ShoreLife Youth begins this Friday!

Shore Community Church is beginning a monthly meeting for 2nd to 5th graders this Friday, January 15th at the OC Lions’ Club from 630-830pm. We will have snacks, play games, sing, and hear teaching all for the purpose of giving our younger students a chance to grow together in friendship and with the Lord.

If you have students in these grades, we would love for you to bring them on Friday! You can call, text, or email pastor Kyle if you have any questions – 302-396-9510; shorecommunitychurch@gmail.com.

This week’s Sermon…Why Jesus died.

Leading up to Easter, we are wrapping up our sermon series we have been preaching through which is entitled, “Watch Your Life and Doctrine”. To conclude this series, in these three weeks we are focusing on the Gospel from both a theological and practical viewpoint. Last week, we talked about Jesus’ life and the reasons he came and will come again. This week, we will see several reasons the Bible describes why Jesus died. This is an essential aspect of the Gospel and much of Christian ethical and moral teaching is related to this. So, in a sermon series focusing on how Christian doctrine and Christian behavior are worked out practically, the cross is the center-point of all that we have been talking about. Make plans to prepare your hearts and invite someone to come with you on Sunday.

Also, don’t forget, after the service this week, we will share a meal together. See you Sunday!

This week’s Sermon…Why Jesus came.

When we speak of the Gospel, in one major sense, we are talking about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. There may be more to the Gospel than this, but there cannot be any less. All of Christian doctrine and practice hinge upon this. This week, we are going to see a picture of why Jesus says he came. Opinions abound on why Jesus came, but unless those opinions are also stated in Jesus’ words in the pages of Scripture, they have no authority or merit. Make plans to be at church this week and invite someone to come with you so we can see the reason Jesus came.

An illustration and explanation of the Church

Here is a video that organizes a lot of what we have talked about the last few weeks. I didn’t make this video, but I think it brings together many elements in an understandable way:

Review and Reflect on Mark 14:27-52 – Jesus takes our place.

After Jesus shares the final Passover with his followers, they go out together to the Mount of Olives which overlooks the Temple area in Jerusalem. These are the final hours of Jesus’ life and he begins to speak to his disciples about what is going to soon happen in verses 27-31. Jesus quotes a passage from Zechariah 13 and tells his followers they are going to leave him, but he will gather them again in Galilee. The thought of rejecting him must have seemed impossible to the disciples and Peter voices this. He says, “I don’t know about these other jokers, but I won’t leave you.” Jesus replies to Peter giving him an even worse pronouncement. He tells Peter, “not only will you deny me, but you will deny me three times!” But Peter and all of the other disciples say that they are willing to die with Jesus in verse 31. After this conversation, Jesus takes his disciples to the place called Gethsemane in verses 32-42.

“Gethsemane” means “Oil Press” and John records it as a garden. Since it was on the Mount of Olives, it’s most likely this was an olive orchard. So, when you picture this in your mind, it’s probably less like a flower garden and more like an Apple Orchard. When they arrived at Gethsemane, Jesus told his disciples to have a seat while he went to pray. Then, he took, the 3 closest disciples (Peter, James, and John) with him. Verse 33 says after this Jesus began to be deeply distressed and troubled. He tells them in verse 34 that he is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. He tells the three to keep watch, or to pray for him. This is something we haven’t seen in Jesus up to this point. He has stood before crowds and before the religious leaders and remained strong. But, at this moment, sorrow and suffering has overwhelmed him. He goes to pray and in verse 36 we are given a glimpse into Jesus’ intimacy with the Father. Jesus is God in the flesh and he is also human. So even though it’s impossible to explain fully how these two aspects of his personhood come together, we see Jesus’ humanity in his agony. In the midst of this struggle, Jesus declares “Everything is possible for you”. In other words, “Father, you are strong enough to do whatever you want, so since I’m going through this you must have a good reason that’s unknown to me.” Jesus sees the circumstances that are coming and he has the opportunity to respond in faith in the Father’s plan, so too, we have the opportunity to respond this way in our circumstances. Some religions and spiritual teachings say that we should suppress our desires because they are the source of our suffering. Jesus doesn’t say this or model this. His desire to live and work is great, but his desire to obey the Father is greater.

