Over the last three weeks we’ve been looking at all the background of the Christmas story. And we’ve discovered that this history of hope goes all the way back to the beginning of time when God created the heavens and the earth.
You see, God had set up the perfect system for the perfect life – He would be the source of everything mankind would ever need. He gave them life, He provided delicious food to eat, He gave them an amazing place to live, meaningful relationships, purpose in their work – everything they needed, He would provide.
And as their source, He would also be their authority. Of course, He certainly gave them incredible freedom – as well as authority and responsibilities of their own, but He was to be the ultimate authority. He was the one to determine right and wrong.
And that was God’s setup for the perfect life. As long as mankind looked to God as their source and as their authority, life would be amazing!
And it worked great! With this setup, Adam & Eve enjoyed life to the fullest as God intended it – and it was sweet. They had everything they wanted. Their relationship with God and with each was perfect and beautiful – Never any conflict or never any strife – it was exactly what you might describe as heaven.
But something happened. Sin happened. Adam & Eve rejected God as their source and as their authority and they took that role for themselves and as a result – everything fell apart. Their relationships with God and with each other was broken. The sweetness of life turned to bitterness and life on earth became painful and difficult. In fact, life for all of mankind has been a struggle ever since.
But of course, God had a plan. God knew this would happen even before He created the world, so all along, God had a plan. And this is what we’ve been looking at for the past three weeks – God’s plan to put things back to the way they were when He first created them.
And all along the way, we’ve seen that God has given us hints of His plan – He’s given several different people several different promises that all point to the same thing.
But in case you missed the previous three Sundays, let me give you just a quick summary of some of the promises that God had given to various people throughout the Old Testament:
- On week one, we learned how God promised Adam & Eve that one day, one of Eve’s descendants would crush Satan’s head and defeat sin and death for all time.
- On week two, we learned how God promised Abraham that one day, one of his descendants would be a blessing to every single family on earth.
- On week three, we learned that God promised King David that one day, one of his descendants would be King for all time.
And as we looked at some of the old testament prophecies, and then as we looked at the Christmas story as recorded in Luke, we came to realize that all these promises were fulfilled in the birth of Jesus Christ. He was the one that God had been promising for some 4000+ years. He was the one who would crush Satan’s head. He was the one who would be a blessing to every family on earth. He was the one who would be King forever.
And that’s what made that first Christmas such a big deal – its because finally, after years of hoping and waiting for God to fulfill his promises, finally, God’s own Son, Jesus Christ was born as a human being and He would make things right again.
But here’s the big question that we were left with last Sunday. If you look around at the world today – it doesn’t really seem like everything’s right again – does it? There’s still pain. There’s still suffering. Satan seems as active as ever. Sin is still around in bountiful supply. Our relationships with God and our relationships with each are far from perfect.
So… what happened? Did God’s plan fail? Did Jesus not accomplish everything He was supposed to do? Did we somehow misunderstand God’s promises? Or is it just that the story isn’t over yet? Well, that’s what we’re going to look at today.
In our progression through this History of Hope, we left off last week with the angel Gabriel declaring to Mary that she was about to have a baby. And perhaps you came here, on this last Sunday before Christmas, expecting to hear the story of the angels and the shepherds and the wiseman and the manger and all that good stuff.
But I’m guessing that you probably already know that part of the story and if you don’t, you can tune into our Christmas Eve Zoom party later this week and we’ll be reading through all that part of the story – complete with visual aids provided by all the kiddos! But this morning, I’m going to fast forward a little bit. I actually want to focus on what happened after Christmas – so for now, we’re going to skip the whole birth of Jesus part of the Christmas story.
I won’t spend much time talking about Jesus’ childhood either. In fact, apart from one incident from when He was about 12 years old, we don’t hear anything about Jesus until He was about 30. That was when He started doing all those miracles and teaching the crowds and training his disciples and doing all those things that you read about in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Most of what happens in the Gospels happens within a period of about three years when Jesus is probably in his early thirties. But that’s still not the part I want to focus on – let’s fast-forward just a little further.
