November 28, 2016

November 27, 2016 - Advent 1

Theme: Prepare the Royal Highway

Luke 17:20-25 Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, "The kingdom of God does not come with observation; 21 "nor will they say,`See here!' or`See there!' For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you." 22 Then He said to the disciples, "The days will come when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. 23 "And they will say to you,`Look here!' or`Look there!' Do not go after them or follow them. 24 "For as the lightning that flashes out of one part under heaven shines to the other part under heaven, so also the Son of Man will be in His day. 25 "But first He must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.

701:1 Prepare the royal highway; The King of kings is near!
Let ev'ry hill and valley, A level road appear!
Then greet the King of glory, Foretold in sacred story:
Hosanna to the Lord, For He fulfills God's Word!

Whether we’re talking about the first advent of Christ, or the second, both share a very important feature: they are about His kingdom. This morning our sermon text will be framed by verses of hymn 701. The task for believers today is to prepare for God’s kingdom. This is an advent hymn, meaning it is usually sung in connection with Christmas. As we begin that season we remember the people who prepared for Jesus’ birth. We think of who they were and how they worshiped their Lord. We don’t do this just to think fondly of the past, but we do so because it keeps us focused on our own preparation. We’re not waiting around for a child to be born, we’re waiting for a King to return. And yet, the connection between to the two is clearly present. As we remember the first advent it helps us be ready for the second.

God’s kingdom is important to both. When Jesus was born and as He grew on earth and became well-known, people began to think about what this Man was here to do. Clearly, His power and greatness was evident. The question was, to what end and for what purpose? For some, the focus of the kingdom was on the domain, or the location. These believed in what we might call an earthly kingdom. They desired Jesus to rescue Israel from the bonds of servitude under Rome and once again restore them to an autonomous nation. The idea of Jesus’ kingdom was that it would be here on earth. People would see it and experience membership in it in time and space.

We know that this first vision of Christ’s kingdom was a man-made illusion. Jesus clearly stated that His kingdom was not of this world and He constantly implored people to seek spiritual riches, not physical things. We get another saying to that effect in our text when Jesus tells the Pharisees that the “kingdom of God is within you.” Jesus was telling them what was in their heart was most important, for that is where God would establish His presence by faith. Focusing on external things would only serve to get in the way. This is the proper understanding of God’s kingdom. It is not about location per se, but rather about His ruling presence. In this sense it is very much like church. When we think of church we think of a building, a location. But, that is not what makes a church. A church is where Jesus is present and that can be any place where His Word is used. He said, “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them (Matthew 18:20).”

The first step for our preparation is to avoid the same mistake that so many made when Jesus first came. Location was not important, but rather what was going on in the individual’s heart. We can learn and teach all we want about the domains of heaven and hell, but that knowledge means nothing without God’s ruling activity in our hearts by faith. Our preparation continues with the next two verses of hymn 701.       

701:2   God's people, see Him coming: Your own eternal king!
Palm branches strew before Him! Spread garments!  Shout and sing!
God's promise will not fail you!  No more shall doubt assail you!:
Hosanna to the Lord, For He fulfills God's Word!

701:3   Then fling the gates wide open, To greet your promised king!
Your king, yet ev'ry nation, Its tribute too may bring.
All lands will bow before Him; Their voices join your singing:
Hosanna to the Lord, For He fulfills God's Word!

We’ve mentioned the first advent when Jesus was born and the second advent when He will return. In these verses, we are pointed to a third advent – His preparation to ascend the cross. Scenes of Palm Sunday are scattered throughout the verses of this hymn. The refrain is the same phrase of praise that the children sang. Verse 2 makes mention of laying down palm branches before the King. And the verse of Psalm 24 is quoted in verse 3: Fling, or lift up the gates, and the King will come in.

This is a reminder to us that although we are removed somewhat from Palm Sunday and the crucifixion as we prepare for Christmas, we undoubtedly must keep the two close in our thoughts. Palm Sunday was a day of triumph for Jesus, but just days after the doubters and mockers came forward. Jesus knew what ridicule was, first-hand. His willingness to suffer on account of our sins and to receive the slaps to the face, the spitting, the thorns, the scourge, and the nails showed that He trusted His Father’s plan. Imagine going through all of that while being innocent; we have a hard enough time suffering even when we are the cause of that suffering! If Jesus could endure under that weight, while being innocent, we can certainly trust Him to help us get through the jeers and the taunts.