For most of us, when we face suffering, we want to escape it. Jesus possessed this desire also. He asks that the cup be taken from him in verse 36. His desire to escape the Cup of God’s wrath is not wrong, and he could have escaped it. But his greatest desire is not that the cup would be taken from him, but that it would be taken from us. So Jesus says, not what I will, but what you will. In other words, Jesus is saying, “Father if there is any other way to reconcile humanity to you, let’s do it, but if there isn’t, then I will drink this cup. If there’s any other way to reclaim humanity, let’s go that route, but if there isn’t, I want your will to be accomplished in my life, even if it crushes me.”

The Cup that Jesus refers to, represents God’s wrath poured out on Evil. The Cup can represent God’s blessing or God’s wrath and cursing. We see this connection between the Cup and God’s wrath in passages like Isaiah 51, Jeremiah 25, and in a few places in the Psalms such as 11:6. The cup represents God’s response those who attempt to undermine his rule and bring about evil. Jesus is in agony here in Gethsemane because he’s beginning to experience what it’s going to mean for him to drink the cup of God’s wrath.

A lot of people don’t like to think of God in these terms. We would much more prefer a God that expresses love rather than wrath. But, think with me please about how love works. Think about the person or people in this world who are most dear to you. Now consider your reaction if someone tries to harm them, or even if they try to harm themselves. Our response is anger precisely because we love that person. God’s wrath is one way that his love is expressed. God opposes evil and sin in his wrath because he knows how it harms his people whom he loves. God’s wrath is also an expression of his holiness. He displays his anger toward anything that might attempt violate his being. When we see evil happening in our world and we see evil people succeeding, we want a God who loves us enough to stop the evil we see. So, when the time comes for God to pour out the cup of his wrath upon sin and evil, Jesus takes the cup from us, and he drinks it himself. We have all opposed God, we have tried to run our own lives and do things our own way. This is sin and a rejection of God’s authority over our lives. It’s not only harmful to us personally, but to those around us, and all of the created order. We are deserving of God’s wrath. But God is not supremely wrathful, he is supremely loving. And in his love, he deals with sin in a way that doesn’t violate his holiness, and it properly exercises his wrath. Instead of me drinking the cup of God’s wrath, Jesus drinks it for me, for us. Because he takes God’s wrath in our place, God’s holiness is maintained and his love is adequately expressed. 1 Thessalonians 1:10 speaks of “Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” We must not focus on the wrath to come and neglect the Jesus who delivers. God’s love, goodness, and holiness are at times exercised in wrath, but if we are in Jesus, we are rescued from that wrath.

In Mark 14, Jesus is about to drink this cup of God’s wrath to rescue us, and the physical, spiritual, and emotional weight of it is overwhelming to a degree that we cannot even imagine. Jesus is overwhelmed because he is feeling the weight of bearing God’s wrath and humanity’s sin. In verse 37 he goes back to his disciples and finds them sleeping; not praying. They all have just said that they won’t leave him and would even die for him, but he goes back to find them asleep. They say they won’t leave him, but they won’t even stay awake with him. He tells them in verse 38 to pray so they wouldn’t fall into temptation. He tells them temptation is coming, so pray for the strength to endure it. But their inability to join him in this part of his suffering is pointing to the fact that soon they will also leave him in the next part of his suffering. In verse 41 we see that he returns to them three times and finds them asleep each time. He has already told Peter that he would deny him three times, and in Gethsemane Peter fails him 3 times along with James and John. So, Jesus tells them to get up and meet his betrayer.

Right after Jesus gathers his disciples again, in verses 43-52, a mob led by Judas shows up. Verse 43 says the mob was sent by the chief priest, the teachers, and the elders. These are the people who Jesus has opposed in his teaching and now they finally get him back. Judas identifies Jesus by giving him the kiss of death and in verse 46 they arrest Jesus. One of the twelve, which in John’s Gospel is identified as Peter, lops off a guy’s ear. And Jesus puts a stop to the fight before it escalates. He asks, “Am I leading a rebellion?” in verse 48. His pattern was not one of violence, but one of healing and teaching. They didn’t arrest him when he gave them plenty of opportunities while he was in the Temple teaching over the last few days. But, the fact was, he was leading a rebellion, but not one with swords and clubs. His rebellion was of a much different sort. Judas didn’t understand this which is why his party had weapons. Even the other disciples didn’t get this, which is why one cuts off the guy’s ear. But do you remember Jesus’ message from the Beginning? The Kingdom is coming close enough to experience and the time is being fulfilled. Verse 49 alludes to this fulfillment again. The King is bringing his Kingdom through humility, suffering and death, not through rebellion and military might. God’s promise to rescue his people isn’t about their nationalistic circumstances, but about their hearts that are stuck in sin and destined for death. Jesus doesn’t resist when they arrest him, but he allows them to take him. In verse 50 everyone leaves him and we see the fulfillment of Jesus’ statement to his disciples in verse 27. 

