Friday, December 30, 2011


My wife told me yesterday that she heard a woman teaching on a local Christian radio station. The woman said God had never imposed his will on the will of any person. She is dead wrong. She did not cite any scripture for this, of course, because there is none.
I do not know why Evangelicals, especially Southern Baptists, have come to worship at the altar of free will instead of bowing to God’s sovereignty. They believe man imposes his will on God.

Has God ever violated or overruled a person’s will? Sure. Here are some examples.

1. Pharaoh in Exodus.

The easiest example to analyze is Pharaoh.

God told Pharaoh through Moses to let the Jews go. Pharaoh said no. Pharaoh’s will was that the Jews remain in Egypt in slavery to boost his economy. God sent plague after to plague, including killing his first born son, to break him down and force him to let the Jews go. That certainly qualifies as violating his will. More accurately, God imposed his will on Pharaoh.

Then Pharaoh decided he wanted the Jews back. He sent his army to get them and bring them back. God swallowed them up in a flood. That imposed God’s will on a man’s will.

God even said he hardened Pharaoh’s heart so God could gain glory from him. How did God gain glory? By imposing his will on Pharaoh and showing he is God and Pharaoh is not.

2. Nebuchadnezzar.

Nebuchadnezzar wished to be gloried as the lord of all the earth. Daniel 4 tells the story. He said he built Babylon by his mighty power for the glory of his majesty. The Lord took his kingdom from him, making him act as a beast. Why? So that he would “know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will” (Daniel 4:32. He imposed his will on Nebuchadnezzar to make him acknowledge God’s ability and right to impose his will on him. This right is called God’s sovereignty. Nebuchadnezzar acknowledged it, saying “he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him “what have you done?” (Daniel 4:34-35)

3. Jonah

God told Jonah to go preach the gospel to Nineveh. Jonah said no. Jonah ran in the opposite direction. God sent a storm, had him thrown into the sea and swallowed by a fish (symbolic of death) and only let him out when Jonah acknowledged the Lord. I’d call that God imposing his will on Jonah.

4. Zechariah.

When Zechariah questioned the message of Gabriel, he struck him speechless for nine months. (Luke 1)

5. Jewish Crowd

A crowd tried to grab Jesus and make him king. He vanished to thwart them. He imposed his will to be a servant on their will to make him king.

Another crowd willed to kill Jesus, but he imposed his will to complete his earthly ministry by vanishing from them. (John 8:34-47)

6. Peter

Peter willed that Jesus would not be crucified. Jesus rebuked him and continued to exert his will to die for us. (Matthew 16) Thank you for that, Jesus.

7. Me

God imposed his will on me. He convicted me of my sin and the judgment to come. He drew me to him for salvation. My will was to live for self. His will was for me to live for him. He won. Thank you for that, Jesus.

The Bible tells us the will of men and women is corrupt. (Jer. 17:9) I know it to be true of me. I want many things and would pursue them with reckless abandon if my will prevailed. I want God to violate my will and conform it to his will so it will be pleasing to him.

Thank you for that, too, Lord Jesus.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Lord that made both heaven and earth,
And was himself made man,
Lay in the womb, before his birth,
Contracted to a span.

Behold, from what beginnings small
Our great salvation rose;
The strength of God is owned by all;
But who his weakness knows?

Let not the strong the weak despise;
Their faith, though small, is true;
Though low they seem in others’ eyes,
Their Saviour seemed so too.

Nor meanly of the tempted think;
For O what tongue can tell
How low the Lord of life must sink,
Before he vanquished hell?

As in the days of flesh he grew
In wisdom, stature, grace,
So in the soul that’s born anew,
He keeps a gradual pace.

No less almighty at his birth,
Than on his throne supreme;
His shoulders held up heaven and earth,
When Mary held up him.

hymn by Joseph Hart (1712-68),

Monday, December 26, 2011

Let’s Stop Ignoring Joseph Russell Moore fleshes out the character of Joseph. He rightly maintains that Joseph is too often ignored in the Christmas story.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Devotion 25. Anna’s Testimony

The final witness to the baby Jesus as Christ came from an old widow named Anna. She was 84, very old for her time. She was a prophetess, declaring God’s word. They may have been in part because “she did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. Rather than bemoaning her fate as a long time widow, she spent her time with the Lord. She worshipped, fasted and prayed continuously. Her life was totally and completely devoted to God. In return, he sometimes spoke through her. So she was known and accepted as a prophetess.

The Lord used her as another witness to the birth of the Messiah, the Savior. He revealed to her, as he had to Simeon, that Jesus was the Messiah. He did this while Jesus was dedicated at the temple. Others were there dedicating their children, praying, worshipping and making sacrifices. She witnessed to all of these that Jesus was the Messiah.

Luke put it this way: “And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.” (Luke 2:38).

The Father did not send Jesus to us for us to keep him to ourselves. Once we have received him, we are to share him with others. That is why it is called news. You tell news. You spread news.

Jesus spread the news. He preached the gospel to devout Jews in Judea. He preached to the Samaritans, hated by Jews but loved by God. He preached to Gentiles, called “dogs” by the Jews, but “children of God” by Jesus when they believed. When he went back to heaven, Jesus commissioned the disciples to carry on the task. That has now been passed on to us.

Christmas can be the time you spend a lot of money, go to a lot of parties and generally eat and drink too much. Or, it can be a time you share the gospel. You can proclaim Christ as Anna did to whoever will listen.

Speak of him to all.

God bless. I pray these devotions have been of some benefit to all who have read them. They have been good for me.
Devotion 24. Simeon’s Testimony

The Holy Spirit was active in proclaiming the birth of Christ. He spoke though Mary, Elizabeth and Zechariah to announce Messiah’s birth. He led wise men from the East to Christ.

But he was not through. Next he spoke through an old man named Simeon.

Luke 2:22 begins the story. Joseph and Mary were devout Jews. They brought their first born to the temple for purification and to redeem him for the Lord according to the covenant law. That is where they met Simeon.

Simeon was righteous and devout. He knew his Scripture and was looking for the Messiah. The Holy Spirit had even told him he would live to see the Messiah (25). And God kept his word, of course. So Simeon saw the baby Jesus, took him from his mother and held him up and blessed God for fulfilling his promises, both his promise to Simeon and his promise to Israel.

As the others had spoken in the Holy Spirit, so Simeon began to prophesy or preach. He said:

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”

The Holy Spirit declared God’s purpose again. Christ would be a light not just for the Jews, but for the Gentiles. He would be the glory of Israel. That is, he would be the fulfillment of all of God’s promises to them. It is the same truth we have heard repeatedly. God made his purposes known.

I wonder if Mary told her other sons about this experience. They evidently did not believe in him until his resurrection. But, maybe while they complained to her about his controversial preaching, she related this story.

James became the leader of the church in Jerusalem. After the gospel spread to the Gentiles and they formed a vibrant church at Antioch, some Jews tried to enforce the law on them. A conference was held in Jerusalem between the representatives of the Antioch church and the apostles. It is recorded in Acts 15. James was clearly in charge.

James had the final word. He said the conversion of the Gentiles was the fulfillment of the word of God in the Hebrew scriptures. And they, and the Jews, were now part of a new covenant. The old law was not in force against them. James understood the purpose of God as preached in the Old Testament and by Mary, Elizabeth, Zechariah and Simeon.

Simeon understood the gospel and believed it. He encountered Christ, even as a baby, and found eternal life. He was at peace and ready for God to take him.

May we have the same peace. We have found eternal life through faith in Christ. Those who believe in him will not perish but rather will have eternal life. John 3:16. Because we have eternal life, we can start every day saying if it is your will to take me today, I will depart in peace for I have seen your salvation.
Devotion 23. The 1st Gentile Worshippers

In previous devotions, we saw that God’s intention was always to spread his glory over all the earth. It was not his intention to limit the knowledge of himself to Israel. God told both Adam and Noah to multiply over the earth and take dominion of it. He told Abraham he would bless all nations. He set Israel in a special land to be a kingdom that would be the light of the world. Through Isaiah he said “…the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together…” (Isaiah 40:5).

When the Savior was born into the world, God demonstrated his purpose dramatically. He reached out to wise men living in the eastern world and drew them to Jesus. They may have been philosophers or astrologers living in Persia. Some think them to have been Medes in the Persian Empire. Regardless, God drew them to himself. Matthew told the story in chapter 3 of his gospel. They saw a star. Somehow they knew that following it would lead them to the king of the Jews. I have often thought that they might have had Daniel’s prophecy from the time he lived in exile in Babylon. The Persians conquered the Babylonians and allowed the Jews to come home. Daniel 9 informs us that Daniel continued to serve in the Persian Empire. Its king was Darius, who was actually a Mede.

Somehow the wise men also knew he was more than an earthly king, for they came to worship him (Matthew 2:2). They were looking for a sign this great king had come. They saw the star as that sign. They went to worship, driven by the Lord. It reminds me of Jesus’ words in John 6:44: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” The Father certainly drew the wise men to him. And they were Gentiles.

