Preaching during Advent

The Advent season is a wonderful time to preach and teach about our inclusion with Christ in the love and life of God.

Following are some notes I have put together for a Pre-Advent sermon this Sunday on what is sometimes called "Christ the King" Sunday. Your thoughts, addition, deletions, etc. are welcome.

Who is Christ?
(Col. 1:15-23; 2Cor. 5:14-23)

We come today, as every Sunday, to celebrate Christ—the one who has come, is coming and will come. We celebrate his comings in the Advent season which begins next Sunday and extends through Christmas.

Who is this Christ who comes? Could he be far bigger and grander than we often allow ourselves to realize? Let us open our minds and hearts today and get a clearer view.

Here’s what Paul says concerning Jesus Christ (Col 1:15-23):
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. 21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation-- 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.

Let’s recap what we have read here. Jesus Christ is…

1. God
He is “the image [icone] of the invisible God” (15a). Jesus is the “icon” of God—the perfect representation. When you see Jesus you see God. He is the Eternal Son of the Heavenly Father; the second person of the Trinity: Father, Son and Spirit. God, three-in-one; one-in-three. When you say Jesus Christ, you say God.

2. Creator & Sustainer
Jesus Christ is also “the firstborn over all creation” (15b). To be “firstborn” is to be preeminent (v. 17 says he is “before all things”) a position he holds because he is Creator of the entire cosmos: “For in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers--all things have been created through him and for him”(v. 16, NRSV).

And he also sustains all that he creates. As Paul says in Acts 17.28, it is “in him” [in God] that “we live and move and have our beings.” This God is none other than Jesus Christ: our Creator & Sustainer. And note that we are sustained “in him”— indeed, “in him all things hold together” (17b).

This is a thought that blows our minds—in some very real way, all that exists has its existence both because of God and in God—in Christ, God’s Creative Word, to be precise. Indeed he really does have “the whole world in his hands”—and in his mind—not as a distant and disinterested caretaker, but as its continuing source of being. All that exists, exists in him.

When you say Jesus Christ you say Creator & Sustainer of the entire universe, including all humanity. Including you.

3. Reconciler
Jesus Christ is also the Reconciler of the cosmos. God, through Christ, reconciled “to himself all things…by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (20).

This same God, who in himself creates and sustains the cosmos, has also, within himself, reconciled all things to God. In his own person he has taken what was separated from God by sin and brought it back. Healed the breach. Brought perfect peace. In God’s mind there is now no separation.

This amazing and glorious truth points us to another truth about Jesus Christ: his incarnation. The Eternal Son of God, the Creator & Sustainer of all things has accomplished the reconciliation of all things with the Father by coming into the cosmos in a body. Jesus Christ added our humanity to his divinity. Immanuel: God with us. God one of us. To reconcile us to God. Note v. 22: “He has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body.”

During the Advent season our attention is once again focused on this astonishing truth—God became sinful flesh so that he might come to us for the purpose of reconciling all the cosmos back to God. In the person of Jesus is the reconciliation of all.

Jesus did not “fax in” from afar this word of reconciliation. He was, in himself, the word of our reconciliation. Up close and personal.

Paul makes this truth clear to us in 2Cor 5:14ff

14 …we are convinced that one [Christ] died for all, and therefore all died.

Whatever happened to Jesus Christ in his humanity happened to all of humanity. Why? Because he holds all humanity within himself as its Creator and Sustainer. Jesus took up within himself through his incarnation our full humanity (sinful nature and all). God become sinful flesh.

15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

When Jesus died, all humanity died with him. When Jesus rose from the grave, we all rose with him. And when he ascended to heaven to sit at the Father’s right hand in glory, Jesus took all humanity with him. Jesus is our home. Jesus is our glorified humanity.

And so when we say Jesus Christ, we are saying God. When we say Jesus Christ we are saying Creator & Sustainer. And when we say Jesus Christ we are saying Reconciler of all humanity back to God. And this should change forever how we look at all people

[Back to 2Cor. 5]:
16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them.

