Last Sunday was the first Sunday of Advent and so we lite our first advent candle. Advent candles, as you’ll recall from last week, are like a countdown for Christmas. And not only do they build our anticipation for Christmas, but each candle gives us some specific reminders of what Christmas is really all about.
And so last Sunday, we lite the Prophet’s Candle – or the Candle of Hope. This candle reminds of all of God’s promises throughout the Bible. In fact, last week we started in Genesis and ended in Revelation, and through it all, we saw God’s continued and building promises of Hope – a Hope that would be one day fulfilled through the little baby who was born and laid in a manger.
Jesus Christ, God’s own Son, would be born as a human being, live a sinless life, and through his death and resurrection, provide the gift of eternal life for every person on earth! Even though man had rebelled against God and in doing so, had brought death and destruction into God’s good creation, Jesus Christ would put an end to sin and all it’s consequences, and would reign forever as the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace.
Now of course, not all of those promises have yet been fulfilled. Many have been – but there are a few more to go. And so with that same hope of Adam & Eve, King David, and all the Old Testament prophets – just as they eagerly looked forward to and hoped for the Messiah to come the first time, we too eagerly look forward to and Hope for Christ’s second return when He finally comes to make all things right. What a glorious Hope we have in Christ!
Today we light the second Advent candle – which, as Darian & Mikhayla told us, is the Bethlehem Candle – or the Candle of Faith.
And faith quite naturally goes hand in hand with hope! Hebrews 11 reminds us:
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1 ESV
To put it another way – hope is our eager expectation of future realities, but it’s faith that gives us confidence in that hope. Faith is the assurance that our hope is not just wishful thinking, but it’s based on something solid and trustworthy.
And so this morning, I want to spend some time talking about faith. What gives us the assurance that what we hope for will actually become reality? Is that perfect world that we talked about last week – an eternity with God where there is no more crying, no more death, no more pain – is that just delusional wishful thinking, or do we actually have good reason to believe that – to hope for that? What is the basis of our faith?
I want to start today by looking at the faith of Mary. Now of course, there are countless other examples in the Bible that we could look at, but it is Christmas after all, and really, Mary displays an incredible amount of faith – especially given her situation. So if you have your Bibles, turn with me to Luke chapter 1 – starting at verse 26 – and let’s see what we can learn about faith from Mary. It begins like this:
26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, 27 to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. Luke 1:26-27
Now just to interrupt really quickly, one of the key things that we should make note of in these verses is that Mary is a virgin who is engaged to be married. Of course, this is significant for many different reasons – but I point it out today because it reveals to us that Mary is still very young.
In those days in Israelite culture, most marriages were arranged marriages. And most often, these arrangements were made during the girl’s early teenage years. Some girls could be as young as 12 when they got engaged, but 13-15 would probably be more typical. And so while the Bible never directly tells us how old Mary was at this time, based on typical cultural practices, most scholars put her in that 13-16 year old range.
Which of course, really makes Mary’s response to everything that is about to happen all the more amazing! And you’ll see what I mean as we go along. Let’s keep reading as the angel Gabriel makes his visit to Mary – verse 28….
28 Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!”
29 Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. 30 “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God! 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”
Now, I’ll pause here again because this was an amazing message! As we talked about last week, all of Israel had been waiting for literally hundreds of years for God’s promised Messiah – the one who would crush Satan’s head and the one who would reign over Israel forever! And so for Mary to be told that her future son would be that Messiah was incredible! In fact, for Mary, it was almost unbelievable!
We read in verse 34…
34 Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.”
35 The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God. 36 What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she has conceived a son and is now in her sixth month. 37 For the word of God will never fail.” Luke 1:34-37
In essence, the angel told Mary that God was about to do the impossible! He was going to do an amazing miracle within her! Mary would have a baby simply through the power of God. And as proof of God’s ability to do the impossible, Mary could look to her relative Elizabeth who had just experienced a miracle herself!
As Luke tells us earlier in the chapter, Elizabeth was quite old and had been unable to have kids – but yet here she was – six month’s pregnant! God can do anything! And then, to punctuate everything he just said, the angel concludes with this definitive statement: He says, “For the Word of God will never fail.”
