Sunday, December 28, 2014

Zachariah, Mary and Simeon -- Their Responses of Praise

During the month of December I did very little blogging. Rather, time was spent preparing a series of messages on the responses of Zachariah, Simeon, and Mary to the news of and the coming of the births of John and Jesus. The audio and the text for these messages can be found on the "Sermon Links and More" in the right column of my blog.

Heading into January I will continue working through the book of John.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Advent Reading Day 24 & 25

Day 24   Matthew 2:13-20

When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:
“A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”

After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.” 

Day 25   Matthew 2:21-23; Luke 2:39-40

So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: “He will be called a Nazarene.”

When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Advent Reading Day 23

Day 23   Matthew 2:7-12

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.

And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Advent Reading Day 22

Day 22   Matthew 2:1-6

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.’”

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Advent Reading Day 21

Day 21   Luke 2:36-38

There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Advent Reading Day 20

Day 20   Luke 2:27-35

Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”

The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

Friday, December 19, 2014

Advent Reading Day 19

Day 19 Luke 2:21-26

On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived.

When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”

Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Advent Reading Day 18

Day 18   Luke 2:15-20

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.

But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Advent Readings Days 15-17

Day 15   Luke 2:1-5

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.

Day 16   Luke 2:6-7

While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

Day 17   Luke 2:8-14

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Advent Reading Day 13 & 14

Day 13 (Luke 1:76-80)

And you, my child [John, the Baptist], will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the desert until he appeared publicly to Israel.

Day 14 (Matthew 1:18-25a)

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.”

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son….

Friday, December 12, 2014

Advent Reading Day 12 – Zachariah’s Benedictus (Luke 1:67-75)

“And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us In the house of David His servant— as He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from of old— salvation from our enemies, and from the hand of all who hate us; to show mercy toward our fathers, and to remember His holy covenant, the oath which He swore to Abraham our father, to grant us that we, being rescued from the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days.” (Luke 1:67–75, NASB95)

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel….” Similar to Mary’s Magnificat (or magnifying) in verses 46-55 of Luke 1, we have here what is known as Zechariah’s Benedictus. This is a Latin word coming from the first word “blessed.” Think of the songs that we sing such as “Blessed be the Name” and of the many things that we can point to as blessings from God. We return to Him praise because of who He is and what He has done. Zechariah does this as he speaks the praises of God to the people, and as he does this he fills his words with Old Testament quotations and references.

As a Jew, he specifically identified God as the One who had a special relationship with them as His people. He was the God of Israel, and of that there was no doubt. God had selected them as a people through Abraham and He had made many promises for which He was eternally faithful. Though Israel might rebel, God would never forsake them. We read of David’s looking on his son Solomon after giving him the throne as his successor, “Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, who has granted someone to sit on my throne this day, my own eyes seeing it.” (1 Kings 1:48, ESV) We read of Ezra raising blessing to God for moving King Artaxerxes to restore and beautify the temple of God. “Blessed be the LORD, the God of our fathers, who put such a thing as this into the heart of the king, to beautify the house of the LORD that is in Jerusalem,” (Ezra 7:27, ESV) Men of God knew the hand of God and readily sang His praises knowing how blessed they truly had been by being chosen by Him. Zechariah was no different in knowing that God had visited him and his wife to give them a child in their old and barren years.

Like the blessings of old, Zechariah followed this statement of raising the name of the Lord by pointing to that which God had done and how He had blessed them as His people. He went on to say, “for He has visited and redeemed His people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David….” The concept of being visited and redeemed by God is nothing new. This term was used by Moses to describe his being sent to the people of Israel in bondage under the Egyptians. Their response was, “And the people believed; and when they heard that the LORD had visited the people of Israel and that He had seen their affliction, they bowed their heads and worshiped.” (Exodus 4:31, ESV) What an appropriate thought for Zechariah to lift praise to God as he had been told by the angel that his own son was to be sent as one to prepare the way of the Lord. God had once again visited His people and was showing to them His hand to deliver them. And as He had redeemed them from the hand of Pharaoh so was He sending His Only Son to redeem them of their sins. Through John the way was being prepared for God’s redeemer. The prophet Isaiah wrote, “”And a Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who turn from transgression,” declares the LORD.” (Isaiah 59:20, ESV)

Zechariah was not saying anything new here about God, but was praising Him for His faithfulness to His promises of old. There are so many challenges to the reality of Christ and what people say about Him today. There are people who deny, challenge and twist truth in order to suit their own fancies or agendas. But the reality is that Jesus is real, and the Bible itself is an incredible proof of this reality. The prophecies alone which were written hundreds of years in advance and which were fulfilled completely in Him should speak to this. As a young Christian I was impressed with the words of Peter Stoner who wrote on the probabilities of just eight of these prophecies being fulfilled in one person. According to his calculations the odds are 1017. That is 1 in 1 quintillion, or 1 in 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 which is 10 with another 17 zeros following, and that’s just looking at 8 of the 48 selected prophecies.

Zechariah was praising God that the prophecies of old that they had placed their hope in were being fulfilled against all human odds, and the only reason that this could happen is that it was not up to man. God was the One doing this and He is infinite in all ways, including His ability to foretell what He was going to do hundreds of years in advance and then do it exactly as He had said. This is exactly what Zechariah recognized when he said, “as He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from of old….”

In the midst of speaking these things about God Zechariah brought it home to their present time saying, “that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear…” Think of the great comfort in knowing that God has your back. He not only has your back, as those who believe in Him and who are saved He has us totally encapsulated in His infinitely powerful hands. As it is true for us, it was true for the Jews to who Zechariah spoke. God was faithful to His people. He had repeatedly delivered them and would continue to do so. He was holding on to them in a way none of us can possibly imagine doing in our own strength.