There is an odd statement in verses 51-52 about a young man running away naked when they try to arrest him too. He is not identified as one of the disciples, so we have no idea who me may have been. Some say it was Mark himself who was with Jesus that night, even as a young man. There are several things to read on this passage, but they offer little help in understanding the significance of it. But, something so odd that doesn’t really advance the story or tell us much does have the mark of verifying the historical accuracy of the story. If this was a made-up story, no one would make up something like that and put it in the story, they would leave it out. It seems more plausible to see this story being included to point to the shamefulness of Jesus’ followers in abandoning him in his hour of greatest need. He told them many times that this would happen, and when it happened, no one went with him. The disciples display their shame, by failing to follow their Messiah. But what does Jesus, the Messiah do?

He is arrested, and as we’ll see soon he is treated shamefully, and ultimately killed by crucifixion. Jesus, the Messiah, willingly takes the shame of not only his own followers who abandon him, but the shame of every sinner who has ever lived. Jesus takes our shame upon himself, he bears our sin on himself, and it’s crucified along with him. Because of this, no longer do we have to run from God or try to hide our shame from God, but we can stand before him boldly, because Jesus’ blood has covered our shame. Revelation 7:14 says of God’s people “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” This young man lost his robe, revealing his shame. But Jesus gives us a new robe, one dipped in his own blood that covers our sin. He covers us with his love and acceptance, and even in our hour of shame and weakness, he loves us enough to die for us.

If you’ve failed to follow God fully and whole heartedly because of who you have been, or what you have done, let Jesus take on your sin and shame, and give you his love. When sinful behavior or sinful thought patterns are practiced in our lives, let Jesus’ love and grace lead you to repentance. Don’t be afraid to turn from your sin, and turn to the Good News of Jesus.

Review and Reflect on Mark 14:12-26 – Jesus gives the Passover as the Lamb

As part of the celebration of the Passover, there was a special meal prepared and shared that told the story of how God acted to deliver Israel from Egypt. The day when everyone ate this meal had arrived, and in Mark 14:12-26, Jesus is going to share it with his followers.  In verses 13-15, Jesus tells his disciples where to go to prepare the meal. It doesn’t say whether Jesus made these preparations ahead of time or not, but it is meant for us to understand in the context of Jesus’ authority. Remember how in chapter 11 Jesus sent his disciples to get the colt and to say “the Lord needs it and will return it”? Well this is similar here. The owner of the house responded to Jesus’ authority and gave him use of the room. Verse 17 says that as evening came, Jesus joined them in the room for the meal. Jesus knew what Judas had done back in verse 10, and he tells all of the disciples that one will betray him. In verses 18-20, Jesus says, this one who will betray me is one of you, eating this meal, sharing life with me.

Judas has always been presented in a terrible light, but he was one of Jesus’ closest friends. He travelled with him and worked with him for roughly 3 years before he betrayed him. That is what makes his betrayal all the more tragic.  Jesus was betrayed by someone he loved deeply.  But even in this terrible betrayal, the plan of God was going to be accomplished, and would not be hindered. Then in verses 22-25, Jesus shares the Passover meal with his followers. We have read that Jesus’ message was that the Kingdom of God has come close enough to experience and that the promised Time is fulfilled. We have seen throughout this Gospel that Jesus continually teaches that the reason this is happening is because he is the King and he is fulfilling the promises. Jesus fulfills the promises of Kingship passed down from David. He fulfills the law passed down from Moses. He fulfills the sacrificial system and the Temple with its religious expressions. He has re-oriented all of the promises and worship of God’s people upon himself. And here in verses 22-25, he now re-orients the Passover toward and upon himself. He says the cup that all drink of now represents his blood. He says that the bread that is broken and is passed out to everyone now represents his body. God delivered Israel from Egypt by killing the firstborn. Now God is going to deliver humanity from slavery to sin and bondage to death through the death of his own son. In Egypt, those who killed the lamb and applied the blood were passed over by death. Jesus is now showing that those who apply his blood to their lives will also be passed over by eternal death. He is the lamb who brings deliverance to the people of God and he is the lamb who takes away the sins of the world. This is a primary reason why since the first days of the church, church gatherings all over the world and throughout history have participated in Communion, Eucharist, or the Lord’s Supper. We remember our Lamb who is also our King. He rules over the world and he died to take away our sins. He gives his church this meal to share to remember what he has done for us.