We see that come forward in our text when Jesus tells His disciples not to follow those who would spread false rumors about His coming. He tells them that they will say, “Look here or Look there!” Those that detract from Christ surely want His followers to focus on anything but the cross. We hear the same advertisements even today.
·         “You’re such a horrible sinner, God couldn’t forgive that.” 
·         “Don’t believe that old Bible story, you know better than that.”
·         “That person is just the worst, they don’t deserve to be forgiven.”
·         “You’re doing just fine, don’t dwell on your mistakes or sins.”

And the crowd goes on and on, drawing us ever further from Jesus. But He says, don’t listen to them. There is only one path. Don’t get caught up in what’s going on there or there. Stay focused. Prepare your heart. Isaiah said this of staying on the path, A highway shall be there, and a road, And it shall be called the Highway of Holiness. The unclean shall not pass over it, But it shall be for others. Whoever walks the road, although a fool, Shall not go astray. 9 No lion shall be there, Nor shall any ravenous beast go up on it; It shall not be found there. But the redeemed shall walk there, 10 And the ransomed of the LORD shall return, And come to Zion with singing, With everlasting joy on their heads. They shall obtain joy and gladness, And sorrow and sighing shall flee away (Isaiah 35:8-10).

There’s a reason he called it the “Highway of Holiness.” There is only one path. It is only for the righteous by faith. Jesus was the only One who could walk that path alone, and so now we can walk that path with Him. It started, formally anyway, for Jesus on Palm Sunday. That path of glory and praise was the path of the cross, and the establishment of the Highway of Holiness for all believers. That’s our second preparation reminder, we can only walk with God if we walk with Jesus, and where He has gone before us. We continue with the final verse of hymn 701.

701:4   His is no earthly kingdom; It comes from heav'n above.
His rule is peace and freedom, And justice, truth, and love.
So let your praise be sounding, For kindness so abounding:
Hosanna to the Lord, For He fulfills God's Word!

To think of Jesus’ advent is to think also of Palm Sunday. And to think about Palm Sunday is also to think of Good Friday. That connection really comes through at the end of our text. Jesus said, "For as the lightning that flashes out of one part under heaven shines to the other part under heaven, so also the Son of Man will be in His day. 25 "But first He must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.”

Jesus states that His second coming will be like lighting that flashes in the sky. In other words, it won’t be missed. His coming will be clear, no one will escape it. Paul phrased another way by saying, “For it is written: "As I live, says the LORD, Every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall confess to God." 12 So then each of us shall give account of himself to God (Romans 14:11-12).”

Having the night sky break forth with light is unmistakable. That is how the second advent will be. But, it’s also how the first advent was. We remember how the multitude of angels broke open the night sky around Bethlehem, both with their chorus of praise and the inescapable light of their presence. Interesting how each time the Son of God comes to earth, light ushers in is His entrance.

But, here’s the contrast. In order for the Light of the world to shine, darkness had to have its day too. On Good Friday, the culmination of that triumphant Palm Sunday display, the sky became dark at noon. Light was defeated; darkness reigned. God’s power seemed to finally succumb to Satan’s desires. Righteousness had been snuffed out of the world. The Son of God had died. What amazing scenes these must have been, in both contexts. Good vs. evil, sin vs. salvation.

Enter here the final lesson in preparing for God’s kingdom. It comes in ways we would not expect. No human person expected victory to rise out of the ashes of defeat. No rational person would predict that God’s mission would be accomplished by sacrifice. And, yet, that’s exactly what happened. Jesus said as much here, “I must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation before I have My day.” Jesus didn’t suffer and die because He was actually being defeated. He suffered and died because that’s what it took to win the victory over your sin. No one expected it, least of all us, but God fashions His work out of the impossible.

What does this have to do with God’s kingdom? Well, remember, it’s about His ruling activity in our lives. Perhaps God rules in ways that are beyond our understanding. He creates faith in those whom we wouldn’t expect. He forgives sins which mankind deems unforgiveable. He loves people who show little to no love for others. God is continually doing the unexpected, the unexplainable, and sometimes the exact opposite of what we think would make sense. Advent shows us that each time we look at it. Not so much because a Child was born in a unique, miraculous way; but because of what that Child would go on to do. As with many other things concerning God, to understand it the best we can we have to look at the entire picture. The prepare the royal highway for God is to connect His kingdom work in His birth, at His death, and when He returns. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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