The Birth of Jesus Foretold

Luke 1:26-38

You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus (Luke 1:31 NLT).

God enjoys working through his creatures to accomplish his purposes. In doing this, he makes us part of the story of his glory. In this section, we see two of his creatures. The first mentioned is Gabriel, one of the holy angels or messengers. God sent him with a special announcement to the second, Mary, who was a descendant of King David. A thousand years had passed since God made a promise to David. The time had arrived to fulfill that promise. God waits long years, because he desires the salvation of many people.

Gabriel came with a joyful greeting to Mary (1:28). Mary was highly favored, which Gabriel would shortly explain. He assured her that the Lord was with her. Mary knew the Scriptures, and this phrase would not only tell her of God’s presence, but also that good things were about to happen (cf. Genesis 39:2; Joshua 1:5; Judges 6:12). What was about to happen? How did Mary respond to the Lord’s message to her?

God gave Mary clear information, so that she could trust him concerning what he would do in her life.

  • Gabriel told her not to fear. Instead, she was in a special position before God. Peace is the great word that describes our relationship to God (Romans 5:1). Mary needed assurance that God was pleased with her.
  • She learned her mission: to give birth to the Son of the Most High God (1:31-32). This set Mary thinking, because she would enter something unique in human history. A woman would bear God’s Son. The promised Seed of the woman (Genesis 3:15) would come through her. (By the way, the “seed” concept is an important theme in the Scriptures.)
  • She learned something of her son’s mission. His name, Jesus, spoke of what he would do (save). And she was told that he would rule on David’s throne forever. Luke will show how this part of the message was fulfilled in Acts 2:29-36.
  • Gabriel told her that all this would happen by the power of the Holy Spirit. Mary would become pregnant by the power of God, not by normal human means. Again, Luke teaches that history had entered a new age, the age of the Spirit of God. Great changes were on the way.
  • Notice the happy word that Gabriel concluded with: For nothing is impossible with God (NIV).

Mary had to respond as the message was “unfolded” to her. With each part, she had to act with faith in God, who spoke to her through Gabriel.

  • She was troubled about the sudden appearance of an angelic visitor. Angels did not usually reveal their presence to people in Biblical times, though it might seem that way to us. Hundreds of years might pass before anyone saw an angel. She also was concerned about the greeting. Was she the first woman to hear that the Lord was with her?
  • Mary wondered how she could conceive. She was a virgin and a godly woman. She was engaged, but not yet married. She was sexually moral. Was this promise come true after she was married? Unlike Zechariah, she did not doubt, though they used similar words. She simply didn’t understand how a virgin could have a child. Mary needed information. Observe that we need to discern why people ask questions. Some may be doubters, but others merely need to know.
  • When Mary had heard an explanation, she responded with humble faith. She gladly accepted what the Lord had for her to do to serve him.

The Lord called Mary to do something unique in human history. She was a humble, believing believer. May we imitate her kind of faith!

Grace and peace, David

The Dawn of a New Era

Luke 1:11-18

He will be filled with the Holy Spirit while still in his mother’s womb. He will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God (Luke 1:15b-16 CSB).

Excitement undoubtedly filled the hearts of Zechariah and Elizabeth, because this was to be a special day. Zechariah the priest had been chosen by lot to offer incense before the Lord in the temple. He boldly entered to do what the law covenant required, and at that moment his life, and the lives of all people began to change, for the Lord was about to make a joyful announcement. But Zechariah knew nothing about God’s message until he entered the temple. The Lord often surprises people when he steps into their lives by his grace. Can you remember when God came to you with a powerful, joyful message? What did he experience when God spoke to him that day?

