Jesus Christ – the Word made flesh, the Lamb of God, the Bread of Life, the Good Shepherd - He is the One we celebrate today. For the past four weeks, we have anticipated His arrival, and today, we celebrate Him!
He came to fulfil our hope, giving His life to pay a debt that we could never pay ourselves. He made it possible for us to have a restored relationship with God, the One Who created us. He also gave us the confident expectation that, one day, all that is wrong with the world will be made right, and we will live with Him forever.
He brought peace into a turbulent world. Those who allow His peace to permeate their lives enjoy peace in their hearts, even if their circumstances are far from peaceful. God’s peace restores relationships among one another, regardless of gender or ethnicity. We also look toward the day He returns, to make an end to all war, and bring His perfect peace.
He gave us joy. We have been forgiven by the very One Who was wronged by our sin - why wouldn’t we rejoice?! We also rejoice that the Almighty God, creator of the universe, cared enough about lowly man that He sent His Son for us. He gives us joy even when we walk through unhappy times; and, as we look forward, we anticipate ever-increasing joy.
He showed us love. Jesus’s great love for us motivated His arrival and life on this earth, and Scripture records many times where He demonstrated love to those He encountered. He bore our sin because of His great love for us. As we look to His return, we anticipate living under His loving care forever.
Today, as we light the Christ candle, we celebrate the One Who brought hope, peace, joy, and love into our lives, and continue to look forward to His second Advent, when He restores original, sinless perfection.
Love is one of the deepest desires of the human heart. It is a powerful force, an emotion that will inspire people to do things they would not otherwise do. Kingdoms and nations have been formed, joined, and dissolved in the name of love, and it appears in nearly every popular song.
Love is a gift from God, which we see when God brought Eve to Adam; he was so overcome with love that he broke out into song! (Genesis 2:23) Sadly, sin tainted the purity of that love among humans. Yet God continued lavishing love on His people, especially those who were feeling unloved – including Leah, the unloved wife of Jacob; and Hannah, the eventual mother of Samuel. God used human love to preserve His people as well; the love between Esther and the king of Persia kept Israel from mass slaughter, and the love between Ruth and Boaz continued the line of the Messiah. Even the prophets, who would often bring news of pending judgment, were motivated out of love for the people to whom they were sent.
When Jesus walked the earth, He continued to expand our understanding of what love is. He always took time to stop and care for people along the way, showing us that love is not just an emotion, but an action. He told His disciples that the greatest love was to lay down one’s life for one’s friends; then, He actually did it! Writing to the church in Rome, Paul described it this way: “God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). James challenges us to be consistent, demonstrating our love both in word and in deed. And, in Revelation, we read about the time yet to come, when Christ returns and restores the pure, true, and holy love that sin lost.
Today, as we light the candle of love, we express our love for our Savior, eagerly anticipating the day when mankind’s love is once again true and pure.
Last year, I wrote 5 Advent readings for our church, which we read in our services just before we lit each candle. Each candle (before Christmas) points to an aspect of the prophesied Redeemer:
The center candle, which we light on the Sunday on/after Christmas, represents Christ, the greatest gift.
Over the next 5 Saturdays, I’ll be sharing each of these. My prayer is that they encourage you and focus your heart as we remember that, not only was a Redeemer promised, He was given; and, when He returns, He will bring each of these aspects to their perfect completion on this earth!
This week, let’s look at Ephesians 3:16 (through verse 19).
16[I pray] that He may grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, 17and that the Messiah may dwell in your hearts through faith. [I pray that] you, being rooted and firmly established in love, 18may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and width, height and depth, 19and to know the Messiah’s love that surpasses knowledge, so you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
God is omnipotent. If you’ve grown up in church, you’ve probably heard that so much that its meaning is often taken for granted - it’s just one of those three “omni” words you had to learn in Sunday School (the others being omnipresent and omniscient, for those who didn’t grow up going to Sunday School). God has all power, and He has promised to give it to us!
Before Jesus went back to heaven, He promised that He would send the Holy Spirit to help us do the things He wanted us to do.
8"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."
So, this means that we already have the power, right? One would think. Check out this video, though.
How often are we, in a spiritual sense, like those people? We’re “stuck on an escalator,” not realizing that we have the power to change the situation we’re in. How do we get out of that cycle? Paul tells us in the remainder of the passage above.
One of our pastor’s favorite things to say is that “victory is not you overcoming sin, it’s Christ overcoming you.” We don’t have to look within for this power - what God commands, God supplies! Look at the last part of verse 17 into verse 18; we should be “grounded in love.” What does that mean? There are a couple of ways to look at it. You could think of it the way a tree is grounded - its roots are in the ground, and it gains its nourishment from the ground. You could also thing of it the way an electrical circuit is grounded - a way for things the circuit can’t handle to be directed away from it, so they do not damage it. God’s perfect love can do both these things - it can be the source of our growth, and our protection.
But it’s not even limited to those two things. Paul prays that the Ephesian church will know the “breadth and width, height and depth” of God’s love. We know in our heads that each of these dimensions is infinite, but do we know it in our hearts? Do we really believe that God’s love and power are infinitely deep? Way back in 1917, Frederick M. Lehman penned the words to the hymn “The Love of God.” Here are verses one and three.
