November 28, 2021 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Luke 1:1-4 (NRSV)
Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.
In Advent, we remember how God’s ancient promises were fulfilled in the events of Jesus’s life. We also look forward to the time when God’s promises of the kingdom will be completely fulfilled through Jesus. And, crucially, in Advent, we open our hearts in the hope that God will fulfill the work of Jesus in us right now. We get ready to pray, “O come to us, abide with us, our Lord, Emmanuel!”
Today’s devotion is part of the series Following Jesus Today.
Today is the first Monday of Advent, a season in the Christian year for preparing to celebrate the birth of Christ. Advent, from the Latin word adventus, which means “visit” or “coming,” is a season of waiting, hoping, and longing for the advent of Christ.
This year, I’m going to write a series of Advent devotions based on Luke 1 and the first part of Luke 2. This section of Scripture is filled with Advent themes. And, of course, it describes the events leading up to the birth of Jesus. We might rightly say that Luke 1 shows us the first season of Advent, the first time people were preparing to celebrate the actual birth of Christ.
Luke begins by explaining his process and purpose in writing his gospel. As you read the first four verses of chapter 1, you can feel the formality. Indeed, Luke writes as a historian, mentioning the sources upon which he relied and how careful he was with them.
Luke is not just an objective chronicler of things that happened, however. Yes, he intends to write “an orderly account of the events” related to the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus (Luke 1:1). But notice what Luke says about those events. They are “the events that have been fulfilled among us” (1:1). These are not just raw events, but rather events that “have been fulfilled among us.”
The Greek original of verse 1 uses a word that is unique in Luke’s writings (the Gospel of Luke and Acts of the Apostles). This verse speaks of the “events that have been fulfilled [peplērophorēmenōn] among us.” The Greek verb has the basic meaning of “to fill” or “to fulfill.” Its presence here makes us wonder: In what sense are the events in the Gospel of Luke ones that “have been fulfilled among us”?
Biblical scholars offer various explanations for what Luke means by this unusual phrase. One thing seems quite clear to me, and that’s Luke’s use of the passive “have been fulfilled” rather than the active “we have fulfilled.” The implied agent of the action is none other than God. The events of Jesus’s life are ones in which God is acting in fulfillment of God’s own purposes. We experience fulfillment, not as something we do, but as some God does in and among us.
But what sort of fulfillment are we talking about here? One option is that the events of Jesus’s life fulfill Old Testament prophecies about the coming of God’s kingdom. Luke will repeatedly show how Jesus is the one through whom God fulfills God’s royal promises. Yet, if in verse 1 Luke means that the events of Jesus’s life fulfill the Old Testament, his wording is peculiar. Why say “fulfilled among us”?
This leads to another option for understanding the phrase “the events that have been fulfilled among us.” Luke may be saying that the events of Jesus’s life, the events Luke will portray in his gospel, have been fulfilled in the experience of the early Christians. In fact, we know that Luke thought this way, because after writing his gospel he added a second volume, the book of Acts. He begins this volume by writing, “In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began [ērxato] to do and to teach . . .” (Acts 1:1, NIV). In the second book, Luke will describe what Jesus continued to do and teach, now through the early church. In Acts, we see the fulfillment of what began in the life and ministry of Jesus.
So, are the events in Luke “having been fulfilled” (peplērophorēmenōn) because they fulfill the Old Testament? Or because they are being fulfilled in the life of the church? I have a suspicion that Luke was intentionally ambiguous here. Why? Because he wanted to suggest both options. The events of Jesus’s life both fulfill the Old Testament and are fulfilled in the life of the early church. Fulfillment, in this case, is about the past, the present, and the future.
And this, I would suggest, sets us up wonderfully for Advent, because Advent is all about the past, the present, and the future. In Advent, we remember what happened in the past when God prophesied the coming of the kingdom and the Messiah. We remember the expectations of the Jewish people during the cruel reign of King Herod and his Roman overlords. In Advent, we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus the Messiah, something that happened in the past and that we celebrate in the present. We invite Jesus to come and live within us in this present moment. And, at the same time, we look ahead to the future, when Jesus will come again in glory, fully and finally establishing God’s kingdom.
In Advent, we remember how God’s ancient promises were fulfilled in the events of Jesus’s life. In Advent, we look forward to the time when God’s promises of the kingdom will be completely fulfilled through Jesus. And, crucially, in Advent, we open our hearts in the hope that God will fulfill the work of Jesus in us right now. We get ready to pray, “O come to us, abide with us, our Lord, Emmanuel!”
Do you ever think of your life as somehow an extension of the life and ministry of Jesus? If so, why? If not, why not?
In what ways have you experienced the fulfillment of God’s promises?
Do you have any hopes or expectations for Advent this year? If so, what are they and why do you have them?
Talk with a friend or your small group about Advent and your expectations (or lack thereof).
Gracious God, thank you for the season of Advent. Thank you for a time to remember your promises of long ago. Thank you for a time to hear again your promises for our future.
Lord, may the reality of Jesus’s birth, life, death, and resurrection be fulfilled in me during the season of Advent. Amen.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: God at Work (Luke 1, 2, and 4)
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.