As the seasons of Advent passes and a new Church Year has begun, we look forward to Christmas nearly a year away. Of course, we pastors typically say, "Ok, now when again does Lent begin?" because we're already planning for the next major Season of the Church.
The Seasons of the Church Year are meant to help us focus on our Lord and Savior, Messiah Jesus. However, Advent is not just about Jesus coming for us, but how God prepares us to make Christian Disciples of All Nations. So before the season of Lent begins, let us reflect on what Advent prepared us Christians for.
As Christians we agree ALL people need the forgiving grace of God which comes through Messiah Jesus' suffering, dying, and arising again from the dead to save us from our sin and give us the gift of eternal life (Rom. 10:9-10.) After all, there is no other name under heaven by which we are saved (Acts 4:8-12.) However, we get hung up on who, what, where, when, and why of making disciples of Messiah Jesus. We feel unqualified and inadequate to answer all of life's challenges. However, Jesus' answer to all of our questions and doubts is found in two of His commands.
First, in Matt. 28:19-20 Jesus answers the "who," "where," and "why" with "ALL Nations." So, yes, going out would be part of fulfilling Jesus' command, but "going out" is not Jesus' command in this passage. I am saying this as one who for years went out on street corners in New York City as a missionary with the Apple of His Eye Mission Society. I can tell you stories of God's Spirit doing awesome things in countless people in Jesus' name. However, again "going out" was not Jesus primary command to us, His disciples. Accordingly, "outreach" is not a physical place or motion as much as it is a disposition, an attitude, a matter of presence. The Good News is God has given us many gifts which we take for granted, gifts which we are already using and don't realize.
Sadly there are several Christian denominations today who interpret "all nations" to mean everyone but Jewish people. Their theology suggests that Jewish people have no need for God's New Covenant, the very covenant formalized by Jesus at His Last Supper, ratified on His cross, and established in His resurrection. However, we must ask ourselves, are not the Jewish people a nation needing forgiveness of sin and eternal life like the rest of humanity? Jer. 31:31-34 affirms that God's New Covenant was needed because Israel broke God's Sinai Covenant (Exodus 20). The Gospel of John was written so that "[all people] might believe Jesus is the Messiah, and that by believing, [all people] may have life in His name" (John 20:31). The scriptures attest that Jews need Jesus the same way as Gentiles (Rom. 1:16, 3:29-30, 9:24, 10:12-13; 1 Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:28; Eph. 3:6; Col. 3:11).
The "when" is also mentioned in Matt. 28. It might not be as obvious, but Jesus' imperative (His command) is to "make disciples," not "go." There is debate if the "go" is a sending or if it is better understood "as you are going" as in; "as you are living your everyday lives," "as you go about your daily tasks," "as you work, play, mourn, sing, shop... as you are being a disciple of Christ make disciples of all nations."
So the only question remaining is the "how?" We could have people attend workshops and seminars, read books, listen to lectures, do role playing, etc., but Jesus' "new commandment" gives us the "how."
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:34-35).
We have faith in what we cannot see and hope for God's kingdom to come. When we enter God's kingdom, our faith will change to sight and our hope will change to fulfillment. However, God's love transcends faith and hope in that His love for us never changes (1 Cor. 13:13)!
Traditionally, the Advent Wreath models God's gifts for us in the four candles surrounding the Christ Candle: LOVE, PEACE, JOY, and HOPE. Each week of Advent we are dutifully prepared for the birth of Messiah Jesus. However, these are not just nice thoughts attributed to the four candles around the Christ Candle. These are God's gifts to equip, empower, and encourage us, His disciples, to make disciples of all nations.
- Preparation begins with God's LOVE. In His love, He gives us His Holy Spirit which grants us faith to receive His forgiveness of our sin and promised eternal life through Jesus' suffering, death, and resurrection.
- God's PEACE, which surpasses all human understanding, strengthens us because we know in our hearts that God is with us and will never leave us nor forsake us (Phil. 4:7).
- God's JOY empowers us to remain joyful even in the face of personal pain and tragedy (James 1:2-3).
- and finally God's HOPE that this world is NOT God's kingdom, but that His kingdom is yet to come. Yes, we celebrate that the one born King of the Jews has come, but as Jesus told Pilate His kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36). And how could it be for in Jesus' kingdom there is no pain, suffering, disease, or sin because we will live in the presence of the living God forever (Heb. 6:11-20).
These four gifts (LOVE, PEACE, JOY, and HOPE) prepare us not only to worship Messiah Jesus, but to bring the Good News of Jesus' coming to save people from ALL nations. The result is; no matter where we go, no matter what we do, no matter who we are with, we have received power from on high to share God's LOVE, PEACE, JOY, and HOPE with all who are around us (Rom. 8:31-38.) When we are experiencing trials and tribulations that would bring people to despair, we share God's PEACE. When people see us sad and depressed, we share God's JOY. And when people see us going through the valley of the shadow of death, we share God's HOPE. God's LOVE through Messiah Jesus is our source of faith and makes all the other gifts possible. God has given us these gifts to make us who we are - His disciple makers.
As we pray for those who are in need of God's LOVE, PEACE, JOY, and HOPE please meditate on Psalm 121 (A SONG OF ASCENTS):
Knowing what God's gifts (LOVE, PEACE, JOY, and HOPE) have done for us through Messiah Jesus; just imagine what His gifts will do in those around us.
May our LORD keep all our going out and coming in, even unto eternal life. In Jesus' everlasting name. Amen!