So from the beginning of Jesus’ earthly life, God worked to manifest him to Gentiles. These wise men were missionaries of a sort. They saw the Son of God. They worshipped him. They returned to their land and told their story. It was all as God intended and all according to his purpose.

Most of you who read this devotion are Gentiles. God drew you to himself. He brought you into his kingdom. These wise men were the first fruits of the Gentile branches grafted into the tree of God’s kingdom (Romans 11:17). Now there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile (Romans 10:12). What is important now is not race, but belief. The distinction is between those who believe in Christ and those who do not, for the Lord bestows his riches on all who call on him. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:12-13).

And of course we see the intended result is worship. God called these Gentiles from far away to come and worship Christ. And they did.

When you worship on Christmas Day (fittingly on the Lord’s Day this year), rejoice that God did not limit salvation to the Jews. Praise him for this great mercy. He chose to spread his knowledge over the earth by including Gentiles in his salvation. When you sit in the pew and hear the gospel, worship the Lord of salvation and realize you were as far away from Christ as the wise men until God drew you to himself and bestowed his grace upon you so that you became a child of God.

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us,,that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” (1 John 3:1).

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Devotion 22. Immanuel

After he related the story of Gabriel giving Mary God’s message concerning her baby, Matthew inspired by the Holy Spirit, explained that “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

23d“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,

and they shall call his name Immanuel”

(which means, God with us). (Matthew 1:21-22)

Matthew referred to Isaiah’s prophesy in Isaiah 7:14. The context of that passage was the reign of King Ahaz recorded in 2 Kings. Ahaz was a king of Judah and not a good one. Samaria (the northern kingdom of Israel) and Syria had joined forces to conquer Judah. God sent Isaiah a message through Isaiah, the prophet, to say that they would not succeed. In fact, a young woman would conceive and bear a child and before the child got old enough to eat on his own, Judah would defeat these enemies.

The passage goes on to describe a time of peace and favor of the Lord that would occur thereafter. Matthew said that prophecy had its ultimate fulfillment in the birth of Christ. Matthew, writing in Greek, used the word for “virgin”, whereas Isaiah, writing in Hebrew, used the word for young woman of marriage age. As a side note, this caused some to reject the Revised Standard Version and others which interpreted the Isaiah passage as young woman rather than virgin. I think this unnecessary, as we would not have known the ultimate fulfillment of the verse until the Holy Spirit explained it to us in Matthew’s gospel. At any rate, Matthew says the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy comes in the birth of Christ.

The heart of this word is that Christ is referred to as Emanuel. Matthew explains it means God with us. To the people of the time of Ahaz, it would have told them that the God whose presence filled the temple would be among them and protect them. But with the birth of Christ a greater meaning came to the name just as a greater fulfillment came to the prophecy.

Christ truly became God with us. First, he took on human flesh and dwelt with the disciples. John explained that in John 1:14. He said “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us”. But then, he departed and the Holy Spirit came and dwelt in believers, permanently being among us.

It has always been God’s purpose and design to create a people for himself and to dwell among them. He made Adam and Eve and prepared a place for them to live in his presence (Genesis 2:8). He even walked in the garden (Genesis 3:8).

After redeeming Israel from slavery in creating them as a people for himself, God prepared a place for them and dwelt in their midst. First he dwelt in the Tabernacle. Next we dwelt in the Temple.

Christ then came and dwelt with his people, the disciples. Then the Holy Spirit dwelt among the believers. No buildings were necessary. But in the new creation, God will dwell in our midst forever. John put it this way: “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.” (Revelation 21:3).

Christmas celebrates God with us. We think of the Incarnation. But we look forward to his 2nd Coming to dwell with us forever.

I’m ready.
Devotion 21. Shepherds Worship Jesus

The shepherds had quite a night. First, angels appeared and announced the birth of Jesus the Messiah. Then they went and saw him first hand. As would fit his ministry, Jesus manifested himself first to the poorest of the poor.

And how did the shepherds respond to their encounter with Christ? They worshipped. Luke 2:20 (ESV) says “And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.”

Any encounter with Christ should produce worship. I am mindful of this when t here is a fair amount of drama happening at my church. There is so much concern over the schedule and the style of music, the dress and the order of the service. In the middle of these concerns, worship gets lost to our loss.

I am mindful of this at Christmas. In the midst of shopping, decorating, partying and the dreadful traffic, worship gets lost. The secular aspects of the holiday overshadow worship.

In fact, I am mindful of this in daily life. Commuting, working, errand running and exercising are all fillers of the day. When I concentrate on them, worship is lost.

If you do not worship wholeheartedly and continuously, your life will be dry and stressful. You will obsess over small things and ignore big things.

God wants you to worship him. In fact, he demands it. Isaiah 66:23 records the word of the Lord: “From new moon to new moon, and from Sabbath to Sabbath,
all flesh shall come to worship before me, declares the Lord.” From new moon to new moon means all month long. From Sabbath to Sabbath means all week long, not just on the day set aside for worship. Believers are to be fully engaged in worship full time. That is pleasing to the Lord.

We often read the Lord’s words “you shall worship me” by going on to concentrate on the condemnation of idol worship. But the first command is to worship him. Hebrews 12:21 says “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe”. The response to salvation is gratitude and worship.

When all is made new and God dwells among us in the New Earth, what will we do? John’s vision of heaven gives us a clue. He wrote in Revelation 4:10:

the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying,
“Worthy are you, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they existed and were created.”

They worship in heaven. They worship in the presence of God.

We have God living in us and among us. We need to worship him as they did: continually.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Devotion 20. Angels Preach to the Shepherds.

Luke tells us in Luke 2: 8-14:

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

Kings do not come to town unannounced. They send heralds before them to announce their appearance so people will be ready for them. It was the same with Jesus Christ. But in his case, his heralds were angels. They came to announce the good news that Jesus was born in the City of David. I do not know why, but God chose to herald the coming of Christ to some shepherds. These guys were camped out with their flock of sheep in the fields when the angels appeared. The angels told them the Messiah, the Christ, had been born. They told them where he would be and what he looked like so they would know when they found him.
There was important news in this announcement. The long awaited Messiah had appeared. From the beginning, when Adam and Eve heard the curse on the serpent, God’s people awaited the one who would defeat Satan. They awaited the seed of Abraham that would bless all nations. They looked for the prophet like Moses. They waited for the one perfect sacrifice. They expected a Suffering Servant that would bear their iniquities and heal their wounds with his stripes. Now, the angels announced, this Messiah appeared. The word Messiah is the English translation for the Hebrew word meaning “Annointed”. The word “one” is implied, so “Annointed One” would be a fair translation. In Greek it is Kristos if you use English letters. We transliterate it as Christ.
Jesus would later say the title should be his. Mark 14:60-62 records the following conversation:
And the high priest stood up in the midst and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” But he remained silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.”
The angels’ second piece of news was that this news would be joy for all peoples. God promised Abraham a descendant who would bless all nations. That descendant arrived in Bethlehem announced by angels.
Third, those with whom God was pleased, those whom he called into his kingdom, would find peace with God. Sinful men and women are enemies of God. But Christ would reconcile his followers to the Father (Romans 5:10). Christ is the only one who can bring about this reconciliation in the life of believers. Jesus said “no one comes to the Father except by me” (John 14:6).
What a wonderful event and what a blessing to hear the news first. Yet, thanks to the Bible and the faithful witness of Christ’s disciples throughout the centuries, we join the angels in praise to God for his gracious salvation. The shepherds witnessed this first great praise: “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
That multitude of heavenly beings is now joined by a multitude of believers from all of time and from every country that ever existed glorifying God and preaching the gospel of reconciliation to God: peace to those with whom he is pleased. Revel in the knowledge that the Creator of the Universe is pleased with you if you follow his Son. He takes pleasure in your praise and your obedience. What more could you ask?
Devotion 19. Zechariah’s Testimony

After John (the Baptist) was born, Zechariah was allowed to speak. But the first speech he gave was from the Holy Spirit.

Here is what he said, started at Luke 1:67:
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
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,
as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
that we should be saved from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us;
to show the mercy promised to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant,
the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us
that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
might serve him without fear,
in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
in the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.

The Holy Spirit first directed John to praise the Father. He praised the Father for sending the Son as the Savior. You have a nice little Trinitarian event here.
This praise also comes in the context of covenant. God is praised as the covenant keeping God. He mentioned God’s covenant with Abraham and his covenant with David. He said both covenants were fulfilled in the coming of Christ.

Zechariah also testified that Christ’s coming fulfilled the words of the prophets of old. All of the prophets testified to a future redemption and deliverance of God’s people. Christ fulfilled that by bringing salvation and drawing men and women into it. He made people all over the earth “his people” by transferring them from the kingdom of darkness to his kingdom of light.

John would be the prophet of this salvation. The Holy Spirit made clear through Zechariah that this salvation would not be a military triumph, throwing off Roman rule. It would be forgiveness of sins.