  • Zechariah was startled and afraid when he saw the angel next to the altar of incense (1:12). We all can understand his fear. Who hasn’t felt alarmed when someone suddenly pops out of hiding? Plus, this was a messenger from the heavenly realm. We’re not accustomed to receiving spiritual visitors. Zechariah is not to be blamed for his reaction.
  • Zechariah heard that his prayer had been answered (1:13). His prayer was to have a son. To have children was very important for God’s people under the law covenant. Since Zechariah was a priest, it was not a matter of passing an inheritance in the Promised Land unto his son, but it was a sign of God’s blessing (Deuteronomy 28:1-4; Psalm 127:3-5). The angel told him that Elizabeth, who had been barren, would be blessed and bear a son, whom they were to name John.
  • Zechariah received information about caring for his son (1:14-15). The birth of John would signal the start of the new covenant age. Not only the happy couple find delight in their son, but many people will rejoice because of his birth. The kingdom of God is a matter of joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17 NIV) and the fruit of the Spirit is joy (Galatians 5:22). The time of the promise of the Spirit was about to arrive, and the Spirit comes to produce life (Ezekiel 37:1-14; John 3:3-8; Titus 3:5). At the end of the old covenant age, John was to be consecrated to God like a Nazarite (Numbers 6:1-4). The Holy Spirit would fill John from his mother’s womb to do the work that God had called John to do.
  • Zechariah learned the mission of his son (1:16-18). John would be the promised forerunner of the Lord Messiah (Malachi 3:5; 4:5-6; Isaiah 40:3-5). The I AM, Yahweh, was about to come to his people and to enter the temple. John’s task would be to call the people out to the wilderness of a new Exodus, that the Lord himself would accomplish (cf. Luke 9:31). He was to seek a turning or repentance in the hearts of the people. This would involve a restoration of relationships among the people and to wisdom, as in the book of Proverbs. When the Lord himself stepped on the scene, there would be people ready to follow him (cf. John 1:35-51).

So then, Zechariah received exciting news! A new era in the story of God’s glory in Jesus Christ was about to begin. He ought to have worshiped joyfully. We who have heard the good news should be filled with joy, because the Anointed Savior and Lord has come. But are we? Or do other concerns fill our hearts? Are we ready for the return of our Lord? Read Luke 12:35-40.

Grace and peace, David

Intended for Good (Part One)

Genesis 50:15-21

You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives (Genesis 50:20 NIV).

We come to the climax of our study about God’s providence in the life of Joseph son of Jacob. Through many twists and turns, God planned the events of Joseph’s life for the Lord’s goals in the great story of his glory in Jesus Christ. It is this section that provides God’s viewpoint on all that has happened.

We should approach this with more than a casual interest. It is one thing to say that God intended good in the events of Joseph’s life. It is quite another to make that same affirmation about our own lives. The way to begin is not to hope for or to wait for some crisis in our lives, and then to hope that we will see that God is working for our good. Instead, we must see God involved in our lives today, and every day and night. Wise military commanders prepare their troops for battle before they ever enter into harm’s way. God’s instruction about his story prepares us to serve him in all circumstances of life.

The account begins with the brothers’ misinformed plan (50:15-18). People, especially men, have the tendency to approach problems as “the fixer”. We listen to someone’s difficult situation for a couple minutes, and then spout out solutions to fix the other person or their circumstances. We try this with ourselves constantly by seeking advice from supposed experts or reading self-help books or surfing the internet. This approach is a recipe for disaster, and it could have made things much worse between Joseph and his brothers. Let’s think through their proposed solution.

  • It arose from uncertainty in their hearts: “what if.” They were trapped in guilt producing fear sequence. Guilt so awakens fear that a person will not feel secure. Cain became ruled by guilt and fear after he murdered his brother (Genesis 4:13-14). Joseph’s brothers lacked insight about Joseph’s character. Godly people are often misunderstood. The Lord Jesus was misunderstood by his family, Paul by the Corinthians, and David by his wife Michal.
  • It showed a mixture of worldly-wisdom and spiritual wisdom. They hid behind their father’s coat tails. They told a doubtful scenario from our perspective, but it might have happened. Did Jacob know about the sin of the ten against Joseph? Did they mislead Joseph that Jacob did? Would Jacob doubt Joseph’s intentions? The brothers took advantage of the grieving process, when a tender heart would be even more sensitive to an appeal like this. They did ask for forgiveness. Perhaps they should have used a better approach, but they did attempt to correct their problem.
  • It was presented in an inexact way. We have the advantage of possessing the Scriptures, and so we should do better. They spoke through a messenger instead of personally. Fear, rather than love was controlling their hearts. The brothers appealed to Joseph with a legal attitude: “we are your slaves.” Compare the lost son in the parable (Luke 15). They wouldn’t claim the relationship that was theirs. How do you approach God after you have sinned? Do you attempt to pay your way back into his favor, or do you ask for cleansing because of Christ’s atonement? Christians don’t make light of their sin, but they exalt the preciousness of the blood of Christ. The brothers’ plan to fix their relationship caused Joseph more hurt. While he could be glad about their repentance, their distrust of him after years of kindness would hurt (50:17).

