Advent 2022: The King is Coming

Joy to the world!

The Lord is come; Let earth receive her King;

Let every heart prepare Him room

And heav’n and nature sing, and heav’n and nature sing,

And heav’n and heav’n and nature sing.[1]

“Joy to the World” is one of our most beloved Christmas songs, but it isn’t about Christmas at all.  Isaac Watts originally penned these words in anticipation of the return of Jesus.  Notice that verse 1 above calls Him the King, if you read the full hymn, you will see that verse 2 celebrates His reign, verse 3 tells of the end of the curse and verse 4 proclaims Him as the righteous Ruler of the world.

In Jacob’s blessings over his sons (Gen 49), he said of Judah, “The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is His” (v. 10). Jacob was declaring the coming of the Eternal King – Jesus. He is the one to whom the royal scepter belongs and all the kingdoms of the earth will bow at His feet.

We love the Baby in the manger; He is the embodiment of God’s holy love for mankind and the fulfillment of His promise to free us from bondage to sin.  But we must let Jesus grow out of the swaddling clothes and into the crown of thorns to understand the full impact of Christmas on the world.  We must see Him as the risen Lord standing in the Garden and look to the skies as He ascends back to heaven to grasp the fullness of His promised resurrection.

And we must see Him as the coming King in Watts’ song.  Zechariah 14:4-9 describes His glorious return: “On that day, His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west” (v. 4).   The world missed His first advent, but there will be no missing His second.  “Every eye will see Him” (Revelation 1:7).  Christmas brings us Joy as we remember Jesus’ birth, but the greatest rejoicing will come when the King of kings returns to earth.

Jesus promises “Behold, I am coming soon!” (Revelation 22:7).  And so we say with the Bride and the Spirit: “Amen. Come Lord Jesus” (v.20).

[1] Words: Isaac Watts, 1674-1748; Music: George Frederick Handel, 1658-1759; Arr.: Lowell Mason, 1792-1872

More Than Words

The more tired she is the more Joy fights sleep. I suppose she doesn’t want to miss a thing around her. When she was just a baby I would snuggle her close in the rocking chair and give her her bottle. She would drink just a little, pull away, then immediately complain because she didn’t have her bottle. I’d plug it back in and say, “You’re the one who turned away from it sweetie.” We would repeat this cycle several times until she finally gave up and drifted off.

This little ritual reminds me of people who complain, “I don’t feel God anymore. I don’t think God cares about me. Why does God not love me?” The first thing I ask them is, “What is God saying to you in His Word?” And they answer, “Oh, I haven’t read the Bible in a while – I know I should, I just haven’t felt like it.” DING-DING-DING! They just answered their own question. They don’t “feel” God or think he cares about nor loves them because they have turned away from the very place they find Him.

God gave the Israelites His commandments and His Law so that they would obey Him. But it was about more than just compliance, it was about knowing Him. The closer they lived to the commands of God, the more He revealed Himself to them. They came to know God by knowing and obeying His Words. Moses declared to them, “The word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” (Deut 30:14).

The Word of God has never been more readily available than it is today. The Scriptures are literally at our fingertips, in printed form, electronic media, by audio and video – and in almost every language on earth. You can have it any way you want it. But you have to want it. You have to pick up the book or open the app or pull up the podcast. You have to make God’s Word a priority in your life. The less you read, the less you want to read.  And the converse is true: the more you read, the more you want to read.

The Bible is not just a bunch of stories and rules and words on paper. It is the true and living Word of God (Heb 4:12), inspired and empowered by the Spirit of God (2 Pet 1:20-21) and embodied in Jesus Christ, the Son of God (John 1:14). Have you turned away from the very thing your spirit is craving? Come back to the Bible, Beloved. “These are not just idle words for you, they are your life” (Deut 32:47).

Hebrews: See You on the Mountain

When last we met over the book of Hebrews I told you about my childhood neighbor, Mr. Estes. Tall, broad-shouldered, and gruff of voice. I was terrified of him. One day I kicked my ball to my friend and it rolled across the road, down his driveway, through the open gate, and into his backyard. Right where he was watering Mrs. Estes’ plants. It stopped when it bumped his foot. Well, that’s one ball I would never see again. Petra was so terrified she ran back to her house at the end of the street. I started walking toward my house when I heard him call out to me. At least his lips were moving, but it wasn’t his gruff voice. This voice was kind and gentle. “Hey little girl, your ball rolled over here. Come get it, I’ll meet you at the end of the driveway.” Something in this different voice told me I could trust him and so I cautiously walked over. He handed me the ball and then asked me about school and my baby brother and stuck his hand in his pocket to pull out a butterscotch candy – my favorite.  We stood there for several minutes chatting and when I walked back to my yard I had a new friend who always kept a pocket full of butterscotchies for me.

