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…
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?
This morning as we continue our journey from Christmas to Easter – following the life and ministry of Jesus – we now find ourselves much closer to Easter than we are to Christmas. Although we aren’t given a precise timeline in the Scriptures, all the of the events that we will look at from this point on are likely to have taken place within the final 2-3 weeks before Jesus’ death and resurrection.
That being said, there is still a lot of stuff that happens during those 2-3 weeks. In fact, if you read through the Gospel of John, pretty much the last half of the book all happens within those last two or three weeks. So that’s probably helpful for us to remember as we go through our story this morning.
This morning we’ll be reading primarily in John chapter 11 – so if you’d like to follow along in your Bible, you can turn there with me now.
John chapter 11 – starting at verse 1 – reads like this:
A man named Lazarus was sick. He lived in Bethany with his sisters, Mary and Martha. 2 This is the Mary who later poured the expensive perfume on the Lord’s feet and wiped them with her hair. Her brother, Lazarus, was sick. 3 So the two sisters sent a message to Jesus telling him, “Lord, your dear friend is very sick.”
So here we are introduced to three significant characters in the life of Jesus – three siblings – Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. And we quickly see that these three seem to hold a special place in Jesus’ heart. Specifically, in verse 3, we read that the two sisters refer to Lazarus as “Jesus’ dear friend.”
This tells me that this plea for help is not like the many other pleas for help that came to Jesus on nearly a daily basis. These sisters are not random strangers that have sent word to Jesus, hoping for a miracle – kinda like what we saw a few weeks ago with Jairus or the bleeding woman. But rather, these are some of Jesus’ closest friends. In fact, as we read through the Gospels, more than once do we we see Jesus hanging out at their house for dinner parties and spending time with them. It seems that Jesus is actually pretty close with this family – they are some of his closest and dearest friends!
But now one of these friends, Lazarus, was sick. Very sick according to the message sent to Jesus in verse 3.
Now if you’ve been with us over these last several weeks as we’ve been following the life and ministry of Jesus, you’ll recall how Jesus always seems to have compassion on those in need. When the wine ran out at the wedding, Jesus turned water into wine. When the crowds who were listening to Jesus teach became hungry at the end of the day, Jesus multiplied bread and fish for them to eat. When Jairus’ daughter was sick and dying, Jesus immediately stopped what he was doing and went to heal her!
Jesus always seems to have compassion on those in need! And so if Jesus showed such great compassion on people he didn’t even know, certainly, he will have compassion on his dear friend Lazarus! So let’s read what he does!
For those who haven’t been with us for a while, we are currently working our way through the life and ministry of Jesus – creating a bit of a timeline to help us see how all of the stories and events of Jesus’ life all fit together.
And so far, we’re really just begun. We looked first at the one event recorded for us in the Bible of Jesus childhood – that is, the time when his family visited Jerusalem for the passover and Jesus got separated from his parents for three days. Eventually they found him in the temple – sitting with the religious teachers – listening to them and asking questions – growing in his understanding of God and already beginning to carry out His Father’s will.
Then we hit the fast forward button and jumped ahead in time to when Jesus was an adult and was baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. Although Jesus certainly didn’t need to confess or repent of any sin, his baptism marked the first step in his journey to the cross where He would take all of our sin upon Himself and take our punishment once for all.
And then right after His baptism, we saw that the Holy Spirit led Jesus out into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil for 40 days and 40 nights. Of course, Jesus had complete victory over every temptation that Satan brought his way and he modelled for us how we too can have victory over the temptations that we face.
And that brings us now to the beginning stages of Jesus’ public ministry. Today we want to look at two “firsts” for Jesus. I had originally planned just to look at Jesus’ first miracle, but as I read through that, I realized we should probably back up and also look at Jesus’ first disciples as well – since they are a significant reason for why Jesus did this first miracle in the first place. So we’ll start with his first disciples in John chapter 1 and then we’ll move to chapter 2 to look at his first miracle. It is quite a lot of material to cover in one message so we are going to go through it all fairly quickly – but hopefully, we’ll be able to pick up on the major themes that run through these two passages and learn something important for our lives today.
Now as we mentioned back at Christmastime, the Gospel of John really doesn’t say much about Jesus’ birth or early life. Instead, John gives a brief summary of who Jesus is and what He came to accomplish, and right after that, jumps into the narrative of John the Baptist. So in John’s Gospel we don’t actually meet Jesus until after Jesus had already been baptized and presumably after he had returned from his 40 days in the wilderness.
And before we start, I should mention that we will be talking about two different John’s today. There is John the Baptist (whom we’ve talked about already) – and then there is the Apostle John who would eventually write the Gospel that we’re reading from. I’ll try my best to clarify which John I’m talking about as go through it. I did a word count when I was finished this message and apparently I’ll be saying the word “John” about 75 times! So hopefully we won’t get too confused.
And so as the Apostle John begins his story of Jesus, we see John the Baptist preaching and baptizing – explaining to the people that He Himself was not the Messiah – but He was only preparing the way for the Messiah.