The gospel—the good news—is just that because all humanity has been reconciled to God in and through Jesus Christ; because Jesus paid the sin debt once and for all. God is not angry at anyone! He is not keeping a record of anyone’s sins. God is not a cosmic Santa Claus “keeping a list and checking it twice—gonna find out who’s naughty and nice.”

In Jesus, the gap between God and humanity was closed nearly 2,000 years ago. As Jesus said on the cross, “it is finished.” And now we have a calling [continuing in 2Cor 5]: “19b He has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Jesus took on our humanity, including our fallen nature—he became sin for us. And as our sin-bearer—our representative and substitute—he died our death, rose for us and with us, and now has taken our humanity with him to heaven, our true and final home.

Our job? Tell someone who they are in Christ—and invite them to embrace their true identity: "You are the Father’s dearly loved child." Welcome them home!

4. Intercessor

Who else is Jesus Christ? [Back to Col 1]:
22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation-- 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.

Here is amazing truth—even though humanity exists fully and only in Jesus Christ, who is Creator & Sustainer and Reconciler of all, God gives us freedom as individuals—whether believer or non-believer, to choose to participate actively or choose not to participate at all in the life that is ours in Jesus.

So what do we do? First, as we have seen, we invite others to participate in the family that is theirs. We welcome them home and acquaint them with the life that is theirs in Jesus.

But we also need to remind ourselves—as one preacher said, we need to "preach the gospel to ourselves every day."

What is the gospel? It is the good news of who Jesus Christ is and therefore who we are.

As we are filled with this good news, we are open to the presence of Jesus in our lives—or more accurately we are open to the life we have in and with Jesus. And we choose to actively participate. We choose Jesus because he chose us!

Now those choosing not participate in his life are in a precarious position [Col. 1:21]:
Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.

Though in God’s mind there is no separation (every human being is already reconciled, in Christ, to him--every one is his dearly loved child), in some human minds there continues to be alienation — some continue to choose to walk in the darkness of their own alienation even while being bathed in the light of their true life in Jesus. Let us help them find that light! Let us help them embrace their true identify as the Father's child. Welcome them home!

And a note to those of us who believe - let us never retrun to walking in darkness and alienation. Be encouraged and emboldened in knowing this: your Intercessor, Jesus, will always pull you back to his light. Through the indwelling Spirit he always helps you continue to actively share what is yours in him—helps you continue to be established and firm in the truth that is in him—not being moved away from the hope held out in his gospel (verse 23).

Be confident. Listen to Jesus. Respond. Participate actively.

This Advent be powerfully reminded of who Jesus is: God in the flesh, Creator & Sustainer, and Intercessor. The one who has come and reconciled us all; the one who now bids us participate with him actively in that reconciled life.

Joy to the world! The Lord has come!


Ted and Brothers/Sisters,

In the Spirit of Thanksgiving, we can be thankful to share in our participation with the Holy Spirit in educating others in this Good News!! I never cease to be stunned!! Ted has summarized in such a clear and concise manner this wonderful Good News!!! I recommend you start preaching things like this as soon as possible! :-)

We must start paying more serious attention to the witness of the Spirit in our souls as much as anything else. This seems to be what I hear a few expressing. Our soul and hearts seem to know something about how good this truth of our adoption and inclusion is, but our heads and consciences won't quite let some of us go there - yet!!! Indeed, the Gospel really is, even to we Christians, too good to be true!!!

As Richard Parker was stating in a previous post, and in my own words, "The Gospel is FUN but it is NOT a game!!!" If what you have been preaching is truly bringing Life to people and you see that joyful transformation the bible speaks of taking place, by all means, keep preaching what you are preaching..BUT...

if you can be honest enough to admit that you aren't really experiencing life in all of your current "hustle-bustle" and activity and preaching (and neither are the sheep under your care or your family members!), then you may need to consider very seriously and highly that Jesus is asking us to repent and believe the Good News of Himself more accurately at this time, and we should at least give this Word of Jesus a serious try!!!

