Advent: The Inviting, Haunting Presence of Jesus

by Terry Smith

As we celebrate the first coming of our Lord and await his return, this Advent is a time to hear again the inviting, haunting words of our Lord.

Jesus said, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house upon the rock…But everyone who…does not put them into practice is like a foolish man on sand. The rain came along, the streams rose, and the winds blew against that house, and it fell with a great crash” (Matthew 7:24–27).

He reminds us that we are to build on the proper foundation—his words. Some readers understand this to mean that we are to build on Jesus’ words in order to stand when we go through a time of suffering. Certainly, we need Christ in our time of troubles (Psalm 46:1–2).

Others, such as Dr. Ed Neufeld, suggest that Jesus’ concern here goes deeper: the verses are about withstanding the divine day of judgment. Such withstanding can only happen by responding to Christ and standing by grace. Yes, we need the help of Jesus (Romans 5:1–8, 8:1–4).

In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount we meet his presence and call that both warmly invite and hauntingly challenge. Why? Teachers ancient and modern say it’s because of his ultimate authority:

  • Christians are blessed when people “persecute you…because of me. . . for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Jesus places Christians who speak in his name somehow in the same category as prophets who earlier spoke in God’s name. Jesus tells us “great is your reward in heaven” (Matthew 5:11–12).
  • Unless people’s righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees, they will not enter heaven (Matthew 5:20).
  • To be angry without cause is to risk the “fire of hell” (Matthew 5:22).
  • Jesus claims an unerring interpretation of the Old Testament: “But I tell you,” not, “Thus says the Lord” (Matthew 5:22, 28, 32, 34, 39, 44).
  • He will be the judge of humankind who will say to some people, “Away from me, you evildoers!” (Matthew 7:21–23).
  • Success or failure depends on heeding “these words of mine” (Matthew 7:26).
  • “The crowds were amazed…he taught as one who had authority and not as their teachers of the law” (Matthew 7:28).

In following Christ, how we live matters much (Matthew 25:37–40). Yet beware of the view that being a Christian is solely about ethics. Jesus is our essential focus as we follow him in life. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6).

The Apostle Paul said, “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:11). Menno Simons saw fit to choose this verse as his ministry’s emphasis.

Terry M. Smith

Let’s continue to build our lives on Jesus our Rock and the proper builder of the house (Hebrews 3:3). He came “to save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). Let’s celebrate that Jesus is Immanuel, God with us (Matthew 1:23), who came, lived, died and was raised so we will live: “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son” (1 John 5:11–12).

From my house to yours, may you be healthy, safe, and blessed this Advent season.

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