Living Between the Advents

This is message 11 in the Creekstone Church teaching series through James, The Gospel for Real Life.


Listen to the audio: 


Georgia fans can almost taste it. With the Bulldogs in the FBS Playoff on January 1st, many UGA fans are looking for—praying for—the return of glory that took place in 1980, when an undefeated Georgia football team won its first consensus National Championship the year that Hershel Walker was a freshman under coach Vince Dooley. [Some Dawg fans will know that Georgia has been part of several other national championship teams, but none of them were consensus champions, even in 1942, when Ohio State was the AP champ, with UGA as the non-AP champ.]

Ever since that Sugar Bowl victory on Jan. 1, 1981 over Notre Dame in New Orleans, Dawg fans have been living between two advents. The coming of national championship glory and the anticipated second coming.

Some have given up hope. Even with the potential return so close. Expectation has turned into lamentation on too many occasions.

It has been the same way with believers ever since the first century A.D. We, too, are living between two advents.

Our English word “advent” comes from a Latin word adventus, which translates a Greek word, parousia, which means “to come” or “to arrive.”

This time of year, we celebrate the first advent, or the first coming of Jesus, when he arrived into this world, God in the flesh as a baby in Bethlehem.

Yet, the New Testament authors also speak of a second coming, or a second advent—the final parousia. Although they did not know when that second and final arrival of Jesus would take place, they were on the ready, with the expectation that it could be at any moment.

Of course, we know that Scripture says that with the Lord a thousand years is like a day and vice versa. Nevertheless, over the centuries believers, like Bulldog fans, have grown weary of waiting as we live between the advents, a season that challenges us to embrace three essential factors that will enable us to live between with hope, peace and joy.

 

A Season for Patience

The theme of patience is prominent in this passage. The concept is stated three times in verse 7, first as an imperative with an illustration of a farmer who has to wait between the fall rains that prepared the ground for planting and the spring rains that ensured that the crops would be ready for harvest. Between the early and later rains was the wait, which James calls patience.

In verse 8 James reiterates the challenge to patience with the word “establish,” which has the sense of strengthening one’s mental resolve, where we lock our minds upon a specific truth and cling to it.

The truth to which we are to cling was mentioned in verse 7 and is repeated in verse 8, the truth of “the coming of the Lord”—his second and final advent. The first was his coming in humility as a vulnerable baby. The second will be his return in glory as a conquering King. This will be a time of vindication for the forgiven, but judgment for those who have refused to receive God’s grace in humility.

This is why James warns of grumbling in verse 9, which reveals a hard, proud heart that feels entitled to privilege rather than a heart that is overwhelmed with grace. Jesus is set to return as Judge. He is at the door so to speak. When the door is open, all humanity will be separated into those who are declared justified and those who remain condemned in their sins.

Let me pause for just a moment to ask, if the door of heaven were to open today and Jesus were to appear to separate humanity, to which side would you be ushered?

  • Maybe today is the day for you, in humility to receive the grace offered to you in the gospel?
  • Maybe you have already received this grace and would stand on the side of the forgiven, but still have grown weary.

It is for the weary among us that James writes verses 10 and 11, where he provides the biblical example of patience manifested by the Old Testament prophets, who were steadfast in their trust in the eternal purposes of the Lord, even in the face of persecution. In addition to the prophets, he mentions Job, who, while enduring extreme physical and emotional distress, was able to say, “I know that my Redeemer lives and that in the end, he will stand upon the earth.”

Knowing that the Lord was compassionate and merciful, Job had to rely on that character of God in the midst of his own personal suffering. In order to persevere, his heart had to be established and fixed on the redemptive purposes of God in the context of a broken world.

What we see in the lives of the prophets and even Job is that patience, the ability of waiting with an eye to a promised future—that patience is a powerful stabilizer.

Like the ballast on a sailboat. A ballast is a weight placed in the bottom of a ship, below sea level, that stabilizes the boat so that even if strong wind and waves should buffet, the weight—the ballast—prevents the boat from capsizing.

The same is true for us.

Living between the advents of Jesus is a season where we need the stabilizing ballast of patience to prevent faith from capsizing.

Theologians call this season between the advents “the already but not yet,” where Jesus has already come to establish his kingdom of grace. But the consummation of the kingdom’s fulfillment on earth is still yet to be realized. Thus, the already but not yet.

These advent bookends of history provide the substance to the weight of our ballast. Jesus has come. Jesus is coming. In this season until that second advent, we are called to wait.

One of the words that cause me to bristle with discomfort, anxiety, and frustration is the word “wait.”