The writer of Hebrews had talked about Mount Sinai, the mountain on which God descended with “fire, darkness, gloom, and storm” and the fearsome voice of the Lord (Heb 12:18-21). But he contrasted that mountain with another – Mount Zion. “But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God.  You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in Joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven” (Heb 12:22-23a). Mount Zion is a reference to the heavenly Jerusalem that will be the eternal home for all God’s people in the coming age. This is the place that John saw in Revelation 21:1-2. Unlike Mount Sinai, Mount Zion was a place of absolute Joy – “the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven” (v. 23b ).

Here we will be welcome to approach God – not just in prayer (Heb 10:22) but physically – even face to glorious face. This is where believers will dwell in the presence of God, where we can once again walk in the cool of the day with our Creator (Gen 3:8). This is where my mom and dad and brother wait for me. This is where I will meet my heroes of the Bible: Deborah, Dorcas, Anna, and Ezra. And this is where I will throw my arms around my Savior’s neck and thank Him for saving a wretch like me. I have a question for you: Will I see you there too? Beloved, is your name written in heaven?

Treasure Hunt

There’s such a wonderful benefit to getting out of our favorite passages in the Bible and exploring the rest of Scripture – it is all God’s Word after all. Wherever you read it will bless you, encourage you, challenge you, move you, teach you, guide you, and yes, chastise you. The Holy Writ of the Lord is His message of love, wisdom, discipline, and truth. It is His story with mankind as the supporting cast.

Almost everyone who has some knowledge of the Bible knows the 23rd Psalm, but not much more than that. I want to encourage you to branch out and see what else you can find. For example, Psalm 145 is one of those passages that should fill us with awe and wonder. It’s a psalm of praise as David first extols the greatness of God: “Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; His greatness no one can fathom” (v. 3). He vows to declare the glory, majesty, and power of the Lord to the next generation, to tell of His “mighty acts,” “wonderful works,” and “great deeds” (vs. 4,5,6). He remembers that God is the eternal King, that He is righteous and holy and worthy of praise. But through all of that, David weaves in God’s grace, compassion, patience, love, faithfulness, protection, provision, and presence toward us. He says that God is good, compassionate, and loving toward all mankind and that He is kind to those who have fallen.

Here is the Gospel my friends. God is high and holy, mighty and awesome. In love He created us and for that reason alone He is worthy of our praise. But we fail to praise Him because we are fallen and sinful, and in that state, we deserve destruction (v. 20). But God (my favorite phrase in all of the Bible) poured out His wrath on the cross of His Son. He pours out His love and kindness on humanity and lavishes those who believe with His mercy and grace. He has claimed us as His own. How is it that we are not on our faces in awe and worship and gratitude? Do we not realize that the great, awesome, righteous God who owes us nothing gave us everything?

The Bible tells this same story over and over from Genesis to Revelation. Go dig for treasure, Beloved. You’ll find it on every page.

Hebrews: The Voice of God

Joy rediscovered her toy radio last week. I bought it for her when she was about a year old to have something to play with on the drive to and from her nanny. When I first gave it to her she kept turning it over and over like she was looking for something. She turned to me with a puzzled expression and said, “Where da moosic?” Because she loved to watch kids’ music videos on TV, she thought she should be able to see the moosic as well as hear it.

The writer of Hebrews highlighted one of the most famous events in the Bible in retelling Moses’ story. “By faith, he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw Him who is invisible” (Heb 11:27). While Moses was in Midian, tending his father-in-law’s flock saw a bush on fire. Not so uncommon in the dry, hot desert. What caught his attention was that the blazing bush was not consumed by the flames. As he went closer to investigate, he heard a voice coming from the bush – calling his name! I would have taken off for the hills, but Moses answered, “Here I am.” And his whole life changed from that moment on.

Of course, you know that it was the voice of the Lord God speaking and He called Moses to lead the Hebrew people out of bondage. And Moses obeyed. Well, he argued a bit first, then he obeyed. He went into Egypt where he had been a wanted man, confronted Pharaoh (and made him very angry), and convinced two million plus Jews to follow him to freedom. All because of a voice that spoke to him out of a burning bush.

God speaks to me. No, I haven’t heard audible voices, but He speaks to me every day through His Word. I trust what I read in the Bible as the authoritative, infallible, perfect voice of the Lord God. And I haven’t seen any burning bushes, but I often feel a burning in my heart over a Scripture – a sense of knowing that He is speaking directly to me. I’ve never seen Him, but I hear Him, and I strive to obey. God is speaking to you too, Beloved. Just open His Book and listen with your heart. You’ll hear His voice. By faith.

Know Thine Enemy

Sun Tzu, a Chinese general, military strategist, and philosopher in the early 6th Century wrote the classic, “The Art of War,” From which we have taken the phrase “Know thine enemy.”  Paul cautioned believers with similar words saying that satan will not outwit us if we are aware of his schemes (2 Corinthians 2:11 paraphrased). We need to know our enemy to the degree that we recognize his evil hand in situations we face.

