“When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Luke 1:41)
During Advent and Christmas we’re exploring the Good News of Christ’s birth in the opening chapters of Luke’s Gospel. It seemed like a good idea with so little good news reported during 2018. But as we turn our eyes to the birth of Jesus this month and remind ourselves again about what Christmas is really all about, we realise there is so much reason to give thanks and rejoice. We’ve read in this opening chapter of Luke about Mary’s visit to Judea and this extraordinary reaction from John in the womb. What was this reaction about? Was it the tone of Mary’s voice? Was it purely science, the natural order of pregnancy? Or did Elizabeth have indigestion? I don’t think so. Rather, John leaped in response to the presence of Jesus and Luke presents us with three matters of Good News in this account: 1. Jesus is the giver of joy (41,44); 2. Jesus is the giver of the Holy Spirit (41); and 3. Jesus is the fulfilment of Old Testament promise (46-55). May we know this Good News to be true and in our own lives this Advent and Christmas.
“He will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.”
Good news. It’s not a phrase we hear nearly enough and when we hear it, much like Zechariah, we often fail to recognise it or identify it for what it is. We are instead looking for the next mishap or the next piece of bad news. As we prepare to share THE Good News this advent, we must fully believe in the Good News of Jesus’ coming and then, and only then, will God give us the voices we need to share it. Advent is an amazing opportunity to share the Gospel, God uses ordinary people for extraordinary purposes in this season – if only we have full trust and faith in Him. Don’t find yourself silenced by a half faith this Christmas.
“You did not choose me, but I chose you sand appointed you that you might go and bear fruit – fruit that will last.” (John 15:16)
For ten weeks we have been exploring Freedom in Christ. The objective in all this teaching has been to grow in our Christian maturity and fruitfulness for God. Key to this is our remaining in Christ. John 15 concerns the post-Easter mission of Christ’s disciples. Jesus is preparing His closest friends for His departure and with a strong message that to bear fruit, they must remain in Him like branches to a vine. Without their friend and leader, it would have been tempting to drift away and become detached from the true vine. But the result of their remaining is todays church. We too can be tempted to break away from the true vine. We can break ourselves away from the true vine, find attachment to another less worthy vine and at least lose our fruitfulness for God. The warnings are even more stark from Jesus in John 15. But we must remain in Jesus. It is only in Him that we will produce fruit. Fruit as the creator intended and fruit that will last. It’s the first day of the rest of your life. So, remain in Jesus.
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2)
One of the most helpful outcomes of this preaching series has been to identify what we believe to be true but in the light of God’s word come to understand they are lies. Freedom in Christ calls these ‘strongholds’. A stronghold literally understood is a fortress, like a medieval castle – surrounded by thick walls or sometimes layers of wall after wall. In a spiritual sense, strongholds are those faulty beliefs or lies preventing us from knowing God and His good, pleasing and perfect will (as Paul puts it). Strongholds arise from our environment (the world, at home, school or work); from traumatic experiences (such as divorce, rape or death); and from sin. But these things do not need to define us. Rather, Paul presents the possibility that like the transfigured Jesus we can know transformation and the renewing of our mind, being aligned with what God says is true. How can we tear down these strongholds? 1. Don’t believe everything that the world throws at you; 2. Don’t be deceived by the prince of this world (the devil); and 3. Be transformed by the word and truth of God, as we read and apply it. Then we will know what it is to be free in Christ.