Are you in need of restoring a relationship with someone? Are you tempted to follow worldly wisdom to find a fix to the situation? Make a fresh start by seeking the Lord in prayer. Call upon him in your trouble. He can act in the hearts of all involved (you and the other person or people). Humble yourself in prayer, asking him to act by his powerful grace and love.

Grace and peace, David

Help for Reading the Bible

John 5:31-47

Let’s look at an overview of the message or story that God tells all people everywhere in his word, the Bible. It will focus on some of God’s ideas in his word about his word. Knowing these ideas will help shape and inform our approach to every book in the Book of books. I think this overview provides equipment needed for reading and learning and applying God’s word to our lives.

The Bible tells the story of God’s glory in Jesus Christ through salvation by judgment. God gives the written record of his word or message to people in what has proved to be an enduring and accessible resource that is better than merely hearing the spoken voice of God. The Sovereign God spoke this word through people he chose, and the Holy Spirit caused that message to be recorded by people in written form (2 Timothy 3:15-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21). For example, God spoke to Abram (Genesis 12:1-3), and the Spirit of God had Moses write down those words (John 5:46).

The Bible is primarily made up of God’s narrative or story about his purpose to save and of his commentary upon that narrative. In this way, we read about God’s actions in history to save a people he chose through Christ’s person, word, and redemptive accomplishments. In his commentary on salvation history, God explains the significance and meaning of all this to us. Together they form our world and life view. For example, in the Four Gospels, we read the story of Christ’s crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, while in the letters of the apostles we learn the significance and meaning of those gospel events for our lives.

The story the Bible makes known is the message about God’s glory. It is his surpassing value and significance as the supreme and ultimate Being and the shining brilliance and magnificence of all that he is and does. Since God is the first and best, his glory is the ultimate purpose of his creation. For example, think of Psalm 19:1.

As God tells the story of his glory in Christ, he invites people to enter into his story. We enter through regeneration and conversion (Acts 20:21). And then our lives become worship. How we live proclaims and enables the enjoyment of God’s excellence. Consider Romans 11:36; 16:27; 1 Corinthians 10:31. What is God’s plan? Read Numbers 14:21; Isaiah 6:3; Habakkuk 2:14; Psalm 72:19; Revelation 4:11. In fact, our destiny is the experience of God’s glory (Revelation 21:1-4, 9-11, 23).

The main character in God’s story is the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. I see this point made in two general ways in the Holy Writings. First, it is made by direct statements of Jesus the Messiah. He tells us that God’s story is about him. The Scriptures testify about Christ (John 5:39, 46). The Bible is only understood correctly as we hear it telling us the good news of Christ (Luke 24:25-27, 44-47). Compare how Paul’s testimony was formed by this idea (Acts 26:9-23). This is why our theology, what we believe the Bible teaches, must be Christ-structured. God does not tell his story by talking about one of his attributes (like sovereignty or love) or about the covenants or promise-fulfillment or Israel or the new creation. These are part of the story, but the main idea is God’s glory in Christ in salvation through judgment. For example, how can sinners be saved? It is because Jesus took God’s wrath or judgment when he died on the cross, and in that way he rescues or saves all who trust in him.

Second, it is made by the content of the story. When you study how the story unfolds, you see four ideas: creation, fall, redemption, and renewal. All point in some way to the Lord Jesus Christ. For example, read Colossians 1:15-20. When you study how the story is told by men chosen by God to tell it, you hear the story proclaim Christ (Colossians 1:28; cf. Acts 2:22-36; 3:12-26; 17:16-31; Romans 1:1-4; 3:21-26).