Perhaps in all of our "bible speak" about God being able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, we are being challenged to the core and we can see more clearly that we have grossly and systematically underestimated Jesus Christ, and that, even as Christians, we find that we don't really believe in a God that can exceed our fallen imaginations and capacity to think!!

It is NOT a matter of playing fast and loose with scripture, as Ted properly said in the last post, but scripture is NOT the Word of God, Jesus is!!! John 1! We actually get that from scripture!! To take scripture seriously IS to take JESUS more seriously - Luke 24:25-27!! How far we have fallen to think that the bible is God's Word, and that the words on a page carry more authority than the Person of Jesus Himself!!! It is on this very point that we are being called to faith and repentance!!! But will we take faith and repentance seriously and participate in Jesus' faith and repentance on our behalf??? Gal 2:20!

I find it interesting to note that the Nicene Creed was put together by the Church BEFORE the biblical canon was! In other words, when you wear glasses (and we all do theologically speaking), you wouldn't dare try to read words in a book without them - you can't see them well at all and you misinterpret everything! Yet we keep making such a practice of reading scripture before picking up our Nicene Creed "glasses" and think we can see! In fact, some think the Nicene Creed is "boring" and "not practical"!! To those who can't see, how practical are glasses???? Extremely!!!

Logically, how can you explain respecting the bible and not the Nicene Creed when the same set of Christian folks developed and initiated both of them??!!!!

The Holy Spirit was literally giving us our pair of glasses before he gave us the book, so that we would not mistake the words in the book for the Persons in the Godhead, Who have the preeminence. Let's take the book seriously, but not more seriously that we take the Persons and Godhead to Whom they are pointing!!! This is Karl Barth's great emphasis and proper exhortation! As Jonathan Stepp has pointed out, we even need to take the Epistles with more weight than the Gospels of Matt, Mark, Luke and John, because the Holy Spirit inspired the Epistles to be written first, and the Gospels to be understood only in the Light of that further Revelation given mainly through Paul!

Good Gravy!!! Can't it be seen how we have gotten this thing systematically all backwards???!!! When did the bible become more about the words rather than a witness to the Word - Jesus?!

All of scripture is profitable, but not without correct glasses, and not if Jesus isn't taken seriously as the Light of the World (cosmos) - John 8:12!!! This sermon of Ted's takes Jesus seriously as the Light of the World, and the One in and through Whom all things are created AND sustained! If we don't get this point, we do not yet have a proper pair of Christ-centered, apostolic, biblical glasses, and most of our conversations are like trying to talk apples and zebras!! This also explains the ongoing, profound confusion we are having sometimes in our comments on this blog! In my opinion, 99% of the time we are in disagreement on the blog is because we aren't even talking about the same thing in the same ballpark!!!!!! Not even close!!! This speaks to paradigmatic problems rather than to the hearts of people! We need a better venue than this blog for trying to understanding the basic paradigmatic differences.

If we are going to criticize any theology or theologian, we must be able to demonstrate how they are NOT preaching accurately Who Jesus Christ is - even from the testimony of scripture!!! This is our "basic math" of theology. Some scriptures precede other scriptures and carry more weight!! This is what we are coming to see more clearly by God's grace. The unclear (Matt 25 for many) must be viewed through the clear (Colossians 1!) If I prioritize Matt 25, the reconciliation of all things to God in Jesus in Colossians 1 does not fit or make sense! If I prioritize the clarity of reconciliation in the Person of Jesus as stated in Colossians 1, I can see things more objectively, and understand more clearly, the subjective interplay at work in Matt 25!

Again, it is NOT "either/or" thinking but "both/and" thinking that will win the scriptural day, and only one paradigm, the Christ-centered one, will enable us to reconcile all things - because in the Person of Jesus Christ, all things and people have been reconciled - Ephesians 2:11-18! There are only two kinds of people in the bible - Jews and Gentiles :-)

In the ongoing toil and struggle with you, and always your Adopted and Included Brother in Jesus,

Ted Johnston said…
Tim says in his post that "scripture is NOT the Word of God, Jesus is." While I understand and appreciate his desire here to uphold the supremacy of Christ above all else (Holy Scripture included), his statement may leave the impression that Scripture must, then, be only the words of man (even if inspired by God).

