Les Miserables: A Lesson In Grace

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So I’ll start this post off with a confession… I have never read Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. I love reading and Les Miserables does seem to be a book that would be right up my ally, but at the time or writing this I my only experience with the story comes from the 2012 and 1998 films. Since it’s been forever since I saw the 1998 movie, this post will be almost entirely based on the 2012 version…. which is incredible!

I’ll go ahead and say that I am a sucker for musicals and I own more broadway soundtracks than I’d care to admit. I could go on and on about the music in this movie, but I’m going to hold back because that is not the reason I wrote this post. I’d much rather talk about what really made me fall in love with this movie. To my surprise this movie was easily (in my opinion) the best Christian movie to come out since End of the Spear in 2005. Now we have had plenty of Tyler Perry movies to come out with Christian themes and messages in them, and of course there were films like Facing the Giants and Fireproof that were so Christian it felt like a Sunday school lesson.

These films were fine for what they were, but I wouldn’t call any of them “great” and several of them I’d go so far as to call bad films. I love Tyler Perry, and even though he has a habit of turning up the drama to soap-opera levels, he at least manages not to beat around the bush and show the world as the messed up place it is. The Christian lessons he teaches are hard learned and a most of the time his films are not “family friendly” because of the issues they address. Despite the clownish nature of some of his characters and his extremely dramatic tendencies he at least isn’t afraid to deal with real issues and show that sometimes things don’t always come up rosy for everyone.  That’s more than I can say for Facing the Giants, Flywheel, and Fireproof (I haven’t seen Courageous) that tried to be so family friendly that they forgot to use real people.  I don’t want to come down too hard on these films because they were targeted at a Christian audience and a “Christian Family” audience at that, so they had to hold back a lot so as not to offend.

I say all this to point out that where these films struggled, Les Miserables succeeds. It manages to teach a lesson in redemption, grace, mercy, and selflessness that is unapologetically Christian in nature. I’m going to reveal some plot points from the film, so if you haven’t seen the film or aren’t familiar with the story and don’t want details spoiled, I’d suggest you stop reading right now and get your butt to a movie theatre.

Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman)

Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman)

The film’s two predominant figures from beginning to end are Jean Valjean and Javert. Played by Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe. Both actors do an amazing job (though at times it’s clear that Crowe is not a singer) and are great portrayals of two often conflicting concepts in Christianity. It’s pretty obvious from the beginning that Jean Valjean comes to represent mercy and grace, while Javert represents justice.

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Javert (Russell Crowe)

The film opens up with Jean Valjean enslaved to the state (as he has been for 19 years) because he stole bread. Even though his intent was nobel he was a law-breaker who’s sentence was extended because he tried to escape before serving his full sentence. Javert is his task master and a man of whom concepts of mercy and grace are foreign concepts and signs of weakness.

After finally serving his extended 19 year sentence, Jean Valjean is set free under the condition that he report back in to government officials on a regular basis to report his whereabouts since he is a “dangerous man.” Jean Valjean is an outcast whom no one wants anything to deal with. His criminal status leaves him homeless and abandoned by society. It’s clear that Jean Valjean has been forever labeled and in his society he is viewed as unworthy to even be allowed to sleep in a barn. This is not unlike the hopeless state that sinners (aka all of us) find ourselves in when we really become aware of who we are. Jean Valjean (like all sinners) is a broken man who is destined to die lost and deserted.

This all changes when an old priest comes across him and welcomes him into his church. The priest (God) shows Jean Valjean (the sinner) grace and mercy by allowing him to escape the bitter world. Valjean is given a warm meal, drink, a bed, and all the things he needs free of charge. Jean Valjean did nothing to deserve these things, and as far as the priest knew Jean Valjean deserved to die out in the cold (he was a “dangerous man” after all), but the priest’s love for this lost soul saw through Valjean’s unworthiness.

How does Jean Valjean repay this Priest’s kindness? By stealing all the Priest’s silver and gold and running away in the night. Much like the Prodigal’s Son, Valjean saw only opportunity to get ahead of the game. He was willing to steal from the only person who had shown him any mercy and he was caught. When police brought him back to the Priest, rather than see Valjean return to prison the Priest insisted that he had given Valjean all that gold and silver as a gift, and then went on further to give him “the best” that he had left behind. His only condition was that Jean Valjean use this treasure to make something of himself and give himself to God.