At the end of those three years, we have what we know as the Easter story – Jesus’ death and resurrection. And this is probably THE KEY part of God’s plan to making things right again. Without the Easter story, the Christmas story would be pointless.
And most of you probably know the Easter story too. How Jesus was arrested, falsely accused, and then put to death on a cross. How, as the Lamb of God, He took the punishment for your sins and mine by laying down his life in our place. But also how He came back to life again three days later. How He appeared to Mary, and the disciples, and about 400 other people.
And it’s right about here where I want us to pick up the story again today. I think this will help us see the big picture of God’s plan.
So we’re going to turn this morning to Acts chapter 1. Now, just in case you didn’t know, the book of Acts is kind of a part 2 to the Gospel of Luke. Both of them were written by Luke to a guy name Theophilus. The book of Luke describes the events around Jesus birth, life, death and resurrection – The book of Acts describes what happened as the result of all that! So let’s just read the first bit in Acts chapter 1 starting at verse 1.
1 In my first book I told you, Theophilus, about everything Jesus began to do and teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven after giving his chosen apostles further instructions through the Holy Spirit. 3 During the forty days after his crucifixion, he appeared to the apostles from time to time, and he proved to them in many ways that he was actually alive. And he talked to them about the Kingdom of God.
4 Once when he was eating with them, he commanded them, “Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you the gift he promised, as I told you before. 5 John baptized with water, but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
6 So when the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking him, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?” Acts 1:1-6
Pause here for a second. This is the obvious question. Here we have Jesus – the Messiah – the one that God had promised to Adam & Eve would come and crush Satan’s head, the one God had promised to Abraham would be a blessing to every family on earth, the one God had promised to King David would be king forever.
So of course the disciples are going to ask, “Is it time now? Are you finally going to take your rightful place as King forever? Are you going to wipe out Satan and sin and make all things right again?” Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?”
You would think that after Jesus’ death and resurrection, the answer would be, “Yes, it’s finally time.” But no, it wasn’t. Not yet. Jesus responds in verse 7
7 He replied, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
9 After saying this, he was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him. 10 As they strained to see him rising into heaven, two white-robed men suddenly stood among them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!”
Now I don’t know about you, but I think that if I were a disciple, I’d be just a little bit confused right about now. Think about it: Just moments ago they were standing with the Messiah – the one that God had promised repeatedly over the past 4000-some years. They had seen him do miracles. They had seen him heal the sick and walk on water. They had seen him die and then rise from the dead. Clearly, Jesus was the one who would make all things right again.
And then, He leaves them. He goes back into heaven. They’re left standing there wondering – “What just happened here?”
Because it seemed like nothing had changed. Like Jesus hadn’t finished his job. He was supposed to be the King for all time – but they were still under the rule of the Romans. He was supposed to crush Satan’s head and do away with sin and its consequences – but there was still pain and suffering in the world. He was supposed to make all things right again – but the world seemed just as messed up as it was before. So what’s the deal?
Well, I think there’s a passage in 2 Peter that will give us some insight. 2 Peter 3:8-9
“But you must not forget this one thing, dear friends: A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day. 9 The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.” 2 Peter 3:8-9
You see, the reason it seemed like Jesus hadn’t finished his job, the reason that He hadn’t wiped out sin and made everything right again – was because He was being patient for our sake. He wanted everyone to have a chance to accept the forgiveness that He had just made available to them. His death and resurrection did accomplish everything that God required to make things right – but God’s great love for every single person and His incredible patience meant the final fulfillment of all of God’s promises would have wait just a little longer. God was patiently waiting for everyone person possible to hear and respond to the Good News of His salvation.
That’s why, when the disciples were asking Jesus if now was the time that He would restore the kingdom, Jesus tells them in Acts 1:7…
“The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:7-8
God’s promise to wipe out evil would still stand – He would indeed make all things right again – we read all about that throughout the New Testament – but not yet. First, the message of Salvation had to be proclaimed to the nations. God wants as many people as possible to hear and believe the message that there is forgiveness for their sins. There is hope for the future.