He also told us what this forgiveness and salvation was for. It was not just a get out of hell free card. It was not to recite magic words that get us into heaven when we die. No, we are subjects of a king. We can be subjects to sin and the devil. Or we can be subjects of Christ. Subjects serve their king and master. (John 8:34; Romans 6:16) Therefore, Zechariah says it means they “might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.”

Modern Evangelism does not often preach this service. The plea is to come and take Jesus into your heart, words not really found in the Bible. What we do is receive him (John 1:12). We receive him as savior, but also as master and king. We become his servants as well as his brothers.

So the plea to repent is not just to feel sorry for your sin. Repent really means to turn around, to do a U-turn and head in the right direction. So, the plea is to turn away from following your selfish desires, from the path of sin, and to turn around and follow the path of righteousness in service to Christ. Jesus said “if any one would serve me he must follow me” (John 12:26). That sounds easy until you consider the context. He was talking about his death. He meant to serve him was to follow him to death, to despise this life lived for yourself and to embrace the life devoted to serving Christ, even if it meant dying for him.

Christmas would be a great time to start following Christ.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The third generation of Kim now assumes the throne in North Korea. It just goes to show, under all the rhetoric and uniforms, their government is really a monarchy handing down the throne through generations. Cuba is the same. Castro handed off the throne to his brother.

All the talk of sharing the wealth just ends up in poverty for the masses, a decadent king and a strong army to shoot down anyone in the country who dares to point that out.

It is a pity for the North Korean people, who live in poverty and starvation while their brothers in the South prosper.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Devotion 18: Mary Confessed: God Kept His Promise.
After hearing Elizabeth’s Holy Spirit inspired praise, Mary erupted into praise to God. Talk about a praise service, these two women, one young and one old, celebrated the goodness and faithfulness of the Lord together.
Mary’s praise is sometimes called “The Song of Mary”, but is also known as the Magnificat. I like to call it “Mary’s Song of Praise”. I want to focus on the last sentence:
He has helped his servant Israel
In remembrance of his mercy
As he spoke to our fathers
To Abraham and to his offspring forever.
Mary was quite the little theologian. Upon hearing the angel tell her she would bear the Messiah and hearing Elizabeth confess him as her Lord, Mary thought of the promise that God would again have mercy on Israel.
Psalm 98:3 says “He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel”. Several times God judged Israel with defeat to their enemies. Then he would restore them when they repented.
God ultimately sent Israel and Judah into captivity. The last remnant was carried off to Babylon and the city destroyed. The king was put in prison. Many were executed. Then, in the time of Daniel, Babylon fell to Persia and Cyrus sent the Jews home. They worked to rebuild their city and God’s house. It never reclaimed its former glory, however. No Israelite king took the throne again. Israel existed, but under the rule of foreigners. The Persians, the Greeks and the Romans and their designees all ruled Israel. When the temple was restored, the king was not actually Jewish at all and certainly not Davidic. The Jews longed for the Messiah to return their kingdom. They longed for God’s favor.
The prophet Micah prophesied the returned favor of the Lord. Micah 7:20 says:
You will show faithfulness to Jacob
and steadfast love to Abraham,
as you have sworn to our fathers
from the days of old.
The Lord expressed favor by sending his son. The Son did not come that first time to establish an earthly kingdom in the sense that Israel would again be a world power and throw off the rule of the Romans. Instead his kingdom would be his rule in the hearts of those who believed in him. He preached that the kingdom was at hand and that it was within them. When he comes the 2nd time, he will establish his kingdom and rule on the new earth. But the favor of the Lord still came in the form of salvation.
Mary’s mind also went back to Abraham. God made a promise to Abraham thousands of years before. God told Abraham “in you all the families on earth shall be blessed. (Genesis 12:4). Mary realized the time had come. This Messiah, this savior, would not restrict salvation to Jerusalem or Judea. His mission was much greater. He would extend God’s expression of favor, his salvation, over the whole face of the earth. God said:
It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob
and to bring back the preserved of Israel;
I will make you as a light for the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth. (Isaiah 49:6)
Christ would do what Adam failed to do. He would do what Israel failed to do. He would fulfill the promise to Abraham blessing all the families of earth.
God always keeps his promise.
And salvation is the greatest promise of all.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Devotion 17 Elizabeth Speaks by the Holy Spirit.

Luke 1:39-45 tells the story of Mary going to visit Elizabeth right after she heard the news from the angel. That news included the fact that her relative Elizabeth, though an old woman, had also conceived a special son and was already in her sixth month.

There is a bit of irony here. Zechariah asked for a sign and was punished with muteness because he did not believe and asked for a sign. Mary did not ask for a sign but was given one in the form of a barren relative who miraculously conceived in old age.

So Mary took off quickly to see Elizabeth (Lk. 1:39). When she arrived, the baby John, already filled with the Holy Spirit (1:15), leaped in Elizabeth’s womb to be in the presence of the newly conceived Messiah. Even as a baby in the womb he was thrilled by the presence of Jesus.

Then a most unusual thing happened. God sent another word about his son, the Messiah. The Holy Spirit came upon Elizabeth and this old, pregnant, woman began to prophesy! She was loud about it, too. She “exclaimed with a loud cry” (1:42).

The Holy Spirit always points to Christ (John 15:26). He did so here. Being God, he sovereignly chose through whom he would speak. The mother of John the Baptist testified through the Spirit to the mother of Christ, as her son would later testify to Mary’s son. What a beautiful and intricate package. God kept his word, testified to his word and blessed those who believed his word.

Here is what Elizabeth said: blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me. For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken of her from the Lord. (Lk. 1:42-45)

“Blessed” means to be in the favor of the Lord. Elizabeth declared through the Spirit that Mary was favored of the Lord. This word of the Lord spoken by Elizabeth repeated the word of the Lord spoken by the angel to Mary: she had found favor with the Lord (Lk. 1:30).

Elizabeth went on to say that the baby Jesus also was blessed. He also had the favor of the Lord. John the Baptist would later testify to the outward manifestation of this favored status at the baptism of Jesus. Matthew recorded. A voice came from heaven and said “this is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased”. (Matthew 3:17)

Lastly, Elizabeth said Mary had the favor of the Lord because she believed the Lord would fulfill what was spoken of her from the Lord (Lk. 1:45). In contrast to the doubt of Zechariah, Elizabeth’s own husband, she declared the Lord’s favor on Mary for her belief.

All who believe the word of the Lord about Christ Jesus find his favor. All who do not believe find his wrath.

Believe and be blessed.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Devotion 16. Mary v. Zechariah

Luke tells us the story of two miraculous births preceded by angelic announcements. It also tells us of two different reactions to the news.

The parents of John the Baptist were Zechariah and Elizabeth. They were old and childless. Zechariah was a priest. To be childless in that time was a humiliation. It was even taken as a sign of God’s disfavor. Many stories in the Bible revolve around God blessing a barren woman with a child.

Before John was conceived, an angel appeared to Zechariah to give him the news and prepare him for the great ministry the Lord had prepared for John. Zechariah was at work in the Temple, burning incense of the altar of incense. This altar sat before the ark of the covenant. It was made of acacia wood. It was square and had horns on the corners that were of one piece with it. It was overlaid with pure gold. Special incense was made to burn on it. It could not be used for anything else. The smoke from the incense represented the prayers of the priests and the people going up to God. In fact, Luke notes that a multitude of people were outside praying while Zechariah burned the incense (1:10).

The angel appeared next to the altar of incense. I think he did that to convey to Zechariah that he had come to deliver the message that God had granted Zechariah’s prayer for a child. The angel then told Zechariah he would have a child. His prayers had been answered (1:13). And what a child he would be! Many would rejoice at this birth (14), he would be great before the Lord and he would be filled with the Holy Spirit from the moment of conception (15). He would be a prophet like the great Elijah and prepare the people for the coming of the Messiah (16-17). This would all result in tremendous joy and gladness for Zechariah and Elizabeth (14).

Imagine being told by an angel that you would have a child when it appeared impossible. Not only that, imagine your child would be a great man for the Lord. He would be another Billy Graham or R. C. Sproul or Jonathan Edwards. Of course that would bring you great joy! You would jump and shout and high five your spouse and dance around together. You would call your friends and share the good news.

But not Zechariah: he doubted. Remember he is in the Temple holy place in the presence of a glorious angel. He said “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” (18).He asked for a sign that the angel was telling him the truth. I would like to think if an angel came and told me something I would believe it. I would not ask for a sign. And of course, the sign was the coming of the angel to tell him at the altar of incense.

This angel was Gabriel. He was not pleased that Zechariah would doubt him or doubt the Lord. He responded: “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” (1:19-20).

Because of Zechariah’s unbelief, his mouth was shut until the baby was born.

Now compare his reaction to Mary’s.

