Blessed Lord, who hast caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
Epistle Romans 15:4-13
Gospel S. Luke 21:25-33
The Second Sunday in Advent is also known as “Bible Sunday”, because of the wording of the Collect, and the theme here is taken up on both readings.
The Epistle contains one of Paul’s favourite themes, the legitimacy of the Gentile inheritance of Israel’s promises. For this reason much of it consists of quotations from the Old Testament, to illustrate that God had always promised this very thing. He quotes Psalms 18:49 in v 9; Deuteronomy 32:43 in v 10; Psalm 117:1 in v 11; and Isaiah 11:10 in v 12. These quotations serve two allied purposes. Firstly, they are intended to show that Jesus is the very Messiah, promised in the prophets, for the restoration of Israel. This is the thrust of the final quotation, from Isaiah 11:10, though Paul has stated this in v 8. The phrase ‘minister of the circumcision’ is just another way of saying ‘servant of the Jews’. In that Jesus is the servant ‘to confirm the promises made unto the fathers’ we have to remind ourselves of what those promises are. God promised Abraham descendants and a land. He repeated these promises to Isaac and to Jacob, showing that they were inheritors of the same promises. The Epistle to the Hebrews makes clear that they never did inherit the promise in their lifetime (Hebrews 11:13), nor did any who came after them (Hebrews 11:39-40) “without us”. In other words they shall not enter into their inheritance until we do. Paul taught the Thessalonians the same point, when he told them that those who had died had not missed the resurrection, but would rise from death at the same time as the living would be caught up to meet Jesus as he returns to his kingdom (1 Thess 4:13-18). Paul does not comfort the bereaved by saying, “Your loved ones are in heaven”, but by saying “All will rise from the dead and enter Christ’s presence for ever together”. This is all because our Lord Jesus, having become “the minister of the circumcision” has, according to God’s expressed will, risen “to reign over the Gentiles”. In him the Gentiles trust, because God always intended there to be one people of God, not just Israel, certainly not ‘ethnic Israel’, but all who are the true sons of Abraham, namely those who believe the promise made to Abraham, and who, in believing, are accounted righteous. This brings us to Paul’s second point in using these quotations. He is showing that, from the earliest times, the inclusion of the Gentiles into the covenant promises was always spelled out. This was what James said when he heard of the conversion of the Gentiles, as recorded in Acts 15. He spoke of the report by Simon Peter, v 14, then quoted Amos 9:11,12, to show that the conversion of the Gentiles was revealed even then. Indeed, Isaiah, for instance, is full of the coming in of the Gentiles, and he wrote wonderfully of this at the end of chapter 19; “In that day shall Israel be the third with Egypt and with Assyria, even a blessing in the midst of the land: whom the LORD of hosts shall bless, saying, Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel mine inheritance”.
So why does Paul speak like this? What is his point? It is that Jews and Gentiles who are one in the Lord, should live as one together in the Lord. This is why the strong must bear the infirmities of the weak, v 1, and seek the good of our neighbour rather than our own good, v 2. For if our Lord Jesus Christ allowed the reproaches of God to fall on him, taking upon himself that wrath which ought to have been borne by the people, should we not live at peace with those for whom Christ bore those reproaches? We are all saved by the one sacrifice, we are subjects of the one King, and we have the one hope of the eternal kingdom. This is the message of the Scriptures; salvation in Jesus Christ for Jew and Gentile, one people in one God in one place for ever.
The Gospel seems to be of a very different order, being a picture of the end times. However, there are two reasons why we should take the Epistle and Gospel together. The first and most obvious reason is that both are plain statements that the Bible tells us the will of God. We are not left to guess, to work things out for ourselves, or to invent for ourselves ways of salvation; God has revealed all things necessary to us in this matter. So the signs listed here in Luke are intended to give peace to those who must live through such times, so that they do not misinterpret them. Indeed, the sight of these things should be a comfort to those who see them, because, v 28, they mean “your redemption draweth nigh”. That the generation to whom Jesus spoke would not pass away before these things are accomplished, v 32, means that they had to come to pass within a few years. The Jews revolted against Roman rule in AD 66, and the Romans destroyed the temple in AD 70. What God did in that terrible act of destruction and loss of life was to remove from the Jews what they would not give up willingly; the Mosaic sacrifices. They were to give them up because the last Passover Lamb had been sacrificed, and the law was fulfilled. Their refusal to give them up was part of their rejection of their Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. So God removed the temple from them. This points us to the second thing these words teach, that Jesus is the one who speaks with the authority of God; his word does not pass until it has been fulfilled. This is because Jesus is the very Passover Lamb himself, the one appointed by God to take away “the sins of the world” (John 1:29). How can God not pass judgement on all who reject his Messiah, his anointed King and appointed Saviour?
The destruction of Jerusalem was not, as some continue to argue falsely, the second coming of our Lord Jesus. All who think this are guilty of saying that “the resurrection is past already” (2 Tim 2:18). Such are condemned by Paul as faith-destroyers. Rather, the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple becomes the paradigm for understanding the end of the world. God will clear away all that is temporary, all that is corrupt and rotten with sin, all that is perishing, so that he can establish in its place his eternal kingdom. God removed the temple so that men might no longer worship in this place or that, but “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23). It is worth noting that Islam has tried to rebuild the temple, in the form of the Dome of the Rock mosque; surely there could not be a clearer sign that Islam is not of God than that it should go about like this to overthrow the will of him whose word “shall stand forever” (Isaiah 40:8).
Conclusion. The link between Advent and the Word of God is unmistakable. Not only do we learn about the first coming of our Lord Jesus in the Scripture, we also learn why he came; to save his people from their sins. More than that we learn that he is coming one day to gather his people into one place, into the eternal kingdom. This will appear amid the destruction of the present age, when God will move in judgement against all that is not of him. With it will go many things to which we may have looked in hope, but which were not taught us in God’s Word. So we learn to look to the only hope of mankind, to Jesus Christ, to the one who laid down his life for us on the cross, bearing our sins in his own body, and rising again to take up his throne and reign in power and great glory. That is why the Collect calls on us to “hear them, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them”. The word of God gives us comfort, telling us all we need to know, so that nothing need be doubtful to us. The Word of God reveals Jesus to us, and the destruction to come, and the hope we have now. Do you have that hope? Are you trusting Jesus Christ alone for your salvation? If not, you are still an enemy of God; if yes, then look forward, for “your redemption draweth nigh”.