Zechariah finished his praises to God and his prophetic words from God to the people with how it is that they are to live their lives as a result of who God is and what He has done for them. Beyond living without fear, he added that they were to live “in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days.” Their proper response to God was to live holy or set apart lives as the special set apart people that they were, and that these lives were to exemplify the character of God which is righteous or exactly right for all of their days. This was not just an expectation of the Jews. Even to the mixed church in Rome Paul wrote, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual [reasonable logikos] worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:1–2, ESV)

Think about this: these are the first words of Zechariah after he had heard first hand from the angel of the Lord what was about to happen. These are the words that he had to wait what I suspect was nine months to speak. As such these words must have come with great excitement and emotion.

(Note: This is a portion of the text from a sermon given on December 7th. The audio and text for the sermon can be found through the links on the Sermon Links and More page of my blog.)

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Advent reading Day 11 (Luke 1:57-66)

When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy. 

On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, but his mother spoke up and said, “No! He is to be called John.” 

They said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who has that name.” 

Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child. He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, “His name is John.” Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue was loosed, and he began to speak, praising God. The neighbors were all filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, “What then is this child going to be?” For the Lord’s hand was with him. 

(Robin and I went out for the evening, and when we returned we read our advent passage for the day. Beth (who just turned eight) read most of it and did very well.)

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Advent Reading Day 10 – Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:46-56)

“And Mary said: “My soul exalts [magnifies] the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave; for behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed. For the Mighty One has done great things for me; and holy is His name. AND HIS MERCY IS UPON GENERATION AFTER GENERATION TOWARD THOSE WHO FEAR HIM. He has done mighty deeds with His arm; He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart. He has brought down rulers from their thrones, and has exalted those who were humble. HE HAS FILLED THE HUNGRY WITH GOOD THINGS; and sent away the rich empty-handed. He has given help to Israel His servant, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and his descendants forever.” And Mary stayed with her about three months, and then returned to her home.” (Luke 1:46–56, NASB95)

After the angel having told Mary that nothing is impossible with God, and Mary having gone to see her relative Elizabeth who through the leading of the Holy Spirit affirmed what had been said, Mary responded with these words. From the heart of her being, her very soul, she lifted up the name of the Lord and rejoiced in her spirit in her God her Savior. She was awed that He would look to her as a humble young woman to choose to bring about His plan for His Son to be born. This was indeed an incredible blessing and she knew it and lifted God’s name in praise in response. She knew that God who is holy had indeed done great things even for her.

In her praise to God which we know as the Magnificat because in the many translations the word “exalts” in verse 46 (first verse for today) is translated “magnifies.” In Latin the word “magnificat” describes this magnifying or exalting of God before men. Mary clearly was overwhelmed by the magnificence of God, and in her praise of Him she also quoted a familiar Hebrew thought summarized in Psalm 103:17, “But the lovingkindness of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him, and His righteousness to children’s children,” (Psalm 103:17, NASB95) She spoke of how amazing God is pointing to His power to move things with His arm, to scatter and confuse the proud, to bring down those who are big, and to life up (as with her) those who are humble. This is who God is, and Mary was joyfully singing His praises.

She went on to speak of how God filled the hearts of those who were hungry for Him, and sent away those who were big in their own strength empty handed. And then she turned her attention specifically to God’s faithfulness toward Israel to whom He has been a constant help—even rescuing them time and time again from their own rebellion. He has been incredibly merciful toward them as a people, and as He promised Abraham and the other fathers of her people He would continue to be mercifully faithful through the completion of His plan of restoration for all eternity. Mary had heard the voice of the angel, she had believed God that He would do in her just as He said, and she was ready to give herself fully to Him knowing that He was truly her magnificent God.

The last verse of this section simply says that Mary stayed with Elizabeth three months and then went home. I imagine those must have been some pretty incredible months. Then it was time to return home, and Luke does not tell us anything about that return. But we do read in Matthew chapter 1 that when it was discovered that Mary was pregnant Joseph had determined to break their engagement quietly so as not to bring any more shame on her than necessary. But before he could do this the angel appeared to him in a dream and told Him what Mary already knew, that the child she bore was conceived in her by the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:20). Listening to the angel, Joseph did not put Mary away, but took her as his wife and did not have sexual relations with her until after the birth of Jesus.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Advent Reading Day 9 – The Joyful Meeting (Luke 1:39-45)

“Now at this time Mary arose and went in a hurry to the hill country, to a city of Judah, and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. And she cried out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord would come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord.”” (Luke 1:39–45, NASB95)

After being told by the angel Gabriel that she would become the mother of the Son of God and that her relative Elizabeth was also going to bear a son, Mary took the angel’s hint and quickly went to find Elizabeth. Elizabeth and her husband didn’t live down the street, but off in the hill country in the city of Judah. From the text I imagine that Mary didn’t waste any time getting there, and upon entering their home and greeting them we read that John did as well. From the womb when Elizabeth heard Mary’s voice the baby leapt, and it was at that time that Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.

Being filled with the Spirit of God, Elizabeth cried out loudly pronouncing a blessing on Mary and her baby. Not having been told who it was that John was going to be the predecessor to, when the Spirit filled Elizabeth she recognized Mary as the one who would bear this special child, and she knew her child as the Son of God—her Lord. Seeing some of the humility that marked Elizabeth she then asked how it was that the mother of the Lord would come to her home. Just as Mary saw herself as unworthy of being selected by God, Elizabeth was herself humble with both of them recognizing that they had been greatly blessed by being chosen as the mothers of these special sons.

Asking Mary why she who was carrying the Lord God would come to visit her, Elizabeth then told her about that something special that all expectant mothers know—the feeling of life moving within her. But Elizabeth recognized this movement by her son to be more than just a poking foot or tumbling about. She recognized that it was at the moment that Mary spoke that her son leapt in her womb and she described this movement as a joy filled response. These are incredible words, “For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy.” What an amazing affirmation for Mary who raced off to see her pregnant relative. Without Mary telling her all that the angel had said, Elizabeth and her son both knew from God that they were in the presence of the Lord.

The last we read of Elizabeth’s greeting was a blessing which she pronounced for Mary who heard the word of God and believed it to be true. This is what we saw in Mary’s response to Gabriel, saying that if this is what God wants, then let it be done exactly as He desires. Mary and Elizabeth were both on board for the great things that God had in store for them. Both of them were going to experience the great joy of giving birth to very special sons, and both of them (if Elizabeth was still alive) would see their sons put to death. But like their sons who would have eternal life (the latter being the source of it) they would also both one day live with them for all eternity.

