Sunday, November 27, 2016

Hope (Advent)



During Christmas, we talk about a Messiah, a King and Savior who was anointed or appointed as our deliverer. There are a lot of things that need fixing in the world – the song rightly included a whole list of things that Jesus fixed while he was on earth – but the most important thing is that “the child you delivered will soon deliver you.” All of his miracles, as wonderful as they were, served to confirm that He had the power to deliver us from sin and the spiritual death that comes with it. [1]

What should we expect this deliverance to look like in my life and in the world around me?  When I pray, “Thy Kingdom come, they will be done,” I have a pretty good idea of what I think that ought to look like. But does my expectation align with reality? What will a world look like in which Jesus is the Messiah, King and Savior?

I ask these questions because they are intertwined with our Advent focus today: hope. How can we understand and experience a godly hope in this life?  In order to answer this question well, we need to understand what it means that Jesus is the Messiah and what kind of hope he meant to bring, or we will experience a lot of frustration and anger because we have false expectations about what a Messiah will do.

So, let’s do history.

Every king of Israel was known as “anointed one,” (the prophet or high priest anointed him); the Hebrew term was “messiah.”  When the line of kings in both Israel and Judah ended with the exile to Babylon, the title “anointed one” gradually began to mean a future king who would save Israel. [2]

The Jews believed that “the covenant will be renewed: the Temple will be rebuilt, the Land cleansed, the Torah kept perfectly by a new covenant people with renewed hearts.” (N.T. Wright) A lot of hope was placed in this “age to come,” or the messianic age. The ‘salvation’ would be a rescue from the national enemies, the restoration of the national symbols, and a state of peace.[3]

The Jews were waiting for a Messiah, a King. And they waited…. and waited… through captivity and bondage and despair. Not surprisingly, false Messiahs arose.  They were longing for God’s Kingdom to come - and they had a pretty good idea of what it ought to look like.

There were three main Messianic movements around the time Jesus was born (it’s more complicated than my overview. These are broad, very general categories).

First, the Warrior/Politician Messiah.  For those who wanted to fight, the Messiah would free them from Roman oppression; there would be a physical rule on earth where other kingdoms would bow to them. These were the Zealots. Just to give you an idea of how serious they were, about 100 years after Jesus died a man named Simon Bar Kochba amassed an army of  200,000 men. When he went to war he would pray: ”Master of the Universe, do not help us and do not help our enemies.” (He was crushed by the Romans and tens of thousands were slain. Some Orthodox Jews still consider him the closest to a real Messiah the Jews have seen).

When Jesus entered Jerusalem, people spread coats (a sign of a king – see 2 Kings 9:13) and waved palm branches.  Here’s why. Solomon dedicated the Temple during the Feast of Tabernacles using palm branches; when Judas Maccabeas, one of the founders of the Zealots, briefly freed Jerusalem from Roman rule and purified the Temple in 165 BC., the Jews celebrated with palm branches – a symbol which continued to be used by the Zealots. Many of the Jews likely greeted Jesus with palm branches because they thought He would be the new Judas Maccabeus, fighting for the Temple and God’s people. (Jesus apparently had a Zealot among his followers - Simon, on whom the Bible is largely silent).

Second, the Torah or Temple Messiah. Under this Messiah, the temple and the Law would finally be exalted over all the earth. The Sadducees were pretty elitist about the priestly class, though they had no problem with working with Greek culture. The Essenes moved into the desert to get away from everybody else – including the Sadducess. This wasn’t so much a revolt as a movement toward holiness and piety. If they could just have the space to recreate the theocracy of old and follow the Law freely, fully and publicly, the world would notice and change. That’s how the Kingdom of God on earth would arrive.

Third, the People’s Messiah. This messiah would do those other things, but most importantly he would he would bring about world peace and comfort.  He would bring freedom from economic inequality and class oppression. They were most inclined of all the Jewish groups to long for a day when everybody would get along. The Pharisees were the most closely aligned with this idea.



Jesus’ three temptations in the wilderness were loosely connected to these three Messianic hopes (Matthew 4:1-11):
  • to rule the world (Warrior Messiah)
  • to restore the glory of the temple (Torah/Temple messiah)
  • to turn stones into bread (People’s Messiah)
Perhaps these all point toward a New Heaven and New Earth, where all these longings will be perfectly fulfilled; however, that was not Jesus’ primary mission while on earth. His mission was focused on a spiritual salvation, not a physical one.

Human nature being what it is (and the world being what it is), it is no surprise that we all long for some type of messiah. You don’t have to be a Christian to know that something is wrong in us and around us. It may be something we did or something done to us, but we know that the world needs help. We, too, run the danger of missing the hope of our Deliverer if we expect the salvation Jesus offers to be something different than he intended.

We can long for a Warrior Messiah who offers hope through power.

If we aren't careful, we will confuse the Kingdom of God with the empire of America. We will think, “If my culture or my government is for me, who can be against me?” We will begin to believe that winning whatever culture war is in front of us is the answer to the world’s problems. In its worst form, we will long for a God of Judgment who gives the world what’s coming to it, and we will just settle in and watch as all the pagans get what's coming to them.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t be involved in our culture. We are called to be ‘salt’, and salt preserves (Matthew 5:13-16). Our faithful and bold presence is necessary.  I’m talking more about where we place our hope. I’m talking about the danger of seeing ‘winning the culture wars’ as the salvation of our culture. If we do that, we will see religious, political, and celebrity leaders as messianic figures, and we will see all those who aren’t on the same page as we are about particular issues as lesser Christians.[4]

We can look for a Temple Messiah, a savior who offers hope through the Law.