And it’s in that concluding statement that Mary is given a basis for her faith – the unwavering and unfailable Word of God.
Her anticipation of having a baby while still a virgin – was not just delusion or wishful thinking. The hope that her baby would be the long awaited Messiah was not a baseless fantasy! No! Mary could have faith that her hopes were all well-founded because God had said so. As the angel had reminded her: “The Word of God will never fail.” Her relative Elizabeth was living proof of that!
Whatever God says He will do, it will happen. God has both the will and way to make it happen – He knows all things and and He can do all things – so it will happen! The Word of God will never fail.
We were reminded of this last week as we talked about all the prophecies in the Bible. Over 25% of the Bible is God telling people “Here’s what I’m going to do.” And as we keep reading a little further on, we see that God does exactly what He said. The Word of God will never fail!
I saw a list this week of 351 prophecies about the Messiah from the Old Testament – and then for each one, it showed the New Testament passage where Jesus fulfilled each and every prophecy! Again, more proof that the Word of God will never fail!
No matter how crazy it sounds or how unlikely it seems, if God has said something to be true – you can count on it!
And this principle applies as much to us as much as it did Mary! Now of course, Mary had a fairly unique situation where she would really have good cause to wonder, how in the world is this possible? But we all have our own seemingly impossible situations that we have to wrestle through.
Maybe you wrestle with questions like:
- “How in the world can God ever fix this broken relationship?”
- “How in the world could God ever forgive me after what I’ve done?”
- “How in the world can I gain victory over this persistent sin in my life?”
- “How in the world will God take this awful situation and use if for good?”
Or “How in the world will God ever….” fill in the blank with whatever you’re wrestling with right now.
But can I encourage you this morning that the Word of God will never fail! If God has said something in his Word, you can be absolutely confident that God will bring it to pass – no matter how unlikely or impossible it seems.
What seemed completely impossible in Mary’s mind was totally possible with God. In fact, from God’s omniscient perspective, it was already done! God had already seen it all play out and he knew the final outcome from before time began! And that’s how God sees your situation too!
If God has said He’s going to do something – it’s as if it’s already done! We just have to trust God and allow him to work everything out according to his will and plan! And I know that’s tough to do. We don’t have God’s omniscient perspective! All we can see is the here and now. All we can see is the impossible. But we just need to remember that from God’s perspective, it’s already done. The Word of God will never fail.
We just need to learn to trust and believe that. And Mary did!
This is probably the most amazing moment of Mary’s story. It’s verse 38…. After hearing all these incredible things from the angel Gabriel…
38 Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her. Luke 1:38
Can you believe that response!? Can I remind you once again that this is a young teenage girl. She has just been told that she is going to have a child out of wedlock – something that was totally scandalous in that culture! Because of what the angel had just told her, she could expect to live the rest of her life as an outcast, to say the least! On top of that, she had no idea how her fiancé Joseph would react to all this. I mean, technically, if she was found to be with child – Joseph had the right to have her stoned for committing adultery. This truly was a life-altering announcement that the angel has just brought her! And what does she say?
“I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.”
What an astonishing statement of faith! What a mark of incredible spiritual maturity!
And this from a 13-16 year old! I can’t speak for you, but I know that when I was 13-16 years years old, I had nothing like that kind of spiritual maturity!
Even now, if God were to give me life-altering assignment that would totally upend the future life that I imagined for myself – setting me as an outcast among my friends, family, and community – I’m not entirely convinced that I’d affirm the Lord’s will as quickly as Mary did! I’d like to think so, but I’m not convinced!
But Mary didn’t even hesitate! She had the kind of confidence in God that enabled her to fully submit to his will – even when she didn’t understand how it would all work out.
And I guess that’s the definition of faith! As we read in Hebrews 11:1 earlier…
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1 ESV
Mary had no idea how this was all going to play out. She didn’t know how her parents would react or how Joseph would react! And she certainly didn’t understand how she was going to have a baby while she was still a virgin.
But she believed God. Her faith in God allowed her to have the assurance of things hoped for – the conviction of things not seen.
And I think that’s a great reminder for us today. We can have that same kind of confidence in God no matter what our situation.