We’ll read in a few verses that Mary remained with Elizabeth for about three months, which would have been near the time of John’s birth. It must have been an amazing time as these two expectant mothers shared their lives, their faith, and their great hope together. God provided for Mary the exact support that she needed in what was a very challenging time, a time when their society could have quickly turned on her and accused her of having illicit sexual relations. Instead, she knew the company of family who stood by her side and served as the perfect encouragement.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Advent Reading Day 8 – Totally Submissive (Luke 1:34-38)

“Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God. And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.” (Luke 1:34–38, NASB95)

There are lots of questions that Mary could have asked, but as we see by her faith shown later in today’s verses, she simply asked how this could come about as she was still a virgin. She did not understand that her son was not going to be conceived by sexual intercourse, and as such she was confused about how this might come to pass. There might have been other things that she could have had questions about, but this is the one she raised. Gabriel responded by answering her question in a very clear and explanatory way. He told her that her son was going to be conceived in her by the power of the Holy Spirit.

There are some faiths who teach that God in some way had physical sex with her and that Jesus was conceived as a result. This was not the case. Our passage tells us that the power of the Most High would overshadow her. There is absolutely no indication of any physical nature. Simply by the unlimited and infinite power of the Holy Spirit, Mary would conceive and bear a son. This son was going to be the Son of God. This Son was going to be given to her by God and she would bear the Son of God as His handpicked mother. Yesterday we read that she had found favor with God. What a great privilege to be selected by the infinite God to be the finite mother of the Son of God become man. This is what Mary was chosen to do.

Then Gabriel told her that her relative Elizabeth had also conceived in her old age and was pregnant with a son, adding that she was in her sixth month. Affirming that God was indeed at work Gabriel demonstrated to Mary that she was not in this alone, but that God was working in someone else in her family as well. As I sat and thought about this I realized how this might have served as a great comfort as the angel pointed her to someone to whom she could turn and who would understand. Gabriel finished his pronouncement to Mary by adding, “For nothing will be impossible with God.” Any doubts or questions that may have remained with Mary were answered with this one statement. God has no limits, and He can without limitation do all that He intends.

After all of this I am most amazed by Mary’s response. She said, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” She must have been an incredibly humble woman, first to be selected and to wonder why she had been so selected, and then to submit and give herself fully without reservation to be used of God just as the angel had said. Mary, as we read here, did not submit with conditions or reservations. She gave herself fully and without limitation. She knew that she was the Lord’s servant and as such she was willing to serve Him with all of her heart and her whole body.

There are some that have put Mary on a pedestal and who worship her in some sense as an intermediary to her Son. Mary did not see herself in this way. She knew who she was and she was willing to walk by faith such that God would accomplish in her all that He intended. Sure, I can’t imagine in eternity Mary not having a special place in the heart of our Lord, but at the same time even she realized that God was God and she was His servant. And as we look to what is written of Christ we read that even He as fully God the Son humbled Himself taking on the form of man in order to accomplish the will of the Father. In Christ we have the One who brought together the fullness of God and the fullness of man so that through Him man might be brought back into a relationship with God, and Mary was the woman blessed by God to be the human part of His perfect plan.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Advent Reading Day 7 – Favored by God (Luke 1:26-33)

(Sorry about any typos. I'll come back to correct them when I have a bit more time.)

“Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.”” (Luke 1:26–33, NASB95)

Six months after visiting Zechariah and Elizabeth becoming pregnant the angel Gabriel went to the city of Nazareth in the region of Galilee to make another birth pronouncement. This time is was to a virgin who was engaged to be married. Unlike Zechariah and Elizabeth who had been married for years and been unable to conceive and bear a child this young woman had not yet gotten married or become sexually active. While one was unable to conceive a child because of her being physically barren the other was unable to bear a child because she had been sexually pure waiting for the time of her marriage to her fiancé Joseph.

The angel greeted her, telling her that she was a favored one of God and that the Lord was with her. Probably not seeing herself as different from any other young woman, Mary was perplexed by the greeting. Why would the angel say these things to her? What had she done to gain such favor? She didn’t know why she had received such a greeting from an angel of the Lord and she kept wondering just what was going on.

Gabriel went on to quiet her uneasiness, telling her not to be afraid because she had found favor with God. The angels visit was a good thing. This was not a visit to correct her, but one to tell her just how blessed she was and about the great blessing she would bear. Then Gabriel moved to the heart of the reason for his visit, telling her that she would conceive and bear a son who she would name Jesus. This would not have been a big deal if it were meant as a future promise such as that given to Abraham where many years transpired in between. After all she was planning of getting married and children would have been in the natural course of life following her being wed to Joseph. But this was not what God intended.

The angel went on to say that this baby she was going to bear was going to be great. What an incredible thing to be told that your child was going to be used powerfully by God in his life. But this was not all, she was told that her son would be called the Son of the Most High. I don’t know if she grasped what she had just been told, that her son was going to be the Son of God as opposed to someone who follows God and is close to Him, but this was what she was told. Gabriel added that her son would be given the throne that David once held as king. This was an amazing proclamation. The young woman was going to have a child and her child would become the king that the people had long been waiting for, and not only that he would reign in such a way that his kingdom would continue without end.

The Jews had long been looking for their king. The prophet Isaiah wrote, “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this.” (Isaiah 9:6–7, NASB95)

Her son was going to be this king as God was moving to keep a promise He made and restated numerous times hundreds and hundreds of years before. What had she done to be given this honor? What had she found such favor with God? As we read in the beginning of today’s passage, Mary kept pondering, and as she pondered I can just imagine her saying again and again to herself, “Why me?” and then even, “How can this be?”

The great part about reading Advent passages is the daily unfolding to the story of the birth of Jesus. At the same time it means that each day we reach a point where we must roll the paper back up, put it back on the calendar, hang an ornament, and await the next day’s reading. Having done this for many years I know what is coming next, but with my children who may not have this clearly in their minds it is a slowly building story in which they are left with questions that will be answered a little at a time. As we leave Mary for today we do so knowing that she also has some unanswered questions, ones that will soon be answered for her.

