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The Promise of Hope

How many people here are planning to have an Advent Calendar of some sort this Christmas? If you don’t know what an advent calendar is, basically, it’s a countdown for Christmas! Its kinda like a regular calendar except it usually only has 24 or 25 days on it and each day is printed on a little door that opens to reveal something on the other side.

Sometimes’s just a little picture or saying or maybe even a Bible verse behind each door. But most often there is a little gift inside. For example, growing up, we often had an advent calendar that had little chocolates behind each door. More recently, I know several people who have had lego advent calendars with little mini legos sets behind each door. But the idea is you start on December 1st, and then each day, you get to open the corresponding door and get the little prize inside! And of course, the biggest door with the biggest prize is always on the 25th – so it’s a great way to build anticipation for Christmas.

And as a church, we do a similar thing. Of course, we only meet together once a week, so we don’t have a daily countdown, but we do have a weekly countdown. We count down the four weeks before Christmas, which of course starts today.

But instead of an advent calendar, we have an Advent wreath – which has five candles – one for each week, plus one final candle for Christmas Day. Each Sunday of Advent we light a candle – not only to build anticipation for Christmas, but also to remind us of what Christmas is all about.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the shopping and the festivities and the family gatherings – and all those other good things that come with Christmas – but in all that activity – we often neglect to put much thought into what we’re actually celebrating.

Christmas is a time to remember and celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ! That’s why His name is right in the title – Christmas – or “CHRIST”mas!

And so these Advent candles – each reminding us of a different aspect of the true meaning of Christmas – are a great way to help us remember that Jesus truly is the reason for the season.

That’s why, over these next five weeks, we’re going to pause our series going through the Book of Acts, and instead we’re just going to talk about the meaning behind each of these candles. What is Christmas really all about? And chances are, I’m not going to say anything that most of us haven’t already heard many times before! But if you’re like me, we could probably use the reminder! 

This morning we have already heard that this first candle is called the Prophet’s Candle or the Candle of Hope.  We also mentioned that over 1/4 of the Bible is prophetic in nature. And you might find that a little bit surprising. I mean, there is a lot of stuff in the Bible – history, letters, poetry, songs…. Does prophecy really make up more than 25% of entire the Bible?

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The Misunderstood Messiah

If you come from a more traditional Christian background, you’ll likely know that next Sunday is Palm Sunday. That’s the Sunday that begins “Passion Week” or “Holy Week” as it is sometimes called – which of course is the week that leads up to the death and resurrection of Jesus. So traditionally, we would celebrate Palm Sunday next week and then Easter the week after that. However, I’m going to bump things up one week and talk about Palm Sunday today, leaving next Sunday to talk through the Last Supper – and then of course, we’ll go through the Easter story on Easter Sunday as usual. 

So hopefully, that doesn’t mess up your traditional expectations too much – but there is just so much going on in that final week of the life of Christ, that I thought it might be best to spread it out a little bit.

Now as we’ve been following the life of Christ, it’s been interesting to see how all the four different Gospels vary in what parts of Christ’s life they include. In fact, there are actually very few events in the life and ministry of Jesus that are recorded in all four Gospels – but Palm Sunday (or the Triumphant Entry – as it may be labeled in your Bibles) is one of the them.

And although this event is recorded in all four Gospels – there is still quite a variety in the details that are included in each Gospel.  And so today, instead of sticking with any one particular Gospel, I’m going to try to pull the details from each of them so that we can get a more complete picture of what’s going on here.

Now if you were with us last week, you’ll remember how Jesus had just raised Lazarus back to life after Lazarus had died from a severe sickness. Because of this amazing miracle, many people believed in Jesus! And I want to begin today by reading the very next verses that follow that story – because they really set things up for what is about to happen next. We actually ended with verse 45 last week in John chapter 11 – and so let’s begin with that same verse today.

45 Many of the people who were with Mary believed in Jesus when they saw this happen. 

46 But some went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47 Then the leading priests and Pharisees called the high council together. “What are we going to do?” they asked each other. “This man certainly performs many miraculous signs. 48 If we allow him to go on like this, soon everyone will believe in him. Then the Roman army will come and destroy both our Temple and our nation.”

John 11:45-48

Now this is pretty significant. In these few verses, we begin to see just how concerned the leading priest and Pharisees had become about about Jesus. Their fear was that if all the people believed that Jesus was the Messiah, that would naturally lead to a revolt against Rome. You see, in their minds (and really, in the minds of all the Jews at that time) the Messiah was going to be a political and military leader much like King David or perhaps like some of the Judges of old – and he would free them from the oppression of the Romans – who had conquered them some time earlier! That was the image of the Messiah that they had formed in their minds from all the different Old Testament prophecies regarding the Messiah.

