December 8, 2013

Second Sunday in Advent Sermon

Written for Our Learning
Romans 15:4-13, Luke 21:25-33
Second Sunday in Advent
December 8, 2013

“Written for our learning.” You will recognize these words as coming from Romans 15:5, which is part of the Epistle reading for this, the Second Sunday in Advent.  The Apostle Paul, under the guidance of God, wrote these words to the Christians in Rome about the year 58 Anno Domine to explain to them the purpose of Scripture.  He referred to the part of the Bible we know today as The Old Testament.  It was written for our learning.  But Scripture was not completed with the Old Testament.  The Old Testament was the book of promise.  When its promises were fulfilled, the book of fulfillment needed to be written.  We call the book of fulfillment the New Testament. With it Scripture is complete.  No more Scripture is being written, no more prophecy is being given, no new revelation or word from God is being given, nor are they needed.  All that we need to know about God and our salvation is given in the Bible.  God is able to give His complete revelation to man, and He has given it in the Bible.  It is the Holy Scriptures  written for our learning.
Before we proceed, let me define the word, “Scripture.”  We are not talking about the books and writings of other religions.  We are talking about the Old and New Testaments in the book we call the Bible.   And we are making a claim that the Bible is different from every other book, story, or writing that ever has been and ever will be.  We are saying the Bible is not one book in a genre of literature.  It is not one set of holy scriptures among many sets of holy scriptures.  We are claiming that the Bible is nothing less than the word of God Himself.  We are saying that the Bible alone is given by inspiration of God.  We are saying that among all the books that claim to come from prophets and gods and divinely inspired authors, only the Bible really does.  It alone was written by men “as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Pt.1:21).  So when 2 Timothy 3:16 says, “all scripture is given by inspiration of God” it means the Bible.
We are saying something else here, about the Bible.  We are saying it reveals God.  In fact it was given by God to reveal God to us.  Exodus tells us of God delivering Israel from Egyptian slavery, and we see that God is merciful.  Genesis tells us of the creation of all things, and we see that God is almighty.  The Psalms tell us God inhabits eternity and we see that He is from everlasting and to everlasting.  The prophetic books tell us God speaks, and we learn that He is a rational being.  The Gospel of John tells us that if we have seen Jesus we have seen the Father, and we see that Jesus and the Father are one.  Matthew tells us of Jesus teaching the disciples and commissioning them to tell others what He taught them, and we see that the Christian Faith came from God and was given to the Apostles, who taught it to others and recorded it in the Bible, and we see that the Bible is God’s revelation of His being and His will.
Why did God do all this?  Why did He give His word to Moses and the prophets and the Apostles?  Why did He have them record His word and put it together in a book?  For our learning.  He did it for our learning.  We can learn many things from the Bible.  For example, the Bible is a historical book.  It contains the story of God’s work with humanity in history.  So we can learn about Egypt and Babylon and Rome. And yet, the message of the Bible is not history or geography.  The Bible teaches principles of conduct and morality that help us build a good government, run a good business, build a happy home, and build a happy life.  I don’t mean the Bible teaches accounting or house repair, or even government organisation.  I mean the principles and values and morality given in the Bible apply to every aspect of life.
Yet, the message of the Bible is not morality.  It is important to state that clearly because most people think the Bible is just a book of morals.  Most people think the message of the Bible is that we need to try to live by the moral standards taught in its pages, and if we do a fairly good job of keeping those standards we will go to Heaven.  They think the heart of the Bible is the Ten Commandments and Jesus’ maxim that the essence of the law is to love God above all else and to love your neighbor as yourself.  But that is not the real message of the Bible.  The real message of the Bible is what happens between God and people who have failed to love Him above all else, and failed to love their neighbors as themselves.  That message is expressed in two words that I want to talk about for a moment; comfort and hope.
Comfort here means help in our distress.  If it is true that the Bible addresses what happens between God and people who have failed to love Him and their neighbors, then we are all in a condition of terrible distress, for we all have failed.  I urge everyone to consider the confessional prayer in our service of Morning and Evening prayer for a moment.  If we pause after the words, “we have done those things which we ought not to have done,” and take a few moments to confess our specific sins, really confess them, we are led to the realization that sin is our natural condition.  There really is no spiritual health in us, and there never will be unless we receive it from God as kind of spiritual transplant and a gift from God. The spiritual sickness of sin is the natural direction of our lives.  It is what we are.  There are moments when we genuinely seek God, but the general direction of our lives is toward our own desires instead of, and even in spite of, God’s desires.  If you have not experienced this, I urge you to get on your knees and read that prayer and start confessing your specific offences against God’s holy laws.  Be very specific about the times you have left undone those thing you ought to have done, and done those things you ought not to have done, and see where such confession leads you.
It will probably lead you to call out to God for mercy and help.  It will lead you into distress and you will need comfort only God can give.  And He gives comfort.  “Comfort ye my people” He said to the prophet Isaiah.  “Comfort one another with these words,” He said through the Apostle Paul.  There is comfort in the Scriptures for they tell us of mercy.  They tell us of forgiveness.  Though your sins be as scarlet they shall be white as snow.  As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our sins from us.  He accomplished this through Jesus Christ.  He paid the price of our forgiveness. This is the meaning of what we call the “comfortable” or comforting words in the liturgy of Holy Communion.  This is what the Bible was written to teach us.  We don’t have to carry the burden of our sin.  We don’t have to bear its penalty.  We don’t have to let it separate us from God now and forever.  We can be free of it, saved from it.  That’s the message, the comfort of the Bible. All we have to do is trust Jesus to forgive us.
 The Bible comforts us with the message of forgiveness.  It also comforts us with the hope of Heaven.  We will not dwell in this earthly vale of tears forever.  There is a better place where the sorrows of this life are only dim memories.  There are no sorrows there, no sickness, no death, no good byes.  In that land there is only good and peace and joy. The Lord is coming back to take His people there.  He said, “I go to prepare a place for you,” and “I will come again to receive you unto myself.” One day the dead in Christ will rise.  One day those who are alive in Christ will be caught up, gathered up in Christ, and will be taken to that place to dwell with Him forever.  This is our comfort in our distress.  This is the Christian’s blessed hope.
Hope is the opposite of the belief that there is no meaning or purpose or reason to life.  It is the cure for the fear that nothing matters.  Despair agrees with Solomon’s words, “all is vanity.”  But hope is the confidence that God has a purpose for us, to gather us together in Christ and to bring us into His House of Many Mansions.  Hope believe God lives, therefore life is worth living and death is worth dying.  The Bible was written to give us this hope.  It is a major part of what we are to learn from the Bible.  The Collect for the Second Sunday of Advent summarises all that this sermon has been trying to say.


Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast, the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen. 

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