Faith is a gift from God. It is the ability to believe Him for things that we do not clearly see or maybe can’t fully grasp. It is trusting Him to do that which He said He would do even when we can’t see any way in which it might happen. It is giving ourselves back to Him as instruments of worshipful service knowing that what He intends for us is good. Mary was being blessed by God to become the mother or our Lord. There would be many years of watching him grow and wondering just how all of this would come to pass. There would be times of joy and amazement, and for her there would be times of great pain and distress. But God knew exactly what He was doing when He chose her and He was faithful to her just as He was to complete in His Son the work for which He as sent. And He is faithful to every single one of us who places our trust in His Son for the salvation which He gave Himself to give to us.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Advent Reading Day 1 – The Greatest Birth Pronouncement (Isaiah 11:1-2; 7:14)

“Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on Him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and strength, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.” … “Then in that day the nations will resort to the root of Jesse, who will stand as a signal for the peoples; and His resting place will be glorious.” (Isaiah 11:1-2, 10, NASB95) “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14, NASB95)

Isaiah lived 700 years before Christ, and these words as well as the many others he wrote stood for all of those years as a pronouncement from God not only of the condition of Israel and the hardship it would suffer because of its rebellion, but also and incredibly gloriously about our awesome God and His faithfulness to all of His promises. Though Israel would rebel God would not totally forsake them, and would one day bring One to them who would take bake the throne of David and hold it forevermore.

It is this shoot of Jesse, the branch from his roots that would bear fruit. Jesse is the father of King David through whom the Messiah would one day come. This coming king that was spoken of by Isaiah would be filled with the Spirit of God and possess as integral to who He is wisdom, understanding, counsel and strength, and knowledge and the fear of the Lord. As we know from our side of the cross and having the full record of Scripture, this One was none other than the very Son of God who became man for our salvation. As man He never became any less God and in that He possessed the fullness of God and all of these incredible attributes. Balancing these two as only the God-man could He spent a great deal of time in prayer with the Father  as He was filled with and empowered by the Holy Spirit. We read throughout the gospel of John just how well He knew the hearts of men, how He had power to give sight, heal the lame, give life to the dead, and so much more. He had power over all created things.

For the Jews, the coming of this king was expected to be a magnificent thing brought about with His initial coming. They were looking for the king to arrive on the scene and deliver them. It is because of this that they wanted to take Jesus away by force and make Him king after the feeding of the 5,000 as we read in John 6:15. But Jesus knew this was not to be the case. He knew that there was much to do before He would reign over the Jews and all of the peoples of the world in their presence. He would first have to go to a cross to pay for the sins of man. He would then be buried and on the third day take His life back up again in resurrection. He would have to return to the Father for a season, before coming again. The people would suffer greatly and see evil for just how bad it is, and then He would return to reign for 1,000 years prior to the final eternal fulfillment of all that was promised. The Jews were expecting this to happen all at once, but God knew better.

It is in that later day that the people would turn their hearts back to God and would see His Son for who He really is. It is in that day that they would worship in His presence and serve Him as the One who is King of kings and Lord of Lords.

It is in verse 10, later in chapter 11 of Isaiah, that we read that there would be a time when even the Gentiles (the nations meaning non-Jews) would turn their hearts to God and even stand as a signal for the people. Referring back to that season when Jesus would return to the Father so that a mystery might be unfolded, Isaiah mentioned several times in his writings the prophecies of God about the nations turning to God. “He says, “It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make You a light of the nations so that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”” (Isaiah 49:6, NASB95) … “The Lord has bared His holy arm in the sight of all the nations, that all the ends of the earth may see the salvation of our God.” (Isaiah 52:10, NASB95)

The apostle Paul wrote of this great hope of both the Jews and the Gentiles. We read in Romans chapter 15, “For I say that Christ has become a servant to the circumcision on behalf of the truth of God to confirm the promises given to the fathers, and for the Gentiles to glorify God for His mercy; as it is written, “THEREFORE I WILL GIVE PRAISE TO YOU AMONG THE GENTILES, AND I WILL SING TO YOUR NAME.” Again he says, “REJOICE, O GENTILES, WITH HIS PEOPLE.” And again, “PRAISE THE LORD ALL YOU GENTILES, AND LET ALL THE PEOPLES PRAISE HIM.” Again Isaiah says, “THERE SHALL COME THE ROOT OF JESSE, AND HE WHO ARISES TO RULE OVER THE GENTILES, IN HIM SHALL THE GENTILES HOPE.”” (Romans 15:8–12, NASB95)

Earlier Isaiah had written (7:14), “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.” This is the greatest pronouncement of a coming birth ever made. As a proof of the coming of the promised One a virgin would conceive and bear a son. Physiologically this is impossible. There was no cloning or in vetro fertilization (which even takes an intrusive intervention by man). No, a woman who had never had any form of sexual activity would become a mother. And as we read in Luke chapter 1 this was explained in that she would eventually conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit. This woman would have a son and this Son would be called Immanuel which means “God with us.” This simple verse contains the most incredible truth that man had ever heard. God was going to make Himself present among mankind. The Son of God would take on the form of man in order to bring man back into a relationship with Himself. This is the heart of the Christmas story when the Son of God becomes the Son of man being born in a stable.

Advent Reading Day 6 – It Happened Just as the Angel Said (Luke 1:21-25)

“The people were waiting for Zacharias, and were wondering at his delay in the temple. But when he came out, he was unable to speak to them; and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple; and he kept making signs to them, and remained mute. When the days of his priestly service were ended, he went back home. After these days Elizabeth his wife became pregnant, and she kept herself in seclusion for five months, saying, “This is the way the Lord has dealt with me in the days when He looked with favor upon me, to take away my disgrace among men.”” (Luke 1:21–25, NASB95)

The people had been outside praying and more time passed than they had expected. I imagine that their customary prayers had long been made and their minds began to wander and wonder. I know this is true of me when at times when my time of focused prayer ends. It is hard to wait, but wait they were forced to do. They waited, as our passage indicates, for Zachariah to come back out, and as they waited they wondered what must have delayed him in the temple.