This scene is beautiful and really encapsulates what it means to truly embrace grace, mercy, and forgiveness. How often do we as sinners rely on God’s grace and mercy only to continue sinning against God. How amazing it is that in spite of our weakness and sin God continues to love us even when we are completely beyond the point of redemption. We worship a God of second chances, and as a result of this Priest’s kindness, Valjean leans this lesson well.

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Fantine (Anne Hathaway)

The rest of the film evolves Jean Valjean doing whatever he can to show this same grace and mercy to others, but as we see through the character of Fantine (played by Anne Hathaway) he is still flawed and his inability to perfectly live this out has terrible consequences. In spite of this Jean Valjean is determined to live a life that is helping others and making good on his promise to the priest. He gives of himself and risks his own life many times, always striving to live a selfless life and always granting grace and mercy whenever possible.

The other prominent character is that of Javert, who is an equally religious man, but sadly mislead. Javert is obsessed with Justice and believes that it is God’s will to see justice served and the law upheld. While Javert understands Justice, he cannot understand mercy and grace. He tirelessly pursues Jean Valjean (who had abandoned that name and started a new life) because he cannot allow a guilt man to walk free. If Jean Valjean is the Prodigal’s son who was lost but found mercy, Javert is the prideful son who demanded justice to be served and sins to be punished.

Though Javert continuously refuses to give Valjean even an inch of mercy, Valjean is quick and ready to spare Javert every chance he gets. Javert refuses mercy, he despises grace, and he demands justice to be served (even when he is the one receiving punishment.  He demands that the world be fair and he cannot see past his narrow black and white view of reality. He is not a man who understands repentance, redemption, or the notion that a man can escape his past sins.

In the end Javert is overwhelmed by the repeated mercy he is shown and rather than accept that he was wrong, that a man can change, and that grace and mercy are available for event he worst of sinners, he chooses to take his own life. He chooses death rather than mercy or weakness. He died in his own self-righteousness and was never able to truly embrace love.

While Javert dies literally “falling from grace” his counterpart Jean Valjean dies surrounded by those whom he had helped save. He is embraced by the Priest who had first shown him mercy (representing God embracing him and welcoming him into heaven) and we are finally treated to a scene where Valjean, Fantine, and all those whom had died in the film singing a song of celebration that they had finally reached a life of no more pain, where victory and love resound.

This film is beautifully shot, superbly acted, and wonderfully written. What is more important though is that it was a film about true Christianity. The life of those who choose to actually strive to live out Christ’s teachings is not easy and the dark world we live in will sometimes fight back in very cruel ways. Times will come when it will be easy not be kind, merciful, gracious, and loving. In spite of these struggles we are commanded to hold fast to the truth and reflect the love of our God to the world around us.

Les Miserables, whether it was their intent or not, managed to show a beautiful example of a life devoted to Christ, and they did so in a way that is reaching a very wide audience. I pray that some of this rubs off on those who go to see the film since it’s one of the rare times I think we’ll get to see a film that portrays the Christian religion in a positive light, that isn’t produced by Tyler Perry or Alex Kendrick.

  

Sola Scriptura and The Early Church Fathers

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St. Irenaeus of Lyons (+ca.195):

We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith.

(Against Heresies, 3:1.1, in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. I, p. 414.)

St. Athanasius (c.296-373):

The holy and inspired Scriptures are fully sufficient for the proclamation of the truth.

(Against the Heathen, I:3, quoted in Carl A. Volz, Faith and Practice in the Early Church [Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1983], p. 147.)

St. Cyril of Jerusalem (c.310-386):

For concerning the divine and holy mysteries of the Faith, not even a casual statement must be delivered without the Holy Scriptures; nor must we be drawn aside by mere plausibility and artifices of speech. Even to me, who tell you these things, give not absolute credence, unless you receive the proof of the things which I announce from the Divine Scriptures. For this salvation which we believe depends not on ingenious reasoning, but on demonstration of the Holy Scriptures.

(Catechetical Lectures, IV:17, in The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers [Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1983 reprint], Second Series, Vol. VII, p. 23.)

St. Gregory of Nyssa (330-395):

…we are not entitled to such license, namely, of affirming whatever we please. For we make Sacred Scripture the rule and the norm of every doctrine. Upon that we are obliged to fix our eyes, and we approve only whatever can be brought into harmony with the intent of these writings.