What might be helpful is to take this issue back to the person of Jesus, and there note that we find God free to incarnate himself in our world, adapting himself to our limitations, all to reveal to us the fulness of who Jesus is (and thus who we are).

I find this line of argument gives me an even deeper appreciation of the Holy Scriptures as a vital, living and powerful way that God brings to us the real presence of the Lord Jesus: Jesus incarnated in print, if you will.

I think this approach is useful, scripturally faithful, upholds the full sense of the inspiration of Scripture, and keeps our discussion on the solid ground of a Christ-centered theology that forms for us a Christ-centered Bibliology.

This approach of Scripture as the incarnation-in-print of God's Word, helps us understand how God would indwell ("inscripture," if you will) human words within human customs, cultures and thought forms of all sorts in order to speak "in our language" the truth of God's Living Word Jesus and the life that is ours in him.

And so in this sense, I have no problem referring to Scripture as the Word of God.

One more point: this incarnating of the Living Word in written text is indeed a symphony of many movements that is orchestrated by the Spirit. It is he who inspired the original authors, who led the church to affirm the Canon, who intervenes still to preserve an accurate text (even through multiple translations in multiple languages and amazing circumstances over multiple centuries), and who takes an active role in illminating the minds of those who read the text.

In all these (and certainly more) ways, the Spirit brings to us in the text the Living Word, Jesus.

And so the bottom line for me is a very high view of Scripture as a vital gift from God-bringing us Christ in a unique, powerful and accurate way. And so, though I don't worship the Bible, I revere it as a vital part of and a unique basis for my sharing with Jesus, his worship and adoration of the Father in the Spirit.
Hey Ted!

I appreciate your comments and agree with your fundamental reasoning. My distinction is made in my use of "W"ord versus "w"ord - that is all, and it seems you may have misunderstood that point!

The only thing you wrote that I would want you to explain more is where you wrote "And so in this sense, I have no problem referring to Scripture as the Word of God." I can agree that it is the "w"ord but NOT the "Word" as you seemed to indicate. Is that what you meant?

To be more clear, I am certain that you do NOT mean that the words that are of the Evil one are the Word but were given to us by the Word, in the word, for instruction, reproof and understanding. You do seem to be pointing out, appropriately, that all things are bound up in Jesus, and in that sense are only sharing in the Word ultimately, and that the Word lives in us as we are, (humanly and creaturely) limiting Himself in His Freedom to relate with us at our level.

My post completely upheld the word as the inspired Word of God and important, which is why I stated it in these terms:

"The Holy Spirit was literally giving us our pair of glasses before he gave us the book, so that we would not mistake the words in the book for the Persons in the Godhead, Who have the preeminence. Let's take the book seriously, but not more seriously that we take the Persons and Godhead to Whom they are pointing!!!"

There are some important distinctions to be made in Word versus word in order that we uphold the Union with Distinction that we understand God to be, and that we share in by His grace!
Ted Johnston said…
Hey Tim,

My concern is not so much in what you are saying, but in how it might be mis-understood. This is a difficult and delicate topic and my goal is clarity, and also to strike a middle ground between what might be called "Biblio-idolatry" (ascribing to the Bible those things that are true only of God himself) and the other extreme, which sweeps aside Scripture as merely the words of men about God. I am ascribing neither of these views to you-in fact, I think we are in substantial agreement, though I'm wanting to be very careful in our words so as to minimize misunderstanding.

Of course, I'm not wanting to put words in your mouth. And indeed, as we write these things down and learn how they are read by others (one of the great values of this blog), we gain understanding of what terms are useful and clear to say what we are seeking to say.

And, of course, our understanding of what is true is always less than perfect and complete. Thus we always come to this discussion with humility, seeking growth in the truth that is found only and fully in Jesus.
Gotcha, and Thanks for the clarification Brother! :-)