The same Gabriel appeared to Mary and told her that she would have a baby who would be the Messiah. (26-33) Mary also had a question, but she did not ask for a sign or express doubt. Luke 1:34 says “And Mary said to the angel, ‘How will this be, since I am a virgin?’”. Mary did not doubt the word of the Lord spoken by Gabriel. She just did not understand how it would happen, since she was a virgin and knew she should not have sex with her husband until their wedding. So, Gabriel explained to her that the Holy Spirit would place the child in her. He did not condemn her question. He graciously answered it. He did not reprimand her, for she did not doubt. In fact, upon receiving this supernatural explanation, she simply submitted to the Lord’s will. She said “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” In effect she said, I am the Lord’s servant, he can do with me as he will.

The contrast is startling. Zechariah was old. He should have been wise and mature. In fact, the passage says he and his wife were righteous. In addition, Zechariah was a priest. He was honored to be chosen by the other priests to serve in the holy place and minister the altar of incense. But at the crucial moment, he doubted.

Ironically, he had prayed for a child. By doing so he expressed his belief that God would hear his prayer and had the power to grant it. Yet when God said he would answer his prayer, he did not believe. All of us have done similarly. We have prayed for something, but expressed surprise when God made it happen as we asked. Worse yet, we have taken credit for it and not given God thanks and praise for accomplishing it.

Mary on the other hand was young. Many think she was around 14. That was marriageable age for a virgin Jewess of the time. She was a Godly young woman who heard the word of the Lord, believed it and affirmed her submission to the will of the Lord.

Not many of us will have an angel come with the answer to our prayers. Only a few in the Bible had the experience. But we will experience answers to prayer. In response, we need to be careful to give God the glory and thank him for his gracious providence.

Not many of us will receive any word from the Lord given by the mouth of an angel. But all of us have the Word of the Lord in printed form. You do not have to pray for God to speak to you. Every time you open your Bible and read any word of it, God has spoken. When you read it, you may respond like Zechariah or Mary. You may doubt and even ask for signs that it is true. This does not please the Lord.

Or you may read it, no matter how fantastic it seems to you, and say “I am your servant. Let it be to me as you have said”.

A recent survey shows that 52% of Americans do not think the President should be re-elected. That sounds devastating on the surface, but in fact you should note that you do not have to win the popular vote by a majority to win the election. Because the election is not a popular vote election, the number of votes by state in the electoral college controls who wins. For example, here are the percentages for the last several elections.

1992 Bill Clinton 43.01%
1996 Bill Clinton 49.23%
2000 George W. Bush 47.87%
2004 George W. Bush 50.73%
2008 Barack Obama 52.87%

Bill Clinton never got a majority of the popular vote. George W. Bush only got the majority by a fraction in his section election.

So, while the poll numbers are interesting, and no president wants to be a minority president, the poll is not representative of election results.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Devotion 15. Name Him Jesus

God left nothing to chance. He told aspects of this event to his prophets over the centuries. Now that the time had come, he gave specific instructions. The Father sent Gabriel to Mary with His word about her role in his redemptive plan. Gabriel is God’s messenger. He stands in God’s presence and carries his instructions where God sends him. (Luke 1:19 ESV) records this statement from Gabriel to Zechariah: “And the angel answered him, I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news.” (Luke 1:26)

So the Lord sent Gabriel to Mary with a message. The angel said “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son and you shall call his name Jesus.” (Luke 1:31). That is a very specific instruction. Luke did not tell us why God cared what the baby was called.

Or maybe the naming of the child was not the mother’s prerogative, but the father’s. We see in the story of the birth of John the Baptist that the angel told the baby’s father, Zechariah, what to name the baby. When the baby was born, the neighbors asked Zechariah, not Elizabeth, what he had named the baby.

An angel also spoke to Mary’s husband, Joseph. After explaining the divine pregnancy, the angel instructed Joseph “She will bear a son and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21 ESV).

The Savior would be named Jesus. He would bear that name because he would save his people from their sins. We do not know what language the angel spoke to Joseph, but it would seem from history that Hebrew people of that time still gave their children Hebrew names. The New Testament was written in Greek and many people in Palestine spoke common Greek and Aramaic. But the names were Hebrew. For example, Paul had a Hebrew name, but was given a Greek name after conversion.

The Hebrew\Aramaic name translated “Jesus” in Greek is “Yeshua”. That is likely the name he was given. A good indicator is the inscription on the “James Ossuary”, the bone box reputed to hold the bones of Jesus’ earthly brother, James. In may not be the real ossuary of James, but the language on it has been shown to be authentic for the time. The English translation of the inscription is “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus”. The inscription reads “Ya’akov bar Yoseph akhui diYeshua”.

The name Yeshua was not uncommon. In fact, it appears many times in the Old Testament. In English it is commonly translated “Joshua”, although there are other variants. The Greek translates to “Iesous”.

But here is why I look at the Hebrew name. Hebrew names meant something. Yeshua means “the Lord’s salvation” or “salvation from the Lord”. This was yet another way that the Lord signaled to Israel that this was their Messiah, their savior.

I wonder if Mary, upon hearing this command, thought of Isaiah 53. That chapter speaks of the Messiah and his sacrifice for sin. It ways he was wounded for our transgressions (5). The iniquity of us all would be laid on him (6). He would be an offering for guilt(10). He would be the savior.

Peter preached the same message. He said “…there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

Centuries later the Westminster Confession echoed the words of Scripture: “it pleased God, in his eternal purpose, to choose and ordain the Lord Jesus, his only begotten Son, to be the…Savior of his church…” (Chap. 8, Sec. 1).

There is no other name.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Devotion 14. Jesus: Fully God

Although Jesus was fully man, he remained fully God. Here are some reasons we know this.

The angel told Mary her child would be from the Holy Spirit. (Luke 1:35). He would be called the son of the Most High (Luke 1:32).

Long before Jesus was born, Isaiah prophesied concerning him. He said “…his name shall be called…Mighty God…” (Isaiah 9:6).

Many modern theologians and philosophers have tried to maintain that the Bible does not claim Jesus was God and neither did Jesu. But that is not correct.

Jesus said “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30) and “the Father is in me and I am in the Father (John 10:38).

John 1:1 says “the Word (Jesus) was God”. That is pretty clear.

The Jews understood it and opposed him. For example, John 5:18 tells us the Jews sought to kill him because he was calling God his own Father, making himself equal to God.

When the apostle Thomas saw Jesus resurrected, he declared "My Lord and my God!" (John 20:28). Jesus did not correct him.

Titus 2:13 says we are "looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus."

We also know Jesus is God because he manifests the attributes of God:
1. He knows everything (Mt 16:21; Luke 11:17; John 4:29),
2. He has all power (Mt 8:26, 27; 28:18; Jn 11:38-44; Lk 7:14-15; Revelation 1:8),
3. He has life in himself (Jn 1:4; 14:6; 8:58),
4. He reigns or rules over everything (Mt 28:18; Rev 19:16; 1:5),
5. He is eternal, not beginning or ending (John 1:1; 8:58), and
6. He created in the world, or it was created through him, (John 1:3).

The divinity of Christ has been challenged many times. It was an issue all the way back in the 400s. The Council of Chalcedon considered the issue and upheld his divinity. The statement of the council says:

"Therefore, following the holy fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin; as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten, for us men and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, the God-bearer; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ; even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the creed of the fathers has handed down to us."

Jesus is God who became a man, born as a baby, who lived a sinless life, died a substitutionary death, rose from the grave and sat down at the right hand of the Father in heaven. He is not just a good teacher or a nice man. To receive eternal life, salvation, you must receive him for who he is. John 1:12 tells us that those who receive him receive the right to become children of God. Receive him as God and King and receive eternal life in God’s family.
I apologize to all to whom I had formerly linked on this blogroll. While messing with the settings, I accidentally deleted the whole thing. Now I will need to recreate it. So, I am not at any of you and did not intentionally de-link you.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Devotion 13. Jesus: Fully Man

The angel Gabriel told Mary she would be pregnant and give birth to a son (Luke 1:31). The Son of God became a man without giving up his divinity. You may have heard the phrase “fully God and fully man” to describe this. Jesus was conceived of the Holy Spirit, but grew as a fully human child in the womb of Mary and was born as any human baby is. Philippians 2:7 said he was made in human likeness (NIV).

The story of his life in the gospels demonstrates his humanity. He got tired, hungry and thirsty. He wept at the loss of his friend Lazarus. He felt pain when he was tortured. He bled. He died physically.

The church has maintained the full humanity of Christ through the ages. John 1:14 says Christ became flesh and dwelt among us. 1 John 4:2 says every spirit that acknowledges Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God. 2 John 7:7 puts it strongly: “Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist.”

Christ’s humanity is important for several reasons. Here are a few. He had to be born under the law and satisfy its requirements so that his righteousness could be credited to us. This is sometimes called his active obedience. Galatians 4:4 says “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, so that we might receive the full rights of sons.” Romans 5:18-19 says “Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.” What the first Adam did, the Second Adam “undid”.

By taking on humanity, Jesus was perfected as our Savior and Mediator. Hebrews 2:17 says he had to be made like us in all ways so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest and to make propitiation for sins. Hebrews 4:15 says “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin.”