This procedure had happened for hundreds of years and they knew what to expect. The priest would go in, he would do what he was expected to do in what had become a regular routine, and then he would come out and pronounce a blessing. But this is not what was happening this time. There was something going on that was not normal, and the people did not have a clue what it was. And when Zachariah finally came out he could not tell them what happened. We read that he could not speak to them, and the crowd soon realized based upon the signals he was making that he must have seen a vision. I can just imagine from having played charades over the years what he must have been doing, as he physically tried to portray for them what he could not tell them. Though they did not get the full message they guessed that he must have seen a vision while in the temple, and what that vision was all about would have to elude them for a while.

Following this as he completed his time of service he returned home, and there was no “Hi honey, I’m home” to come out of his mouth. We don’t know what the interaction was with his wife Elizabeth after this or how he communicated to her what had happened. Possibly he spelled it out for her in writing, but we just don’t know. What we do know is that this wife who had been unable to conceive and bear a child and who was now advanced in years became pregnant. We also read that having become pregnant that she went into seclusion or hiding for five months.

For many women this time of keeping things quiet for a period of time might be based in being uncertain or maybe questioning if this might really be happening. They might be waiting to see if this baby would remain and grow. They may be waiting to see if this great new birth was really, really true. For women who have wanted to have a child and who have had miscarriage after miscarriage this might have been an understandable thing of wanting to wait until they are sure. But this is most likely not the case with Elizabeth.

We read that during this season she marveled that God had done this for her. She pondered the great gift that she had been given, with our passage telling us her thoughts, “This is the way the Lord has dealt with me in the days when He looked with favor upon me, to take away my disgrace among men.” IN a culture where a woman was measured to a large degree by her ability to bear children, she recognized that many may have viewed her as a disgrace for not having giving birth to a child. But God changed all of this. Elizabeth was pregnant and in that she saw the powerful hand of God and His incredible blessing on her.

So much of our lives can be tied up in expectations, either our own expectations of ourselves, or those that others might have, or at least we think they have of us. But the reality is that many of these expectations are unrealistic and there is much that is out of our control. As we look at the lives of Zachariah and Elizabeth we see that they were people who did not let one disappointment shape their lives or their walk with God. Scripture speaks very highly of them as a godly couple who lived upright before God and man. They were no less in any of this because a part of their lives did not work out as they had expected. It did not shake their faith in God, nor did it control their walk. They realized that God was fully in control, and they could trust Him with that. And when things changed such that a long set aside hope was being fulfilled they could also rejoice in God’s great blessing on their lives. This is what we know of Elizabeth in this time of answering and waiting as this incredible new life grew in her womb. Elizabeth’s joy had been renewed.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Advent Reading Day 5 – Life Changing News (Luke 1:15-20)

““For he will be great in the sight of the Lord; and he will drink no wine or liquor, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God. “It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Zacharias said to the angel, “How will I know this for certain? For I am an old man and my wife is advanced in years.” The angel answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. “And behold, you shall be silent and unable to speak until the day when these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their proper time.”” (Luke 1:15–20, NASB95)

After giving Zechariah the good news and telling him that his son would indeed be great in the sight of the Lord which was the incredible hope of all parents who themselves love our Lord. The angel said that John was going to be set apart from all others. First of all, he was not going to take wine or other fermented drink. We read in Numbers 6:1-21 of the special vow of a Nazarite, whereby the individual would dedicate himself to the Lord for a specific purpose and a specific period of time. This vow was marked, in part, by abstaining from wine, strong drink, or vinegar. He would even go so far as to not drink anything from the fruit of grapes or even eat fresh or dried grapes.

This vow was usually a temporary one for a specific reason. Verse 4 of Number 6 tells us that these observances were to be for, “All of the days of his separation.” Verse 5 starts off with “All of the days of his vow of separation” and then goes on to speak of the other observances of the Nazarite vow. Verse 13 speaks of the fulfillment of these days indicating their normal temporary nature. Even the apostle Paul appears to have made one of these vows. We read in Acts 18:18, “Paul, having remained many days longer, took leave of the brethren and put out to sea for Syria, and with him were Priscilla and Aquila. In Cenchrea he had his hair cut, for he was keeping a vow.” (Acts 18:18, NASB95) Then in Acts 21 in order to evidence before the people Paul’s endorsement of words of Moses he was instructed by the elders, “What, then, is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. Therefore do this that we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; take them and purify yourself along with them, and pay their expenses so that they may shave their heads; and all will know that there is nothing to the things which they have been told about you, but that you yourself also walk orderly, keeping the Law.” (Acts 21:22–24, NASB95) This was not an instruction for non-Jews such that they also were to observe their worship of God in this way as the verses which follow clearly indicate. But it was for the Jew a special commitment before God demonstrating his being set apart for a specific purpose.

Understanding that for most this was a temporary vow, there were also those such as Samson (Judges 16:17) and Samuel (1 Samuel 1:11) who either kept or were intended to keep the Nazarite vow from birth. John was going to be another one of those life-long set apart Nazarites though no mention is made here of him observing the other restrictions. John was to be set apart in this way. And his task was to bring many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. This was not something he would do in his own strength for we also read that he would be filled with the Holy Spirit from birth.

He was going to be constantly empowered by God’s Spirit as was Elijah before him. As he went about doing what God had planned for him many people’s hearts would be changed. Fathers would begin to attend to their children (and participate in raising them), and those who had been disobedient would gain the wisdom of those who seek after God with their whole heart. All of this is for the purpose of preparing people for the coming of the Lord.

What an amazing plan the angel laid out to Zechariah. It must have been mind-boggling. Zechariah’s response was probably no different than many would have had. He asked, “How can I be sure of this?” Then he pointed to their obvious physical limitations founded in their past experience and their current age.