I thought of this yesterday as I was writing out a passage from Job. “God has found fault with me;” Job 33:10. This is one of Job’s detractors summarizing Job’s lament. Yet in the very beginning of his story, God said of him: “There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil” (Job 1:8; 2:3). The truth is, God didn’t find fault with Job. Satan did.

One of Satan’s favorite schemes goes like this: he presents a temptation, dangling the carrot of pleasure or power or wealth before us, enticing us until we bite. And as soon as we do he changes his tactic from temptation to condemnation. “Look at you! You call yourself a Christian? God is disgusted with you! He will never love you after what you’ve done!” Pretty soon we’re crying, “God has found fault with me.”  Sound familiar?

You and I need to know the difference between satan’s guilt trips and the Spirit’s conviction. When the Spirit speaks to us about our sin he does so with the goal of restoration. Conviction from the Holy Spirit brings “godly sorrow [which] brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret. But satan brings “worldly sorrow [that] brings death”  (2 Cor 7:9-10). Satan just wants to tear us down and bury us under a load of shame. Here’s how you can recognize one from the other. Satan’s attacks turn our attention to ourselves and what horrible creatures we are. The Spirit will always turn your attention to God and His mercy, forgiveness, and grace. And love.

In heaven, satan is called “the accuser of [God’s people], who accuses them before our God day and night” (Rev 12:10). But God’s not buying it. And neither should you Beloved. If you are in Christ, God sees His Son when He looks at you. Not your sin. And so should you.

Hebrews: A Forever Home

I don’t own a home. We rent a very nice house and love where we live, but now and then I wish I owned a place of my own. Homeownership is the “American dream.”. Renting seems like throwing money away, but really – all I need is a stable roof over my family’s head, and I have that now. And years of moving around as a military brat make me want to put down deep roots. But the truth is, “This world is not my home, I’m just a-passing through.” The author of this song is unknown, but it could have been Abraham. 

Hebrews says that “By faith [Abraham] made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents . . . For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (11:9, 10). Abraham had the promise from God of a land – “All the land that you see I will give you and your offspring forever” (Gen 13:15). It was a physical place, real ground he could set his feet upon, a “land flowing with milk and honey” (Ex 33:3). But for Abraham, it wasn’t “home.” Nor is it for those who follow Christ.

Philippians 3:20 reminds us that “our citizenship is in heaven.” And Peter said we are “aliens and strangers in this world” (1 Pet 2:11; also Heb 11:13). “Home” for the believer is nothing less than heaven. Jesus said because we belong to Him, we “do not belong to the world” (John 15:19).

He also said he was going to prepare a home for all who will believe and trust in Him.  “In my Father’s house are many rooms…I am going there to prepare a place for you, [and] I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:2-3). You can bet it will be better than any house man could build. And did you catch the reference to “foundations?” John’s description of heaven in Revelation 21 noted that our heavenly home has a twelve-layer foundation – each one of precious stones (vs. 19-20). You can’t get more stable – or opulent than that.

I’ve seen some pretty impressive homes and I confess to a twinge of jealousy. But then I remember that “I’ve got a mansion just over the hilltop.”* My forever and ever home. (*Ira Stanphill – 1949)

Hebrews: Pleasing God

Have you ever known someone you just couldn’t please? I have a few of those in my life and they are very hard to live with. The author of Hebrews said: “Without faith, it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6). One thing I’ve learned in studying the Bible is to take negative statements like this and flip them into positives. Thus we could say, “With faith, it is possible to please God.” When we boil it down to the simplest phrase we see that “Faith pleases God.” That’s what this whole chapter of Hebrews is about – not great exploits, but faith. And not even “great” faith.  Hudson Taylor, a missionary pioneer in China said, “You do not need a great faith, but faith in a great God.”

What does “pleasing faith” look like? Hebrews 11:6 continues: “anyone who comes to him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.” Other translations say: “must believe that He is . . .” and I think that is a better rendering. But believe that “He is” what? Everything He says He is. Start at Genesis 1:1 and read to Revelation 22:21 and take everything God says about Himself (and remember – Jesus is God) to heart. That is what this verse is saying. Faith that pleases God is faith that believes God is who He says He is. And that He can and will do everything He promises to do.

What does He promise to do? “reward those who earnestly seek Him.” And what is that reward?  “I am . . . your very great reward” (Genesis15:1). Got that? He is our reward. And He is a very great reward. All the riches on all the earth cannot compare. When God promises to be our reward that means that He will give us access to His power and love and truth and righteousness. What more could you want? What more could you need?  

One more thing before I sign off – Faith isn’t something we grit our teeth and conjure up on our own. Faith that pleases God comes from God. And the more we respond to that faith, the more of Himself He gives us. And that makes our faith grow. And that pleases Him. That’s what I want to do. How about you, Beloved?

Foot-washing

He rose from his place, removed his outer garments and took the towel and basin to the pitcher of water, and poured. Imagine the shocked silence that filled the room at the sight of Jesus, their beloved Teacher, kneeling before the first man, removing his dusty sandals and touching the filthy feet before Him. