As You Wait for the Revealing of Our Lord Jesus Christ
1 Corinthians 1:3-9 – Advent 2017: New Covenant Hope
First Sunday of Advent – December 3, 2017 (am)
Do you believe that Jesus will return?
Do you desire to stand confident and unashamed (1Jo.2:28 niv) before Him when he does—guiltless, eager for His arrival? Do you know how that is going to happen? Do you have a plan for getting yourself ready—keeping yourself ready? If not, the situation is really pretty desperate, agreed?
I remember talking to a group of you Hispanic guys, and just asked: What brings meaning to your life? They each answered some combination of family and friends. At a comfortable point I asked if they believed in God, and each said: Yes, very much. So I asked if they believed they would stand before Him in judgement someday, if they believed they would answer to Him. And, surprisingly, they said confidently: Yes. So I asked the obvious next question: Does that have any impact on how you live today? And they were stymied. It was like they didn’t even understand the question. They believed they would stand before God in judgment, but it wasn’t making any difference in how they lived their lives. Their own ideas combined to leave them in a pretty desperate situation.
We can get caught in that same trap all too easily—a desperate situation.
I want to share the good news with you early this morning. When our faith is in Christ, He’s made a plan for us. He takes care of everything! All we have to do is cooperate—trust Him and go along with His plan. The problem is, there is still a lot within us that fights against His plan and wants to live for ourselves. So, we build in reminders that help us stay on track. Some of those come directly from Scripture; we’ll get to one of those later in our service. Others are developed by the Church to help us think rightly about life in this world—to help us number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom (Psa.90:12 niv). The Church Calendar is one such reminder. It opens with Advent.
Advent means arrival or appearing. Advent Season is the four Sundays before Christmas. It builds anticipation for the celebration of Christmas, the long-anticipated arrival of the promised Messiah, the King of kings, our Savior. Looking forward to the coming of Christmas for four weeks prior builds our excitement! It builds our anticipation for the arrival of the grandest of all birthday parties! Other familiar expressions also build our anticipation: Christmas lights and trees and presents accumulating under the trees wrapped in brightly colored paper and tied with ribbons and bows. But more traditionally in the history of the church, the reading of the Word accompanied by the lighting of candles has been used to build this anticipation—a collection of candles that, until Christmas Day arrives, always leaves at least one unlit.
How grand it would be if the joy of Christmas was awakened in our hearts, and the hearts of our children, when we finally ignite the white candle, the Christ candle, illustrating that the Light of the world has come! How grand it would be if that excited us like the unwrapping of gifts on Christmas morning—a ritual that so often happens with no reference at all to the greatest gift we’ve received, the gift of the eternal Son of God our Savior, whose coming is illustrated in every single Christmas gift! Traditionally, the celebration doesn’t end even there. It really just begins there, and extends for twelve days, set aside for reflection on the meaning of the Incarnation. One day is simply not enough to celebrate and reflect upon the Incarnation of the Son.
That is how Advent and Christmas work—Advent Season and Christmastide. So, the Church Year kicks off with a celebration of what C. S. Lewis called the grandest of all miracles—that to which all other miracles either look forward or look back—the coming in the flesh of the eternal Son of God to save us from our sin.
But this anticipation built up during Advent Season is not just for the celebration of Christmas and the first coming of the Son. It also builds our anticipation, our expectation, our hope for His second coming. Passages of this sort have been selected for our Advent Readings this year: 1Co.1:3-9; 2Pe.3:8-15a; 1Th.5:16-24; and Rom.16:25-27. Each has a word to say that draws our attention to the return of our Lord, and how we should be living in light of that day. Our passage today (1Co.1:3-9) speaks of it as (waiting): in every way you were enriched in him… so that you are not lacking any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless… (5, 7-8). There is our promise in Christ! There is our hope in him—enriched in him in every way, and not lacking any gift, as we (await) His return! That is our standing in Christ, by God’s grace! But I’m guessing we struggle to believe that—at times as much as the Corinthians did. God does a work of grace in us, in Christ Jesus, making us His possession, His children, showering us with His gift. But we, like they, can choose to go our own way, write our own rules, seek our own significance, and all but completely bypass the grace that ours in him. So, we need a reminder. In fact, we need regularly recurring reminders built in to our lives so that we don’t forget who we are, and what we’re (waiting) for. Let’s look into this text and hear that call on this First Sunday of Advent. We have a two-part outline this morning.
A Warm Greeting from Paul
3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, Paul wrote, and this is not just flowery rhetoric. His words to the Corinthians are God’s words. His reminders and instructions are God’s reminders and instructions. His words land on their ears, and arrive in their hearts with divine power—enabling reception, belief, obedience. This is true because the Corinthians are in Christ Jesus. God acted on them by His saving grace and that made them His family, His adopted children. God’s actions have power! His declarations change things! When he spoke into the darkness and said: Let there be light. … There was light (Gen.1:3). And when He spoke grace to these Corinthians it changed their eternal destiny from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light. It saved them, forever—you and me also!