The angel’s answer was very much to the point. “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news.” Gabriel is only one of two angels identified in Scripture by name (Daniel 8:16; 9:21). The other is Michael (Daniel 10:13, 21; Jude 9; Revelation 12:7). Gabriel appears in Scripture as the one making as the one making amazing proclamations as God’s ambassador, and what he had to say came personally through him from God. In order to prove his words true and as a consequence of Zechariah’s unbelief, Gabriel told Zechariah that he would be unable to speak until this proclamation occurs. Because Zechariah did not believe the words of the angel he would not be able to utter any words until the baby is born.

Gabriel closed by reinforcing the perfect timing of God by saying, “which will be fulfilled in their proper time.” It is so easy for us to question God when our prayers seem to go unanswered or they take too long, or even when the answer does not seem feasible. We are reminded here that nothing is impossible with God, nor will anything thwart His plans.

“For nothing will be impossible with God.”” (Luke 1:37, NASB95)

“But He said, “The things that are impossible with people are possible with God.”” (Luke 18:27, NASB95) 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Advent Reading Days 2, 3, & 4 - Elizabeth’s Joy (Luke 1:5-14)

“But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John. “You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth.” (Luke 1:13–14, NASB95)

Taking some extra time to work on some upcoming sermons I decided through this Christmas season to take a break from John and focus on an annual traditional in our home, which is the reading of Advent passages. And starting a few days late with today being a special day in our home I thought about how to bring together the special celebration of today with the previous days of our Advent readings. So, what I decided to do was to jump into day two and build through day four, coming back to day one very soon. Hopefully you are not confused by this point and give up, but I think you are in for a treat as we look to the incredible gifts of God to two different families.

Having had five sons, my wife (Robin) and I found out in 2006 that we were going to have another special blessing in our home. As time progressed and ultrasounds and nausea (not mine, but Robin’s) proved out we knew in advance that our sixth child was going to be very different from the rest. This time we were having a girl. All of the years of raising boys were going to change as God was bringing a precious little girl into our home. Of course, like many couples we had a name we favored but had yet been unable to use. But after so many years of holding on to this other name we realized that it was not going to be the name of our new daughter.

In discussing the different name possibilities we quickly came to a point that we agreed her name was unquestionably going to be “Elizabeth.”  When it came to her middle name we had a bit more waiting and thinking to do. But even this didn’t take long before Robin and I both came up independently with the same middle name which was “Joy.” For me the process at arriving at her middle name included reading about the births of John the Baptist and Jesus, and in particular reading in Luke chapter 1 about Zechariah and Elizabeth the parents of John, who would become known as John the Baptist.

Advent Reading for Day 2: “In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both advanced in years.” (Luke 1:5–7, NASB95)

I read in verses 5-7 of this couple who were upright before God and committed to Him both in service and righteous living. In these verses we read that this godly couple had no children though they had dearly wanted them. All of their years Elizabeth had been unable to conceive and at this point their age had caught up with them. This was intriguing to me as I thought about another father and mother who had been promised a son who would be a blessing, but who did not have that son until they also were very advanced in years (Abraham and Sarah). And I could not help thinking of Robin and myself as we were expecting not our first child, but a child nonetheless just short of my fiftieth birthday with Robin not many years behind. Some even poked fun at me in this, but I enjoyed the fun as I really looked forward to the birth of yet another child.

This new dad, Zechariah, was a priest among many priests of Israel. We read in these verses that his division’s time for service, which came twice a year, had come. This time Zechariah was chosen by lot (as if God really have permitted anyone else to be chosen) to enter the temple and burn incense as a fragrant offering to God on behalf of the people. As he did this our passage tells us that many people were outside waiting in prayer. This is how it had been done since Moses with the priest going in, burning the incense, and then coming back out to pronounce a blessing.

Advent Reading for Day 3: “Now it happened that while he was performing his priestly service before God in the appointed order of his division, according to the custom of the priestly office, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were in prayer outside at the hour of the incense offering.” (Luke 1:8–10, NASB95)

This is the setting that brings us to our annual December 4th reading: “And an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense. Zacharias was troubled when he saw the angel, and fear gripped him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth.”” (Luke 1:11–14, NASB95)

While in the temple an angel of the Lord (identified later in verse 19 as Gabriel) appeared to Zechariah. The angel stood at the right side of the altar of incense, and when Zechariah saw him he (Zechariah and not the angel) was startled. Being startling is easy to understand as only one priest was permitted to enter, and for anyone else to be there would have been unheard of. But there stood another individual. And this individual was not just anyone, but was probably easily identified as an angel of God because our passage also tells us that Zechariah was gripped with fear. This was no mere human before him. As Zechariah stood there trembling the angel the angel spoke to calm him down and then proceeded to tell him that his prayer had been heard.

The angel told him that his prayer was both heard and answered in that he and his wife Elizabeth were going to have a son. I don’t know what prayer Zechariah might have immediately thought God had heard, but I seriously doubt that it was the one that the angel spoke of, and it surely was not an answer that Zechariah was expecting. I suspect that Zechariah might have given up on this prayer some time beforehand thinking that their hope of having a child was long past. But this was the news the angel had for him, and the answer was coming in God’s perfect time. Elizabeth was going to give him a son and his name was going to be John.

Then we read that this long hoped for son was going to be a “joy and delight” to his parents. And beyond that he was going to be used of God to cause many to rejoice because of his birth. He truly was going to be great in the sight of the Lord. Can you imagine being told that your child was going to grow up loving God and impacting people for him? They had given their lives to God and now God was blessing them with a child who would do even more—a joy to his parents and a blessing to many.

Upon reading this it was settled in my heart that my desire was that our Elizabeth’s middle name be “Joy.” And I was so happy to hear that Robin had been led to the same name though for different reasons. So, then came the waiting and the waiting. Beth was not born on her due date. She was not even born in her due month. She finally was born on December 4th when the doctor stepped in to move things along. And as I read our Advent calendar readings for 2006 (a bit delayed for obvious reasons) I saw that this very passage was the one that we would read year and after year on the anniversary of our Elizabeth Joy’s birth.

