Saturday, November 28, 2020

Advent 2020 - The Only Hope That Can Pierce The Darkness


Luke 1:46-49 "And Mary said: “My soul exalts the Lord, 47 And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. 48 “For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave; For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed. 49 “For the Mighty One has done great things for me; And holy is His name."


        This coming Sunday begins Advent Season 2020. In the traditional celebration, each Sunday of Advent carries a theme which culminates on Christmas Eve with the lighting of the "Christ Candle". Tomorrow will mark the first theme of Advent - "Hope". How we need hope! The account of the incarnation of the Son of God is centered around "hope in God", who alone can save sinners (see Isaiah 43:10-11; 46:9,10; Jonah 2:9; John 14:6; Acts 4:12; Romans 10:8-10). As our church will light that first Advent candle, I'll mention how the lighting is often referred to as "lighting the prophet's candle". Truly, the Word of God, as delivered to the prophets and apostles, brings hope into places where the words of men bring only despair.

       In reflecting upon how God's prophetic Word brings hope, I want us to consider how the Holy Spirit operated as the Spirit of prophecy in the Christmas narrative of Luke's Gospel. Revelation 19:10 explicitly refers to the Holy Spirit by this title:

"Then I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, “Do not do that; I am a fellow servant of yours and your brethren who hold the testimony of Jesus; worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” (NASB)

      It is appropriate to capitalize "spirit", since in the Greek text the word for "spirit" has the definite article "the". The 1599 Geneva Bible follows this suggested pattern:

"And I fell before his feet, to worship him, but he said unto me, See thou do it not: I am thy fellow servant, and one of thy brethren, which have the testimony of Jesus, Worship God: for the testimony of Jesus is the Spirit of prophecy."

         A remarkable study to undertake is the Person and work of the Holy Spirit in the Advent or first coming of Jesus Christ. In both his Gospel and "Acts of the Apostles", Luke mentions the Holy Spirit more often than any other Biblical writer (some 50 times or so). Understanding the Holy Spirit's prophetic ministry illuminates how God prepared history for the arrival of the incarnated Son of God (see Galatians 4:4; 2 Peter 1:19-21). An immediate life-practical application is this: to find hope in Jesus Christ now as we eagerly await His soon return. Certainly, reception of what the Bible reveals about Jesus is made possible by the Holy Spirit.

What is prophecy?

        Before we move on, a question must be answered: what is prophecy? Prophecy exhorts God's people to be alert and ready. Prophecy "foretells" or speaks about things yet-to-come. This act of God through the Bible also "forthtells", that is, it tells us how we ought to live in the present while anticipating what He will do. Prophecy reminds the Christ-follower of their true identity in Him. Prophecy speaks to the present by pointing us to what lies ahead. Prophecy reminds us from whence we came and to not repeat the mistakes of past generations of God's people. The Holy Spirit is the chief agent behind all prophetic declarations in the Bible.

The main thought of today's post

Truly then, the Holy Spirit is the "Spirit of Christmas". As Advent season starts with lighting the so-called "Candle of Hope" or "Prophet's Candle", this post will explore how the Holy Spirit brought hope through the revelation of God's "written word" in human words to point the way to God's "Living Word" in human flesh - Jesus Christ (see John 1:14; Philippians 2:6-11). The Spirit of prophecy points to Christ (see 1 Peter 1:10-12). Let us note the following truths.

1. Promises to God’s people - the basis of the prophetic hope of God's Word. Luke 1:67-80

        There are a total of five prophetic songs in Luke 1-2. The second of these is that by John the Baptist's father - Zacharias. Luke 1:67 explicitly describes his response to John the Baptist's birth:

"And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying."

        Now we don't have the time to lay out the full meaning of this incredible prophetic utterance. However, a brief outline will need to suffice for now.

a. God's promise of a king. 1:67-71
b. God's promise of a blessing. 1:72-75
c. God's promise of a people. 1:76-79

2. Person of Christ - the focus of the prophetic hope of God's Word. Luke 1-2

        The basis of prophecy is God's promises. The focal point is the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. The most famous song of the five songs recorded in Luke's Gospel is what is termed: "The Magnificat" in Luke 1:46-55. This title is due to the first word of the song as found in the Latin Vulgate translation, "magnificat", which means "exalts". The purpose of Mary's song is to call attention to the One who now resides in her womb. Like Zacharias' song, we will only give an outline of the contents of what Mary exclaims as she visits her cousin Elizabeth.

a. Mighty Savior. Luke 1:46-49
b. Merciful Lord. Luke 1:50-56

         Several places in the New Testament remind us of the fact that the Holy Spirit, by way of prophecy, points to the Person of Christ (Luke 24:44; 1 Corinthians 10:1-4; 1 Peter 1:10-12; 2 Peter 1:20-21). The Holy Spirit's task is to point anyone and everyone to Jesus Christ - the great Savior and great Lord (see John 16:8-12). In a world full of COVID, fear, anxiety and uncertainty, we find the Lord of Heaven and earth walking to us in the pages of scripture as truly man. He does not merely bring hope - He is Hope incarnate.

3. Purposes of salvation are revealed by the prophetic hope of God's Word. Lk 2:25-35

       We have noted how the Spirit of prophecy utilizes the promises of God to point to the Person of Christ. As we look at one more prophecy in Luke today, we consider briefly the words of Simeon. Simeon is described as having waited for the time when He would behold Israel's deliverer with His own eyes. Older generations of the past used the Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible to assign a Latin title to Simeon's prophetic declaration in Luke 2:29-32, namely: "nunc dimittis". This Latin phrase corresponds to the first two words we can translate as: "now release".

        Think of how God's salvation purposes release those who receive His wonderous grace such by faith. Release from guilt (Romans 5:1). Release from the penalty of sin (Ephesians 1:7). Release from alienation from God (1 Peter 1:18). Release from future judgment (1 Thessalonians 1:10). Release from Satan's tyranny (Hebrews 2:14; 1 John 3:8). Release from the sting of death (1 Corinthians 15:55-57).  Such "releases" deliver the only sort of hope that transcends the bleakness of our time. 

       Simeon is expressing how beholding the Savior has set Him free. He had hoped for nearly all of his life. For a significant portion of his time on earth, Simeon's hope seem delayed. As the great Baptist preacher Adrian Rogers once remarked: "God's delays are not to be taken as God's denials". God kept His word to Simeon. Simeon not only beheld hope; he "held" hope in his arms! 

       The purposes of salvation are concentrated in a Person - a Divine Person in Whom is united truly Divine nature, able to save, and truly human nature, capable to save.  Jesus came to be human in order to reconcile sinners to a Holy God. As man, He was born, lived, died and arose from the dead. He is our hope (see Colossians 1:27). 

Closing thoughts

        The Spirit of prophecy spoke through these events and people. Luke's record captures the wondrous reality of the Holy Spirit's work to make clear the advent of the Son of God in frail humanity. Would we, this advent season, heed "The Spirit of prophecy", Who shines for the only Hope that can pierce the darkness.

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