Wednesday, December 20, 2017

December 20: Advent, Day Eighteen

Today we are continuing our exploration of how our hopes in the present day, long after the first Christmas, are in fact a continuation of the hopes of the ancient Israelites. And just as we saw yesterday, we’ll see how God’s work through the Christmas miracle have also expanded these hopes. The specific hope we’ll be investigating today is the hope that God would liberate his people so they can serve him alone. We have three scriptures today to explore with regard to this question. One of these scriptures is 1 Corinthians 15, which we looked at yesterday. I have included more of it today, because it is such a clear picture of the Apostle Paul’s hope. Enjoy!

John 12:31
Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out.

Hebrews 2:14-15
Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death.

1 Corinthians 15:21-26, 42-43, 47-57
 For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; 22 for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24 Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. . .

So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. … 47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. 48 As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. 49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven.

50 What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:

“Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
55 “Where, O death, is your victory?
    Where, O death, is your sting?”

56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

So what are our hopes this side of Christmas with regard to liberation?

#1: Liberation from human authority.
As we said yesterday, when Jesus comes in power and the Kingdom of God is established it will cover the earth and all other powers will be destroyed (a foundation hope of the Israelites). Moreover, human authorities can no longer strike fear into disciples of Christ because Jesus has overcome death, the weapon they use to undergird their power. Obviously, we are waiting for the fulfillment of this hope.

#2: Liberation from the powers of darkness.
Jesus made it clear in his ministry that he came to liberate God’s people, and all who would receive him, from satan and the powers of darkness. This is an expansion from the Israelites’ pre-Christmas hopes for freedom from earthly rulers. Jesus in fact aimed to dethrone the powers behind the human rulers. Furthermore, we see the passage from Hebrews shows us how the incarnation of Jesus at Christmas is what allowed him to defeat death, and satan, on behalf of humanity. We see this hope made real today by the power of the Holy Spirit to break demonic behaviors in those who give their allegiance to Jesus, and in the capacity of Spirit filled people to endure temptation and persecution.

#3: Liberation from Sin and Death
This is the big one, right? A nearly measureless amount has been written on this topic, and Paul says it far more eloquently than I could in our passage from 1 Cor. 15. I will simply add a few thoughts. First, freedom from sin does not only mean forgiveness for previous sins (though it does mean that), it also means the power to resist temptation (see Romans 6). Second, freedom from sin means freedom from the ultimate consequence of sin, which is death. (We will still die of course- the body is mortal- but the resurrection will overturn this consequence.) Finally, note that Paul says that the body will put on “imperishability” (15:52-54); but, it will still be a human body! Paul does not believe that people will be disembodied spirits, living in another realm, but that the human body will be raised as Jesus was raised. And this is right in line with the way Jesus discussed resurrection.The big point here: sin and death are named by the New Testament as the ultimate oppressors; they were the target of the mission that Jesus began on the first Christmas. Their defeat means we can hope for a new, imperishable body.

#4: Liberation to Fulfill our Vocation
God’s end-game with all this work of liberation is for humans to finally fulfill the vocation he gave them: to serve as “images of God” (Genesis 1:26-27). Paul writes that “just as we have borne the “image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven” (15:49). To bear the image of the “man of heaven” is to bear the image of Jesus. And to bear the image of Jesus is to bear the image of God! So God never gave up on this original intention, and Christmas paved the way for it to be fulfilled. And even now, if we are willing to become disciples of Jesus, this hope begins to be fulfilled in us (personally and communally). As we receive his love and strive to obey him we find that he begins to work on our heart and develop his character in us. And ultimately the hope of being an “image of God” is exactly this, to have a heart that looks just like Jesus’. As this occurs we can also then begin to function as a people who reveal God to the world, which was at the heart of God’s calling upon Israel (“a kingdom of priests and a holy nation”). And this process is to continue until the resurrection, when that work of shaping us into God’s image will be completed, and we will then be able to carry out our task of ruling over creation in union with God . . . but more on that tomorrow!

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