However, if Jesus were not the true Messiah (and the Pharisees were certain that He was not), then, when He would undoubtedly attempt to lead a revolt against Romans – it was sure to end in disaster! The Romans had no mercy on rebels – and the religious leaders feared that the Romans would make Jerusalem pay dearly for this Jesus-led insurrection that was sure to come – destroying both the temple and their nation!

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The Worship of the Wisemen

Through the month of December, our Sunday morning messages revolved around the characters of the Christmas story. We looked first at Jesus himself, then his earthly father Joseph, then his very young mother Mary, and then finally last week we looked at the shepherds who were outside of Bethlehem on the night of Jesus’ birth. Typically we tend to look at the events of Christmas more so than the characters, so I’ve appreciated the new perspective that we’ve gained as we’ve looked more in-depth at these different people.

Now my plan for today was to start leading us through a new series of messages that will take us right on through until Easter. Basically, I want us to walk through the life and ministry of Jesus Christ from birth to resurrection. However, I feel like we’ve kinda missed an important set of characters in the Christmas story. You’ve may have realized too, that we haven’t looked at the wisemen or King Herod.

And so today, I want to use the wisemen as a bridge between these two series of messages. They will be the final characters in the Christmas series, but also the first story in this new series as we begin to look at the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.

After all, the wisemen really do serve as a transitional story between the baby Jesus and the young child Jesus. Despite what most nativity scenes depict, the wisemen most certainly did not gather around the manger to meet baby Jesus on the night he was born, but rather, they met Jesus at least days, weeks, or even months after his birth! But we’ll look at all that stuff as we go through our passage today.

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The Incredible Pact of David & Jonathan

Today we are jumping back into our study of the book of 1 Samuel. And it’s been awhile, so before we get into today’s passage, we probably need a quick review of what we talked about last.

We’re currently at chapter 18 of 1 Samuel, and the young lad David, has just defeated in quite a heroic fashion, the Philistine giant Goliath. But David should have never even been in this battle. King Saul was the Israelite champion – and if anyone should have stepped up to fight the Philistine giant, it should have been him! However, it seems fear had solid grip on Saul and all of his men, and none of them had the courage to face Goliath in battle.

As for David, he was only at the battlefield to deliver some goods to his brothers (who were in Saul’s army)  and to bring back the latest news to his father. But when David heard Goliath’s defiant boasts against the Lord and he saw how no one dared to stop him, David took action and asked to go fight the giant.

Even though David wasn’t even old enough to be in the army, he was still confident that God would help him defeat the Philistine champion. After all, God had helped him defeat both lions and bears in hand-to-hand combat on multiple occasions while he was protecting his father’s sheep.

And so after some time, after seeing David’s confidence, King Saul agreed to let David fight Goliath. And, well, you know the story.

Armed with just a sling and five stones, David killed Goliath and cut off his head with Goliath’s own sword – and the entire Philistine army fled from the Israelites who chased them all the way home.

It’s one of the most famous stories the entire Bible.

But we need to remember that the story of David & Goliath doesn’t just stand alone. It’s actually just a chapter of the bigger story of King David – and David is just a chapter in the bigger story of God’s interactions with His people. 

And that’s what we’re going to see in our passage today.

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The Lord Looks at the Heart

This morning we begin a new chapter in 1 Samuel – both literally and figuratively. Of course, we literally begin a new chapter just about every week, but today the direction of our story really takes a significant turn.

Today we are introduced to David.

Did you know that David is the most mentioned person in the Bible aside from Jesus Himself? David is mentioned by name over 900 times – that’s 3 times as often as Abraham – who is considered to be the Father of Israel! Of the 66 books of the Bible, David is mentioned in 28 of them!

As you go through the Old Testament prophecies, the promised Messiah is constantly connected with David and his kingdom. In the New Testament, that theme continues and Jesus is even referred to as the Son of David. If you remember the story of blind Bartimaeus, that’s how he refers to Jesus. In Mark 10:47….

When Bartimaeus heard that Jesus of Nazareth was nearby, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Mark 10:47

David is obviously a very significant figure not only in the history of Israel, but in God’s overarching plan of Salvation for mankind! So I think it’ll be great to go through his life and perhaps see why God chose David to be such an integral part of the Salvation story.

I think I mentioned back 17 sermons ago when I started this series that the whole reason I wanted to go through the book of Samuel was to study the life of David! He’s such an interesting  and unique character – and of course, David’s life is filled with incredible stories. 