Every pain you feel, Jesus felt. His father died when he was young. His brothers rejected him and thought he was crazy until he appeared to them after the resurrection. His people, the Jews, largely rejected him. The leaders of his religion persecuted him and eventually assassinated him. He lost a friend to death. He walked until he was exhausted, taught until he was so tired he fell asleep in a boat during a storm. He was criticized. He was doubted. His disciples abandoned him. He suffered excruciating pain. He did all this so he could perfectly sympathize with you.

Have you ever tried to share your pain or anxiety with a person that just has everything going their way? Did they patronize you or brush you off? Did they just not understand because they had never suffered? It is not that way with Jesus. While fully in human flesh, he suffered all that we do.

He did not sin, but he understands the pain.
Devotion 12. Jesus The New Israel.

Jesus is the fulfillment of all of the promises to Israel. He is the goal of Israel’s existence. He is the final destination of faith.

Matthew presented his gospel in a manner that shows Jesus as Israel. He did this to show the promises to Israel were fulfilled in Christ.

I believe Matthew organized his gospel into five sections to show Christ was the fulfillment of the Torah and, therefore, of all the Old Testament scripture. That is too much to analyze here, but it is an interesting study.

Here are some examples of Matthew’s presentation. Matthew begins his gospel saying this is the book of the generations of Jesus Christ. Genesis 2:4 says these are the generations of the heavens and earth when they were created. It repeats that language in reference to Adam in Genesis 5:1.

Matthew gives a detailed genealogy of Jesus, Genesis gives several genealogies of the Israel. Both tell of miraculous births: Isaac and Jesus. Israel and Jesus both go to Egypt for protection. Both are tempted in the wilderness: Israel for 40 years and Jesus for 40 days, in which he quotes scripture for the time of Israel’s wilderness experience.

Matthew 2:15 in particular is interesting. In writing of Jesus going to Egypt to escape Herod, Matthew wrote that this was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet “Out of Egypt I called my son” (ESV) The prophet here is Hosea, who in Hosea 11:1 said “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.” The son in Hosea 11:1 is Israel. Matthew directly says this is a prophecy and Jesus fulfills it.

One last example occurs at the giving of the great commission, the last event recorded by Matthew. Jesus said “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20).

The Hebrew Bible (we have re-arranged the books) ends with the words of 2 Chronicles 36:23: “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, The LORD, the god of heaven has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may the LORD his God be with him. Let him go up.”

Cyrus, under the influence of the Holy Spirit claimed universal authority. Christ did the same. Both told the people of God to go and to build a house for God. The Jews were to go home and build the temple as God’s house. The disciples were to go into the world to build the new temple, the body of Christ.

Matthew began his gospel alluding to the beginning of the Hebrew scripture and ended by alluding to the end of the Hebrew scripture. He was saying Christ is the sum and substance, the fulfillment, of the Old Testament.

Jesus spoke of this principle to two of his disciples after his resurrection. Luke 24:47 says “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” The entire Old Testament and all of its promises are about Jesus and fulfilled in him.

Paul referred to this principle. He said ‘For all the promises of God find their Yes in him.” (2 Corinthians 1:20). Some versions of the Bible say “yes and amen”.

So we again see that God has kept his word in all aspects. Every word of promise is fulfilled in Christ. We also see that there is nothing insufficient in God’s work for us. Christ fulfills it all. When God promised Adam and Eve he would bring a descendant who would defeat Satan, he fulfilled it in Christ. When he promised forgiveness of sin, he fulfilled it in Christ. When he promised to dwell with his people, he fulfilled it in Christ. When he promised to reign over his people, he fulfilled it in Christ.

Now we see why it is so important to believe in Christ and abide in him. There is no other. There is nothing else to wait for. There is only Christ, who is all and in all. He is the goal of history. He is the head of the church. In eternity, he will be the center of our universe.

Christmas is a little reflection of that. Everything centers on Jesus.
Devotion 11. A Ruler From Bethlehem.

Micah 5:2 contains a very specific prophesy about Christ. The context of this verse is a message of hope. This passage likely contains prophesy spoken by Micah during the reign of Hezekiah. Jerusalem was under constant threat and, ultimately, attack from Assyria. Micah condemned much in the worship and lifestyle of Jerusalem. He spoke of its destruction as a result of God’s anger over their sin. But he also spoke a word of hope.

Remember also what prophesy is in the Biblical context. It is a word spoken by God through his prophet.

Look at this specific prophesy.

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,
from ancient days.

This prophesy told Israel that its Messiah would be born in the little town of Bethlehem. We know it was little at that time because it say the town is too little to even be in the clans of Judah. (The designation “Ephrathah” distinguishes it from another town in the north of Israel also called Bethlehem.)

The Jews clearly understood this prophesy as Messianic. After the Magi came seeking “the king of the Jews”, an upset King Herod sent for the chief priests and scribes. He asked them where Christ was to be born (Matthew 2:3-4). He was not a Godly man, but even he knew Christ was promised. He also seemed to understand that Christ would be king of the Jews. He just did not want that to happen. The priests and scribes cited Micah 5:2 and told him Christ would be born in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:5-6). Matthew related the story so as to show Jesus’ birth fulfilled this prophesy.

The reason God had Jesus born in Bethlehem was that it was the birthplace of David. 1 Samuel 16 contains the story of God sending Samuel to Bethlehem to find David and anoint him king. It was one more way God revealed that he kept his covenant with David. It was also one more way God manifested Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah.

Micah went on to tell Israel the Messiah would be the shepherd of all who believed in him. Verse 4 says “And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.” Jesus referred to himself as the good shepherd in John 10. Through faith in Jesus, one could enter the flock and be saved (John 10:9).

Out of Bethlehem came a savior, a king and a shepherd.

Phillips Brooks wrote the well known hymn about Bethlehem in 1868. He went there and was inspired by the view of Bethlehem at night from the hills outside the town. I like these words in the second stanza:

O morning stars, together
Proclaim the holy birth
And praises sing to God, the King,
And peace to men on earth.

That would be a worthy endeavor for us the Christmas. Proclaim Christ.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Devotion 10. Jesus The Branch

Another term for the Messiah in the Old Testament is “the Branch”. Isaiah 11:1-3 says:

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of Counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD.

In earlier chapters Isaiah prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem, Israel and Judah. He always maintained that a remnant will be preserved from destruction. For example, Isaiah 10:20-23 speaks of the destruction of Israel and the preservation of a small remnant. From that remnant, the Messiah will come.

Jesse was David’s father (1 Samuel 16). We have in previous devotions seen the passages in which God promised to bring the future king, the Messiah, through David’s descendants. This is the intent of these passages concerning the Branch.

The judgment to come, the destruction of the northern kingdom by Assyria and the southern kingdom by Babylon, is portrayed as the cutting down of the trees of a great forest. This includes the tree of Jesse’s family. But out of the stump of that tree a new shoot and branch will grow. So God will preserve Jesse and David’s line and bring forth another descendant that is special.

Isaiah said “the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him (11:2). John the Baptist testified “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove and it remained on him”.

Isaiah also said “his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD”. Jesus said “I have come down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me” (John 6:38). He said “I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me” (John 6:28) and “I always do the things that are pleasing to him” (John 6:29).

The Father preserved the line and brought Jesus out of it. He gave his people some idea of what to expect. But Jesus was much than they expected.

Jeremiah also related the words of the LORD concerning the Branch (23:5). He said “Behold, the days are coming declares the LORD when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch and he shall reign as King and deal wisely and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.

This seems to speak of Jesus after all his enemies are defeated and he reigns on the new earth. Jeremiah 33:14 seems to echo this same thoughts. In Zechariah 3:8 the LORD said he would bring his servant the Branch.

Zechariah 6:12 is an interesting verse. It says the Branch will build the temple of the LORD. Jesus alluded to this passage when he said “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19).

Zechariah wrote that the Branch will bear royal honor and shall sit and rule on his throne (6:13). We previously looked at Jesus as king, taking over the throne of David and fulfilling the promise of God. We know he rose to the right hand of the father and reigns there until all enemies are put under his feet.
Drilling For Dollars

If you do not think drilling for natural gas is good for the economy, consider this. One company alone in my city has already paid out over $160 million in royalties this year. It has paid $1.3 billion since 2004. They are running 16 rigs and plan to drill 300 more within the year. They also complete pipelines to channel the gas from the wells.

In addition to the royalties, the company hers employees and contractors to do all this work.

Let them drill.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

2 KINGS 22-23

Josiah was evidently the most Godly king of Israel since David. The writer gives him the highest praise we have seen in the Book of Kings 2 Kings 22:1-2). He says Josiah:
1. did what was right in the eyes of the Lord;
2. walked in all the ways of David; and
3. did not turn aside to the right or left.

Josiah was completely faithful to the Lord, kept the law and led the nation to do so, reformed worship in all Judah and parts of Israel and wiped out idol worship.

He came to the throne when he was only eight years old (2 Kings 22:1). He was not a co-regent since his father had been assassinated (2 Kings 21:23). The writer does not tell us how he was able to reign, but it is likely he had some sort of co-regent during his youth. The story of his reign begins when he had reigned 18 years and was 26 years old (22:3).