Whether waiting at a traffic light, waiting for the end of the commercial break, waiting for a check in the mail, or waiting for an upcoming vacation. For some, the wait involves marriage, having children, or a return call from the doctor’s office.

Whatever the context, patience—waiting—does not come naturally.

In fact, in Galatians 5, the apostle Paul lists patience as a fruit produced in a believer’s life by the Holy Spirit as we abide in Jesus by faith, showing us that patience is not a virtue which we can control by sheer willpower. Our hearts must be fixed and established on the Savior. On God’s purposes. On God’s timing.

This kind of trust sets us free from the burden of control, allowing us be honest and real in our weakness and limitations. Thus, the guidance in verse 12 for us to let our yes be yes, and our no be no. James is saying to simply speak plainly and truthfully, without verbal manipulation, as you live by faith in the purposes of God.

This is a season for patience. Living between the advents also is…

 

A Season for Prayer

In this series, we previously have defined prayer as talking to God—specifically as Father who invites us to ask him for what we need. As needy children, prayer is an expression of dependence and humility, recognizing that we cannot ultimately provide for ourselves or fix the problems we face. God is our provider and our healer.

Therefore, James exhorts us in verse 13 to take our needs to God, especially in times of suffering. Suffering can push us away from God, hardening our hearts, or it can draw us closer to God, where we fervently seek him in prayer, the one who not only cares, but is able to help and heal.

One way the Lord ministers to us in prayer is when others pray over and for us, interceding on our behalf before the Father’s throne of grace. In verse 14, James provides instructions for the sick to call upon the elders to pray over and anoint them.[i] The Greek word which is translated “sick” is used in the Gospels primarily for physical maladies. In Acts and the letters of the New Testment, however, the word refers to a weak faith or a weak conscience and other forms of human weakness.[ii]

So, we probably should read this not merely as those with physical sickness, but those acutely aware of their need for God’s grace to in some way rescue them from the world, the flesh, and the devil.

Commentators on this passage are not in full agreement concerning the purpose of the anointing oil. While very few see any power in the oil to heal, most understand the oil to symbolize the presence and power of the Spirit. Some commentators believe that the oil was possibly considered medicinal. I favor the view of the oil as representative of God’s presence and power, a visible sign, like in the sacraments, used to convey a spiritual reality with material elements.

However we are to understand the oil for anointing, in verse 15, James calls the prayer of the elders “the prayer of faith,” which does not refer to the faith of the one prayed over, but the faith of those praying. James tells us that this prayer will “save him” as the Lord himself intervenes in response to the prayer to “raise him up.”

The Greek word for “save” in verse 15 is sozo, which is the same word used for spiritual healing, or what we call “salvation,” revealing a wider range of meaning for the prayer of faith, not limited to physical healing but for spiritual renewal as well. The spiritual aspect of this prayer is further validated by the fact that James mentions

being forgiven of sins in verse 15 and the call to confess sin as we pray for one another in verse 16 (a prayer that can be offered by anyone, not just the elders).

We also want to be careful that we do not press the “prayer of faith” as far as some, who claim that if we are not healed then the problem is with the sick person’s faith. If the problem is with anyone’s faith in this passage, it is a problem with the faith of the elders, not the sick or the needy. Their faith has already been authenticated by the fact that they have called the elders to come pray over them.

The takeaway for you may be for you to call upon the elders to come pray over you.

The takeaway for me–and I supposed all of us—is to believe that Paul’s statement in Ephesians 3:20-21 is true, which tells us “God is able to exceedingly more than all we can ask or imagine because of his power that is at work within us.”

I want to pray as though God is able—to pray with far greater expectancy. Not demanding from God, but expecting what is possible, whether the need is for physical healing or spiritual healing.

It is this expectation of God’s power that James highlights in verses 17 and 18, where he provides a biblical example of the power that is accessed in prayer when Elijah, a man just like us who did not possess a special power, “prayed fervently” for rain to cease for three and a half years, causing a drought as a form of discipline upon Ahab, the wicked king of Judah. Later, Elijah prayed again and the Lord restored the land with rain.

What is it in your life that you want to believe God is able to heal and restore? What is it for which you want to begin praying fervently and expectantly?

For some this may be vocational clarity or financial provision. For others, it very well could be health related issues or relational conflict that you long to be restored.

Look. This is a season of prayer, and there is power in prayer because there is power with God. So, let’s persevere with patience as we pray.

But living between the advents of Jesus also is…

 

A Season for Praise

This third factor for living a life of hope, peace, and joy between the advents is easily overlooked.

Back in verse 13, in between suffering and sickness is the Greek word euthumos, which most often is translated into English as “cheerful” or “happy.” Euthumos is a compound Greek word made up of eu, which means good (like eu-logy, which means “a good word”), and thumos, which when alone, means “passion, wrath, or fury.”