God’s story should be heard according to the way God told it. At this point I could say a lot about such matters as progressive revelation, key people in God’s story (cf. Matthew 1:1; Romans 5:12-21), and important ideas like the seed, the temple, the Biblical covenants, God’s worldwide mission, etc. Instead, I want to focus on how the Bible was put together, so that you can better understand the storyline.

Concerning the Old Testament Scriptures (OTS), we are used to the order of the books in our English Bibles, but Jesus had a different view (cf. Luke 24:27, 44; Matthew 23:35). He presented a three-fold division of the OTS: Torah (Law), Neviim (Prophets), and Ketuvim (Writings).

  • Torah: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy
  • Neviim: The Former Prophets (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings) and the Latter Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Book of the Twelve)
  • Ketuvim: The Book of Truth (Psalms, Proverbs, Job), the Megilloth or Small Scrolls (Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther), and other sacred Writings (Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, Chronicles)

Notice in this arrangement there are 24 books but they have the same content as our English arrangement of 39 books. In both cases the Apocrypha are not considered part of the Bible. Notice also that the last book of the OTS in this arrangement is Chronicles.

When you read the OTS in this order, you see God’s narrative storyline, followed by his commentary, which is followed by narrative storyline.

  • First narrative storyline: the Torah and the Former Prophets
  • Poetic commentary: The Latter Prophets, the Book of Truth, and the Small Scrolls. For example, consider how Ruth functions as commentary about David’s kingship.
  • Second narrative storyline: the other sacred Writings.

The NTS are providentially put together in a similar way.

  • First narrative storyline: The Four Gospels and Acts
  • Commentary: The Letters (Romans through Jude)
  • Second narrative storyline: The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Revelation 1:1)

Reading the Bible in this sequence will help you to grasp the storyline more easily, and to find God’s own commentary about Christ’s person, word, and redemptive accomplishments. Enjoy reading God’s word!

Grace and peace, David

The Holy Spirit (Part Twenty-eight)

John 7:37-39

On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified (NIV).

Presently we are investigating what God says in the Bible about the Holy Spirit. As Spurgeon said years ago, “the proper study of a Christian is the Godhead. The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy, which can ever engage the attention of a child of God, is the name, the nature, the person, the work, the doings, and the existence of the great God whom he calls his Father. There is something exceedingly improving to the mind in a contemplation of the Divinity. It is a subject so vast, that all our thoughts are lost in its immensity; so deep, that our pride is drowned in its infinity” (New Park Street Pulpit, Number 1). So then, with this good purpose in mind, we will continue with this study about the Holy Spirit.

Every pastor or teacher should explain the direction of his teaching ministry from time to time. This allows people to grasp the larger context of his presentations, or to use a common illustration, it enables them to see the tree and the forest. Our method of approach in this study about the Holy Spirit is primarily that of Biblical theology—viewing God’s revelation of his person, words, and saving activity from the standpoint of God’s progressive opening of his truth to his people in redemptive history. So then, starting with the pivotal text of Acts 1:1-9, we have studied the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament Scriptures, the work of the Spirit in giving the Scriptures to us, the Holy Spirit and salvation, the Holy Spirit and Christ, and now Christ’s promise of the outpouring of the Spirit, which will lead us, God willing, to the Pentecost and its meaning. Then we will be in a position to study the new covenant ministry of the Holy Spirit.

The setting of these verses is a response by the Lord Jesus to the events of the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles. That festival was a happy time for God’s old covenant people—a time when they remembered their journey to the Promised Land. During the festival, there was a ceremony when a priest poured out water from a golden flagon, while a trumpet sounded joyfully. It seems that the people also sang Isaiah 12:3 in connection with that ceremony. With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation (NIV). On the last and greatest day of the feast, Jesus called out to the assembled people these memorable words that are recorded in 7:37-38. These verses are his promise of the Holy Spirit to all who believe on him. Notice the typical context. Christ’s people will be on a journey to the eternal Promised Land. As God guided them with the cloud, so the new covenant people will receive the Holy Spirit.