And that’s were we are today in this History of Hope. We’re somewhere between Jesus’ death and resurrection – and His second coming. Jesus still waiting to come back and make things right, because there are still people out there that need to hear and accept the good news of Salvation.
And so this morning I want to both challenge and encourage you. I want to encourage you in that Jesus IS coming back. He WILL take his place as King forever. He WILL crush Satan and eliminate sin and its consequences forever. As the angels said to the disciples….
11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!”
Just as the Old Testament characters had to wait in hope and anticipation for Jesus’ first coming, in the same way we now wait in hope and anticipation for his second coming. At the beginning of this series, I showed you one of my favourite passages. It really sums up our hope for what life is going to be like one day soon. It’s in Revelations 21 – starting at verse 3.
I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”
5 And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” 6 And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. 7 All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children.” Revelation 21:3-7
This is the hope of Christmas. This is why we celebrate. Because of a little baby named Jesus born some 2000 years ago, we have the hope of eternal life with God – where there is no more death, no more sorrow, no more crying, no more pain. Just everlasting abundant life – just as God intended it. That’s a gift worth celebrating.
But here’s where the challenge comes in.
There are still people out there who have not accepted God’s gift of forgiveness and salvation. In fact, many of them have never even heard that forgiveness is available to them. They don’t know about God’s plan to make things right again! And God has given us the task of letting them know. That’s why He tells his disciples in Acts 1:8….
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8
This is our mandate just as much as it was for those original disciples. This gift of hope that we’ve received is far too precious to just keep to ourselves. And what a better time to share that gift with our friends and family and neighbors than at Christmas.
So I challenge you, as God brings you opportunity this Christmas, to share His good news with the people around you. (And I know things are different this year with all the COVID stuff – but our responsibility to our friends and neighbours remains the same!) We have to let them know that the little baby that was once laying in a manger went on to die on a cross and rise from the dead so that our sins could be forgiven and we could have eternal life.
And if by chance, you happen to be one of those people who have not yet accepted God’s gift of Salvation – if you’re one of those people that God is still patiently waiting for – I’d like to encourage you accept God’s gift of life today.
Because Jesus is coming back and we don’t know when. It may be tomorrow. It might even be today. It might be ten years from now – we don’t really know. But when He does come, when ever that is, the decisions that we’ve made in this life will be final.
If we continually chose to reject God in this life – rejecting him as our authority and rejecting him as the source of our life – then He will finally give us the autonomy that we’ve been demanding – and we will be separated from Him and all of his goodness forever.
But, if we’ve chosen to accept God in this life – if we accept his gift of forgiveness and the gift of eternal life that He offers us – if we again acknowledge Him as our authority and as the source of our life – then He will gladly embrace and accept us and we will spend eternity enjoying life together with Him forever. It says in Romans 10:9-13…
If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved. 11 As the Scriptures tell us, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.” 12 Jew and Gentile are the same in this respect. They have the same Lord, who gives generously to all who call on him. 13 For “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Romans 10:9-13
If you would like to make that decision today, there is nothing that I would like better than to help you do just that. As these verses tell us, it’s really not that complicated. All that’s required is that confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, and you will be saved.
And if you’d like to talk with me further about this – about how to live with God as your authority and as the source of your life – by all means please talk to me!. You can talk to me after the service – or call me up this week or send me a text or whatever. I’d love to talk to you about this.
You know, the theme for this message series has been “A History of Hope” – because that’s exactly what it is. No matter how badly mankind has messed up, no matter how many times we reject Him and insist on doing things our own way – which only compounds our brokenness… No matter how dark and hopeless life seems to get, God has continued to offer us hope again and again and again. Right from Adam & Eve all the way through the Old Testament, all the way through the New Testament – and right to where we are today. God continues to offer us hope.
He gives us hope in the midst of a pandemic. He gives us hope when our relationships are broken and suffering. He gives us hope when our immediate future seems unclear. No matter what our situation, God gives us hope! And one day soon, that hope will be realized – Jesus will return and we will spend eternity with our God – enjoying all of his goodness forever!