We know the spiritual state of Judah was terrible at the time Josiah became king. He father Amon and grand-father Manasseh were two of the worst kings ever. Manasseh was so evil he sealed the fate of Judah for exile. He worshipped many gods and corrupted the worship of the Lord by defiling the temple, building alters and idols even in the Lord’s house.

You cannot account for Josiah’s faith from his family. You can only attribute it to the work of the Holy Spirit through the reading of the Scripture. He may have been aided by the preaching of Jeremiah, although 2 Kings does not mention him in regard to Josiah. Jeremiah 3:6 specifically mentions the Lord’s word to Jeremiah during the reign of Josiah. Zephaniah also prophesied the coming destruction of Jerusalem as the Great Day of the Lord.

Even before Josiah read the Scripture, he set about to serve the Lord. His first task was to repair the temple (2 Kings 22:3-7). The temple had probably been neglected during the reigns of Manasseh and Amon. So Josiah called for the High priest, Hilkiah, to get the money people were charged when they came into the temple and turn it over to workmen for repairs. This is similar to what Jehoash did in chapter 12.

While Hilkiah was taking care of the temple funds, he came across the Book of the Law (22:8-10). Even though he was high priest, he did not know where it was and had not read it. Or he had kept is to himself during the reign of Amon, knowing Amon did not sympathize with it. That is how bad things were. He knew what it was, though, and took it to the kings secretary, Shaphan. Shaphan read it. He realized it was important. The king needed to see it.

So, when Shaphan reported to the king that the temple funds had been turned over to the workmen and Josiah decreed, he also told him Hilkiah had brought him a book. Josiah had him read it.

What happened next demonstrates the power of God’s word. The Holy Spirit, working through the Word of God, brings conviction. Jesus said:

“…it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment…” John 16:7-9.

Hebrews 4:12 says “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit of joints and of marrow and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

This was the experience of Josiah. Picture Josiah sitting on this throne listening. Shaphan began to read the Book of the Law. I think this refers to what we call the book of Deuteronomy. It may have referred to what we know as the first 5 books of the Bible. But if it was Deuteronomy, Josiah listened to the story of Israel refusing God’s command to enter Canaan. He heard how God sent them into the wilderness for a generation as punishment.

But then he heard the terms of the covenant, the law. He heard the command to obey the law. He heard God command them not to worship idols or to make them. He knew as he heard it that his land was full of idols, even the Lord’s own temple. The Holy Spirit convicted him of these sins. He heard the 10 commandments. He heard that the Hebrews were people chosen and loved by God. They were to be holy to the Lord. Then he heard the penalties for disobedience. He knew his kingdom was disobedient to the law.

How did Josiah react? He was greatly distressed. He tore his clothes (2 Kings 22:11). He sent the high priest and others to go and inquire of the Lord for him and for the people concerning the word of the Lord (2 Kings 22:12-13).

Josiah understood the consequences of Israel’s disobedience. He said “for great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us, because our father have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us” (2 Kings 22:13).

It is interesting to me that the high priest could not make inquiry of the Lord. He appears to have been clueless about the Law and incapable of seeking the Lord on his own. Yet he was supposed to be the religious leader of the people.

Instead, Hilkiah and the other men went to a woman who was a prophetess (2 Kings 22:14-20). And, indeed, the Lord gave her a message to give to King Josiah. It was not a very happy word.

Huldah the prophetess related God’s word that indeed the Lord was angry and had determined to bring disaster on Judah as the book of Deuteronomy said. These are the curses for disobedience to the law of the covenant (16-17).

The only good news was that, because Josiah had repented, the Lord would not bring the disaster during his life time.

Despite knowing Judah was ultimately doomed, Josiah continued his obedience to the Lord (23:1-3). He led a great reform in the land. First, he called all the people to Jerusalem. He took them to the temple. He personally read the Book of the Law to them. He made a covenant to obey the Lord and the people joined him.

Josiah followed his commitment with action. He went on a crusade to rid the land of idols (23:4-20). Here is a list of what he did.

1. He took all the items of idol worship out of the temple and burned them.
2. He ran off the priests that made offerings in the high places.
3. He ran off the priests of Baal.
4. He ran off the priests who led worship to the stars.
5. He desecrated pagan worship sites.
6. He destroyed the houses of male cult prostitutes who were in the house of the Lord.
7. He destroyed the high places.
He broke down the altars at the gates of the city.
8. He defiled the site in the Valley of Hinnom where children were burned to Molech.
9. he removed horse idols to the sun god and burned their chariots.
10. He broke down all the extra altars Manasseh and Amon had built.
11. He even found and destroyed high places for pagan worship that Solomon had built. He desecrated their sites with the bones of dead people.
12. He pulled down and burned the golden calf at Bethel and defiled the site as the Lord had said would happen back in 1 Kings 13:2. That prophesy was so specific it named Josiah as the one who would do it, long before he was born.
13. He destroyed shrines all through Samaria and sacrificed the pagan priests on their altars (20). He desecrated the sites with dead bodies.

These actions were required by the law. Deuteronomy 12 commands Israel, upon entering Canaan, to destroy the high places, to tear down the pagan altars, tear down and burn the Asherim and destroy any idols they found.

After destroying idol worship in the land, literally going to war against the Devil, Josiah re-instituted the Passover (22:21-23). The observance of Passover was commanded in Deuteronomy 16. But it had not been observed for years in Judah or Israel. Since Josiah had just read the book, he likely required them to do just as it said. Therefore, the offered sacrifices at the temple in Jerusalem and ate unleavened bread with the meat of the sacrifice for 7 days (Deuteronomy 16:2-3).

Josiah also got rid of the practitioners of occult arts (22:24-25). He put away the mediums and necromancers. All in all he followed God’s law to the letter, not just in form but n spirit. He sought to personally serve God and to lead the nation into the pure and scriptural worship of the Lord.

This did not turn the Lord away from judgment (22:26-27). The Lord had determined to remove Judah from his land, away from his presence, as he removed Israel. Here we see echoes of the judgment on Adam, as he drove him from his presence in Eden.

After all of these reforms, Josiah died young. He was only 39. He went to battle against Egypt when it went to war. The Babylonians had restored their kingdom and revolted from Assyrian rule. They were now the giant power in the east. Babylon would attack Judah and destroy it. Egypt likely was going to aid the weakened Assyria against the new Babylon (23:28-30). Pharaoh Neco marched from Egypt along the Via Maris (Way of the Sea). He was trying to join the Assyrians. Together they would march into Haran to defend against the invasion of the Babylonians. Neco had to cross Judah to get to Haran and Josiah tried to block him at Megiddo.

2 Chronicles 35 tells us Neco tried to warn him off and told him God had sent him to do battle. But Josiah did not back off. He was killed the minute he got there. I think God was ready to move to judgment and took Josiah early.

What made Josiah a great reformer? He heard the word of God and he obeyed it. That is a good word for us. Many Christians have to hunt for their Bibles on Sunday. Christians should be students of the Word. We should read it. We should study it.

But after we read it and study it we should not stop. We should obey it. We should do what it says to do and be what it says to be. We will reform our personal lives and our church lives by doing so. We will affect those around us.

The end of the year is a good time to reflect on this. Read God’s word. Make a list of the qualities that the Bible says should be in a Christian and spend some time examining yourself and praying about it. Make obedience to God your New Year’s Resolution.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Devotion 8. A Promise to David (Part 1)

2 Samuel 7 tells the story of David’s desire to build a temple, or house, for the Lord. David had entered a period of great success. He had peace from his enemies. He built himself a house fit for a king. The Lord did not let David build the Lord’s house. But he did promise He would make David a house (2 Samuel 7:11). In this case, “house” means “dynasty” or “line”. The Lord went on to promise David his line and his throne would be established forever. David may have not understood the full ramifications of this word, but he seemed to comprehend a lot of it. He said “For you, O Lord God, have spoken and with your blessing shall the house of your servant be blessed forever.”

With this further revelation to his people, God narrowed the focus on the coming Messiah. First, They only knew he would be a man born from a woman. Next they knew he would be a physical descendant of Abraham, a Hebrew. Then they were told he would be from the tribe or line of Judah. Now they knew he would come from the house or line of David.

The Israelites understood this word to be prophetic of the Messiah. Isaiah wrote “of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and evermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this” (Isaiah 9:7). Jeremiah 23:5 says “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.”

Ezekiel 34:24 says “And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. I am the Lord; I have spoken.” David was long dead by then, so Ezekiel referred to his descendant, the Messiah. Amos 9:11 says “In that day I will raise up the booth of David that is fallen and repair its breaches, and raise up its ruins and rebuild it as in the days of old…” There are many other passages which demonstrate this knowledge.

Matthew began his gospel, written to Jews, by proving that Jesus was the son of David (Matthew 1:1). He did this because he knew no Jew would read a book about someone claiming to the Messiah unless he knew that person was David’s descendant. Matthew also recorded several events where Jews acknowledged Jesus as the Son of David. Here are a few.