Regretfully, believers have not thought much about the promise of the Holy Spirit in its connection with God’s storyline in the Bible. (Remember, God’s word is the true story of God’s glory in Jesus Christ.) What did God the Father promise about the Holy Spirit? What did Christ promise? Here will see that Jesus promised that he would give the Holy Spirit to all those who come to him. The Holy Spirit would then live in each one. And we will learn about the power of this ministry. For now, read the above promise and meditate on its significance. What does the Lord Jesus want us to learn? What ought we to learn about the greatness of our God? Let our minds be stretched as contemplate this promise.

Grace and peace, David

The Source of Love (Part One)

1 John 4:19-21

We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister (NIV).

True Christianity is not involvement in religious activity or keeping a list of rules and rituals. Instead, it is a relationship with the living God. The apostle John likes to use two terms to set forth this relationship. The first is fellowship, which speaks of sharing life with God (1:3, 6-7). The other is know, meaning more than the knowledge of facts or the knowledge of skill, but the knowledge of a person (2:3-4). We know God personally.

In his first letter John is intent on declaring the transformation that occurs when a person has a real relationship with the living God. He says that three changes occur when a person knows God and has fellowship with God.

  • He or she confesses the truth about God (2:22-23; 4:6)
  • He or she obeys God’s commands (2:3-6)
  • He or she loves God and the people in God’s family (3:14; 4:7-8)

In a couple articles this week, we will consider the transforming character that comes from a real relationship with the living God.

God’s love is the source of our love. Humans do not naturally love. Rebellion against God, who is love, has twisted our nature. At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another (Titus 3:3 NIV; cf. Romans 3:12-17). Since this is true, there is no starting point in any human from which he or she can develop a relationship with God. We do not “stretch out our finger” to receive God’s life giving touch. By nature, we are opposed to the God of love.

“We must once and forever get rid of the idea that God loved us by way of response either to something that is in us or to something we have done” (Lloyd-Jones, The Love of God, p. 194. God encounters us as enemies, who are spiritually unresponsive (dead in sin). “The love of God is self-generated, self-moved, self-created; and it is the very first postulate of the Christian gospel to realize that” (Ibid).

Therefore, God must take the initiative with any person for there to be a relationship between him and any person. Here are some actions that God took that we might know his love and then love others.

  • This initiative began before the beginning of time. He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time (2 Timothy 1:9 NIV). God knew what sin would do, so he planned a solution before the problem occurred.
  • The Father sent the Son to rescue us from our sins. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins (1 John 4:10 NIV).
  • The Son came to carry out the mission of salvation. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10 NIV).
  • The Spirit of God testifies to the truth about the Son of God, so that we can know God’s love for us in Christ. But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth (1 John 2:20 NIV; cf. 5:6-10).

On this Valentine’s Day, think on the great story of God reaching out to you in his amazing love? Has the Triune God established a relationship with you? Respond in love to him.

Grace and peace, David

He Will Be Great

dscn0446Luke 1:29-33

But she was deeply troubled by this statement, wondering what kind of greeting this could be. Then the angel told her: Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Now listen: You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will call His name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end (HCSB).

Mary was afraid. She was afraid because of the sudden appearance of one of God’s angels to her and greatly troubled at his message. We easily picture Mary confident and serene after the birth of Jesus. It is difficult for us to see Mary, the very young woman, in an unexpected meeting with a mighty angel from the spiritual realm that we humans cannot presently see. If we think about why she was troubled by his greeting, we might be more perplexed, since it was a greeting of joy and hope. Perhaps, it was because Mary was a very humble person, not looking or longing for greatness. In an instant, God had boldly entered her life, and it would never be the same. That would bring a modest young woman many troubled thoughts.

Observe how Gabriel spoke to calm her. He repeated the truth that God had shown favor to her. This was good news, not something to trouble her. Many a pastor has experienced how tender hearts are troubled about things that ought to make them rejoice. We seem to have a way of imagining difficulties for ourselves. A calm repetition of the truth is the best remedy. We need time to process God’s words to us.

Gabriel moved on with the message God had sent him to deliver. Now listen. He directed Mary to pay attention to God’s word to her. God’s people are to be self-controlled, in charge of our hearts, ready to listen to what the Lord tells us. When you open your Bible, whether privately, with your family, or in public worship, are you prepared to listen? Banish lesser thoughts, rise above your troubles, and listen. To listen is one of the hardest things to do in our time, because we have heard much advertising and stories presented in high-tech bright, flashing array. It is very difficult to listen attentively to God’s word. Mary needed to listen, and so do we.