The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell;
It goes beyond the highest star,
And reaches to the lowest hell;
The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
God gave His Son to win;
His erring child He reconciled,
And pardoned from his sin.
Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.
Finally, Paul says that they need to be “filled with all the fullness of God.” To be filled with God, we must empty ourselves of us. The more we cling to our plans, our desires, and the way we think things ought to be, the less room there is in us for God to reveal His plans, His desires, and the way He wants things to be. When we are willing to surrender ourselves to His leading, He can guide us.
If you still feel powerless, perhaps it is because you’re trying to do the wrong thing. As a teenager, I felt a call that my life should be given to full-time Christian service - becoming a pastor was the way I thought it was going to work out. However, I began working during high school, and to save money, I attended a community college once I graduated. I became distracted from my calling, and really struggled. I bounced from job to job, not really feeling contentment in anything. A few years later, I determined that I hadn’t been succeeding at much of anything, although the effort I was putting forth should have been bringing much more success. That’s when it occurred to me - maybe I wasn’t being successful because I wasn’t doing that at which God wanted me to succeed. I decided to go to a Christian university (Bob Jones University) and follow the call I had received, majoring in Youth Ministry.
The first day of classes, I met this really nice lady named Michelle, who became my wife at the end of that school year. Through talking to an Air Force Chaplain recruiter on campus, I decided to check out the Air Force, where I’ve had a successful 11-year-and-still-going career. I’m not a pastor, obviously, and I’m not even working with anything related to the ministry in the Air Force. However, I have used the training I received during that year of college; I’ve been able to study my Bible more effectively, I can put together a sermon or Sunday School lesson if needed, and I’m a Cub Scout leader. But, even if I hadn’t gotten anything else from that year at BJU, the family God has given me with Michelle is an overwhelming blessing.
The above is my testimony (the short version). By no means have I arrived - I still find myself struggling with things, and often I’ll ask myself “why are you struggling with this so much?” Sometimes, the answer is to not try so hard to do it myself, but let go of it and let God work it out. He’s much better at those things than we are!
My prayer for you this week is the same as Paul’s prayer for the Ephesian church. I pray that we will live grounded in love, and that we will be able to shed our impotence in favor of God’s omnipotence, and allow His spirit to overwhelm us.
John is reminding the recipients of his letter that Jesus provided the ultimate example when it came to love. He gave everything for us. But one of the most amazing parts of His sacrifice is that it was just that - a sacrifice. No one took Jesus and killed Him against His will. In fact, Jesus mentioned in John 10:17-18 that He would lay His life down willingly.
17This is why the Father loves Me, because I am laying down My life so I may take it up again. 18No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down on My own. I have the right to lay it down, and I have the right to take it up again. I have received this command from My Father.
Jesus’ sacrifice is truly our example. But, if we were saved, and then died for someone else, there wouldn’t be very many Christians around! Giving up our lives is noble, and there are many who have done that for others - military people, police, and firefighters risk that and often make that ultimate sacrifice for their fellow man. But rather than put our lives on the line, this should remind us that anything God asks us to do less than that is really no trouble at all. Laying down our lives can just mean giving up something of ours for the benefit of someone else.
13No one has greater love than this, that someone would lay down his life for his friends.
It isn’t actually circular reasoning - I believe that there are two different things we can take from this. The first of these reminds us of Jesus’ words, when asked what the greatest commandment was.
34When the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they came together in the same place. 35And one of them, an expert in the law, asked a question to test Him: 36"Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?"
37He said to him, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. 38This is the greatest and most important commandment. 39The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. 40All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commandments.”
Both parts of the greatest two commandments, according to our Lord, deal with love. This is the second principle we can see in this passage. Even looking back at the Ten Commandments, we can see this.
2I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery.
3Do not have other gods besides Me.
4Do not make an idol for yourself, whether in the shape of anything in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth. 5You must not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the fathers’ sin, to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, 6but showing faithful love to a thousand generations of those who love Me and keep My commands.
7Do not misuse the name of the Lord your God, because the Lord will punish anyone who misuses His name.
8Remember to dedicate the Sabbath day: 9 You are to labor six days and do all your work, 10but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. You must not do any work - you, your son or daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the foreigner who is within your gates. 11For the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and everything in them in six days; then He rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and declared it holy.
12Honor your father and your mother so that you may have a long life in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
13Do not murder.
14Do not commit adultery.
15Do not steal.
16Do not give false testimony against your neighbor.
17Do not covet your neighbor’s house. Do not covet your neighbor’s wife, his male or female slave, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
Think about it - if you love the Lord, you won’t have other gods, you won’t worship idols, you won’t misuse His name, and you’ll set aside a day to remember what He has done for you. By the same token, if you love your fellow man, you’ll honor your parents by recognizing what they’ve done for you; you won’t murder your fellow man; you won’t steal from them, whether their spouse or an earthly good; you won’t lie about them; and you won’t be jealous of the blessings they have received from God.
So, you see, it’s not really circular at all. Love is the command, and the command is love. May God grow in us His love, both for Him, and our fellow man.
Daniel is a man who wants to be used of God however He sees fit.