When Jesus healed two blind men, they first approached him and cried out “Have mercy on us, Son of David” (Matthew 9:27).

In Matthew 12:23, Jesus healed a demon possessed man who was blind and mute and “…all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” During the triumphal entry into Jerusalem in Matthew 21:15, the crowds shouted “Hosanna to the Son of David!”

In Matthew 22:42, the children in the temple cried out “Hosanna to the Son of David!”
Finally, the disciples themselves acknowledged it. Jesus said “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” (Matthew 22:42.

Since you are probably not a Jew, the concept of Jesus as the Son of David might not mean much to you. But it is important for a couple of reasons. First, it again shows that God intended to send Jesus when he did and where he did. He did not wake up one day and decide he needed to do something to get things back on track. Second, it shows God kept his word to David through many centuries. Third, it shows that David was a type of Christ. A type is a figure that is not exactly the same but tells us about something about someone or something in the future. David reigned as king over God’s people. Because he largely obeyed God, he brought peace and prosperity to the nation. Jesus now reigns over God’s people, blessing us with all spiritual blessings in the heavenly places as he reigns now from heaven.

That brings us to the next devotion: the office of king.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Devotion 7. Jesus As Priest

We have looked at one of the three offices of Christ so far, that of prophet. Today we will look at the office of priest. For you Latin lovers, these three offices are the Munus Triplex.

The type that foreshadowed Christ’s priestly office occurs in one story with a strange ending. The story is told in Genesis 14. After Lot and Abraham parted ways, Lot moved into Sodom. Sodom and several other city states revolted against Elam. The king of Elam, Chedorlaomer, and his allies, came and fought against the rebel states and defeated them. Chedorlaomer’s armies took all of the possessions of the rebel armies and went home. He also took Lot and his possessions. When Abraham found out, he took his army and went after them. He defeated them and retrieved his nephew, Lot. Now comes the strange ending.

Abraham returned and met the king of Sodom in the King’s Valley. Someone else showed up, though. It was the king of Salem, Melchizedek. The writer parenthetically inserted into Genesis 14:18 that Melchizedek was a priest of the Most High God. That is all we are told about him. Remember this was before the priesthood was established through Moses and Aaron. So, the mysterious man Melchizedek is not a pagan but worships God, as does Abraham. He brought bread and wine. Was this just supper? Or was it Communion? The text does not say. But Abraham acknowledges Melchizedek as the representative, the priest, of God by giving him a tithe of the spoils.

And Melchizedek does not show up again in Abraham’s life, at least as far as we are told. I read the story many times and thought it was mysterious, but did not attach any special meaning to it. Melchizedek is, however, mentioned in other passages. It turns out he is a type of Christ in his office as our great high priest. Hebrews 7:3 says “He (Melchizedek) is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever.”

The first place we see this is Psalm 110, a Messianic Psalm. The first 3 verses of the Psalm deal with Christ as King, sitting at the Father’s right hand (implying a throne), wielding a scepter and ruling his enemies. Peter applied this passage to Jesus in his sermon at Pentecost (Acts 2:35).

But verse four deals with Christ as priest. It says: The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind, you are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. This tells us the Messiah will be a priest, or will have priestly functions, but not as a priest in the Aaronic priesthood. He could not be, of course, because he will not be from the tribe of Levi and the family of Aaron, but the tribe of Judah and the family of David.

The letter to the Hebrews deals with Christ’s priesthood and its superiority to the Aaronic priesthood. We cannot discuss the whole book in this little devotion. But here are some things it tells us.

He is our great high priest (Heb. 4:14). He was appointed as such by the Father (Heb. 5:5-6). The Father appointed his as a high priest after the order of Melchizedek (Heb. 5:10).

A high priest was chosen to act on behalf of God’s people to offer sacrifices for sin (Heb. 5:1).Christ functioned as a priest by bringing a sacrifice for sins. In the old covenant, the priest offered animals continually as a sacrifice for the sins of Israel. Christ offered himself, his blood, once for all time, obtaining eternal redemption for us (Hebrews 9:11-15). He was both the priest and the sacrifice. He was the mediator of the new covenant. This new covenant includes eternal salvation. God will not remember our sins anymore (Heb. 10:17).

The Westminster Shorter Catechism (yes, I know it is weird for a Baptist to quote a Cathechism) states it this way in Question 25:

Q: How doth Christ execute the office of a priest?
A: Christ executeth the office of a priest, in his once offering up of himself a sacrifice to satisfy divine justice,1 and reconcile us to God;2 and in making continual intercession for us.3

As our high priest, Jesus also stays at the right hand continually interceding for us (Heb. 7:25; 1 John 2:1-2). We actually have an example of that while Jesus was on earth. John 17 records Jesus praying for his disciples, both those with him at the time and those who would follow them. He prayed for our sanctification (John 17:17). This chapter is often called the “High Priestly Prayer” because of this. Since Jesus lives to intercede for us with the Father, we may, in Him, come to the Father in fellowship and prayer (Heb. 4:16).

Because of what Christ has done, we have assurance of our faith (Heb. 10:22). We do not have to doubt. We do not have to wonder if we have been good enough. No one can snatch us from his hand (John 10:28-29). Nothing can separate us from his love (Rom 8:37-39).

So, we must hold fast to the confession of our hope and faith without wavering (Heb. 4:14, 10:23). Christmas is a great time to make our confession known. While people put up manger scenes and buy gifts, we may confess Christ and our faith in him. Not just Jesus the baby in the manger, but Jesus our high priest, who saves us and preserves for eternity.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Devotion 6. Jacob’s Prophecy

Jacob functioned as a prophet on his deathbed. He spoke the Lord’s word for the future of his sons and their descendants. He said “Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you what shall happen to you in the days to come.”

Once the sons were assembled, Jacob gave a word for each one concerning their character and destiny. Rueben, as the first born, would normally have assumed leadership of the family. But he disqualified himself when he slept with one of his father’s concubines. Jacob had not gotten over it, he even exclaimed “he went to my couch!” a second time as if he could still not believe it.

The next sons were Simeon and Levi. They were disqualified because of their violence. They slaughtered Hamor and Shechem and all their family because Shechem had defiled their sister. (Genesis 34:27)

The Levites later distinguished themselves by supporting their brother, Moses, when Israel made and worshipped the golden calf while Moses was on the mountain receiving the terms of the covenant. So they served in the temple, but they did not lead the nation or have an allotment in it.

So, the leadership passed to Judah, the fourth son of Jacob and Leah. He had troubles in his past, yet the Lord chose him to lead. Here are Jacobs words in Genesis 49:10:

The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.

The tribe of Judah became the leading tribe. When the ark was finished, the Lord gave instructions on how the Israelites were to march to Canaan. The tribe of Judah was to go first. Numbers 2:9. They were led by a man named Nashon. Every morning, Nashon would go to the front of the congregation, next to the standard bearer with the flag showing the lion of the tribe of Judah, and start the march. Their symbol was the lion, for Jacob had declared that Judah was a lion.

I love that image of Nashon, standing before the congregation of a million or so Israelites, stepping out in faith, following the cloud of the presence of the Lord, the elder brother of a vast family of believers. He is a type of Christ in this, who is the firstborn of many brethren that God chose to be in his family. Romans 8:29.

God preserved that line through the good and bad times. Eventually, God gave Judah over to its enemy, Babylon, for Judah’s idolatry. They were defeated, Jerusalem and the temple destroyed, and the survivors taken to Babylon in exile for 70 years. No king ever took the throne in Jerusalem again.

But of course, God kept his word. He preserved the line of Judah. In the fullness of time, he brought the Forever King, Jesus, into the world. Matthew showed him to be of the line of Judah. (Matthew 1:3) Luke did the same in Luke 3:33. Note that Nashon is also in that line. (Luke 3:32)

Revelation 5:5 closes the loop for Judah. It says Jesus, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, prevailed.

Jesus has prevailed over Satan, sin and death. He will prevail, putting all his enemies under his feet. Then he will reign, and we with him, for eternity.

I wonder if he will fly the flag of Judah.

Monday, December 05, 2011


When the Lord called Abraham to leave Ur and go to Canaan, he made Abraham a promise. Genesis 12:1-3 tells us the promise:

Now the Lord said to Abram,“Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

In this promise, God narrowed our focus on who to look for as the savior. In Genesis 3, he told us only that the coming Messiah would be one who was born of a woman. But here we find out that the Messiah will come from Abraham. Both Matthew and Luke trace Jesus’ genealogy through Abraham (Matthew 1; Luke 3).

Some think of Abraham solely as the father of the Hebrew race. But God had much more in mind for him. He would be the father of all who believe in Christ. Some believed that he would come as promised. Some believed the man they heard preach in Judea was he. Some like us heard his word and believed that he came to save us. All of the vast family of God throughout the centuries are blessed in Abraham.

