This Advent I have been struck by how little professing Christians think about the meaning behind the story of the first Christmas – and consequently of how little we realize the mysteries inherent in the Gospel – not only the Gospel as it unfolded in the life of Jesus Christ 2,000 years ago, but the Gospel as it lives within us today. I have had some of my own moments when I’ve realized how much I have missed when reading the Bible, even in passages which have resonated with me for a lifetime.
A few weeks ago when I was preparing notes for the Tuesday morning men’s group that I meet with, I asked myself, “How can I tie this passage in Ephesians to Advent (we are studying Ephesians)? What follows is a section of the notes I sent out to the group in preparation for our time together. The leading question was sent out on one day and what follows was sent out another day – I wanted the guys to work through the question by themselves before I shared my thoughts.
How can we link Ephesians 3:14 – 21 to Advent, to the Incarnation (John 1:14) of Jesus Christ?
Here are some of ways we can do this – look at the following:
Verse 16: “through His Spirit in the inner man”.
Verse 17: “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts”.
Verse 19: “that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God”.
Verse 20: “according to the power that works within us”.
What do these phrases have in common?
Read John 7:37 – 39 and John 14:16 – 17. Notice in 14:17 that Jesus says to His disciples that the Spirit is “with you” but will be “in you”. What is the distinction? Can you illustrate the distinction with an example?
The promise of the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31 – 34; Hebrews 8:7 – 13) is that God would move from the external to the internal and that He would write His Word on the hearts of His people. No longer would God dwell in an external Temple, He would come to live internally in the Temple of His people (Ephesians 2:19 - 22; 1 Peter 2:4 – 10).
The language of Ephesians 3:14 – 21 is the language of the New Covenant, the language of the New Testament, it is the language of the Incarnation. In Bethlehem God moved from the heavens into the earth in His Son, and as a result of the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God now lives and moves in His people. This is Incarnational language because in Christ we live incarnational lives – for Jesus Christ lives in us.
Perhaps we are so accustomed to reading this language that we miss what it means, and we miss how radical it was when it was written. We will not find this language in the Old Testament to describe a way of life – we will find it looking forward to the Messiah, but we will not find it describing the way people lived in OT times. This is the language of the New Testament, and in the Upper Room on the night of His betrayal (John Chapters 13 – 17) we see Jesus again and again focusing on the fact that the Spirit was coming to live within us, and that Jesus and the Father were coming to live within us.
Ephesians 3:14 – 21 could not have been written without the birth of Jesus Christ. How can an awareness of the Incarnation affect our lives today? How can it affect our relationships with others? How can it empower our sharing the Good News of Jesus with others?
Lastly, here is a witnessing question to use in December, ask someone concerning the birth of Jesus, “Is it true? Did it really happen?” Ask at least one person this question this week and then next Tuesday share what happened.