If we aren't careful, we will locate the Temple Messiah within the walls of a withdrawn, internally focused, know all the right phrases, build an impressive theological resume, look just right, volunteer for the right things Christian community. Our hope is in our ability to follow the Law and in so doing usher in a compelling vision of the Kingdom of God.

The Saducees became elitist; the Essenes retreated. That’s the danger. If we place our hope for ourselves and our culture in being good, we will begin to inevitably judge ourselves and others by our conformity to the Law, and we will either become elitist (if we think we do it well) or we will withdraw from culture because we think that’s the only way to keep ourselves pure. Either way, our hope is not in Christ, and we will end up in a place where we have no real hope to offer a world that desperately needs it.

We can limit Jesus to being a People’s Messiah, one who offers hope through the eradication of injustice.

The People’s Messiah is a social justice warrior, convinced that God’s Kingdom will come to earth in the form of equality, fairness, justice, and an environmental and global consciousness. We provide clean water, and buy fair trade products, and talk about carbon footprints. None of these are bad things, right? They are just a bad foundation for hope.
  • We provide clean water – to people who are sold into human slavery. We buy fair trade products – from people whose local government takes their profit.
  • We raise the standard of living - and people are no more happy, loving or generous than they were before.
  • We change our Facebook profile with a logo Facebook so helpfully provides so you can help promote what Facebook wants us to promote, and we radically change our lifestyle to support all things socially conscious - and yet the world does not look saved.
We can run ourselves silly in good causes while forgetting that the problem causing all these symptoms hasn’t been addressed.

I want to be clear: to whatever degree you get involved in helping to offset the ravages of a fallen world, it is commendable. God cares about all the ways in which the world is broken, and we should too. I’m not suggesting that you don’t get involved in social issues, or that you don’t seek to live holy lives within the confines of God’s law, or that you don’t get involved in politics or entertainment. These are good and just ways to offset the impact of sinfulness in a fallen world, and we ought to be faithfully present to be the ‘salt’ in our world. These just can’t be the things in which we place our hope.

The reason the world is broken – the reason we long for a Messiah to save us -  is that sin has broken the world, brought spiritual death to us, and hurt those around us. The Bible is clear that we  - and by connection, the world - are dead without Christ in our trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1).  And because of that part of our nature, we do not steward the world as we should; we don’t share our wealth like we should; we don’t pass laws like we should; we don’t live the holy lives we should.  In and of ourselves, we can never be good enough, and we can never make the world good enough. Until God fixes the sin inside of us, nothing will successfully or fully fix the impact of sin around us.

There is only one solution for this: the life, death and resurrection of the Messiah, Jesus, “who takes away the sin of the world!" ( John 1:29; Matthew 1:21). That is our hope. If we want the fallenness of ourselves and the world to be addressed, there is no other name under heaven by which we can be saved (Acts 4:12).
Since we have been acquitted and made right through faith, we are able to experience true and lasting peace with God through our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One, the Liberating King. Jesus leads us into a place of radical grace where we are able to celebrate the hope of experiencing God’s glory. And that’s not all. We also celebrate in seasons of suffering because we know that when we suffer we develop endurance, which shapes our characters. When our characters are refined, we learn what it means to hope and anticipate God’s goodness. And hope will never fail to satisfy our deepest need because the Holy Spirit that was given to us has flooded our hearts with God’s love.

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When the time was right, Jesus died for all of us who were far from God, powerless, and weak. Now it is rare to find someone willing to die for an upright person, although it’s possible that someone may give up his life for one who is truly good. But think about this: while we were spiritually dead because of our sin, God revealed His powerful love to us in a tangible display— Jesus, the Anointed One, died for us. As a result, the blood of Jesus has made us right with God now, and certainly we will be rescued by Him from God’s wrath in the future. If we were in the heat of combat with God when His Son reconciled us by laying down His life, then how much more will we be saved by Jesus’ resurrection life?  In fact, we stand now reconciled and at peace with God. That’s why we celebrate in God through our Lord Jesus, the Anointed. (Romans 5:1-11)

The “hope of glory” is Christ in you (Colossians 1:27). Only the Messiah, the Savior, can bring everlasting hope to the hopeless.



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[1] Think of what Jesus said to the paralytic in Mark 2: “Why do My words trouble you so? Think about this: is it easier to tell this paralyzed man, “Your sins are forgiven,” or to tell him, “Get up, pick up your mat, and walk”? Still, I want to show you that the Son of Man has been given the authority on earth to forgive sins. (to the paralytic) Get up, pick up your mat, and go home.”

[2] Here's a great explanation of ‘Messiah.’  http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/messiah/

[3] Here’s a good article on false Messiahs. http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/12416-pseudo-messiahs

[4] We read in Luke 9:52-55 about a time when the disciples were angry at the Samaritans and asked Jesus if he wanted them to call down fire and obliterate those terrible people. Jesus said, “Of course not: I came to liberate people, not destroy them.” If you think the Messiah can’t wait to burn the evil out of the world, and you can’t wait to burn it with Him, you have missed the mission of the Messiah.

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