‘Christ has died; Christ has risen; Christ will come again’ forms part of many a liturgy. But how many of us really believe that there will be an end time when Jesus Christ returns? And, if we do believe it, how many of us live as if it is a reality?
Last Sunday, November 30, was the first Sunday in Advent, the season that calls us to focus not on the first coming of the Christ, but on his second.
It seems strange, even ironic, that we think about Christ’s return in the lead up to the celebration of his birth. However, we need to think about this. In our busy lives we tend to forget God’s great and ultimate purposes. Indeed in our western culture it is all too easy to focus on the festivity of Christmas and lose sight of the fact that it is just Part One of the Jesus narrative.
By focusing on the return of Christ before the celebration of his first coming, his incarnation, we are reminded that there is to be a final, awesome instalment to life with his return in all his majestic power and glory. And the truth of what is yet to come is grounded in what has already occurred. The birth of Jesus Christ, his life, death and resurrection all point to the authenticity of his words when he spoke of his second coming.
Thoughts about the return of Jesus Christ bring us back to the Prayer he gave his disciples. The Lord’s Prayer is a simple but profound prayer around two important petitions. The first is addressed to God as Father – asking for the honoring of his name and the triumph of his kingdom in great glory. The second includes God’s giving us now some of the benefits of the world to come – including provision for our daily needs. Further, in asking God’s forgiveness of our sins (as we in turn forgive those who sin against us) we are reckoning on our need to be prepared for the final day of judgement – setting our affairs in order with God and those around us, while there is time.
LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION
Which brings us to a further ‘we’ petition: And lead us not into temptation…
We must be careful to read these words in the wider context of the Bible. So, in James 1:13 we read:
Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted with evil and he himself tempts no one.
As Joachim Jeremias, The Prayers of Jesus (p.105) points out, the meaning is, ‘Do not permit that I fall into the hands of sin, iniquity, temptation, and anything shameful.’ Jesus’ words can be translated, ‘Let us not succumb to temptation’. It is not a plea to be preserved from temptation but a preservation in the course of temptation. All of us are tempted – as was Jesus. What we need is God’s mercy, discernment and strength to overcome the temptation.
Consider the three temptations Jesus endured at the outset of his ministry (Luke 4:1-13). On each occasion Satan used Scripture to tempt him. Each time Jesus’ response rested on his knowledge of the Law (he quoted Deuteronomy) and the Writings (he discerned the devil’s misuse of Psalm 91). In each instance Luke makes it clear that Jesus had recourse to two sources of strength – God’s Spirit and God’s word. In 4:1 Luke tells us that Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit. Thus, Jesus, filled with the Spirit, was equally dependent upon using his mind and understanding of God’s word to counter the devil’s temptations.
GOD’S PROMISE AND GOSPEL HOPE
We find a sobering but encouraging promise in 1 Corinthians 10:13
No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it. Let it be our prayer in this Advent Season that God’s Spirit and God’s Word working within us will enable us to find our way out of the mire of temptation.