Advent Day 5: Freedom for the Oppressed

In the gospel of Luke, Jesus’ first public proclamation regarding His mission is recorded in chapter 4.  Having entered the synagogue on the Sabbath as was His custom, Jesus was given the scroll of Isaiah to read.  He read from Isaiah chapter 61, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor.  He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed” (Luke 4:18).  Then Jesus quietly shocked His audience when He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant, and announced, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21).

I used to zip right over this passage not really sure who the poor, captive, blind, and oppressed were referring to.  I assumed they were very specific groups of poor, oppressed, and blind folks.  As I gained a better understanding of Jesus’ mission in this world, a new revelation jumped off the page for me!  This was us!  This was me!  I am the one who was poor, captive, blind, and oppressed.  Jesus came for me!

And what Jesus brought for me was FREEDOM.  I was spiritually poor with absolutely no moral capital to save myself.  I was a captive, held by sin’s power.  I was blind, stumbling in the darkness of a world system led by the enemy of God.  And I was oppressed, held in the grip of the evil one (I John 5:19)

What Jesus brought was not condemnation of us because of our sin.  He brought freedom from our sin!  John 3:17 so clearly lays this out, “For God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world should be saved through Him.”?  Condemnation for our sin was not part of Jesus’ first advent.  Judgment will be part of the equation at Christ’s second coming; and only for those who have not believed in Jesus.

But Jesus’ first coming that we celebrate this Advent season is all about love, acceptance, forgiveness, and freedom.  You are included in the promise of Luke 4:18.  Jesus came to set you free.  His freedom proclamation is for you and me.  The King, with His freedom-wielding scepter, has come to rescue you!

Advent Day 4: What is the New Covenant?

“And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood’ “ (Luke 22:20).  When Jesus arrived on the scene, He announced the arrival of the kingdom of God.  This kingdom found its embodiment in Jesus Himself; Jesus the Christ, Jesus the King.  And this kingdom was governed by a new covenant, a new arrangement between God and man.  This new covenant was put into effect by the shed blood of Jesus.

What exactly is this new covenant?  This new covenant, this new arrangement has two parts.

Part 1)  Christ’s shed blood on the cross set us free from the penalty of sin.  When we agree to God’s new arrangement by acknowledging our guilt, accepting the free gift of Christ’s death in our place, and embracing what Jesus says as true, we are set free from the wages of sin is death; set free to eternal life.

Part 2)  Christ’s shed blood on the cross set us free from the power of sin to live a new life in the freedom and the power of the Spirit and the new nature God has given us.  And we have been set free from shame, guilt, and condemnation of the old covenant.

How do we enter into this covenant?  By believing in the One whom God has sent, by believing in Jesus.  “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (John 5:24).  “Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent’ “ (John 6:29).

To summarize the new covenant – a covenant whose promise and provision come to us the moment we believe – Jesus did something FOR US.  He died in our place and declared us righteous on the basis of our belief in His sacrifice.  Jesus also did something TO US.  He made us a new creation with a new heart, a new nature, a new self, a new freedom, a new Spirit inside, a new power, and so much more for us to discover.

Advent Day 3: Last of the Old Testament Prophets

John the Baptist – even though he appears in the four gospels – was the last of the Old Testament prophets.  Here is his description of the coming Messiah, “As for me, I baptize you in water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not even fit to remove His sandals.  He Himself will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.  And His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean His threshing floor, and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (Matthew 3:11-12).

Notice the imagery used by John the Baptist.  He is clearly a prophet in the Old Testament mold.  In fact, I think he is hoping to see some old covenant judgment action on Jesus’ part with words like “winnowing hook … thoroughly clean His threshing floor … burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”  Of course, judgment was not the purpose of Jesus’ first coming.

But John is aware that something is changing.  Later, when Jesus begins His public ministry, crowds begin to follow Him, and John’s influence seems to wane.  Into this setting, John says, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).

I think what John is saying here is much more than just a comment of personal comparison with Jesus.  John is making a prophetic point.  It is as if John is saying, “I, as a representative of the old covenant, am fading away.  Jesus and His announcement of a new covenant, a new way of relating to God, must come to the forefront.”

The apostle Paul expands on this idea in II Corinthians 3.  In the context of describing the old and new covenants, Paul writes, “For indeed what had glory [old covenant], in this case has no glory because of the glory that surpasses it [new covenant].  For if that which fades away [old covenant] was with glory, much more that which remains [new covenant] is in glory” (II Corinthians 3:10-11).

The old covenant must fade away.  The message of John the Baptist must decrease.  The message of Jesus must increase.  The coming of the new covenant is here.

Advent Day 2: John’s Announcement

“The next day, John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’ “ (John 1:29).  Before Jesus has said a word about His mission in the world, John makes a prophetic announcement.  Jesus of Nazareth, who appears to you now as a natural man, is actually the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  This substitutionary role of Jesus will be proclaimed in a hundred ways throughout the New Testament.

“Jesus Christ the righteous is the propitiation [satisfaction] for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world” (I John 2:2).  “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (I John 4:10).

“We are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, who God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in His divine forbearance He had passed over former sinsIt was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:24-26).

John’s proclamation looks back to the Old Testament with its reference to the Lamb of God.  The Passover lamb of the old covenant, whose blood was displayed on the doorposts each year, was a picture of the coming redemptive work of Jesus Christ.  John the Baptist identifies Jesus as the last sacrifice, offered on behalf of the whole world.  (As an aside, the book of Hebrews is a beautiful explanation of Jesus as the last sacrifice.)

Later in the John’s gospel, John the Baptist has another prophetic word about Jesus.  “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).  Is John talking about his own importance in comparison to Jesus?  Or is there a more prophetic message here?  We will talk about it next time.

Advent Day 1: The Gospel Message of Jesus Christ

Why did Christ come to earth?  The answer to this question unlocks our understanding of the gospels and Jesus’ words in the gospels.  When we survey the entirety of the New Testament, the answer boils down to this:  Jesus Christ came to earth to take the punishment for our sins, to die in our place.  The wages of sin is death and Christ received those wages for all who believe in Him.

But there is even more to Christ’s mission.  And the more, as Christ explains many times in the gospels, is the myriad of beautiful things Christ’s death accomplished on our behalf.

Christ purchased our freedom with His blood, freedom from the penalty and power of sin.  He placed us in right standing with God.  And He made us citizens of His kingdom; a kingdom He referred to interchangeably as the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven.  Announcing and ushering in this kingdom in the here and now was a major piece of Christ’s message in the gospels.  When we understand this part of Christ’s purpose in coming – to establish the kingdom of heaven on earth in the hearts of His followers – so much of the gospel content falls into place.

Over the next twenty days of Advent, we are going to explore the first coming of Christ the King and His announcement of the kingdom He was bringing with Him.  Let’s start with the first public message of Jesus, recorded for us in Mark chapter 1.  “Jesus arrived in Galilee preaching the gospel of God, saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel’ “ (Mark 1:14-15).

Jesus is heralding a new way to relate to God.  The arrival of a King, prophesied throughout the Old Testament, is at hand.  And this King is arriving with a gospel message of good news.  “Repent, change your mind about how you are made right with God.  Change your mind, and believe the new message of the gospel that I will be proclaiming.”  What is the message of the gospel that Jesus is preaching?  We will talk about it next time.