(On the Soul and the Resurrection, quoted in Jaroslav Pelikan, The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971], p. 50.)

St. Gregory of Nyssa:

Let the inspired Scriptures then be our umpire, and the vote of truth will be given to those whose dogmas are found to agree with the Divine words.

(On the Holy Trinity, in The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. V, p. 327.)

St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430):

Let them show their church if they can, not by the speeches and mumblings of the Africans, not by the councils of their bishops, not by the writings of any of their champions, not by fraudulent signs and wonders, because we have been prepared and made cautious also against these things by the Word of the Lord; but [let them show their church] by a command of the Law, by the predictions of the prophets, by songs from the Psalms, by the words of the Shepherd Himself, by the preaching and labors of the evangelists; that is, by all the canonical authorities of the sacred books.

(On the Unity of the Church, 16, quoted in Martin Chemnitz, Examination of the Council of Trent, Part I [Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1971], p. 159.)

St. Augustine of Hippo:

What more can I teach you, than what we read in the Apostle? For Holy Scripture sets a rule to our teaching, that we dare not “be wise more than it behooves to be wise,” but be wise, as he says, “unto soberness, according as unto each God has allotted the measure of faith.”

(On the Good of Widowhood, 2, in The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. III, p. 442. The quotation is from Romans 12:3.)

St. John Chrysostom (c.347-407):

Let us not therefore carry about the notions of the many, but examine into the facts. For how is it not absurd that in respect to money, indeed, we do not trust to others, but refer to [our own] calculation; but in calculating upon [theological] facts we are lightly drawn aside by the notions of others; and that too, though we possess an exact balance, and square and rule for all things, the declaration of the divine laws? Wherefore I exhort and entreat you all, disregard what this man and that man thinks about these things, and inquire from the Scriptures all these things; and having learned what are the true riches, let us pursue after them that we may obtain also the eternal good things…

(Homily 13 on 2 Corinthians, in The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. XII, p. 346.)

St. John Chrysostom:

Regarding the things I say, I should supply even the proofs, so I will not seem to rely on my own opinions, but rather, prove them with Scripture, so that the matter will remain certain and steadfast.

(Homily 8 On Repentance and the Church, in The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 96, p. 118.)

St. John Chrysostom:

They say that we are to understand the things concerning Paradise not as they are written but in a different way. But when Scripture wants to teach us something like that, it interprets itself and does not permit the hearer to err. I therefore beg and entreat that we close our eyes to all things and follow the canon of Holy Scripture exactly.

(Homily 13 on Genesis.)

St. John Chrysostom:

There comes a heathen and says, “I wish to become a Christian, but I know not whom to join: there is much fighting and faction among you, much confusion: which doctrine am I to choose?” How shall we answer him? “Each of you” (says he) “asserts, ‘I speak the truth.’” No doubt: this is in our favor. For if we told you to be persuaded by arguments, you might well be perplexed: but if we bid you believe the Scriptures, and these are simple and true, the decision is easy for you. If any agree with the Scriptures, he is the Christian; if any fight against them, he is far from this rule.

(Homily 33 on the Acts of the Apostles [NPNF 1, 11:210-11; PG 60.243-44])

St. Basil the Great (c.329-379):

They are charging me with innovation, and base their charge on my confession of three hypostases [persons], and blame me for asserting one Goodness, one Power, one Godhead. In this they are not wide of the truth, for I do so assert. Their complaint is that their custom does not accept this, and that Scripture does not agree. What is my reply? I do not consider it fair that the custom which obtains among them should be regarded as a law and rule of orthodoxy. If custom is to be taken in proof of what is right, then it is certainly competent for me to put forward on my side the custom which obtains here. If they reject this, we are clearly not bound to follow them. Therefore let God-inspired Scripture decide between us; and on whichever side be found doctrines in harmony with the Word of God, in favor of that side will be cast the vote of truth.

(Letter 189 [to Eustathius the physician], 3, in The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. VIII, p. 229.)

St. Basil the Great:

What is the mark of a faithful soul? To be in these dispositions of full acceptance on the authority of the words of Scripture, not venturing to reject anything nor making additions. For, if “all that is not of faith is sin” as the Apostle says, and “faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God,” everything outside Holy Scripture, not being of faith, is sin.