Review and Reflect on Mark 13 – The Temple-Religion is being replaced by Jesus-Religion

Mark 13 is focused around Jesus’ response to the disciples’ question in verse 4 about when the Temple will be destroyed. In Jesus’ day, all of Jewish religion was focused on the Temple, but Jesus has been teaching throughout Mark’s Gospel that religion is changing because the time is fulfilled and God’s kingdom had come. As Israel’s situation became more and more desperate under Roman oppression in the 1st century, there was increasing expectation that God was coming to intervene and correct what was happening. Many Jewish people were awaiting a Messiah to come and overthrow Rome and bring in a golden age for Israel much like David had done. In this period of history there were many so-called messiahs who attempted to do this only to be violently defeated. But people continued to follow these types men who would arise with some measure of influence and military aptitude. The people thought God was coming at any moment to vindicate Israel.

In many ways, Mark 13 is a message contradicting this. Jesus is teaching against the man standing on the side of the street in a sandwich sign which reads “The End is Near!” In fact, Jesus is teaching that rather than being freed by military might, Israel is going to be overcome and the temple destroyed. Jesus is teaching that the time of this end is coming for Israel, but not as soon as they thought. He is telling them to get ready for the long struggle before them. 

Historically, people have interpreted Jesus’ answer here in Mark 13 in various ways. Some say that the entirety is referring to the Temple being destroyed in 70 AD during the First Jewish-Roman War. Others say that it is partially speaking about this and partially speaking about the end of all things or “End Times”. Still others interpret this passage with only the End Times in mind focusing on what it may or may not teach about the future.

There are some things that should guide us in our understanding of Mark 13. First, we should focus on what the passage clearly says before we move to speculation on future events. Allow the biblical text to drive our system of thinking rather than trying to fit a text into our system. The Bible is not a crystal ball so there’s no clear and decisive picture of how the future events are going to unfold. There are elements of future events recorded in the scriptures, but only enough to drive us to a proper response. That response is hope that God will bring justice and restoration to his world and proper fear of God that directs our behavior so we are ready to meet him at any moment. A second idea that should guide our understanding of Mark 13 is that we should consider how Jesus’ answer fits into the message of the Gospel of Mark before we think about how it fits into our understanding of unknown future events. And third, we should consider how this might impact us now and today rather than in some theoretical future. So our task is not to speculate about when the end of the world may be, but to consider what Jesus is teaching us about the Gospel, or Good News of God in Mark 13.

There are many passages to study when it comes to “End Times” studies, but the focus here is on Mark 13. This is not an attempt at an exhaustive discussion on Mark 13 (that would be exhausting!). In light of the three ideas proposed above, there will be two points argued in this approach to Mark 13:

  1. Here, the Bible is teaching that Temple religion is being replaced by Jesus religion.
  2. Applying what is read here out to teach us to live properly with watchfulness and expectation.

Jesus has spent the last few days in the Temple arguing with Israel’s religious teachers and leaders and teaching the crowds of people who had come to Jerusalem for Passover. In Mark 13:1-7, he now leaves the Temple with his disciples. As they are leaving one of the 12 remarks on the magnificence of the Temple structure. And in verse 2 Jesus says  the Temple is going to be completely destroyed. His disciples reply in verse 4 with a question about the timing of this destruction. The remainder of chapter 13 is primarily concerned with answering this question. There are two parts to their question: 1) When will this happen? And 2) what will be the sign of the destruction.

The disciples want to be prepared for this, so they ask Jesus to teach them about when the Temple will be destroyed. Whatever your view is of the Bible’s teaching of the End Times, it makes no sense to think of Jesus not answering the disciples question in Mark 13. Verse 4 frames the entire chapter around the subject of the Temple being destroyed. Mark 13 is not centered around the End Times, it is centered around answering this question. This is not to say that End Times elements are not found here, but they are not the center or focus of Jesus’ answer to this question.