In the New Testament, and especially throughout Revelation, thumos is used to describe the wrath of God that is coming in judgment upon all who have rejected his wisdom and ways, spurning his grace for the pursuit of self-glory.[iii]

Here is the deal. The only way for me to be euthumos is to know that the Lord is not thumos with me anymore.

The first advent was about the incarnation of Jesus as the Son who had agreed in the covenant of redemption with the Father to endure the thumos, the wrath of God, in the place of those who deserved the justice and fury demanded by the law. Upon a cross, Jesus became the object of the Father’s thumos so that we could be filled with the euthumos of the Spirit—a rerouted passion, not for sin, but for the glory of God. Filled with joy, happiness and cheer unto the praise of God.

I like to call this cheer or spiritual happiness “gospel gladness,” the overflow of the heart from the one who has experienced not merely physical healing that lasts for a moment, but the spiritual restoration that lasts forever.

This is why we sing. Because the gospel is true!

It has been said that one of the primary ways to determine a congregation’s spiritual vitality is the quality of the singing. Not the singing up front, but from the congregation—a congregation that is convinced that they are forgiven, accepted and loved by God… not by their merits, but all by grace in the merits of Jesus.

This grace is why we sing. We can’t help it. The internal impact of God’s love must find its way out. One primary way it finds its way out is through our mouths as we sing.

And as we sing the lyrics of grace, we are filled with a supernatural strength that enables us to face our suffering and sadness with hope, peace and joy, knowing that Jesus faced the dark side of the cross so that we may live in its light.

____________________________

After a long battle with cancer, Kara Tippetts went to be with Jesus on March 22, 2015. She was a wife to her pastor-husband, Jason, and mother to their four young children. Near the end of her life Kara wrote something that I think puts our now in perspective as we live between the advents:

My little body has grown tired of the battle, and treatment is no longer helping. But what I see, what I know, what I have is Jesus. He has still given me breath, and with it I pray I would live well and fade well. By degrees doing both, living and dying, as I have moments left to live. I get to draw my people close, kiss them and tenderly speak love over their lives. I get to pray into eternity my hopes and fears… I get to laugh and cry and wonder over heaven. I do not feel like I have the courage for this journey, but I have Jesus—and he will provide.[iv]

We may not have Kara’s cancer, but in our own spiritual weariness, we need her perspective. We are all living and dying to some degree. And we may not have the courage, but we can have Jesus, who has provided gospel grace as our substitute in life and death and will provide us with the fullness of gospel glory when he returns.

It is this same Jesus who provides the courageous patience we need now as we live between the advents. He is the one who welcomes our prayers and who is the recipient of our praise.

It is this Jesus, who with outstretched, nail scared hands, invites the weak, wounded, sick, and sinful to find their hope, rest, peace and joy in him.

 


[i] J. Ronald Blue, “James,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 834–835.  It is significant that the word “anoint” is aleipsantes (“rub with oil”) not chriō (“ceremonially anoint”). The former is the “mundane” word and the latter is “the sacred and religious word” (Richard Chenevix Trench, Synonyms of the New Testament, ninth ed. Reprint. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1950, pp. 136–37). “Therefore James is not suggesting a ceremonial or ritual anointing as a means of divine healing; instead, he is referring to the common practice of using oil as a means of bestowing honor, refreshment, and grooming” (Daniel R. Hayden, “Calling the Elders to Pray,” Bibliotheca Sacra 138. July/September 1981: 264). The woman “poured” (aleiphō) perfume on Jesus’ feet (Luke 7:38). A host “put oil” (aleiphō) on the head of his guest (Luke 7:46). A person who is fasting should not be sad and ungroomed, but should “put oil” (aleiphō) on his head, and wash his face (Matt. 6:17). Thus James’ point is that the “weak” (asthenei) and “weary” (kamnonta) would be refreshed, encouraged, and uplifted by the elders who rubbed oil on the despondents’ heads and prayed for them

[ii] J. Ronald Blue, “James,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 834. The word asthenei literally means “to be weak.” Though it is used in the Gospels for physical maladies, it is generally used in Acts and the Epistles to refer to a weak faith or a weak conscience (cf. Acts 20:35; Rom. 6:19; 14:1; 1 Cor. 8:9–12). That it should be considered “weak” in this verse is clear in that another Greek word (kamnonta) in James 5:15, translated sick person, literally means “to be weary.”[ii]

[iii] Revelation 14:10, 19; 15:1, 7; 16:1, 19; 19:15

[iv] Blythe Hunt, “Homecoming,”Mundane Faithfulness blog (3-22-15)

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