Our God is so incredibly amazing, and His blessings to us are far more abundant than we could ever count or measure. This includes the greatest joys such as this and His strong hand in our greatest hurts. Our prayer for Beth, as for all of our children and now grand-children, is that they would know God, be known for their walk with Him, and be a blessing to many as their lives prove God’s work in them.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Blindness Washed Away (John 9:6-7)

“Having said these things, He spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then He anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.” (John 9:6–7, ESV) (Caps added to pronouns in ESV referring to God the Father, Son, and Spirit)

We know that God has the power to do absolutely anything, and that Scripture records many things that were said and done without what we would see as physical touch or handling. God spoke and it was so. In John chapter 2 in Cana the water was turned into wine. Jesus told the men to fill six stone jars with water and then to draw some water out of one of them. Between filling them to the brim and bringing the filled cup to the master of the feast the water had become top quality wine. In John chapter 4 He told the official that his son would be healed, and as the man returned back home he indeed did find out that his son was healed. In John chapter 5 he told the man who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years to take up his bed and walk, and the man did so fully healed. While Jesus may not have provided physical touch He spoke, things happened, and people were amazed with many even coming to believe.

Here in John chapter 9 we find that Jesus provided that physical touch. Scripture does not tell us why Jesus chose in this instance to physically touch the man. It may be, as I strongly suspect, that it was because it was Sabbath and Jesus was again demonstrating to the Jews that He was Lord of the Sabbath as we read He said of Himself in passages such as Matthew 12:8, “For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” (Matthew 12:8, ESV) This will become evident in just a few verses when He will again be accused of being a sinner because He did not keep the Sabbath in the way the Pharisees had prescribed.

As I thought about His touch on this man I was mindful of Jesus’ great compassion being personally demonstrated. He spit on the ground and mixed the dirt with His saliva to make a paste which He put with His own hands on the man’s eyes. Our Lord touched the man in a way that no one ever had or ever could. Then He told the man to go and be washed, which the man did, and when he did this he came back seeing.

Jesus came to seek and to save the lost (John 19:10). He came to give sight to the blind and to judge those whose haughty sight keeps them blind (John 9:39). As the Son of God He became man to open man’s eyes that men might see, believe, and receive spiritual life. All of mankind is born spiritually blind, and apart from Christ all men remain that way. There is no hope of gaining sight without the salvation found in Him. He is the one who is light and life for all who believe.

I guess that God could have devised salvation in any number of ways, but He chose to do it in this way. And as Jesus could have easily healed the man born blind just by His will and even speaking it as so, He chose to touch his eyes and call him to be washed. Then having had his eyes washed the man was given the sight that he had never known before. Thinking on this touch I was reminded of my condition before I really understood the love of God for me and the salvation which He so freely gave to me in His Son. Before, I knew something was missing, but I did not know what it was. I was searching for answers, but I could not find them. Then through a sermon on a Sunday while visiting a church God’s Spirit spoke to my heart and my eyes were opened to see that our God is truly amazing. I wanted to know Him more. That day the light bulb went on for me. My eyes were opened and I knew that God was real and that His Son really did pay for my sins. I went before Him and thanked Him for this incredible gift and asked for the salvation which He promised and which His Son freely gave. At that moment I was made spiritually alive and my sins were fully forgiven (past, present, and future) and they were washed away along with the spiritual blindness which I had known. “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:11, ESV)

Having been washed of my sins I was given spiritual sight, a sight which I had not had before because I was born spiritually blind. Just as the man would say later in this chapter, all he knew was that he was born blind but now he sees, so it is with us who are saved. This new sight makes all of the difference. It is not as a result of anything we did or do, but 100% a result of what God has done for us. It is the blood of Jesus that washes away our sins and makes us right. “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18, ESV)

Now, as one saved by the Light of the world, I have become a vessel of the Light. “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” (2 Corinthians 4:6–7, ESV) I am not the light, but the Light dwells in me and I trust in Him. His Word has become a lamp to my feet and a light to my path (Psalm 119:105).

Just as the man moved forward from that moment when he was given sight for the first time, so are we to live in the light of the life which we are given in Christ. The apostle Paul wrote about the work that Christ does to shine light in believers’ lives and to then how we are to live as children of Light. “Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of Light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”” (Ephesians 5:7–14, ESV)

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Working in the Light (John 9:4-5)

“We must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (John 9:4–5, ESV) (Caps added to pronouns in ESV referring to God the Father, Son, and Spirit)

Jesus was inclusive in the purpose of the Father. Just as He was sent by the Father to accomplish His purposes in the Son which primarily meant the redemption of man, so did Jesus’ disciples to whom He was speaking have purpose as well. This was not a general statement of purpose for all of mankind, but was one made directly to His disciples. These disciples were with Jesus in His ministry and each of them had a role even in their lack of full understanding. God is the One who set their course and who directed their steps. But from their perspective they were disciples of Christ and submissive to His leadership in their lives, but Jesus was about doing the will of the Father resulting in His leading of the disciples being fully in concert with the objectives of God.

As I thought about this relationship between the Son and the Father in accomplishing the will of God I thought about a passage in 1 Corinthians 12, where the fullness of the Trinity is shown in the lives of believers and the church doing this same thing. Even there when Jesus is no longer physically present we find that He is active as the head of His church and the Lord of all believers. We read, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (1 Corinthians 12:4–7, ESV)

Here we see that just as Jesus had come to do the will of the Father, the ascended Jesus continues to direct us in ministry. It may not be in a visibly present sense as it was with His disciples, but we have the assurance of God’s Word that this is what He continues to do. Verse 5 tells us that we each serve in varieties of ways but that all of our service is under the lordship of the One Christ. There is no other head given to this role. From beginning to end Jesus has been the One in the Trinity to bring about that which the Father intends. Scripture tells us that everything that was created was created by Him.

“For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. And He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything He might be preeminent.” (Colossians 1:16–18, ESV)

We also read in 1 Corinthians that the Holy Spirit is intimately involved. Knowing the needs of each believer in relation to his or her service, the Spirit supernaturally enables (gifts) every believer. Working in complete harmony with each other, the Son and the Spirit enable believers to accomplish the Father’s intended outcomes (effects). This is done by our God who works these things in all believers.

