John 12:46-48 (Christian Standard Bible).

“I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me would not remain in darkness” (46).

Imagine a world with no light in it. There would only be darkness. Our eyes would be useless. We would all be blind. There could be no such thing as beauty. There would be be no distinction between the fair and the fowl. Everything would “look” the same.

our problem: darkness

One of the ways that the apostle John told the story of Jesus is by bouncing around a few themes throughout his narrative. One of those themes is the contrast between light and darkness.

• He told us that Jesus’ life was humanity’s light (1:4). We were all in darkness until he showed up.
• He also told us that even though Christ was just one man, when his light shown in our darkness, our darkness didn’t overwhelm it (1:5),
• In fact, John told us that when Jesus was born, “The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world” (1:9).

Before we think about the good news that the Light has come to us, we need to step back and consider the bad news. The bad news for us all is that we needed the true light. In other words, we were all born in darkness.

John picks up on the light and darkness theme again in his chapter 3.

• He told us that although the “light has come into the world, … people loved darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light and avoids it, so that his deeds may not be exposed. But anyone who lives by the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be shown to be accomplished by God” (3:19-21).

In chapter 8, John records Jesus own admission that he is the light. Jesus said “I am the light of the world. Anyone who follows me will never walk in the darkness but will have the light of life” (8:12).

But in chapter 9, he points out that the exposure to the light was limited. There Jesus said “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (9:5).

Then, earlier in chapter 12, John recorded Jesus as saying “The light will be with you only a little longer. Walk while you have the light so that darkness doesn’t overtake you. The one who walks in darkness doesn’t know where he’s going. While you have the light, believe in the light so that you may become children of light” (12:35-36).

So, to summarize what John had told us so far, we can say that Jesus has appeared as light for our world briefly, and now he is gone.

What good is that? Well, imagine you have to go into a dark room and do something. Wouldn’t it be a good thing for you to have seen the room with the light on – at least once?

enter a solution: light to save the world

Let’s look again at verses 46-47. There Jesus says “I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me would not remain in darkness. If anyone hears my words and doesn’t keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.”

Jesus says that the purpose for his first advent was to save the world. The words that he gave us during his lifetime on earth were enough to make a difference. But the salvation that he offers is conditional. Everyone who believes in him will not remain in darkness. Oh, but anyone can say that they believe in Jesus. That is why Jesus explains that the true believers are those who hear his words and keep them.

Every year at Christmas we remind people that a Savior has been born in Bethlehem. We should also remind them that he has explained just how he intends to save us. His salvation is tied to our choice to believe and follow his teachings.

the consequences of avoiding the light

People who choose to avoid the words of Jesus are said to “remain in darkness” now (46). It is a terrible thing to remain in that kind of darkness. It is the darkness of sin, of error, of failure, of shame, and impending judgment.

Jesus said that those who do not receive his words and sayings have rejected him (47-48). We each have a personal responsibility to learn everything about Christ and everything he has taught us. We cannot let someone else do that for us. The stakes are too high. Our salvation depends on our proper understanding and acceptance of his words. We need to get the light right.

We need to be saved ourselves or else it will do no good for us to try to save others. Jesus warned against the hypocritical blind guides. We need the light straight from the source.

And one final note, and the reason I am talking about this subject as we celebrate advent. Just like the other advent themes, this one as well has a second advent component. Jesus said that the consequence of truly believing him and following his teachings is “permanent life” (12:50). But the consequences of not doing so is that those who reject his light now will be judged by those words “on the last day” (48).

Our light was with us for a while, and our light is coming back. But only those who live by the light now will enjoy the light and the life he offers forever.



Revelation 1:3-8 (Christian Standard Bible)

Our Christmas Carols remind us that Jesus Christ was born a king:

• “Born thy people to deliver, Born a child and yet a King” (Come Thou Long-expected Jesus).
• “King of kings, yet born of Mary” (Let all Mortal Flesh Keep Silence).
• “Glory to the newborn King” (Hark! The Herald Angels Sing).
• “Come and behold him, born the king of angels” (O Come, All Ye Faithful).
• “All our costliest treasures bring, Christ, to thee, our heavenly King” (As With Gladness Men of Old).
• “Come adore on bended knee, Christ, the Lord, the newborn King” (Angels We Have Heard on High).
• “Come and worship, come and worship, Worship Christ, the newborn King” (Angels, From the Realms of Glory.
• “Let earth receive her King” (Joy to the World).
• “Peace on the earth, good will to men, from heaven’s all gracious King” (It Came Upon the Midnight Clear).
• “This, this is Christ the King, Whom shepherds guard and angels sing” (What Child is This).
• Nowell, Nowell, Nowell, Nowell, Born is the King of Israel” (The First Nowell).