(The Morals, in The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 9, p. 204.)

St. Basil the Great:

We are not content simply because this is the tradition of the Fathers. What is important is that the Fathers followed the meaning of the Scripture.

(On the Holy Spirit, 7:16.)

St. John of Damascus (c.675-c.749):

It is impossible either to say or fully to understand anything about God beyond what has been divinely proclaimed to us, whether told or revealed, by the sacred declarations of the Old and New Testaments.

(On the Orthodox Faith, I:2, in The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 37.)

Nunc Dimittis (Luke 2:25-33)

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Luke is one of my favorite Gospels because it gives the reader a good prologue and epilogue to the life and ministry of Christ. If it were not for the gospel of Luke, much of what we know about Christ before and after his public ministry would be lost. It is from the Lucan gospel that we get the account of Simeon at the temple. His testimony about the infant Christ (at this point only around 40 days old) is one of the most beautifully spoken accounts of the significance Christ would play in the lives of all that knew him.

Luke introduces Simeon, a devout Jewish leader, who had received a promise from God that he would not pass from this earth until he saw the Messiah. It just so happened that Simeon ran into Mary and Joseph who had brought the infant Christ to the temple in order to perform the ritual of ”Pidyon Haben.” The ceremony was a part of the Jewish custom in which a the mother and child were purified from the ritually unclean nature of child birth. Upon seeing the Child Simeon took the child in his arms and began to praise God. It is important to note the significance of what Simeon proclaimed. It is far too easy for the modern reader to skip over what, at the time, was quite a radical proclamation.

“My eyes have seen Your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples. A light of revelation to the gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel….”

Here Simeon testifies that Christ is the salvation, which comes from God. Before Christ could walk or talk, Simeon somehow knew that this was the chosen Messiah. His reference to “all peoples” is also quite interesting. As we will see later in his declaration, Christ is not the Messiah that people expected. The Popular view of the Messiah was one who would come and liberate the people from their oppressors. Jews were ready for someone to rise up as a political leader and free them from Roman rule. As we will see, Christ did not free people from earthly oppression, but spiritual oppression of sin. Also, Christ did not come to liberate Israel alone, but rather all peoples of the earth. Such claims directly contrast the popular opinions of the day. Simeon saw Christ as something new. Christ would come to signify the creation of a new covenant between God and mankind.

The old covenant:

”If you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests anda holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel.” -Exodus 19:5-6

is replaced with a new covenant:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” -John 3:16

This new covenant is one based upon forgiveness and mercy and open to all peoples. Salvation shall be open to all nations and the Gentiles will have truth revealed to them. Christ will go on to tear down walls race, class, gender, or nationality that existed at the time. Through Christ God will reveal him to the outsiders and level the playing field so that all are welcome into his kingdom. This should not be seen as God turning his back on Israel. Christ is exactly what God promised Israel, he was the messiah who fulfilled the laws and restored the people. Israel was glorified again because through them, the chosen people, God sent his son to save all of mankind.

After offering praises for the wonderful gift that is God’s son, Simeon ends with a sobering reminder to us all. In a great paradox, Christ is both a unifier and a divider. While he would unite peoples of all races and classes, he would also cause much strife.

“Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed”

Christ is said to cause many to rise and fall. Truly God, through Christ, does raise up many. Outcasted and unforgivable peoples find comfort and mercy, sinners are forgiven, and God’s love is poured out on all that seek it. While those who follow Christ rarely end up looking like worldly success stories, they are raised up to a higher and deeper relationship with God. They are raised up from the oppressive nature of sin into a new divine freedom.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” -Matthew 5:3-12

It should be noted that while many will rise, many will also fall. Chris is a constant stumbling block to those who opposed or rejected him. Jesus makes it clear that his teachings would divide people, and that they would not be a popular message.

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law— a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it. -Matthew 10:34-39

His teachings went against the honor shame culture and all of the social class structures that existed at the time. He sought equality among all humanity and tough people to love those that hated them, to sacrifice until it hurt, and to be completely selfless and kind. His message was not readily accepted by the comfortable or the well off. Following his teachings did not make for an easy life.