Jesus also said that these works were to be done “while it is day.” There was a season to this work. There was a window when the Light of the world would be physically present in the world, and that window would not be open very much longer. When Jesus ascended back to the Father He would not return again until He came to take His church. John’s gospel began with these words, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:1–5, ESV) As Jesus was preparing to give sight to a man blind from birth He was also going to speak about His coming to give life through opening the eyes of men to see the light which was Him.  God incarnate who is Light became man and as the God-man He was the Light of the world which was lost in the darkness of sin. With these words Jesus laid claim to the source of spiritual light.

While we know that His time as man was limited in duration we also know from Scripture that His existence is and always has been eternal. With His returning to the Father He no longer has a direct physical presence here, but we also know that His light did not cease or become dim. Rather, He continues to illumine hearts so that people might believe and provide light for them to live accordingly. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Victim or Victor? (John 9:1-3)

“As He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:1–3, ESV) (Caps added to pronouns in ESV referring to God the Father, Son, and Spirit)

I know I am not alone in hearing, thinking, and even verbalizing phrases such as, “What did I (or someone else we know) do to deserve this?”  Or, possibly feeling that nothing warrenting a particular response occurring, we’ve said “That’s not fair.” There is this tendency to think that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad ones. “You get what you deserve.” But this presupposition is regularly challenged when “bad” people get away with stuff and “good” people suffer. The reality of life is that there is no clear line which can be drawn pointing to any of these things being universally true. There is something in this kind of preferential logic that breaks down in reality.

Maybe the answer is found in a breakdown in control as suggested by Rabbi Harold Kushner in his bestselling book, “When bad Things Happen to Good People.” Assuming that people are good, some try to resolve the issue of negative circumstances occurring in people’s lives by saying that there are things outside of God’s control. Either God is disinterested, unable, or unwilling to step in and make a difference or alter the outcomes. Bad things happen to good people because God can’t or won’t stop it (for whatever reason). This is a common belief, but it is also one that is wrong in a number of key areas.

It is wrong in that it infers that God is limited. The Bible clearly shouts about our boundless God who is fully able to do all that He intends and will bring all of these things to completion. He is without limit in His strength, knowledge, wisdom, love, presence, and so much more. He is infinite in all that He is. This means that He is without limit and without beginning and end. He can never become exhausted, distracted, or depleted. He always has been and always will be fully and infinitely God. This is true of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

God is not disinterested. The Bible declares His love for man from beginning to end. He created man, and when man rebelled He did not abandon Him. He sent His Only Son to become man and suffer for man’s sake so that man’s sins might be forgiven and his relationship restored with God. No, God is not disinterested. He is intensely interested. Passages such as Psalm 139 speak of how He encloses us before and behind, how He knows our every thought and every word on our tongue before they are ever formed. He knows all of the days of our lives in their most intimate detail before there was ever one day of lives. God is very much interested and involved.

The issue of bad things happening to people is not a failure or weakness of God. But rather, it is a result of man’s rebellion. Man was created without sin, in a full and eternal relationship with God, and was placed in a creation that was very good. Man was given one thing not to do, and he did that thing. He ate from the tree and sinned. As a result of that sin he became spiritually darkened and separated from God. He was put out of the garden. His work became arduous with weeds and pain becoming a part of the new normal course of life. The world was subsequently changed because of man’s great sin. All of creation was affected by man’s sin. No longer was man “good,” but man was judged guilty of sin and deserving of separation. But God did not leave man this way. He continued to make Himself known to man leading to this right time when He even provided His promised Redeemer.

The reality is that we live in a world affected by the sin of man and these effects happen regardless of whether people know God or not. When a person trusts Jesus for salvation God does not immediately remove him or her from all of this, but He keeps us here and He sustains us as He does His work in and through us including even leading others to Himself.

So, back to the disciples’ question, “Who sinned?” Jesus said that the man’s blindness was not as a result of specific sin. He responded to them saying, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” Jesus did not deny any sin at all in the man’s or his parents’ lives, but He said that his blindness was not a result of specific sin. Rather, Jesus pointed to a greater cause which was that through what Jesus was about to do that the works of God might be clearly shown in him. Specifically for this man, we will go on to read that Jesus gave him physical sight for the first time in his life. As a result many would again marvel at His works. But as we also will continue to read, there were those who continued in antagonistic disbelief.

There are many things in our lives that we simply don’t know why they happen or don’t happen. Some things just don’t make a lot of sense from our side of things. But our side of things is very limited. We don’t have eternity and full knowledge as our framework. What many people have is what they see and what they have seen from experience, and if this is all they have then there really is no great reason for hope. But for those of us who know God and who have placed our trust in Him, being saved by faith in His Son, we have the confidence of knowing that God is good and He is firmly in control. We don’t have to have all of the answers, what we have is proven faith. We have a faith that is not empty well-wishing, but firmly placed in our unlimited and faithful God.

Jesus said in Matthew 5:45, “For He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matthew 5:44–45, ESV) In the last blog I quoted John 16:33 which Jesus spoke to His disciples on the night He was betrayed. I’m going to back up a verse and re-quote the verse adding verse 32 reflecting the soon response of the disciples upon His arrest and pending crucifixion. “Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave Me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with Me. I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:32–33, ESV) We live in a world where evil is prevalent and man apart from God is a slave to sin. Even as believers who have been set free from this slavery we still struggle in various ways, we experience the good and the bad, the rain and the drought. We are subject to the same economies, diseases, and things that non-believers are, and we live among all of these other people who affect us in many, many ways. There is no immunity from this. The answer is not found in avoiding them, but in leaning on our faithful God to bring us through them.

“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2–4, NASB95)

Looking at the whole picture we might ask, “Who did something wrong, the Christ or the Father, that He should be hung on a cross?” The answer is neither. Jesus went to the cross so that the works of the Father might be displayed in Him. As we live, trusting Him, He continues to prove Himself in us.

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?” … “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” (Romans 8:35, 37, ESV)