It is appropriate for us to stop during this season of Advent and consider Jesus as our Christ – our Messiah, our king. Why was it important that Christ our Savior be announced by the angelic army as the newborn king of Israel? Why did God’s anointed king have to go to the cross? There are all sorts of questions that come to mind when one thinks about Jesus as king. Today’s passage guides us to the answers of some of those questions.

Jesus was born as God’s anointed king.

The Magi asked Herod “”Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?” That points to the historical reality that our savior has a birthday. He was born in Bethlehem. We have more historical evidence for the birth of Jesus than we do for our own birth.

John calls Jesus the faithful witness (5). Jesus commands us to be witnesses for him, but long before we were alive, he was a witness for us. Christ told the Laodiceans that he was the “Amen, the Faithful and True Witness” (3:14) But he condemned that church because they kept witnessing to their own wealth but they were really “wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked” (3:17). They were hypocrites. Jesus is the real deal. He was born where he was, when he was, to be the Witness to God’s light in our darkness. I’ll share more about that in the evening service.

When we celebrate Christmas, we remember the most significant life that ever will be. Christmas is not really about family, or joy in the face of hardship, and it is most certainly not about a fat man in a red suit. Christmas is about the man who was born to be Israel’s Messiah, and God’s witness to us.

Jesus went to the cross as God’s anointed king.

John tells us that Jesus “loves us and has set us free from our sins by his blood” (5). The cross was not a mistake. It was God’s plan to send his only Son to die for our sins. The unbelieving word cannot quite figure out why we keep harping on the fact that Jesus died. They might be sorry that he died, but they cannot understand what that has to do with them.

The author of Hebrews tells us that “Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of humanity, and after that he will appear a second time. This time he will not deal with sin, but he will save those who eagerly wait for him” (Hebrews 9:28 GW). Our king had to go to the cross because that was a necessary step in his plan. He is our Savior, but he has not yet saved us completely. He came first as a sacrifice.

And when he comes again he is going to raise the dead. He’s not just going to raise us from the dead, but everyone. Verse 7 says that every eye will see him, even those who pierced him. Those eyes have long been shut in the sleep of death. But our coming king is going to open them again. They will look on whom they have pierced. Like all those who have chosen to reject Jesus as king, there will come a day when they will be forced to admit that he is their king – they will weep in sorrow, and gnash their teeth in anger. The king will return, and it will be their turn to die – and permanently.

Jesus was raised from the dead as God’s anointed king.

Notice that verse 5 calls Jesus the “the firstborn from the dead.” He is called that because he is the first to be raised from the dead. The apostle Paul explains death and resurrection to us with these words:

• “since death originated through a human, resurrection from the dead ones will also originate through a human. Because just as everyone in Adam is dying, in the same way everyone in Christ will be made alive. But each crop will be harvested in its own order: Christ, the first harvest, then the ones to be harvested by Christ when he makes his appearance” (1 Corinthians 15:21-23 JDV).

But Christ is the firstborn in another sense as well. The firstborn in a royal family inherits the throne. Paul calls him “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation” (Colossians 1:15). He is the king-elect, just waiting for his inauguration.

We belong to the coming king. He has “made us a kingdom” (6) now. We are citizens of that kingdom which is coming down from the sky.

Jesus is coming again as God’s anointed king.

This planet has lots of kings and queens, presidents and prime ministers, chiefs and chairmen, lords and ladies, but it is destined to be ruled by one person: Jesus Christ “the ruler of the kings of the earth” (5).