As Paul’s words transition from his opening greeting (3) to his expression of thanks (4), that is precisely what he’s (giving) thanks for—4 I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given to you in Christ Jesus—I’m (giving) thanks that you’ve received the saving grace of God—5 that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and knowledge, two things the Corinthians prized highly. They loved the lofty speech and knowledge of their Greek philosophers (cf.1:18-2:5) and, quite frankly, they found Paul to be substandard in these categories.
But what Paul was setting them up to hear—what we saw as we worked through this first Corinthian letter a couple years ago—is that this Church was turning to the world in hope of gaining the very things they were granted freely by God’s grace in Christ. This Church had lost touch with the fact that the wisdom of God looks like foolishness in this world, but that God, in His infinite wisdom, set things up such that 21 … the world (could) not come to know (Him) through their wisdom. Rather, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. Paul wrote this having just said that 18 … the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, to this world, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
The Corinthians were forgetting about this reversal of values. They were forgetting what they had received because of the grace of God that was given (to them) in Christ Jesus! They were forgetting that 6 … the testimony about Christ was confirmed among (them), probably referring to their baptism (cf.13-17). But bottom line: Paul is saying: You have surely been granted saving grace by God, in Christ—7 so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 8 who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of the Lord Jesus Christ, confirming His salvation. 9 God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Jesus will surely sustain to the end all those whom He has saved. Surely this is a warm greeting from Paul to a Church that he could have addressed quite differently, and did address differently at other points in this letter.
A Captivating Hope in Christ
But what is he telling this Church that makes this a Common passage of Scripture to read during Advent Season? How does this passage heighten our excitement for Christmas and sharpen our hope for Christ’s return?
Well, first, with regard to Christmas, we can’t really say that Paul is intending to call the birth of Jesus to mind here. But he does use language that reminds us of the Incarnation. And he also speaks of the pattern we imitate in our celebration of Christmas—he speaks of the gift God has given to the Corinthians, and to us, in Christ. And as we hear that, the story of Christmas echoes through his vivid description. The glory of Christmas literally shines through every thought. The Father has given us the gift of His Son, and in him we are enriched in every way.
But, present as that flavor may be in this passage, that’s not why it is selected as an Advent Reading. No, the Advent message comes in v.7. The gift of God’s grace in Christ puts us in the place of 7 … not lacking in any gift, as (we) wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 8 who will sustain (us) to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. Do you hear in this expression the sufficiency of God’s grace for every need, both now and for eternity? Do you also hear the now and the not yet of our salvation in these verses?
The Corinthians really thought their full salvation had already been delivered (4:8). Some didn’t even believe in a future resurrection from the dead (15:12). These beliefs and a few others were central to the problems Paul would address in the remainder of this letter. But they show us that the Corinthians did not believe there was part of their salvation that had not yet arrived. So, Paul is reminding them, right here in the introduction as he’s thanking God for them, that they are indeed (waiting) for something! They’re (waiting) for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ (7). They’re genuinely in need of Him who will sustain (them) to the end, guiltless (8). Paul is plowing the ground for their instruction and correction even as he’s affirming the work of God’s grace in them. And as he does so, he’s reminding us as well that we need the very same things. We need to live in anticipation of the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ (7). We are also in need of Him who will sustain (us) to the end, guiltless (8). Otherwise we will forget, and we will not be ready for His return. So, we press ourselves to remember at Advent Season.
We press ourselves to remember that even though the crowning part of our salvation still awaits the return of our Lord Jesus Christ, His grace is sufficient to sustain us until that day. We are not lacking in any gift as (we) wait. We have been enriched in every needful way in Christ. The now of our salvation is sufficient to carry us until the not yet arrives! And the grace of God that was given (us) in Christ Jesus—which surely begins with the (giving) of Christ Himself at Christmas—establishes our full assurance.
This is why we observe Advent. It helps us to prepare well for the celebration of Christmas, steering through all the distractions this world can throw in our paths. And it helps us to keep our eyes on the return of our Lord. It helps us remember the work of grace He’s done in our lives, and be ready for Him. That is the purpose of (numbering) our days aright in this life: so that we (do) gain a heart of wisdom (Psa.90:12).
The other way that I mentioned way back when we started this morning—one of the ways that comes directly from Scripture, indeed the primary such way—is the celebration of Communion. We remember the body and blood of the Lord that accomplished our salvation and made us guiltless before God by coming together to the Table of the Lord. As Paul wrote to these very Corinthians: 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes (1Co.11:26). And Jesus Himself said: Do this in remembrance of me (Luk.22:19). Let’s now do just that: let’s remember our Lord’s death which makes us guiltless before God, and by it and this Advent reminder, be drawn into full cooperation with His saving (sustaining) grace, living in hope of His return.