What did Mary need to hear?

  • She needed to listen to her part in the story of God’s glory. She, though a virgin, would conceive and give birth to a son. Mary grasped that part of the message right away, as her follow-up question shows (Luke 1:34). To have God with her would not mean that she would become a mighty leader, but a mother. God would have to enable that outcome. She would also name her son, but she must give him the name that God had chosen: Jesus, the Lord is salvation.
  • She needed to hear the identity of her son. He would not simply be “the son of Mary”, though that would be true. He would also be the Son of the Most High. It took Jesus three years of careful teaching to explain this to the apostles; therefore, it is very unlikely that Mary grasped its significance right away. Here is the mystery of the incarnate Christ. He is truly God and truly human at the same time. Let us worship when we cannot understand.
  • She needed to listen to the destiny of her Son. And the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end. Jesus was destined to sit on David’s throne. A prophecy made to David over a thousand years before Mary was about to happen. The promised King of God’s people was about to arrive. A reading of the Four Gospels will show that Jesus talked about the kingdom, which was God’s kingdom and his kingdom, throughout his earthly ministry. He would receive the throne by a grant from the Sovereign Lord himself. God’s word had not failed, though the people had been kingless for nearly six hundred years.

Today, we look for the second coming of the King. This Christmas, as you look at lights, sing songs, open presents, and enjoy your family and friends, remember to fix your thoughts on King Jesus. We are celebrating the birthday of the King, and we must bow in worship before him.

Grace and peace, David

In the Days of Herod

img_4560Luke 1:5-10

In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord (Luke 1:5-6 ESV).

Luke opened his account of Jesus, God’s Anointed One, and the good news with these words. They also begin his telling of the Christmas story, which is part of God’s great story. I do not think that most people consider this part of the Christmas story, but it provides the setting in which the story occurs. In fact, if we listen to and learn this part of the story, we gain important information to understand the whole story.

Consider the historical setting. In the days of Herod… He was a ruler noted for his cunning, cruelty, and constructions. He was called Herod the Great for the last of these, for he built many fine buildings, including the rebuilding of the Temple. He died in early 4 B.C., which means that Jesus was born sometime in 5 B.C. (Yes, the calendar is off by five years. People, not God, make calendars.) Jesus was born in the full light of human history. Luke tells us of two people, Zechariah and Elizabeth, who, although not in the line of the Messiah, had an important role in the early part of the story. Notice the details. Zechariah was in the eighth division of the priesthood that had been established by King David over a thousand years before that time. Zechariah and Elizabeth were godly people; they were fully committed followers of the Lord. However, there was an emptiness in their lives. Elizabeth was barren, and since they were advanced in years (probably their later forties), there was little human hope of having a child. One of life’s mysteries is the experience that many people who would love to have children have none, while others who do not seem to care for children easily have them. Both situations produce many tears. This is history in agony. People need a Savior for many reasons.

Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense (Luke 1:8-10 ESV).

The Christmas story is connected with the old covenant and its worship. Priests and the temple are found throughout Luke 1-2. Worship of God fills both chapters. It was the time of the law covenant that pointed to the coming Messiah in all its types and shadows (cf. Hebrews 10:1). The curtain started to fall on that era when Zechariah went into it to offer incense as prescribed by the law. However, on that day no one anticipated the supernatural event about to happen. Zechariah was merely one of a long and large company of priests that had offered incense over a course of nearly fifteen hundred years. A crowd of faithful people had gathered for the event. During a time of Gentile rule over God’s covenant people, they remembered the God who had called them to be his people and who had promised the Messiah, the one who would set them free. But on that day, no one expected God to speak. He had not spoken in four hundred years, but they still had gathered to pray to wait on the Lord. Faith.

Christmas is a season of waiting, not for parties, programs, and presents. It is the time to wait on the Lord in worship. Many waited for Messiah’s first coming; we wait for his second coming. They waited in the rituals and regulations of the first covenant; we wait and watch in the Holy Spirit in the second covenant. They gathered in worship; we should also gather together to worship in love, joy, and peace. The days of Herod are long past. We live in the last days. Does an attitude of hopeful worship fill our souls this Christmas season?