Daniel had seen a vision of this coming king. He said “with the clouds of the sky one like a son of man was approaching” (Daniel 7:13). He said this king “was given ruling authority, honor, and sovereignty. All peoples, nations, and language groups were serving him. His authority is eternal and will not pass away. His kingdom will not be destroyed” (Daniel 7:14).

Jesus said that when he returns, “the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory” (Matthew 24:30).

When Jesus ascended, he was lifted up into the sky while his followers looked on, “and a cloud received Him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9). Then two angels appeared and said “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). He left in a cloud, he will return in a cloud. When he left, everyone was watching. When he returns, everyone will be watching.

The first time our king came to earth, it was to serve, and give his life as a ransom. The next time he comes it will be to take his rightful place as king of kings. Our king is coming!

20201220a OUR KING IS COMING (audio)



John 16:20-24 (Christian Standard Bible)

I will see you again. Your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy from you” (John 16:22b).

We sing this hymn every Christmas, but it was not originally written as a Christmas Carol. In fact, the song is more about the second advent than the first. What is it? It is “Joy to the World” by Isaac Watts.

joy banner

Watts originally wrote this hymn as an interpretation of Psalm 98, which says “Shout joyfully to the LORD, all the earth; Break forth and sing for joy and sing praises” Psalm 98:4 NASB).

It is appropriate for us to sing about joy at Christmas though. The Christmas cards remind us of that.

During Christmas, we share the joy of giving and getting gifts. We share the joy of life together with friends and family. Also, because it comes at the end of the year, we can know the joy of stepping back and seeing the year in the big picture. Even if we have had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year, we can usually find some reason to be joyful.

The New Testament associates the story of the birth of Christ with joy.

  • When the wise men saw the star “they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy” (Matthew 2:10).

  • The angel Gabriel told Zechariah that he would have joy and gladness, and many would rejoice at his son’s birth (Luke 1:14).

  • And that baby himself, John the Baptist – leaped in his mother’s womb for joy when his mother heard Mary’s greeting (Luke 1:41,44).

  • And who could forget what the angels told the shepherds “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people” (Luke 2:10).

The New Testament also associates the Christian life with joy.

  • The apostle Paul said “the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17).

  • He listed joy as one of the evidences of the Spirit’s presence – what he called the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22).

  • The apostle James encouraged his readers to “consider it all joy” when they encounter various trials, because those trials test our faith and are perfecting us (James 1:2).

  • The apostle John once reflected on his writing ministry. He said “these things we write, so that our joy may be made complete” (1 John 1:4). Passing on the gospel message comes with its own joy.

I struggled with using this text from John 16 because I think it is usually misunderstood. When people comment on Jesus’ words to the disciples, they think he is explaining about his resurrection. So, let me go back a few verses to get the context. Jesus had just told his disciples that it was for their benefit that he is going away, because if he didn’t go away, the Holy Spirit would not come (16:7).

The Holy Spirit did not come while Christ was in the tomb. So, he is not talking about the interval between his death and resurrection here. He is talking about the interval between his ascension and the second coming.

Secondly, Jesus had told his disciples in the same discourse that he was going to the Father.

  • I am going to the Father and you will no longer see me” (16:10).

  • I came from the Father and have come into the world. Again, I am leaving the world and going to the Father” (16:28).

The reason most people misunderstand what Jesus is talking about here is that they think Jesus went to the Father when he died. He did not. He went to the grave when he died. He went to the Father at his ascension.

Remember, after his resurrection, Jesus told Mary “Don’t cling to me … since I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and tell them that I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” (John 20:17). That is when he went to the Father.

So, the joy that Jesus is predicting in John 16 is not the joy of Jesus’ resurrection. It is the ultimate joy of the return of Christ in his glory at the second advent.

when our ultimate joy comes, we will forget our sorrows

Truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice. You will become sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn to joy. When a woman is in labor, she has pain because her time has come. But when she has given birth to a child, she no longer remembers the suffering because of the joy that a person has been born into the world” (20-21).

Jesus is talking about a period of mourning while the world rejoices. He is talking about a time when the world celebrates, but Christians suffer.

The good news that Jesus is sharing is that the period of suffering will end. It will be like labor pains. The joy of the newborn child will overtake the memory of the suffering that preceded it.