God told Abraham that he would be blessed so that he would be a blessing. In fact, in him all families on earth would be blessed. “In him” means one of his descendants would bless people from all nations and races. That descendant is Christ Jesus. In Galatians 3:7 Paul tells us it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. It is not just the Hebrews.

Certainly God elected Israel for special purposes. That is why we call the Hebrews “God’s Chosen People”. He used Israel to demonstrate his righteousness, his grace and his judgment. He showed his sovereignty in history.

Yet he never intended to stop with that one little country. It is and has always been God’s desire for his glory to fill the earth, for the whole earth to worship him. He told both Adam and Noah to be fruitful and multiply and to subdue the earth. They were to subdue the earth for the glory of God. When he called Abraham, it was for the same reason. Galatians 3 goes on to tell us that the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham saying ‘in you shall all the nations be blessed’.

Isaiah prophesied the same word from God. In chapter 54 the Lord said “enlarge the place of your tent…” He said the children of the desolate one (the Gentiles) would be more than the children of her who is married (Israel).

Then, in chapter 60, he said:

Arise, shine, for your light has come and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold darkness shall cover the earth and thick darkness the peoples, but the Lord will arise upon you and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your light and kings to the brightness of your rising.

The Lord spoke the same message through Zephaniah. He said “For at that time I will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech that all of them may call upon the name of the Lord and serve him with one accord.” (Zephaniah 3:9)

God promised Abraham the Savior would come from his family. We are beneficiaries of that promise made so long ago. We are children of Abraham and, through Christ, children of God.
Devotion 4. The 2nd Promise of a Savior, “A Prophet Like Me”.

What is a prophet? God chooses and calls a person to be a prophet. For example, God told Jeremiah “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you and before you were born I consecrated you. I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Jeremiah 1:4-5. Jeremiah actual tried to get out of it, claiming he was too young. But God said not to claim youth and to speak whatever God commanded him to speak. (Jeremiah 1:6-7).

God let the prophets know his mind and purpose and enabled them to speak about it through the Holy Spirit. That is why so many of their speeches began with “thus says the Lord”. They spoke his very words.

Many think of prophets as ones who foretell the future. Mostly the prophets preached the law and the covenant. They warned Israel to repent and obey the covenant. Sometimes they brought word that God would act to protect them. Sometimes they brought warnings that God would punish or destroy them for disobedience.

Moses was a great prophet. God spoke the law of the covenant to him and he spoke it to Israel. He led Israel to obey the Lord. He prayed for Israel when Israel rebelled. He even told them they would eventually rebel and be driven out of the land for it.

At the end of his life Moses told Israel:
“The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers – it is to him you shall listen-just as you desired of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said ‘let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God or see this great fire any more lest I die.’ And the Lord said to me ‘They are right in what they have spoken. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth and he shall speak to them”. Deuteronomy 18:15-18.

Certainly God raised up many prophets to speak to Israel. Samuel, Elijah, Elisha, Amos, Ezekiel and many others.

But the ultimate fulfillment of this word was Christ.

The Jews themselves interpreted this message as messianic. At the time of Jesus, they were looking for the prophet promised by Moses. The priests and Levites asked John the Baptist if he was the prophet. (John 1:19-21). When Jesus fed the 5,000, the people said “this is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world” (John 6:14). When Jesus preached at the Feast of Booths the people said “This really is the Prophet” (John 7:40). Finally, Peter preached in Solomon’s Portico and invoked this passage to call Jews to believe in Jesus as the Messiah. (Acts 3:22)

We often hear the offices of Jesus referred to as prophet, priest and king. How did he function as a prophet? He knew the mind and words of God and spoke them. He did what the Father told him to do and said what the Father told him to say.

John wrote “No one has ever seen God (the Father). The only God (Jesus the Son) who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known (John 1:18).

Jesus said “…whatever the father does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. John 5:19). He also said “I declare to the world what I have heard from him” (John 8:26) and “all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” John 16:15).

Jesus’ words are the last prophetic words. The New Testament is the writing of Jesus’ words and life in his words and in those of the apostles. Their teaching is his teaching. There are no new prophets and no new words. The words of those who claim to have new sayings from God or new revelations are false. The writer of Hebrews made this plain when he wrote “Long ago at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…” (Hebrews 1:1-2).

Even that last prophetic word in the New Testament, the Book of Revelation, is the word of Christ. John made it clear. He wrote:
“The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who bore witness to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw.” (Revelation 1:1-2).

Our gracious Heavenly Father revealed to us through his prophet Moses that a great prophet like Moses would eventually come to us. As John says in his gospel, the law came through Moses but Jesus brought us grace and truth.

All of those centuries passed from Moses and Joshua through the Judges, the kings, the exile, the return under Ezra and Nehemiah, the years of silence at the end of the prophets, and God still remembered and kept his word. At the right time, he caused a little baby to be born to a poor Jewish couple from a little town. And in so doing, he kept his word and brought it to pass, giving us the last and greatest prophet, the one who was with God and was God and spent eternity in perfect fellowship and harmony with the Father and Spirit before coming to us.

He was thus the perfect one to not only speak the words of the Father, but to reveal the Father to us, to make God known. He not only spoke, he lived and reflected the perfect image of God.

We reflect at Christmas on the wonder of God born in flesh to live among us. That alone is a wonder. But it is a great wonder also that he kept this word and brought it to pass in this event, along with many others.

This is the great God we worship and serve.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Devotion 3. The First Sacrifice and the First Clothes.

After Adam and Eve sinned they faced God’s judgment. The man, the woman and the snake (Satan) all received punishments from God that affected them and all mankind to come. They were driven from God’s presence and the perfect place God prepared for them. All things that were easy became hard. They would die.

They also experienced shame for the first time. They realized they were naked. Originally they were both naked and were not ashamed (Genesis 2:25). After their sin, they were ashamed to be naked in front of each other. They made little coverings for themselves out of fig leaves. When the Lord came to see them, they hid. They were afraid because they were naked (Genesis 3:10). In their state of shame, they could not face the holy Lord.

Yet, in the midst of his judgment, God also extended grace. The Bible describes it in one simple sentence. Genesis 3:21 says “And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.”

God looked at his disobedient children and gave them grace. He relieved their shame by giving them clothes. Interestingly, humankind has turned clothing into a badge of honor, making them from rich and ornamental fabrics. But, speaking theologically, clothing is a badge of shame. It is a constant reminder of our lost innocence. It is a symbol of original sin.

The skins came from an animal. An animal had to die to cover the sin of men and women. This sacrifice foreshadowed the sacrifices to come. We see it in the very next generation. Abel’s sacrifice was the firstborn of the flock with its fat portions. God accepted it. Cain brought an offering of plants. God rejected it. God had instructed them, probably after the first animal was slain, to kill an animal and offer it as a sacrifice for sin.

I wonder if God let Adam and Eve see the killing of the animal. It would have been shocking to them. They had never seen an animal killed. They never used parts of animals for clothing or food. Animals were companions. But this animal was killed and skinned to make their clothes. Although they were relieved of the shame of their nakedness, they would have realized the great cost of that relief.

Our guilt and shame is also relieved by the shedding of blood. Ephesians 1:7 says “in him we have redemption trough his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace which he lavished upon us…” We should also realize that our relief came at great cost: the death of the one sinless God-Man, Jesus Christ.

But another theme emerges from this event. The story shows us that the clothes made by the man and woman were not good enough to cover their shame. That is why they hid even though they were wearing the fig leaves. But God’s clothes were sufficient.

Paul picked up the theme in Colossians 3. He wanted to illustrate that our “self” without Christ, or made by our own hands, is sinful, corrupt and unacceptable to God. But our self in Christ is acceptable to God and holy. He said “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” (Colossians 3:9-10) Then, in verse 12, he continued with “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness and patience…”

The image for the self is clothing. He is saying to take off the clothing that goes with the traits of those who rebel against God and put on the clothes that reflect the transformed nature given by Christ.

The old clothes made by our own hands are not sufficient. They represent our work to make ourselves acceptable to God. But no work can do that. Those clothes will in reality be stained with sin. As Isaiah said, all our supposedly righteous acts are like filthy rags in God’s sight. (Isaiah 64:6).

When Christ comes into our lives our natures begin to be renewed in knowledge after the image of God our creator. He gives this to us, as he did to Adam and Eve, as an act of his grace and mercy, not our worth.

John’s picture of believers in heaven finalizes this thought. In Revelation 7, the faithful are those who are dressed in white robes. How did the robes get to be white? Not by their own doing. Rather, they had washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

If you have never put your faith in Christ and committed to follow him, Christmas would be a great time to do it. Put off the dirty self made clothes that God sees as filthy rags. Give up trying to please God by your works, or by hoping God will think your good outweighs your bad. Put off those clothes you made and put on those made by Christ, washed in the blood of his death for your sins and acceptable to God.

And if you are a Christ follower, do not put those old dirty clothes back on. Those clothes for Paul represented the acts and attitudes of the old sin dominated nature. Rather, seek those things of Christ, keeping on the robes of mercy and grace, living in them daily.