big Deal About Christmas?)

How many of you have heard at least 10 Christmas sermons during your lifetime?

I’m 33 years old – I grew up in the church – and I’m sure that I have averaged at least 3 Christmas related sermons every year. In fact, growing up we had the five advent Sundays so I’m sure I heard at least 5 Christmas sermons every year. But even at just three sermons per year – in my 33 years of life, I have heard just under 100 Christmas related sermons.

That seems a lot to me. Does the Christmas story really warrant that much sermon time? Do you ever get the feeling that Christmas is ‘over-celebrated’? What’s the big deal about Christmas anyway?

I’m not anti-Christmas, but why do we focus so much on Jesus birth? That’s just one aspect of his life. Why not his baptism? That was significant. Or the 40 days he spent fasting in the wilderness? There are no special days on the calendar that we celebrate that! The only thing that even comes close to Christmas is Easter – when we celebrate Jesus’ death & resurrection – and even that is celebrated way less than his birth.

Think about it. Even outside the church culture – think of retails stores. They spend 2 months selling Christmas – as soon as halloween is over, they start selling Christmas stuff. From November 1st through the bulk of December, the focus is Christmas. That’s 1/6 of the year. That’s a lot of Christmas!

Christmas music in another example. We have a whole genre of music dedicated to Jesus birth. We don’t have passover music – we don’t have Jesus’ baptism music, we don’t have Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness music – but we have album after album after album of music celebrating Jesus birth.

I look in my Bible and there are maybe 10 pages in my Bible about the birth of Jesus. The Gospel of Mark & and the Gospel of John don’t even include Jesus’ birth in their Gospels. There are two chapters in Matthew and two chapters in Luke – in my Bible about 10 pages of Christmas out of the 2300 pages of Scripture.

Yet at the same time, there are 65 pages of Job and his friends arguing about why God allowed all that bad stuff to happen to Job. If the Bible talks about Job about six time as much as it talks about Jesus birth, why do we take a whole month every year to preach about Jesus birth – and not job? We preach on Christmas (those ten pages) 2,3,4,5 times every December, but you’ll be lucky in five years just to get one sermon on Job.

So what makes Christmas such a big deal? What is so significant about the birth of Jesus Christ? What, in those ten pages, has had so much impact on life as we know it?

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The Fulfillment of Hope

In the month of December, we’ve been looking at the Bible as a History of Hope. Sometimes it difficult to put the whole Bible together – to see how one story connects with the others – to see how the old Testament fits with the new Testament. But over the past couple of weeks, we’ve been trying to do just that and what we’ve discovered is that the whole Bible is really the Christmas story. Everything in the old testament points us ahead to the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ – and everything in the new testament is a result of the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the central figure of world history. And it’s not just history – it’s HIS STORY – God’s Story.

And so today we’re going to continue looking at God’s story. Two weeks ago we started in the beginning – with God creating the heavens and the earth. And He made the perfect system for a perfect life. That was basically, as long as mankind looked to God as the source of everything they needed in life and as long as they looked to God as their ultimate authority, their relationships with each other and with God would be sweet and life would be awesome.

But of course, we know that Adam and Eve chose to reject God as their authority and as their source – and as a consequence, their relationship with God and with each other was broken. And although the consequences of their sin would effect mankind for the rest of history, God made a promise to Adam & Eve – that one day He would set things right again.

Well, then we fast-forwarded last week to Mount Sinai – where God made a covenant – or an agreement with the Israelites. And the basic gist of that agreement was that as long as the Israelites looked to God as the source of everything they needed in life and as long as they looked to God as their ultimate authority, their relationships with each other and with God would be sweet and life would be awesome. Sounds familiar doesn’t it?

The problem with that agreement was, that because the Israelites were all born with a sinful nature that they inherited from Adam & Eve, (just like the rest of us) it would actually be impossible for the Israelites or anyone else to fully obey God. Man was just too sinful. That rebellious nature in us kept us as slaves to sin. We couldn’t obey God even if we wanted to.

But God knew about that and He offered us another bit of hope. He allowed the Israelites to bring a lamb and offer it as a sacrifice for their sins. In other words, instead of that person being put to death for their sin (as they deserved), a lamb would be put to death in their place. The lamb would take their punishment.

Of course, the blood of those lambs couldn’t take away their sin, but it gave the Israelites hope that one day, the Lamb of God – Jesus Christ – would die in their place and His blood would take their sins completely away.

So that’s where we left it last week. There’s more to this story, so let’s see what happened next.

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