Jesus described that period of birth pangs in his eschatological discourse in Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21.

before our ultimate joy comes, we can find joy through prayer

In that day you will not ask me anything. Truly I tell you, anything you ask the Father in my name, he will give you. Until now you have asked for nothing in my name. Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete” (23-24).

I think the “that day” that Jesus refers to in verse 23 is today: the day of the interval between the ascension of Christ, and his return. Nobody on earth can see Jesus, so we cannot ask him for anything directly. But Jesus assures us that we can ask the Father for things in his name. In fact, he wants us to pray so that our joy can be complete today.

We are in the time of sorrow and suffering, but prayer is that tool that Jesus prescribes to give us joy during this time. In other words, until Jesus returns, every day is Christmas day, but only for people who are in the habit of praying. Joy is available, but it is not going to come automatically. Even if you have faith, you will not necessarily experience joy. Joy comes to those who have the audacity to ask for it.

Just like wisdom. It is not automatic. James says “if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5).

Joy is literally ours for the asking. God loves us and wants us to have it. All he asks is that we ask. In fact, our joy is always going to be incomplete unless we start asking. Jesus said “Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete” (24).

when our ultimate joy comes, it will be permanent

So you also have sorrow now. But I will see you again. Your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy from you” (22).

It is important for me to once again state that Jesus is talking about the interval between his ascension and his return here. It is true that Christ’s resurrection gave his disciples joy. But Jesus also knew that they were going to experience a long period of sorrow. He was preparing them for that.

We are living in that time. We can have joy in fellowship with God and each other in this time. We can even have a more complete joy by asking for it. But our ultimate joy still awaits.

What Jesus told his disciples, he is also telling us. He is saying “you also have sorrow now. But I will see you again. Your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy from you.” No one will be able to take away that joy because it will be permanent.

The gifts we get this Christmas cannot give us ultimate joy, because they will not last. Even the good times we share with friends and family will not last. But our ultimate joy is coming, and when he comes, he is coming to stay.




One of my favorite Christmas memories dates back when I was in the army, stationed in Germany. Penny and I had been part of the brigade Choir, and the choir put on a wonderful Cantata on campus. We were also invited to be part of a local Christmas celebration. We sang “Silent Night” and then a local German choir sang “Stille Nacht.”

That wonderful Christmas carol has been bringing us into the stable to watch the baby Jesus sleep in heavenly peace for over 200 years.

For even longer than that, people have been reading the prophecy of Isaiah 9:1-7, and seeing a portrayal of Jesus as the Prince of Peace he prophesied. The question I want to consider today is: How could Jesus possibly be the Prince of Peace that Isaiah predicted?

I know, of course Jesus is who Isaiah predicted, right? After all, every year we get Christmas cards with this text on them. They all proclaim that Jesus is the Prince of Peace. Not to mention – which is what we say and then go ahead and mention anyway – all the books that have been written about Jesus entitled “The Prince of Peace.”

But let’s just imagine that we were back there in the time of Isaiah for a bit. The first thing I would like to establish is the audience to whom Isaiah was actually talking when he predicted the words which eventually became chapter 9, verses 1-7.

If you had asked the average citizen of Judah in Isaiah’s day about the north country, the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali – Galilee beyond the Jordan river, their assessment would have been that it was a write-off. Isaiah had just talked about how paganism and idolatry had turned out the light in the holy land, and Galilee was considered the darkest of the dark. There was no hope for Galilee in the future. But, now Isaiah says that it is in this gloomy land of darkness that the light is going to shine first. What? Galilee… are you kidding?

And what is going to be the result of that light shining there first?

Isaiah prophesied honor in the place of shame.

Isaiah said that “in the future he will bring honor to the way of the sea, to the land east of the Jordan, and to Galilee of the nations” (1). These citizens of that shameful corrupt land had no idea that some day millions would want to put their hand in the hand of the man from … Galilee! Our Lord chose to grow up in a place that was on the wrong side of the tracks. But Isaiah predicted that one day Galilee is where everybody would want to be.

Isaiah also said that Galilee was filled with “people walking in darkness” and “living in the land of darkness” but they would see “a great light” that light will dawn on them. The Bible equates darkness with sin, and sin with shame. The light that Isaiah predicted would bring honor to a land that had previously only been know for its shame and sin.

