Something Special Will Happen!

dscn3808Luke 1:26-28

In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man named Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And the angel came to her and said, “Rejoice, favored woman! The Lord is with you” (HCSB).

Luke wrote “an orderly account” (Luke 1:3) about our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The next scene in the Third Gospel opens with a connecting phrase: “In the sixth month….” The time refers to Elizabeth’s pregnancy. The forerunner of the Messiah was on his way. Next, wrote about the first step in the coming of Messiah the Lord himself. It started with a private conversation between Gabriel, God’s messenger, and a young woman named Mary.

Luke tells us a couple of facts about Mary. First, Mary was a virgin. She was sexually inexperienced and hardly a candidate for an angel to tell her that she was going to have a baby. This has always been a stumbling-block to antisupernaturalists, but their world and life view is indefensible, unable to account for many facts of human experience. However, even to those who believe in God and supernatural power, the announcement of a virgin birth is unique. From what we know of the culture of Mary’s time, she was probably about twelve to fifteen years old. So then, a very young woman was about to hear the greatest announcement in history in a private encounter with the angel of the Lord.

Second, Mary lived in Nazareth, a town in Galilee. Nazareth is about seventy miles northeast of Jerusalem, and it is surrounded on all sides by hills, except on its southern side. The village was unremarkable; no notable events occurred there up to Mary’s time. Since the prophet Micah had announced that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), there was nothing in Mary’s situation to prepare her for Gabriel’s message. She was simply an ordinary teenage girl.

Third, Mary was legally engaged to Joseph, one of many descendants of King David. We later find out that he was a carpenter. The line of David, almost six hundred years after the Babylonian Captivity of Israel, had been reduced to obscurity and poverty. One of my ancestors was one of the founders of what is now the University of Pittsburgh, about two hundred years ago. They have never called me to invite me to a special event. I never expect them to. The point is that after six hundred years, though Joseph was in David’s royal line, he and Mary were not expecting the kingdom to come to their family. They were poor peasants. They would live and die in obscurity, and maybe someday God might do something with David’s house.

However, one day God stepped into Mary’s life! God’s messenger angel went to Mary with a great announcement. Listen to his opening words, “Rejoice, favored woman!” In Luke’s Gospel, the message begins with the typical ancient Greek greeting, “Rejoice!” Gabriel urges her to be glad. True happiness was on the horizon. The joyful God had a happy task for her. We should not pass by this word. Joy is one of the great words and ideas of the new covenant age. God’s people are to be joyful people (Philippians 4:4). Joy is our portion, because in Jesus the Messiah, we are right with God (Romans 5:1-11). In Mary’s Son, the kingdom of God was about to happen, and his kingdom is a kingdom of joy! For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17 HCSB, my emphasis).

In his opening words, Gabriel gave Mary a reason to rejoice. She is a “favored woman”. Mary had received favor with God. In what way? The Lord was “with her”. Since Mary clearly knew God’s word (see her words of praise, Luke 1:46-55), these words would resonate in her. When people were told that the Lord was with them, it was a statement that something special would happen to or through them. The Lord was with Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, and Gideon. All of them were great patriarchs and leaders of God’s people. The last two men were great warriors. But now, God spoke these words of promise and assurance to a woman. The Lord would be with her in a more wonderful way. She would become the mother of Immanuel, “God with us”. Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: See, the virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and they will name Him Immanuel, which is translated “God is with us” (Matthew 1:23 HCSB).

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

Unnoticed Example

DSCN03612 Timothy 1:16-18

We praise God for the many, many followers of Jesus that give themselves unselfishly for the good of others. They labor behind the scenes, not sounding trumpets (Matthew 6:1-4) to attract attention to what they’re doing. I encourage people to read biographies of Christians, because they testify to what the living God can do through his followers. (Thank God for his work through them without exalting them. Remember 1 Corinthians 1-4.) However, you do not find many biographies of common Christians. That should not dissuade us from noticing and celebrating what the Spirit does through average children of God. We can profit from their examples.

Paul the apostle presented one such example in his second letter to Timothy. It is an example that easily goes unnoticed in the teaching most of us receive from the Word. As Paul neared the end of his life, he found himself deserted by many; the loss of Demas seemed especially bitter to him (1:15; 4:10). In this context, the Spirit of God directed him to write about a man who remained faithful. His name was Onesiphorus. What Paul says of him gives us a four-part paradigm about how to help in the service of the good news of Christ. May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains. On the contrary, when he was in Rome, he searched hard for me until he found me. May the Lord grant that he will find mercy from the Lord on that day! You know very well in how many ways he helped me in Ephesus (NIV).

  • Onesiphorus was an encourager (1:16). Paul experienced many down times during his years of service for the Lord (2 Corinthians 4:8-10; 6:3-10; 11:23-33). Except for this text, we would not know that Jesus had Onesiphorus there often to encourage Paul. It should make us all pause to think of how much the apostle of Christ depended on the service of Onesiphorus and others like him. The story of his life would be much different from what we read in Acts apart from these people. Paul especially praised God that he refreshed This word can include both spiritual and physical actions. In both cases they would have been a strong encouragement to Paul. Many times a simple encouraging word does wonders. Other times, more extensive works are need to refresh people. He understood how to help Paul in a way that left Paul refreshed and encouraged.
  • Onesiphorus was bold (1:16). He was not afraid to serve Paul while he was a prisoner. Anyone in jail or prison in ancient times was in deep trouble. Often they were dependent on friends outside for food, clothing, and other needs. For those helping there was the danger of “guilt by association” with the imprisoned. Onesiphorus boldly helped Paul in spite of whatever dangers might come. When we help people, we can expose ourselves to danger, like when someone has an illness that is contagious. He trusted the Lord to care for him as he took these risks.
  • Onesiphorus was diligent (1:17). When Paul was a prisoner in Rome, Onesiphorus had to look hard to find him. It is easy to make a quick effort to try to contact a person and then to give up. Obviously, he cared about Paul enough to persist through disappointments. I can imagine the conversation going something like this. “I’m looking for Paul, the prisoner being held for trial before Caesar. He’s under house arrest. Do you know where’s he is?” And the answer comes back, “Let’s see; that’s really not my department. But if you contact Julius Gaius, he might be able to tell you what you know. However, he’s out of town for a couple days.” We all have been through this runaround, but he didn’t quit.
  • Onesiphorus was generous (1:18). He helped Paul in many ways. It is always tempting to assume that we have done enough when we have done a little. But Onesiphorus did not have that kind of attitude. When one task was done, he was spiritually and mentally prepared for the next one. What some might have looked at as an expense, he considered to be an investment in God’s kingdom.

We need examples like this to spur us on to love and good works. Our vision is limited by what we think is easily doable. Onesiphorus provides a better model. May the Spirit use it to impel all of us to do more for the cause of God and truth!

Grace and peace, David