Slaying the giant Goliath, fleeing from the mad King Saul, pretending to be crazy himself to escape from the Philistines, leading his ever growing band of mighty men in great exploits against the enemy, rising from shepherd boy to King of Isreal, committing murder and adultery, but repenting and being called a man after God’s own heart, fleeing from his own son who tries to take his throne, and through it all composing hundreds of songs and poems to God that make up a significant portion of our Bible today.

David’s story is really incredible and I’m super excited to learn from his life as we go through these next chapters together.

To start off this morning, I just want to remind you where we left off last week. King Saul had been chosen by God to be the first King of Israel, and while Saul had been very successful in his military endeavours, he had been an utter failure in his relationship with God. Twice now Saul has been rebuked by the prophet Samuel for his disobedience. And because Saul had not been loyal to God, God has declared that Saul’s Kingdom will be torn away from him and given to another man – a man after God’s own heart!

But we closed the last chapter with both God and Samuel grieving over Saul’s foolish choices. The final verse we read tells us:

35 Samuel never went to meet with Saul again, but he mourned constantly for him. And the Lord was sorry he had ever made Saul king of Israel.

1 Samuel 15:35

It’s certainly not a very positive note and things are not looking very hopeful for the future of Israel. However, God’s purposes would not be thwarted by a disobedient King. God had already planned and accounted for all this and God was prepared to move forward with or without Saul. So we turn now to 1 Samuel chapter 16 to literally and figuratively begin this new chapter in the story of Samuel. Verse 1 begins like this:

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Passing the Baton

This morning we’ll be looking at 1 Samuel chapter 12 – which is often labeled in our Bibles as Samuel’s Farewell Address. Samuel had led the people of Israel for most of His life now – not as their king, but as judge, prophet, and priest. And on this day, Samuel would pass the baton of leadership to their newly chosen King, King Saul.

And I know we’ve been making this transition for a while now – we started back in chapter 8 when all the people of Israel asked God to give them a king to lead them. Even though God was their king and He had led them faithfully for several centuries – now the people wanted a human king to lead them. And so God decided to give them what they asked for. He had Samuel privately anoint Saul as their king in chapter 10. Then, to make the public announcement some time after that, Samuel gathered together all the people of Israel and through the process of casting sacred lots to reveal God’s will, Saul was chosen and proclaimed as King.

And while most of the people were eager to embrace Saul as their king, some of the people were a little more hesitant. In fact, some were openly opposed – they didn’t feel like Saul had what it took to be king. But all that changed in chapter 11 as Saul led the Israelites into battle against King Nahash of the Ammonites. God gave Saul a tremendous victory and all the people finally affirmed that Saul was indeed God’s good choice to be their King.

And so now, with all of Israel firmly in support of their new King Saul, Samuel prepares to complete the transition and pass the baton of leadership to the next generation.

Then Samuel addressed all Israel: “I have done as you asked and given you a king. 2 Your king is now your leader. I stand here before you—an old, gray-haired man—and my sons serve you. I have served as your leader from the time I was a boy to this very day. 3 Now testify against me in the presence of the Lord and before his anointed one. Whose ox or donkey have I stolen? Have I ever cheated any of you? Have I ever oppressed you? Have I ever taken a bribe and perverted justice? Tell me and I will make right whatever I have done wrong.” 1 Samuel 12:1-3

As this chapter begins, Samuel, the judge of Israel, holds court one last time. And in essence, he puts himself on trial. Actually, as you read through the chapter, there are three parties that will be examined for guilt – but he begins with himself. He invites the Israelites to testify against him – to point out any way that he has wronged them. And if he has done wrong, then he vows to make it right.

And this is something that we just don’t see in most of our leaders today. How many leaders can you think of that would willingly subject themselves to the accusations of an entire nation? How many would choose to go on trial and answer for any wrongs that they may have committed during their time in leadership? If you follow the news, it seems most leaders invest a great deal of time avoiding such things!

But not Samuel. He invites scrutiny and accountability. He welcomes public examination of his life and ministry. What kind of man does that?

Well, I’ll you what kind of man does that – a man of integrity! A man who keeps short accounts. A man who – when he does something wrong – he quickly admits it and makes it right before things go any further.

I don’t think Samuel was perfect or sinless. In fact, I’m sure of it! I’m sure he made his fair share of mistakes in life. He sinned just like everyone else. After all, the Bible tells us clearly that all of us have sinned – I’m sure Samuel was no exception! But what allowed Samuel stand before the nation with complete integrity is that He when he sinned, he immediately dealt with it. He didn’t hide it. He didn’t deny it. He didn’t justify it. But rather he confessed, he repented, and he made things right.

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