And it’s at this point that Jesus happens to be walking by and John spots him from a distance. This is where we first meet Jesus in John’s Gospel – this is in John chapter 1 verse 29…
29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 He is the one I was talking about when I said, ‘A man is coming after me who is far greater than I am, for he existed long before me.’ 31 I did not recognize him as the Messiah, but I have been baptizing with water so that he might be revealed to Israel.”
32 Then John testified, “I saw the Holy Spirit descending like a dove from heaven and resting upon him. 33 I didn’t know he was the one, but when God sent me to baptize with water, he told me, ‘The one on whom you see the Spirit descend and rest is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I saw this happen to Jesus, so I testify that he is the Chosen One of God.”
Even before Jesus performed any miracles or preached any sermons or taught any parables, John the baptist was boldly declaring that Jesus was the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. There was no doubt in John’s mind that Jesus was the Chosen One of God – the Messiah that everyone had been waiting for. And so John was very enthusiastic and intentional about pointing people to Jesus.
And that’s actually one of the things that impresses me most about John the Baptist – he always pointed people to Jesus – both figuratively as he called the people to repent and to prepare themselves for the coming of the Messiah – and now quite literally, as He points out Jesus in the crowd and declares that Jesus is the Chosen One of God. John’s focus is never on himself – he’s not trying to build up his own ministry or increase His own following – but He always very plainly points everyone to Jesus…
Of course, at this time, John had huge crowds of people coming to see him and hear what he had to say. He himself had several disciples that were following him and learning from him. We even see many years later in the book of Acts that the believers in Ephesus were still preaching and practicing the baptism of John – and so John’s influence was quite far reaching!
But John was always very careful not to make it about himself – it was always about Jesus. In fact, John would later say in John 3:30…
As many of you have probably noticed, I really enjoy preaching through Biblical biographies! I love preaching through the life stories of all the incredible characters found throughout the Scriptures. Over the years I’ve preached through the stories Joseph, Elisha, Samson, Nehemiah, Abraham, Samuel, King Saul, and so far, about 1/2 of the life of David.
But I realized something this last December. As I began preaching through the different characters of the Christmas story, I realized that I’ve never really preached through the life of Jesus!
Now of course, Jesus has been a key part of pretty much every sermon I’ve ever preached! After all, every part of the Bible points to the life of Jesus in some way, shape or form. He is the central figure of the Bible and it all relates back to Him.
But as far as chronologically working through the life of Jesus here on earth, that’s something that I’ve never really done!
And so – for these next few months between our seasons of Christmas and Easter – I want us to walk through the life of Jesus – from Christmas to Easter.
And I don’t intend to make this a detailed, comprehensive study on every aspect of Jesus’ life here on earth – perhaps one day we’ll do something like that – but this time around I just want to create a bit of a timeline for us – just a basic outline to see the flow and progression of the key events in Jesus’ life and ministry.
We certainly spend a lot of time studying his birth every Christmas… and his death and resurrection every Easter – but what about all of the other stuff that happens in the middle? I mean, we’ve got miracles & parables, training the 12 disciples, healing people, casting out demons, teaching and preaching…. But how does it all fit together? How exactly do we get from Christmas to Easter? So that’s what I want us to look at for the next few months.
Now of course, having just come out of the Christmas season, I think we’ve all had a sufficient refresher on the birth of Jesus, so I won’t go over all of that again. Instead, I want us to pick up the story a little later on in Jesus’ life – when he is now 12 years old.
Not much is recorded about the life of Jesus prior to his full-time ministry – which he started when he was about 30. In fact, this event I want to look at today actually is the only recorded story in the Scriptures of Jesus’ childhood – outside of his birth. So that, in itself makes this a rather unique story.
It also includes the very first recorded words of Jesus. So I think this will be a key point for us to look at as we begin this overview of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.
Now just before we get into our passage today, I briefly want to fill in the timeline between Jesus’ birth and our story today. When we concluded our Christmas series with the wisemen and King Herod a couple weeks ago, we ended with Joseph taking his wife and new baby down to Egypt to escape from King Herod who had ordered his soldiers to kill all the baby boys in and around Bethlehem. Of course, being warned of this in a dream, Joseph took Mary & Jesus and fled to Egypt – where they stayed until Herod died – which happened probably less than a year later. After Herod died, an angel appeared to Joseph again and told him that it was safe to return to Israel. So Joseph took his family and left Egypt and they eventually made their way back to their hometown of Nazareth.
Now of course, Luke doesn’t include the story of the wisemen, King Herod, or the trip to Egypt in his Gospel (only Matthew includes those details) – and so as we begin our story in Luke chapter 2 today, the flow of the story may lead us to assume that Mary & Joseph returned to Nazareth just a few weeks after Jesus’ birth. But actually Jesus could have been 3 years old or even older by the time they made it back to Nazareth – where Jesus would then grow up.
Of course, we’re not given those types of details in the Scriptures, so it’s probably not too important for us to calculate all the dates and numbers and put it all together in a neat little package. Those details don’t change purpose or the message of this story, but I did just want to mention those things briefly, just in case you had questions about that as we get into our passage today.
So let’s start reading in Luke chapter 2 – starting at verse 39.
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.