Jesus warns them in verse 5 of those who would deceive them about these matters. In verses 6-7 he says false messiahs will come and there will constantly be news about wars local and throughout the Empire. He says the disciples are to respond to these things calmly because the end of the Temple will not have arrived quite yet. Verse 7 says, “do not be alarmed”. Why? Because “the end is still to come”. In other words, history will go on as always. There will be turmoil and problems. This doesn’t mean the end.

This would be the period in between Jesus’ resurrection and when the temple was destroyed in 70 AD, around 37 years. A lot happened during that time and Jesus was telling his disciples not to worry about the political upheaval and false teachers that would arise during this time.

In Mark 13:8-13, Jesus teaches that all of the problems the disciples were going to face should be expected. There will always be nations jockeying for power. There will be earthquakes and famines just as there has always been. Verse 8  says these things are birth pains. There is no doubt that you are going to have a baby when you have birth pains, but just because you have them, doesn’t mean labor has begun. Jesus moves from political turmoil and natural disasters to speaking about the preaching of the Gospel. The task of preaching the Gospel to all nations wasn’t going to be an easy one, so when his disciples do it they should expect to be opposed. Jesus says there will continue to be turmoil and upheaval all around them. They will be persecuted and it is through this persecution that the Gospel will be preached to the nations. This is what happens with Paul in the book of Acts when he goes before a Governor named Felix, before certain rulers, and ultimately he goes to Caesar himself and shares the Gospel. Verse 10 refers back to the question of verse 4. “What are the signs that the Temple will be destroyed?” is the question of verse 4. And verse 10 says, First, or before that happens, the Gospel will be preached to all nations. The nature of Gospel includes a missionary component from the beginning. It’s automatic that those who believe it will teach it everywhere they go. In the generation of believers after the resurrection, the Gospel spreads like wildfire all over the world. This is seen in the book of Acts: Paul and his entourage takes it throughout the Roman Empire. Church history holds that Thomas went to India. Philip preaches to an Ethiopian who believes and takes the Gospel to Africa. That generation after the resurrection takes the Gospel to the whole world. So, why was this necessary before the Temple would be destroyed?

Glad you asked!

If you recall, at places in several previous posts on Mark’s Gospel, we have talked about how Jesus was changing the way God’s people would worship him. No longer do the people of God need to go to a Temple and approach God through sacrifices, but now they can come to God face-to-face and approach him boldly through Jesus’ sacrifice. In order for Temple to be fully replaced, the Gospel needed to be fully established. We can think of it another way too: in order for the former Temple-and-Law-Religion to be replaced, the new Jesus-religion had to be established. So after the resurrection, the disciples proclaim the Gospel all over the world. All the nations of the earth now see how they may approach God through Jesus. They are no longer required to travel to a temple to offer sacrifice, because Jesus is their sacrifice and their temple. Here verses 8-13 talk about this task of taking the Gospel to all nations. It is not an easy task but it is a task that remains with us today and all Christians are called to it. Verses 12 and 13 speak about betrayal and death being results of participating in this mission. This has undoubtedly been the case for many throughout history from the apostles until today.

Mark 13:14-23 make reference to Daniel 11-12 and verse 14 refers to the” Abomination that causes Desolation”. It also appears in Matthew 24. Daniel’s prophecy was fulfilled around 167 BC when a Roman ruler named Antiochus Epiphanes set up a statue of Zeus in the Temple and sacrificed a pig on the altar in Jerusalem. Jesus borrows this same imagery when he foretells the temple destruction in 70 AD. The Jews revolted against the Romans in 66 and three and a half years later the Roman General Titus destroys the Temple in 70 AD. Jesus is warning his followers to be prepared and ready when they see this happen. In verses 21-22, he says false messiahs will continue to try to gain followers and Jesus says in verse 23 that his elect needs to be on their guard.

After this the language changes in Mark 13:24-31. The language becomes more stylized and figurative. Jesus is likely quoting Isaiah 13:10, but there are other similar passages to verses 24-25. Whether this is referring to AD 70, future events, or both is difficult to tell. One reason to interpret it as referring to 70 AD is because of the term “This Generation” in verse 30. Jesus is referring to the disciples and those following him at this point. Many of them lived long enough to see the Gospel expand worldwide and also for the Temple to be destroyed. This passage says that there will be no debate when this time comes. Jesus uses the fig tree again as an illustration. He says in verse 28 that when you see the fig tree covered with leaves there is not a doubt that it is summertime. Like this, Jesus says when all of these things happen, the end will be near. In other words, by the time you can tell it’s that close, it will be too late to prepare for it.