Because the reality is – all of us place our faith in something – the only question is who or what will we place our faith in?
And I think going through a crisis really reveals where we place our faith.
As North Americans, we tend to put a lot of our faith in our economy, for example. We gain our confidence from our ability to provide for ourselves. We feel hopeful when the markets are up, when there’s savings in our account, when there’s a regular paycheque every two weeks. We feel good about life. So long as the money is in place, we have have a sense of joy and peace and hope for the future.
But what happens when the economy falls apart? What happens when the markets crash, when our retirement funds disappear over night, or when the pay cheques stop – what then! Do we lose our joy? Do we lose our peace? Do we lose our hope? If so, then maybe our faith in is the wrong thing?
Or how about another example: I think most of us put a lot of faith in the medical community. We’re trusting that our doctors and nurses and chiropractors and pharmacists will all keep us healthy and well. We’re trusting that they can cure our sickness and treat our broken bodies. Right from the birth of our babies to caring for us in our old age – We put a lot of faith in the medical community to keep us healthy and well.
But for all the advances in medicine and for all the wonderful facilities and for all the hard work of these dedicated professionals – people still get sick. People still suffer. People still die. Medicine and doctors are wonderful gifts from God – but they are not our ultimate source of hope and peace.
And I could give you several more examples of misplaced faith. Perhaps we trust in our governments to save us from disaster. Or we trust our families to be there when we need them most. We trust our own abilities and our own wisdom and our own strength.
But all of these things can be taken away from us in a flash. All of these things can let us down.
It’s like the kid’s song that we sometimes sing –
“The man in the world, he gonna let you down. But my Jesus neva fail!
The President – He gonna let you down.
The Prime Minister too – He gonna let you down.
Your Parents, Your pastor, your money, your boss, your doctors…
The man in the world, he gonna let you down.
But My Jesus neva fail!”
And that’s really the bottom line of it. My Jesus never fails!
God has never made a promise that He hasn’t kept! He’s never failed to keep his Word. If He says something will happen – that something happens!
- If God says “I will never leave your nor forsake you” then God will never leave you or forsake you.
- If God says “I will work all things together for good” then God will work all things together for good.
God always keeps his promises – even in those times when we have no idea how He’s going to do it.
We can put our faith in God. We can believe that God is who He says He is and that He will do what He has said He will do. In fact, God requires such faith. Hebrews 11:6 says..
“Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” Hebrews 11:6 NIV
Faith is a requirement for us to please God. It’s a choice that we have to make.
Of course, we won’t ever be told by an angel that we are going to miraculously give birth to the Son of God, but all of us face situations where we need to choose to put our faith in God. We need to choose to believe His promises and trust in His character.
And really, why wouldn’t we? I mean, who else would we trust more than God? Our governments? Our stock brokers? Ourselves?
Is anyone more wise or powerful than our God? Is there anyone who is as loving and good and generous as our God?
We only need to look to the cross and to the empty tomb to see just how good and how powerful our God is.
Romans 8:31 reminds us:
31 What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? 32 Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? 33 Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. 34 Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.
35 Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? 36 (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) 37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.
38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.
That’s got to be worth a hallelujah or an amen! Our faith in God is not a blind faith. It’s not a ‘cross-your-fingers-and-hope-for-the-best’ kinda faith. Our faith in God is a confident trust in a powerful, loving God and in His Word. Our faith is in a God who was willing to die for us and who had the power to rise again from the grave!
It’s true that we don’t know how all the difficulties in our life are going to turn out… We don’t know what will happen to the economy or to our jobs or to our schools or to our loved ones. There’s all kinds of unknowns.
But we do know that there is a God who is sovereign over all. We know that God loves each one of us more than we can even comprehend. And we do know that God works all things together for good for those who love Him. God has clearly said so in His Word.
So rather than fearing the things that we don’t know – let’s put our faith in the One who we do know.
Let’s put our faith in the One who saw all of history from before time began.
Let’s put our faith in the One knows exactly how He’s going to rescue us or get us through whatever situation that we find ourselves in.
Let’s put our faith in the One is still in control and will use every situation for his glory and our ultimate good.
Let’s put our faith in God.