Thursday, December 26, 2013

How Jesus Shines in Advent

1 Timothy 3:15-16 (15) "but if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. (16) And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness:
God was manifested in the flesh, Justified in the Spirit, Seen by angels, Preached among the Gentiles, Believed on in the world, 

Received up in glory." (NKJV)

In today's post I would like us to consider how Jesus Christ shined forth the light of His glory in the first advent when He came to this earth over 2,000 years ago. The underlined word in the above verses, "manifested", speaks of  making an appearance or shining forth in order to make one's identity visible to other people. The Holy Spirit by the Apostle Paul is using this early hymn sung by the Christians in Paul's day to explain the source for Godly living - union with Jesus Christ, and how Jesus came to make such union possible.

In context, Paul is explaining the whole point of the local church as being the "pillar and ground of truth" and as being all about God's people living Godly lives. In order for Christians in the local church to fulfill God's will for their lives, they have to understand their union and identity by faith in the God-man, Jesus Christ. The whole point of Christmas or advent centers around how Jesus Christ came to this world to partake in our nature and experiences.  He did this so that as Christians, we in turn could partake of His life and become more and more like Him in thought, word and deed. 

Advent season's true shining light is Jesus Christ. Thus let us take a few moments to see how Jesus shines forth in Advent from the six statements Paul makes about Christ's first coming in 1 Timothy 3:16. Jesus Christ shines forth in advent through...

1. Miracle birth
The first three statements of Paul's reflection on Christ's first advent reads:

a. "God was manifested in the flesh"
The word translated "manifested" here in the NKJV could just as easily be rendered "appeared" (NIV) and "revealed" (NASB). Quite literally the Person of the Son shined forth His glory through the taking on of a fully human nature by way of the virgin birth. The rendering of "He Who" (NASB, NIV, ESV) or "God" (KJV, NKJV) point back grammatically to the phrase "living God" of 1 Timothy 3:15. Quite literally the church of the Living God is the "Living God's Church" and this Living God is "God" ("He Who") was manifested in the flesh.

b. "Justified in the Spirit"
As Paul continues on in explaining to us how Jesus shines forth in His miraculous, virgin birth, He emphasizes the work the Spirit did in preserving the humanity of Jesus from sin. The NASB renders this word "vindicated", which gives the sense of the Holy Spirit bearing witness to all that the glory of the Son becoming man included Him being without sin.

c. "Seen by angels"
Nearly 20 times in the nativity accounts and Jesus' early life do we find mention of angelic involvement. Christ's miracle birth included the presence and activity of angels, further establishing the shining forth of His glory in His miracle birth in His Advent here on earth. But notice a second way in which Jesus shines forth His glory in the first advent, namely...

2. Message of the Gospel
The fourth and fifth lines of Paul's reflection on Christ's first advent reads:

a. "Preached among the Gentiles"
As we explore this early Christian hymn included in 1 Timothy 3:16 by Divine inspiration, what must be recalled is that this is a summary of Jesus' advent in song. This particular phrase emphasizes the preaching of the Gospel, and could include the preaching of Jesus and the Apostles during his earthly ministry, as well as the 20 or so sermons recorded through the book of Acts. The word for "preached" gives the idea of making a formal announcement concerning the royal decree of a King.  In this case the King is Jesus Himself, and the glory of His person is central to the message of the Gospel.

b. "Believed on in the world"
Those called by the Holy Spirit to respond to the Gospel about Jesus ended up believing on Him.  The First Advent and Christ's incarnation set the stage for its purpose: Christ's cross and resurrection. The Gospel proclaims the "event" of the Gospel, namely Christ's Person and work in the cross and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). Secondly, the Gospel takes the "event" and ties it to how one can experience the salvation promised in the Gospel (John 3:16). Truly Christmas or advent season centers around Jesus Christ, who is also the center of the message through which He shines - the Gospel.

3. Massive Hope
The final line of Paul's reflection on Christ's first advent reads: "Received up in glory." Christ's virgin birth and incarnation summarize how he descended from heavenly glory to earth to accomplish His mission to save sinners, especially those who believe by grace through faith on Him. (1 Timothy 4:10) The wonder of this little hymn in 1 Timothy 3:16 is that it begins with glory and ends with glory.  Christ, having accomplished what He set out to do in His first coming, ascends back up to assume His Kingship at the Father's right hand.  Mark 16:19 records - "
So then, after the Lord had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God" (NKJV).

Now why is Jesus' ascension into heaven the cause for massive Hope? How does His ascension show forth the light of His glory in bring massive hope in His first advent? Simply put: Jesus' 1st advent sets the stage for what will be His 2nd advent.  Christmas points beyond itself to include the fact that Jesus who came is coming back yet again.  Titus 2:13 reminds us: "looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ." 1 John 3:2-3 states: "Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. 3 And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure."

Conclusions and applications:
So how does Jesus shine forth His glory in this advent season? First of all He shines forth by way of His miracle birth.  Christ, in his humanity, experienced a miracle birth so that all those by by grace through faith could do so by way of a miracle birth of their own - the New birth. Secondly, Jesus shines forth in advent by way of the message of the Gospel.  Only through the Gospel can anyone believe and be saved, and only through the Gospel can saints know who they are and Whose they are. Then finally, Jesus shines through advent by providing massive hope.  His 1st advent paved the way for what will be His 2nd advent or coming.  We as Christians have the responsibility to tell a lost world to be ready for His appearing and to look to Christ by faith as the source of endless hope. 

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