Moving on to Mark 13:32-37, there is another shift in the wording. Verses 17, 19, 20, and 24 refer to “Days” when speaking about the time surrounding the destruction of the Temple. Then in verse 32 it switches to “day”. There is a change of language that points to a change of subject. I view this as a change from Jesus speaking about 70 AD to talking about future events because of the change of wording in the text. Jesus changes the subject from answering the question in verse 4 about the sign of the destruction of the Temple, to the last Day or what we call the Second Coming of Christ. In verse 32 he says that although he has knowledge about the coming “days” of trouble in verses 17, 19, 20, and 24, about “that day” in verse 32, only the Father has knowledge. So the “days” of trouble are different from the coming “day”. He uses the example of a man leaving his house in charge of his servants in verse 34. This is pointing to Jesus’ resurrection and return to his heavenly throne. And he ends his answer with a challenge in verses 35-37 to “Watch” or be prepared.

So, after taking all of our time this morning to offer a brief explanation of Mark 13, let’s return to the two ways we need to apply it:

1.  The Bible is teaching us that Temple religion is being replaced by Jesus religion. This first application is related to our thoughts and how we read the Bible and understand Jesus. Mark 13 continues to teach Jesus’ Gospel that the Kingdom has come and the time is fulfilled. Jesus says the Temple is going to be destroyed because he has fulfilled anything and everything the Temple was meant to do. We now go to Jesus and through Jesus for worship. We worship him and he makes worship possible by his life, death, and resurrection. Jesus fulfills the sacrificial system that was practiced in the Temple. Animal sacrifice could never take away man’s sin. So Jesus becomes man, lives perfectly, and gives his own life as the perfect sacrifice for the sin he never committed. This passage is about the period of time from when the Temple religion changed to the Jesus religion and the latter was decisively established when the Temple was destroyed. The book of Acts and much of the New Testament describes this in between time. There are lots of questions about how Jews who believed in Jesus are to live. Jesus speaks beforehand showing that once the Temple is destroyed a lot of their problems were going to be resolved. He also makes a way for the whole world to be brought into God’s plan of redemption. There was an outer court to the Temple so non-Jews or Gentiles could come to worship, but Jesus tears the innermost curtain of the Temple so that now there is no more separation between Jew and Gentile. All who come to Jesus are God’s people regardless of race. Verse 10 points to the inclusion of all races in the plan of God because everyone can come to God through the Good News of Jesus, or what we also call the Gospel. In light of this, if you are attempting to come to God on your own terms then you are mistaken. God doesn’t require us to clean up our act before he’ll accept us. In fact, even if we do that, it doesn’t mean he will. He will accept all who come to him believing in Jesus and repenting or aligning their life with him. Attempting to be reconciled to God in any other way is not enough. Only Jesus can make a way for us to come to God. Not only does Jesus fulfill and replace the Temple, but he demonstrates that any attempts to reach God on our own are deficient. Only Jesus gets us forgiveness and eternal life.

2. Living properly includes a watchfulness and expectation. This second application of Mark 13 is related to our thoughts and our actions. “Be on guard” is mentioned 4 times in v 5, 9, 23, 33. Verses 35-37 summarized the point of the whole passage with one word “Watch!” Jesus leaves his followers and us with a responsibility to prepare for whatever following him might invite into our lives. He says watch in such a way that you endure persecution, aren’t led astray, have hope, and do not fear his return. The Christian life is one of continual preparation. We are called to regularly evaluate the way we think about life and the way we conduct our lives and be sure they are honoring to God. The Christian church has always believed that Jesus could return at any moment and if we should meet the grave before he does, then for those who believe, we understand to be a peaceful sleep. We are to live our lives in light of this.

The Classic Christmas: Retelling the same old stories.

Christmastime is about stories, listening to them and telling them. When we gather with friends and family during the holidays, we tell stories. The reason we do this is because there is something about Christmas that points to a story larger than us. Unfortunately, people often don’t know where to turn to find this larger story, so many people look to temporary and material things to find meaning and satisfaction. Other people try to make their personal story the great story. Everyone else should be concerned with it. The holidays can be the most depressing and loneliest time of year for many people, and part of this is because they don’t understand the larger story. All people can see is their personal stories of heartache, or loss, or lack, so they don’t see how their small story fits into something much bigger and much greater than they realize.