“a sign to be opposed—and a sword will pierce even your own soul—to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

A surface level reading of any gospel reveals that Christ was accustomed to being spoken against. Christ was called drunkard, demon possessed, and a blasphemer during his earthly ministry. He faced men that appeared righteous on the outside, but revealed their true hearts in the way they treated him and those beneath them. Christ taught that man should not only seek righteous action, but also righteous motivation. He taught that giving a great amount from abundance was not equal to giving a small amount during hard times, or that anger or lust were just as sinful as murder and adultery. Christ saw the good in the worst of us, and the worst in the best of us.

Truly coming face to face with Christ always revealed the true nature of the person. The image of a sword piercing the soul is a very accurate way to describe what an encounter with Christ is like. Christ cuts to the deepest level of who you are and reveals you as the person you may not even admit you are to yourself. He reveals your very soul. Most men condemned Christ, insulted him, scourged him, and when the chance was presented they crucified him. Many were not prepared to face themselves and the reality of the state that humanity lives in, and so they lashed out at Christ. The very nature of man was revealed and found severely lacking. And yet in spite of all of this, Christ died to save us, the very people that called for his death and hid from his goodness.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. -John 3:16-21

Hallelujah. Amen.

The Last Advent Post (Advent 2012 – Day 23)

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Today’s scripture reads:

Though he was in the form of God, He did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

-Philippians 2:6–8

I love this passage and I think it is the best passage to end this Advent season on since it sums up just how amazing the Christ story is. Let’s dissect this passage and really meditate on these words as we eagerly await the celebration of our Lord’s arrival tomorrow.

Though he was in the form of God… Christ was not literally in the “form of God” to say that God looks like a first century Palestinian jewish male in his early thirties. What this does mean is that Christ was of God. Christ is , and was, and is to come. He is literally of God, the same essence that is God was Christ, just in human form.  If you are confused don’t worry, trinitarian theology is something that almost no one can grasp, but the point is that He was of God.

He did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped…  Christ came because we as human being constantly fail to live up to any standard of righteousness. The entire Old Testament is full of human kinds failures and unwillingness to follow God. Whether it is Adam and Eve doing the one thing God forbid, or Abraham sleeping with his servent because he was tired on waiting on God to fulfill his promises, man kind cannot be righteous. In this regard Equality with God is not something to be grasped, or even hoped for. If we cannot even avoid sinning, then how can we expect to be Holy Holy Holy as God as Holy. Christ came, not to simply show us how to obtain righteousness, but also to be means to us receiving the righteousness that we could never obtain on our own.

But made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in likeness of men… For our sake Christ humbled himself. He, who was of the essence of God willingly became nothing. He became the child of a lower class family and was born in a stable. When God came down and became one of us he did not come down as a king, but as a servant. He was born in likeness of us… he who had been witness to the creation of the universe… he who will one day vanquish all evil form the earth… he was born in a manger and walked the dusty roads of palestine telling the people that their sins were forgiven. How strangely beautiful to think that the God who shaped the earth would take the form of a poor wanderer who kept the company of sinners and preached a message of love.

Being found in human form, he humbled himself becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross… As it was pointed out before, mankind sucks at being righteous. We so often choose evil it’s hard to argue that it’s not just part of our nature. We so often lack obedience to God, who always knows what is best for us. We would rather play in the filth of our own sin than trust in the God who formed us and knows how to reach our full potential. Where as we so often lack obedience, Christ humbled himself and showed true and perfect obedience. He willingly laid down his life and died on a cross to cover up our disobedience. The only man who knew no sin, became sin, so that we could one day be saved.  The old hymn that sings “Jesus paid it all, all to him I owe” speaks a beautiful truth. We truly do owe it all to Jesus. Don’t let today pass without thanking him for all he has done, and don’t go this Christmas season without reflecting on how truly great and wonderful our God is. May we never stop singing his praises.

So That You May Believe (Advent 2012 – Day 22)

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Today’s scripture Reads:

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

—John 20:30–31

Today is the second to last day of my advent countdown to Christmas Day! It’s been a great month and I hope you have enjoyed this Advent season as much as I have. Today’s scripture was originally going to be saved for tomorrow since it makes for such a nice bookend. It would have been a great bookend to the advent season. I made a last-minute switch because I can think of no better verse to lead into Christmas day than the passage I have picked out for tomorrow, but enough about that, let’s focus on today’s passage.