Galilee also had the reputation of being too Gentile to actually be counted as part of the Jewish nation. It had the nickname “Galilee of the nations” (1) and that word “nations” was the same word they used for Gentiles. In other words, Galilee does not count. It has too many Gentiles in it to be actually considered part of God’s kingdom.

Isaiah comes along and says “You have enlarged the nation
and increased its joy. The people have rejoiced before you
as they rejoice at harvest time and as they rejoice when dividing spoils” (3). What would the inhabitants of Galilee think about that prediction? The harvest is a picture of revival. The rejoicing over the dividing of spoils was a picture of national growth due to warfare.

So, let me put it this way: What if I told you that Delco was going to be the starting place of the next great awakening, the next great revival? You might say, “not little old us.” And the Galileans would think the same thing about this prophecy. But Isaiah was right!

Isaiah prophesied freedom in the place of bondage.

Next, Isaiah predicted that God would shatter “their oppressive yoke and the rod on their shoulders, the staff of their oppressor” (4). These are all images taken from agriculture. The yoke, rod and staff are all ways that the farmer exercises control over his animals. As such, they naturally stood for political control of oppressive tyrants over the little guys.

Isaiah also adds these words to his prediction. He says God would bring this freedom just as he “did on the day of Midian” (4). He was referring to Gideon’s defeat of the Midianites with only 300 men. I think Isaiah was drawing attention to the fact that once those 300 men gained the upper hand, they sent messengers to the tribe of Ephraim to “come down against the Midianites” as well (Judges 7:24). In other words, Gideon’s miraculous defeat of the Midianites was the beginning.

So, what was Isaiah saying to the Galileans? He was saying that they were going to start the next move of God to bring deliverance from bondage to all his people.

Isaiah prophesied peace in the place of warfare.

But this is where it really gets interesting. You would think that if the Galileans were going to be a force for deliverance, that would mean Isaiah is predicting that they would be like the 300 men under Gideon – amazing warriors. But this is what Isaiah says instead:

“For every trampling boot of battle and the bloodied garments of war will be burned as fuel for the fire” (5).

When I was a soldier, I had to keep a duffle bag ready. It had to contain load bearing equipment, a helmet, magazines for my m-16 rifle, a flashlight, cold weather gear, extra boots and a battle dress uniform.

If you are preparing for battle, you don’t burn your boots and battle dress uniform. But Isaiah told the Galileans not to prepare for war, but to prepare for peace.

He told them about a child who was going to be born “for us” and a son given “to us” and “the government will be on his shoulders.
He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace” (6).

So this victory that brings honor to the shameful and freedom to the oppressed is going to be won without a battle. It is going to happen as a result of a child being born.

Then Isaiah tells us that the child will have permanent dominion over a vast territory and “its prosperity will never end. He will reign on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish and sustain it with justice and righteousness from now on and forever” (7).

Now, Isaiah’s words become even more mysterious because he concludes his prophecy with “The zeal of the LORD of Armies will accomplish this.” The title “LORD of Armies” was usually used to indicate that God could change the world by moving armies to execute his judgment for him. But Isaiah was saying that the same passion that God uses to destroy using the armies of the world will now be invested in the peace he is going to bring about through that one child.

the gospel of Christ’s kingdom is the gospel of peace

When the apostle Paul told the Ephesians to put on their armor for spiritual warfare, he said that their battle boots were going to be “the preparation of the gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:15).

When we share the good news of the coming kingdom of Jesus Christ, we can tell people that he offers them honor instead of shame and humiliation. He offers them freedom instead of slavery and bondage. He offers them peace on earth, instead of war on earth.

But, let’s be careful when we tell people that. Jesus himself said that his first advent was not to bring peace to earth, but a sword (Matthew 10:34). It is his second advent that will bring peace by destroying all his enemies. At Christmas, we celebrate the peace with God that we can have in our hearts, and the permanent peace that is to come.

During the Advent season it is good to be Advent Christians. We can share the good news of the gospel. That news includes the fact that the Prince of Peace is going to return to set up his permanent kingdom. Our peace is coming.

Piney Grove Advent Christian Church, Delco North Carolina, USA.

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