Can you sense it? Christmas is not what it should be. Everywhere we turn, the world around us has become so fixated on what we have made Christmas to be. The decorated nativity sets that you have to dust off once a year. The wrapped gifts that bring instant joy but never seem to fully satisfy. The fake smiles as families (try to) get along. If we are not careful, Christmas can become a manufactured event that fails to satisfy and can rob us of genuine joy, and our only defense from these cultural forces is to remember why Christmas happened.
In this long passage of scripture, we get several beautiful moments that remind us of the purpose of Christmas. Lets look at two of these moments from the Christmas story. They should act as a reminder to us of why we needed a saviour to come to us.
“And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God,and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”
These are the angel Gabriel’s words about John the Baptist, however they reveal something about the spiritual state of the people of God that should be very sobering for us today. There was a need for the people of God to change, and they clearly could not do this themselves. They needed John to “turn” them towards the coming saviour, Jesus Christ. If Gabriel said that they needed to turn towards God, it meant that they were previously turned against God. The people of God also needed John to “make ready…a people prepared”, which means that previously they were not prepared. They were not ready because they were stuck in their sin and “disobedience”. Lets not be fooled friends, Romans 3 makes it clear that this wasn’t just the spiritual state of the people of God then – it is the state of every single person before God changes things. We are all stuck in our sin and disobedience. No one is righteous, no one understands salvation and no one even tries to seek God.
“He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
6 Months later, there is a new revelation in the Christmas story that can bring us all hope. This time the angel Gabriel reveals God’s plan to meet our desperate need. Jesus Christ, “the Son of the Most High”, will come to win His people back by forgiving their sins and giving them eternal life. He will do this coming to Earth, living among the creation that He Himself created and showing love to the most unlovable. Notice that in Gabriel’s description of Jesus, there is a lot of intentional references to the Old Testament. “The throne of David”, “the house of Jacob” and even the concept of “His Kingdom” are all references to the OT, revealing that this was the plan all along. God’s mission was always leading to the time when He would put on flesh. The Old Testament promises were yearning for the coming of Jesus for its fulfillment. God Himself would meet the most desperate need of all humankind.
In the first moment from today’s passage, God reveals our desperate need for a saviour. In the second passage, God reveals His plan to be the saviour that we so desperately need. This is the Christmas story. This is what we miss if we are not careful with our holidays.
At the end of verse 17, John the Baptist is given a mission to make people prepared. So are you prepared for the Christmas story of the Gospel? Are you ready for God’s amazing plan to meet your most desperate need? John Piper writes “Don’t let Christmas find you unprepared. I mean spiritually unprepared. Its joy and impact will be so much greater if you are ready.” So don’t get lost over Christmas. Don’t be so distracted by a world that always promises what it never delivers. Remember why Jesus came to Earth. Remember that He came for you. Remember that He came to fulfill our desperate need for a saviour.
Consider for a moment the interaction between the young ruler and Jesus and what God is saying to you from it.
Who is Jesus?
The young man addressed Jesus as “Good Teacher” as he asked his question. Jesus, however, resisted. Wouldn’t let the man limit to his own ‘little box’ he’d made for Jesus. Jesus is the majestic Lord of all, almighty God, ruler & creator of the universe, Lion of the Tribe of Judah… You can’t just choose yourself who He is in your life.
You see, Either Jesus really is God or He is not. If He is God then it follows that we MUST SURELY obey Him explicitly in ALL of life. However, if He isn’t God then really don’t bother with anything about him ever again.
Good news not good advice
The young man’s question exposed that he didn’t understand the gospel, he was legalistic and religious. He wanted to know what more he could DO to inherit eternal life. He was focussed on his moral performance thinking that was what God required from Him. He was looking for GOOD ADVICE from Jesus, ‘what more can I DO to please God enough to earn eternal life?’.
Jesus’ response was designed to expose the futility in that thinking. Go and keep all the commandments, and then give away everything you have to the poor! With man this is impossible, Jesus said later on. It is impossible to obey all the commandments fully and to have the right heart that God requires – no one can do it (Romans 3:10-12), no one. That’s why Jesus came to earth, to do what we can’t do!
That’s why the gospel is GOOD NEWS not GOOD ADVICE. It is not information about something we should DO, or something more we should DO (which is what the young man was asking). The gospel is the GOOD NEWS of what Jesus has already DONE for us in our place because with us this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.
Thank you Jesus for the good news of the gospel!
Letting go to lay hold
Lastly from this passage we see that the young man sadly could not loosen his grasp on his possessions and money, couldn’t let go of what his security and pleasure was founded on and so went away – ‘disheartened’ (Mark 10:22).
You, can’t hold onto Jesus truly unless you let go of what you’re holding onto first! We can’t simply add Jesus to the rest of our lives, following Jesus means laying down of everything in our lives at a heart level – giving it all up to lay hold of Jesus, trusting that Jesus is worthy of that level of devotion and trusting that Jesus is good and will reward those who do lay it all down for Him.
Paul, Silas & Timothy shared the Gospel in Thessalonica then had to leave the city after only a short time for fear of their lives. Would the believers who came to faith in Christ remain? Would the church that formed as a result of their Gospel sharing survive without their input and leadership?
We know that Paul believed that the Gospel is a powerful force because he says in Romans 1:16 that it is ‘the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes’. Here, having had to leave the brand new Thessalonian believers alone Paul had a confidence…WHY?