Grace and peace, David

The Lord’s Sudden Coming

dscn0009Luke 17:26-30

People like stories. Sometimes we call them movies or plays, but they are all stories. We like to follow the carefully crafted plot where the protagonists encounter various trials or tragedies through all the breadth of human emotions yet emerge happy and victorious in the end. But sometimes we willingly suffer through a tragedy in which the protagonists meet a sad end, such as Romeo and Juliet. We read or listen to movie or book reviews by the critics and recommendations by friends, so that we spend our time and money on the best stories. Who wants to attend a movie and be bored to tears or disturbed needlessly for two hours or more?

Our lives are part of a great story that we call history, and people love to write their own “reviews” about the way the story should go. Basically, people only “write” a couple different kinds of reviews:

  • History is absurd and meaningless. Nothing makes sense. This answer does not satisfy most people, and if it is true, even their review is senseless.
  • History is an unending story, endlessly repeating itself. This view is getting a lot of attention today as people listen to psychics, mediums, and so on. Fabled ancient Atlantis must have been a gigantic place, because “everybody” seems to have lived there at least once! All of this lacks the least proof.
  • History and humanity are getting better and better. Oh, there might be a few downturns, but look at the progress we’ve made! This is the view of most people, regardless of how they vary the story line. This “non-Christian view believes in a gradual and indeed an inevitable progress. It may sometimes describe the progress as being the result of the interaction of action and reaction, or of thesis and antithesis, but it still believes that there is within the world a principle at work which, slowly but surely, is leading steadily in the direction of an ultimate perfection” (Lloyd-Jones, Evangelistic Sermons, p. 282).
  • Opposed to all these is the Biblical view that history is moving toward God’s goal. As has often been said, “History is His story; that is, God’s story.” The plot focuses on God proclaiming to humankind his infinite value and how we can experience joy when we turn back to God. History has a destination, but it involves two destinies for people: glory or judgment. History does not inevitably get better. No, instead it involves a series of crises in which God works in grace and judgment. Think of the Flood, Sodom, the formation of Israel, and the cross of Christ.

In this passage, the Lord Jesus Christ tells us about the great event that will bring about the end of this world’s history: His sudden return in power and glory.

The Lord Jesus will return unexpectedly.

Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot—they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all—so will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed (Luke 17:26-30 ESV).

Notice that the normal activities of life will be going on (17:27-28). When Jesus lists these activities, he is not condemning them. In fact, he created us to do them, in the proper way (1 Corinthians 10:31). Human life is the same as in ancient times. We like to imagine amazing changes, but the basics of life remain. Only our technology has changed. We might get our water from a reservoir and a water treatment plant instead of a muddy river, but we still drink water.

The problem with the people referred to by Jesus was that those people were immersed in those activities apart from a concern for God. They were not glorifying God and enjoying him as they enjoyed God’s gifts. God was not in their thoughts; therefore, all these things “have become evidences of gross materialism, false security, and often cold selfishness” (Hendriksen). This is the root problem that the Bible calls “worldly-mindedness”. The people who lived in the days of Noah and of Lot committed many acts of wickedness, but the Lord passed by those things to expose the underlying attitude. Greed, violence and sexual immorality spring from the same source or heart attitude, worldly-mindedness. Remove the root and the weeds disappear. Worldly-mindedness ignores the highest part of human nature and lives only for the lowest. People were made to relate to God and not to live solely for the mundane parts of creaturely existence. God made us to eat, drink, marry, buy, sell, plant and build. All are lawful activities, until you begin to live for them. What are you living for? Do you have and make room for God in your thoughts and way of life?

Grace and peace, David

God’s Plans Not Ours

IMG_3162Genesis 26

Some people get overlooked by other people. Here, I am not referring to the great mass of common people in contrast to stars and celebrities. Instead, I am talking about ordinary people that are ignored by other people like them. It is not that they lack attractive or beneficial qualities. It is also not the case that they are necessarily trying to fade into the background. They are in our local churches, but too often unnoticed by others. They are there, and thank God they are there, or the rest of us would struggle without them. If we wished, this could develop into a long discussion about the reasons such people are disregarded by others and the need for better community. But let’s see how God’s story works through the lives of people we might unfortunately ignore.