It’s only when we open our Bibles and read the grand narrative of the Lord that we find how we ourselves are caught up into a great and significant role in a story. When we stop looking inside ourselves for significance and look away from ourselves to our Creator, we are able to find meaning for our lives. God is writing an amazing story. He created you and I to be part of that Story as we worship him and follow him. When we join our lives to his, we find forgiveness, purpose, and satisfaction. He gives us each a role to play in the story he’s telling. The Bible is full of people who were seemingly random and obscure people, but somehow they find themselves as part of this great work of redemption that God is bringing about. When we read our Bibles, we see otherwise normal people being used by God.

One of the characters in the Biblical Christmas story is a guy named Zechariah. Zechariah finds himself unexpectedly very near the center of a story much bigger than himself. In fact, eventually he will come to realize that he isn’t just part of a story, but part of the story. He had a major role to play in God’s plan of the redemption of his people. The story begins like any other. In Luke 1:5-10, we see that Zechariah lived in a certain place and time. He was just like the people before him and around him. Verse 5 says he was part of the division of Abijah and he was married. Verse 6 says he and his wife were righteous, walking blamelessly. But, verse 7 says they couldn’t have kids. They did everything right and still didn’t get what they wanted. They followed God devotedly, but still didn’t have the one thing their hearts longed for. So they spent their years simply doing their jobs and living life uprightly before God. Verses 8-10 say that as he doing his job he was chosen to be the one to offer the yearly sacrifice in the innermost room of the Temple. But, all of a sudden, the years of living faithfully before God allow him to be uniquely placed in a position to fulfill a great part of God’s plan. Luke 1:11-25 describe how Zechariah and Elizabeth fit into God’s plan.

In verse 11 when the Angel appeared, Zechariah knew that God was doing something different. This is not business as usual. The angel tells him in verse 12, “do not be afraid.” This is most frequent command in Scripture because seeing an Angel is terrifying. A religious experience of this magnitude isn’t something that makes you elated or joyous, it terrifies you. People often seek after religious experiences where they want to feel God and his presence, but the overarching theme of this type of thing in the scriptures is fear and terror. Our emotions should be engaged in worship, but most of the time when people feel God’s presence in the Bible, it’s a scary thing because God is about to shake things up in an incredible way. In verses 13-17, the angel tells him that his wife is going to have a child and the role John will play in God’s story is to point Israel back to God. It says he’ll work in the Power of Elijah, he’ll turn fathers toward their children, and lead the disobedient to wisdom. He will prepare the Lord’s people. Zechariah had a hard time believing this, so the angel makes him unable to speak. In verse 22 he comes out of the temple and he didn’t speak so the people realized he had a vision. Then in verse 24, Elizabeth gets pregnant.

Since we are looking at the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth, let’ skip over some verses. Luke 1 interweaves the story of Mary with that of Elizabeth and Zechariah. This is appropriate because John’s story and work will be tied together with Jesus’ as well. In Luke 1:57-66, Elizabeth has her son, people just expected them to name him Zechariah after his father. But, they said they were naming him John, and as soon as this happened, Zechariah was able to talk again. Verse 64 says that when he named the boy John, he was immediately able to speak. After 9 months of silence, he speaks and of all the things he might have said, he blesses God, he offers words of worship to God. If it wasn’t enough that a lady who was well past childbearing years has a baby, the father is silent for nearly a year and then all of a sudden, he speaks. The people knew now that God was about to do something different. They knew the stories of how God had promised to be with them and to rescue them and in verse 66, they wonder what role this child had to play in this story.

The stories we tell at Christmastime are rarely new ones. We know we’ve told the stories, we know everyone has heard the stories, and we don’t care, we tell them anyway. Why do we do this? Because they matter. They are part of what makes our family our family and we recount them to one another. They ground us in where we come from. Some of them are embarrassing, or boring, but they shape our identity nonetheless. When Zechariah blesses God in verse 64, he is retelling a story that everyone knows. The substance of this blessing is found in our next passage: Luke 1:67-79. Zechariah retells the story of his family, the people of Israel. He retells the promises of God and reminds the people of God’s plan. This story tells the identity of God’s people and that they are part of a covenant and promise.