I love making bread. It often amazes me that only about 0,5% of yeast is needed in dough to make bread rise. The seemingly insignificant amount of yeast slowly begins to start working through the dough eventually transforming the whole batch of dough as it gets ready to become bread.
The Gospel is similar, it can just seem like some profound but seemingly insignificant or simple words like the yeast in over a two kilograms of flour and water. But the Gospel is the power of God!
And this I believe is Paul’s confidence, they shared so little with the Thessalonians but what they did share in those three weeks was the Gospel, the good news about Jesus, WHO He is and WHAT He has DONE for us. And that good news is ‘the word of God’ ‘which is at work in you believers’ (vs13). Like some yeast, the Gospel was at work, producing ongoing transformation in these believers who had to be left when Paul and his team fled for their lives.
The Gospel is not just how we enter the Kingdom of God, the gospel is the power of God to save and change us continually ever increasingly into the resemblance of God’s glory.
Back to yeast for a moment, as a baker apart from mixing the yeast into the ingredients there is nothing else you can do, no work required for the yeast to do its transformative work…
Similarly you and I can trust in the power of the Gospel to produce it’s transformative effect in our own lives and in the lives of others whom God has chosen. Whatever it is that needs transforming in your life, I am convinced that the Gospel is the power you need to bring about that transformation.
So I urge you to meditate continually on the fact that you are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than you dared to believe, yet at the very same time you are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than you ever dared hope (Tim Keller) – and let those truths melt your heart and guide your actions.
1) The Gospel CAME to you… vs5
‘not just with words’
This means at least two things; firstly, it did come with words, words are important, we must share the good news about Jesus with our words as Christ followers, with our preaching as the church.
‘but also in power and in the Holy Spirit’
Secondly, words alone are not enough but need to be confirmed with God’s power which at least is God’s miraculous power at work through Holy Sprit in anyone who believes. More than this it can also point to external miracles of healing etc that authenticate what is being spoken of about God/Jesus.
So when we share the good news we should pray for our words to come with Holy Spirit power and we should step out in faith allowing God to use us to authenticate His word with acts of power!
‘and with full conviction’
The Gospel was proclaimed as it is, the truth and so was proclaimed with confidence and or it was received with full conviction by those who heard it.
2) And you RECEIVED it…vs6
The Thessalonians received the good news about Jesus with joy that was given by the Holy Spirit in spite of much affliction from the surrounding culture (opposition/persecution) because they believed.
Do you remember that feeling of bubbling joy, the feeling that something was exceedingly right when you came to faith in Jesus?
Coming to faith might mean much struggle, much that needs to change or even opposition… But nothing can rob one of the joy of knowing, sins are forgiven, future is secure, identity & belonging are resolved forever!
3) You were TRANSFORMED & you RESPONDED passing it on to others…vs8-10
The result of the Gospel in their lives was that they became an example for other believers. The Gospel sounded out from them in the whole region, more than that their faith was reported way further….
The testimony that rung out from them was specifically how they had; ‘turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God’ and how you’re now waiting ‘for His Son from heaven’.
True Gospel transformation starts with the gospel coming to us, then us responding to it with faith and then our being transformed so that we become ‘speakers’ relaying the very same Gospel to others.
Meditate again on your salvation, the goodness of the Gospel message.
Meditate again thanking God for saving you, for convincing you, for giving you freedom and joy in the Holy Spirit.
Ask God to use YOU, to let the Gospel ring out from you, your lips, your life.
In the month of October we are going to be reading through Paul’s letters to the believers he left behind in Thessalonica, the church that was formed through his brief preaching in that city.
We start, today by looking at the record the book of Acts has of the genesis moment of this church in Thessalonica (Acts 17:1-9).
Having been beaten, imprisoned then miraculous released from prison in Philippi for preaching the good news about Jesus, Paul & Silas are ejected from Philippi and move on to Thessalonica and within days they are preaching the Gospel again in the synagogue at Thessalonica;
And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” (Acts 17:2-3)
Don’t miss this. Paul and Silas have just miraculously been released from jail and having been beaten for the Gospel by the authorities in Philippi and they don’t go into their shell, they don’t back-off their God-given mission, not even for a moment.
The Gospel was their priority and preoccupation. They had good news about Jesus that the world around them needed to hear.
Can you say that sharing the Gospel is a priority in your life?
What small changes can you make to change this if change is needed?
Amazingly it appears as though Paul & Silas were only in Thessalonica for about a month or so. They proclaim the Gospel in the Synagogue for only three weeks and then hostile opposition forces them out of the city…
And yet during that time it’s recorded that Gospel seeds had been sown;
4 And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. (Acts 17:4)
When the Gospel is preached, it’s power is released and new communities of faith are formed. This brand new church community began to form in response to the Gospel message. A new community of faith was formed, made up of God-fearing Greeks, some of the Jewish people from the Synagogue and a number of leading women in that city. Paul recounts in 1 Thessalonians 1:1-9 how they were saved when they ‘turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.’
And this is the church that Paul writes his letters of 1 & 2 Thessalonians to. He had only preached there for a month or so, and yet the Gospel is so powerful that lives are transformed, people who were previously not connected become a community of faith that endures despite significant threat and opposition and becomes a church of Jesus Christ.
Are you convinced of the power of the Gospel to transform lives and form community?
When we share the good news about Jesus, always remember it is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16) and so you can be confident that it will bring about transformation in people’s lives. So keep sowing Gospel seed everyday, wherever God sends you in your everyday life.