December 1, 2019

What Are you Waiting For?

Passage: Isaiah 2:2-5

This is the first Sunday of Advent and today in our Advent candle lighting we lit the candle of hope. You see the season of Advent has two functions. Its purpose is to remember the birth of Christ that happened two thousand years ago. But it also serves to prepare us for Christ’s return. In life we are constantly trying to balance the remembrance of our past and preparing for our future, right? We cannot only look to the past or the future might catch us off guard. But we cannot only look to the future because we might repeat the mistakes of the past. So during the Advent season, the church balances our look back and looking forward like this. The first two Sundays of Advent we focus on anticipating Christ’s return. The next two Sunday’s we focus on remembering Christ’s first entry into our world. So today we look forward to Christ’s coming again. And we look forward with expectant hope.

Now hope is a word that everyone uses. People from different religions, people without religion, even people who don’t believe in God use the word hope. But even more importantly, you and I use the word hope many times, I hope? and we use it in a lot of different ways. For example, this Thanksgiving I am sure most of us were gathered in a home where the turkey was the centerpiece of the dinner table. But before we got to the dinner table you can be sure that someone was wrestling that big bird into submission ? And whoever it was, I am sure they were thinking, “I hope this bird turns out well” right? This kind of hope is a wish for the fruitfulness of one’s labors. But it is not the only kind of hope there is.

Now while the turkey was being cooked you might have been driving down the road and if you are a bit absentminded like me you might have blown past a light that just turned red. Or maybe it was a Stop sign that you missed. Now, as soon as this happened, you are desperately hoping that there was no cop right behind you who is now going to have his car blazing with lights like a Christmas tree on steroids to pull you over. This is a different kind of hope, right? It is a hope that you will escape from being penalized for your mistake. Or that as Cain in the Bible put it, that your penalty for your mistake is not more than you can bear. Or you could “hope” that you win the lottery or that Micheal Bloomberg becomes President or that the winter is not too extreme this time. This kind of “hope” is a hope for certain scenarios to pan out because you think that that scenario will be more favorable to you than other scenarios without fully knowing if that is true or not. Then there is the “hoping” that your kids do well in life. That is a different kind of hope than the hope that a certain Presidential candidate wins, because the hope for one’s child’s well being is very universal, while other hopes are specific to the individual. So many different kinds of hope.

And yet none of these “hopes” are the special hope in the Bible that comes from the Holy Spirit and the even more specific hope of the season of Advent. To understand Biblical hope, in general, let’s look at a different Isaiah passage, Isaiah 40:31 which is the NIV says, “but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” This hope mentioned here is not hoping that scenario “x” would happen or not happen. The Isaiah 40:31 hope is a “hope in the Lord”. What that means is trusting that living one’s life according to God’s desires was the right and best thing to do. And to have confidence that it was right to hitch one’s wagon to the God of the Bible even when things get difficult and you cannot see the road ahead. The Biblical hope in the Lord It means taking God’s promises seriously and meeting the conditions of those promises trusting that the promises attached to those conditions will come to pass no matter what it looks like. In the case of Isaiah 40:31 the promise is that those who put their hope in doing God’s will, when you feel that your battery is draining and it goes from 50% to 30% to 10%, you might be tempted to change course and follow a different path. But Isaiah 40:31 is saying, no hope in the Lord means not changing course because the promise is that if you don’t change course, you will get charged up to 100% at just the right moment when you go down all the way to 0%. They that hope in the Lord will soar on wings like eagles. The Biblical hope is all about putting your faith in God’s promises.

Now I just said that Biblical hope is “hope in the Lord”, right? So the meaning poured into “Biblical hope” is also linked to the meaning you pour into the word “Lord”. With the coming of Christ, there was a great burst of revelation of who God is, and so “hope in the Lord” too takes on a whole lot of new meaning. This is Advent hope.

So let us look at Advent hope looking at our Isaiah 2:2-5 passage through the lens of Christ.

Verse 2 says this, “In the last days, the mountain of the Lord’s house
will be the highest of all—
the most important place on earth.
It will be raised above the other hills,
and people from all over the world will stream there to worship
.” In those days places of worship were always built on the top of hills because it was thought that God would always dwell in the highest places on earth. This is why Ps 121 begins with the words, “I will lift my eyes up to the hills. Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth” In our Isaiah passage there is a reference to the last days when the mountain of the Lord’s house will be the highest of all, it will be the most important place on earth, raised above all other hills and where people from all over the world will come to worship. What is the mountain of the Lord’s house in the last days? It is nothing but the church established by Jesus Christ.

The church will be the most important place on earth where people from all over the world will stream to worship.

