In the movie industry sequels are common practice – think, Harry Potter Parts 1-7, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings Parts 1-3, and many more. Sequels keep fans coming back for the rest of the story. Then someone came up with the idea of a prequel. That’s a movie that fills in the background of what happened before Part 1. Having just completed a five part sermon series called The Jesus Adventure, the season of Advent gives us the opportunity to look at the prequel. It’s called The Adventure Begins. Over the next six weeks we will zoom out and look at the entire span of human history and discover the backstory behind Jesus’ call to follow him: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).
Begin at the End
Sunday, December 1 – Christmas is on the horizon. You can almost see it from here. Why oh why are we talking about the end of the world?! Stephen Covey coined the phrase: “Begin with the End in Mind” in his best selling book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. The season of Advent does exactly that—it begins with THE END in mind. To be highly effective followers of Jesus requires that we know and understand Jesus’ teaching about the end of the world. It can be summed up in two simple phrases: “No one knows the day and hour” (Matthew 24:36) and “therefore be ready” (Matthew 24:44).
To Move Forward – Turn Back
Sunday, December 8 – “John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (Matthew 3:1-2). Martin Luther wrote the first of his famous 95 Theses that ignited the Reformation: “All of life is repentance.” The word “repent” literally means “to change one’s mind” or “to turn around.” To move forward in following Jesus requires us to keep turning back to him confessing our sins every day and believing the Good News that his life, death, and resurrection works forgiveness and new eternal life.
Sunday, December 15 – The kingdom of heaven is near? John the Baptist was preaching and baptizing which made the crowds flock to hear him. Then John is arrested and put in prison. It seems like something is wrong here. Following Jesus confronts us with the reality that God does not do things the way we think they should be done. When things don’t go the way we think they should, doubt begins to creep in and crowd out faith. The solution? “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. 6 And blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (Matthew 11:4-6).
Sunday, December 22 – The only way to see and believe in Gods plans is if he reveals it. No one would ever guess God would come into the world as an infant. Joseph had in mind to get out before the going got tough. It took nothing less than an angel appearing to him in a dream to convince him that God was behind it all. God’s surprising love for us is still hard to believe. Yet he continues to persuade and convince us of it through his word, faithfully recorded for us in the Bible. Joseph listened and did as he was commanded. Surprised by grace, God invites us to meet our Savior. His name is Jesus and “he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:22).
From Detour to Destination
Sunday, December 29 – Jesus’ arrival is the fulfillment of all God’s promises in the Old Testament. What God began to do to rescue his broken world in calling Abraham and his descendants to trust in Him, he now completes perfectly through his Son, Jesus. But Jesus’ arrival will be a threat to the powers of this world. The contrast between God’s plan for us in Christ and the “might makes right” power structure of this world continues. God wins through weakness. The Jesus Adventure will not always be pleasant or safe, but it is victorious in the end.
Where is the King?
Sunday, January 5, 2020 – We live in a world of stark contrasts. The Jesus Adventure can only be seen and experienced if God reveals it to us. An unspecified period of time has passed when, Magi from the east come seeking a newborn King. But those who should have known, the religious leaders, seem oblivious, and Herod is darkly curious. “This is the contrast between knowledge and ignorance, faith and unbelief, truth and hypocrisy” (Concordia Commentary, Jeffrey Gibbs). Herod governs by fear, deceit, and murder. The newborn King Jesus is unknown, weak, and in need of protection. Following Jesus into the year 2020 will require God’s ongoing revelation and his strength to live in the tension between the way of the world and the way of life in Christ.