The Gospel of John (and the other Gospels for that matter) were written to be a means for people to come to faith in Jesus Christ. They were written accounts for the purpose of bearing testimony to the truth that comes in and through Jesus. John mentions that these accounts are not all-encompassing. It would be impossible for the Gospel authors to recall every word, action, and teaching of Christ’s entire three-year ministry. They did, however record much of the important details so that future generations would know who Christ was, what he taught, and why we continue to worship him today.

I’ve expounded upon the radical change brought about by Christ and the significance of the truth he preached. I’ve spent all month writing about how glorious amazing the gift of Christ was, and if I had a million years to keep writing I don’t think I could ever say enough about the wonderful name above all names. But how do we know this good news is true?

To this I point to the early church. After the death of Christ we see the disciples in shambles. Judas is dead, Peter has denied his lord, and everyone is in hiding unsure of what to do next. Then shortly after that there is an explosion of Christianity. Each one of the Disciples would go on to suffer a terrible martyr’s death. Peter, the man who had denied Christ three times during his trial, would be crucified upside down on a cross because he would not deny that Christ was the Son of God, and did not consider himself worthy to die on the cross as his messiah had. In the first 300 years over a million Christians would be brutally murdered for refusing to deny that Christ was the risen Son of God… So what happened?

The Resurrection happened. Christ defeated death and that handful of men who were so afraid lost their fear of death. They no longer feared what man could do to them because they knew without a shadow of doubt that Jesus Christ was who he said he was. Christianity, by all accounts should not have flourished. When one considers the immense persecution Christians suffered for their faith from day one it is nothing short of a miracle that he faith made it past its first generation. Yet in spite of all of this Christianity grew and continued to grow so that now there is hardly any corner of the globe where a follower of Christ can not be found. People all across the world and throughout history have found life in his name and no force on earth could stop them from proclaiming the truth. Jesus Christ offers real life change, and for those who have felt the redeeming power of Christ there is no turning back. The only reason any of us are believers and followers of Christ today is because a handful of men, who at first ran and hid, saw the risen Christ and knew without a shadow of a doubt that they were given a job by the God of Heaven to spread the good news of Jesus Christ to the nations.

Eagerly Awaiting the Return of Christ (Advent 2012 – Day 21)

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Today’s scripture reads:

Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern. For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame—who set their mind on earthly things. For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.

– Philippians 3:17-21

I’m sure anyone who has been even remotely connected to popular culture or media in the past few years has heard about the Mayan prophecy that failed to come into fruition yesterday. While some argue if the Mayan’s ever actually predicted that the world would end yesterday or not, the fact of the matter is that we are still here. Not much has changed between December 21st and December 22nd and in the end I think this will go down in history as yet another doomsday prophecy that never came to pass. I’d hope that none of us were too terribly shocked by this turn of events since a similar event seems to come up at least once a decade, if not sooner. People have been predicting the end of days since they had a grasp of time. Even the 1st century Christians were prone to false doomsday predictions. Just look at Paul’s early letters like the Thessalonians letters compared to his later works like Ephesians and you can see that it took Paul a while to accept that maybe Christ’s return would not come in his lifetime.

The Bible does not tell us when Christ will return, although we are promised that he shall return some day. Speculating about the exact date is foolish since only the Father knows the exact timing. So in the mean time what are we supposed to do? We have found ourselves in the middle of a great shift. While we look back to Christmas and remembrance of God’s saving plan enacted in our lives we also forward to the day when all will be brought to fruition. We eagerly await the savior’s return when all will be brought into perfect glory and he shall subdue all things to Himself. What a glorious day that shall be indeed. It can be difficult sometimes to be patient and wait on God’s timing. We have to accept that there may yet still be a very long time before our Messiah returns to us as prophesied, and that it is very likely that we will not see such a day in this lifetime. In the meantime we should always remember to show gratitude for being born in such a time that we have seen God’s saving plan being enacted through Christ and his body (which is the Church). We should live as Children of the kingdom of Heaven, and not pursue paths that lead only to destruction and petty pleasures. As the scripture says, many men walk as if their god is their belly, they seek only to fulfill their own desires and passions. Let us take rest and peace in remembering what has already been done for us through Christ, and let us not grow weary in doing good as we eagerly await a return visit from our beloved Lord.