Zechariah’s Song is often called the Benedictus, which means “blessing”, because it’s what he said in verse 64. These verses are a declaration of God’s faithfulness to his covenant and promises with Abraham and David and extending to all of God’s people. This song is summary of the story of the Old Testament. Zechariah is recounting God’s covenant and promises made to his people throughout history. He’s retelling the same old stories. He’s also declaring that at this point God is fulfilling these promises and honoring the covenant. His son John is the one sent to prepare the way for the Messiah. This is why he quotes these passages in this song. They are drawing on huge Old Testament themes of God’s rescue and redemption of his people. Zechariah was overwhelmed with the knowledge that God was bringing these things to pass. There are probably lots of ways we could talk about this passages, but there are certainly two themes found here.

The first theme of Zachariah’s Song is Salvation in verses 68-75. Verses 68-69 mention God visiting and redeeming his people and raising up a horn of salvation for David’s house. This idea is found in 2 Samuel 22 (also Psalm 18) where David sings a song to God after the Lord delivers him from all of his enemies. In Zachariah’s day, the people of Israel were in their promised land, but ruled by foreigners. Many of them believed they were still in Exile because the Romans ruled them. So, many also believed that the role of the Messiah would be to overthrow Roman Rule. The Messiah was going to be like David and would save Israel from the oppression of its enemies. Verses 70-73 refer to God’s covenant with Abraham in Genesis 12 to make Israel a blessing to the whole world and how the result will be this deliverance. What we eventually see in Jesus’ ministry is that Roman rule is at most a symbol of true oppression. Israel had been exile and remained under the rule of the Romans because they were unable to serve God in righteousness and holiness as it says in verse 75. The least of their problems was Roman oppression, they could never live in holiness. They always failed to live up to God’s standards. Israel’s history is full of stories of God’s people not only failing morally, but running away from God and seeking after anything and everything except God to their own demise. Israel along with all of humanity continually turns away from God toward self and sin. Human-kind is without hope in the face of death, and is guilty of sin it cannot atone for. It’s this oppression that Jesus conquers on the cross, paying for sin, and then rising again overthrowing death. In Jesus, God pursues a people who did not seek him. Jesus pays for the sins of a messed up people. He brings salvation to the people of God because they could never achieve it or earn it themselves. This is the blessing that God promises in the covenants. Zechariah was awaiting this, looking forward; we can look back and find forgiveness and peace in this. Don’t trust in yourself to find salvation. It can never be earned or achieved. Trust in the salvation brought to us in Jesus who died for our sins and rose again. This is where we are rescued from the oppression of our souls. This is why Jesus comes at Christmas, to accomplish this salvation for us.

The second theme in Zachariah’s song is Preparation, found in verses 76-79. God had said that before he returned Israel, there would be a prophet send to prepare the way. In verse 76 we find a reference to Isaiah 40:3, which says, “A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” The word “wilderness” there is a reference to Israel’s state of Exile. Also, Malachi 3:1 says, “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me.” Zachariah’s son John is this one preparing the people to receive their Messiah. He was to tell the people who God’s mercy is about to be displayed resulting in the forgiveness of sins. Verse 79 says the result will also be light for those in darkness and a guide to peace. No prophet had spoken to God’s people in nearly 400 years, but verse 67 says that Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied. God’s messenger had arrived and his Messiah would soon arrive, so it was time for the people of God to prepare themselves.

At Christmastime we celebrate the coming of this Messiah Jesus. As part of our celebration, it’s appropriate to be reminded that we are also to prepare ourselves. Prepare for the Messiah to come to us. Now, we’ve all been preparing, buying gifts, decorating, and planning menus. But this season has a way of getting past us before we know it. If we don’t prepare for this season, we will miss what God has for us in it. Some of us need to stop preparing for Christmas, and prepare our hearts for Christ. We know we have been seeking after things and living for things that are not good for us nor honoring to God. We need to retell the old story to ourselves of what Jesus has done. He has brought us redemption and peace. But grounded in what he has done is what he will do. He will continue to form us into his image. He will continue to work holiness in our lives. He will not abandon us to the grave and he will not count our sins against us.

So, prepare your hearts for Christmas be remembering the Gospel and seeing how in might be infused into your life this season. Be patient with your family. Be generous to those who don’t deserve it. Be humble at those holiday parties. Don’t look for your significance in things that can be bought or things that fade away. Look to the story Jesus is writing in your life and see how he has brought you through trial and loss, how he has blessed you and been gracious to you, all so that you might find yourself in him. The love, peace, joy, and hope that we search for everywhere else is found in him and in him alone. Prepare your hearts so they won’t look elsewhere.