Isaac is often overlooked, though God reveals himself in the Bible many times as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They were the Patriarchs of God’s old covenant people, Israel. Surely, being part of this line would qualify Isaac for our attention, but his part in the story of God’s glory in Christ gets easily passed by. He is sandwiched between his very prominent father, Abraham, and his scheming son, Jacob. Much more is written about Abraham and Jacob than Isaac. Could that be the reason we overlook him?

The twenty-sixth chapter of Genesis is not the first time Isaac is in the narrative. In one sense, there is no story without Isaac, because he is the promised child. Abraham and Sarah were childless for decades, and their faith in God and their struggles in their faith are a prominent part of the outworking of God’s story. Chapter twenty-four presents how Abraham’s chief servant was sent on a long journey to find a bride for Isaac, but Isaac is not mentioned until he married Rebekah. (Ladies, how would you enjoy this “destination wedding”? You take a long camel ride far away from your family and friends only to end up in the tent that had belonged to your mother-in-law!) Isaac and Rebekah had to wait twenty years for children. The Lord answered Isaac’s prayer (Genesis 25:21) and they had twin sons, Esau and Jacob. However, the twins became a source of controversy in the family when Rebekah loved Jacob, and Isaac loved Esau (Genesis 25:28). Isaac should have paid careful attention to the revelation of God’s plan told to Rebekah (Genesis 25:23). Isaac sadly wanted the son he loved to have the preeminent place. This means he acted contrary to the revealed will of God.

Yet God graciously included imperfect Isaac in his purposes. Isaac was in God’s story and God acted through him in the pursuit of his wise plan. To keep Isaac on track before the Scriptures were given, God appeared to Isaac, as he had previously appeared to Abraham, to give him instructions. Why did God do this? He did not want Isaac to imitate his father’s course by going down to Egypt. Eventually, Israel would go to Egypt and end up in bondage, but it was not yet God’s time for that.

This is one of the ways of God that we must learn to be content with. God works out his plan in his time, not ours. We might want something to happen very much, but we might find ourselves waiting and waiting and waiting. In this case God chose to use a famine in the land (perhaps the phrase “a famine in the land” would provide someone with a beneficial Bible study) to develop the character and faith of Isaac. God lets us see Isaac’s choices so that we might profit from his experience. When Isaac was faced with the hardship of a famine in the land, what did the Lord tell him?

  • God ordered Isaac not to go to Egypt (26:2). He did not explain his reasons. Too often we want to hear “reasons” about the twists and turns in our lives. We act like three-year-old children who constantly ask, “Why?” Do we think that God simply wants us to trust him without endless explanations? In all decisions about where he lived, he would be subject to God’s word.
  • God hinted that Isaac might be making some moves, though not to Egypt (26:3a). The Lord does not tell his children everything at once. We will usually experience a gradual unfolding of God’s purposes. If we are wise, we will walk closely with the Lord to be ready for our next steps.
  • God promised to be with Isaac and bless him (26:3b). Isaac would not have to face the famine alone. He could count on God’s presence. This is God’s basic promise to his people; yes, it’s his promise to us today. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age… Be satisfied with what you have, for He Himself has said, I will never leave you or forsake you (Matthew 28:20b; Hebrews 13:5b HCSB). Although we face trials of many kinds, God is with us during them. His reality should kindle hope in our souls.
  • God included Isaac in all the promises made to Abraham (26:4-5). It was not till many years later that the apostle Paul explained that offspring or seed referred to one person, the Messiah (Galatians 3:16). This was the promise that Christ would come through Isaac’s descendants. The other blessings would also be his, because of the obedient faith of his father, Abraham.

How did Isaac respond to the word of God? He trusted and obeyed and stayed in the land (26:6). His faith did not mean that the famine ended immediately. His faith kept him where the Lord God wanted him to be, and that was the best place for Isaac to be, whether there was famine or plenty.

Grace and peace, David