Now I want you to look at verse 3. It says, “People from many nations will come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of Jacob’s God.
There he will teach us his ways,
and we will walk in his paths.”
For the Lord’s teaching will go out from Zion;
his word will go out from Jerusalem”
. This is a fascinating verse because the picture being painted for our eyes is too amazing! The first thing to note is the word nation translated from the Hebrew word “goy” to mean something like “people group”. Meaning other nations like Israel. That is a group of people that share a common ancestor, ideology and even religious background. Today because people are so mobile it is hard to easily associate a nation with a religion. While it is still possible to identify a Hindu country or a Muslim country today, it is hard for us to connect every country with a specific religion. But in those days, each nation had their own religion and national and religious identities were blended in just like the Israelites were both a religion and a nation.

But when you look at this prophesy it gets really fascinating! What it is saying is that people from many nations are going to say to each other, “let us go up to the mountain of the Lord”. Now Zion and Jerusalem are a reference to the New Zion and the New Jerusalem which is fulfilled in the church to one level. In other words what you just read is the prophesy 700 years before Christ that people of many religious backgrounds are going to say to each other, “Let us go up to the church. There God will teach us his ways and we will walk in his paths. For the Lord’s teaching will go out from Zion, his word will go out from Jerusalem”.

Think about this. Today we have about 24,000 people groups and 195 countries. Of these, the church has a presence in all 195 countries. Of the 24,000 people groups, the church has expanded to have indigenous churches in 19,000 in those people groups. Only about  5,000 remain unreached. That means people from outside people groups are still going in to preach the Gospel. So at this point, we have from 21,000 people groups streaming into the church, God’s highest mountain. But the Advent hope is that all 24,000 people groups will come streaming into the church one day. But wait, there is more!

As amazing as this image is in verse 3, now Verse 4 takes this up to yet another level. It says, “The Lord will mediate between nations
and will settle international disputes.
They will hammer their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will no longer fight against nation,
nor train for war anymore.”

This is what it means. This prophecy will be fully realized, when Jesus Christ returns back to earth, to be visibly seated on the throne that is higher than any other power on earth. At that time, all these nations with their different religious roots will come to the Lord to settle disputes. There will not be war and conflict. How this will pan out is hard to tell. The Bible does not explain fully how nations with different ideologies and religious backgrounds will remain separate and yet recognize the power of Christ and come to Him for healing and settling International disputes. This is a fascinating mystery that is yet to be unraveled to us. But this image of the different nations streaming into the New Jerusalem is repeated and even amplified in the book of Revelation.

What the Bible is claiming here is something very vast in scope. It is saying that with Christ’s first coming, his life, death resurrection and the establishment of the called-out community, the church, the church now is commissioned to send out the Lord’s teaching to every nation or people group that exists. This will result in those different religious ideologies and people groups streaming into the church. But beyond that when Christ returns, remember the time when In Phil 2:10-11 we have this declaration that in heaven and on earth, every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Christ Lord to the glory of God the Father. So what will happen when Christ comes is that every people group in every nation will be recognizing the Lordship and supremacy of Christ and will be coming to Him for the resolution of disputes among them. We don’t understand what kind of disputed this might be, but when Christ’s power is recognized and acknowledged, there will be no fights among people on earth because there is a fair and just ruler who will settle all matters. Kind of like when the dad is in the house the kids tend to not fight, but when the parents are away then the kids are at each other's throats.

So the Advent hope is both very specific and also very broad. Advent hope is the hope that comes from hitching one’s wagon to Jesus Christ because Jesus Christ through the church is pulling in people from every nation and people group and religious background on earth. And what you are seeing is just the beginning because when Christ returns, then every knee will bow, and after every knee bows, every lifestyle will change and every dispute will be handled through Christ directly and that will result in a very different kind of world. That is Advent hope my friends.

So what should you and I be doing to prepare for our Lord’s coming?

Well, the first thing is doing now what he asked us to do about bringing the Lord’s message to those who don’t know Jesus. Do it because that’s our mission as citizens of the New Jerusalem.

The second thing we need to do is take our job as peacemakers seriously because Jesus Christ is going to be doing that when he returns so it must be that important to him.

Thirdly, our passage opens with these words, “in the last days”. So you and I are already living in the last days according to scripture. So let the urgency of our actions reflect the urgency of the times. Christ is coming soon. If there are areas you need to grow in or tasks that you can clearly hear God is calling you to do today but you are still planted in your seat, well, what are you waiting for?

We are in the last days friends! Let me remind you that Advent hope is an amazing hope. But now is our time to teach the Lord’s ways to people from every nation. Now is the time to prepare for Christ's return. Let us pray.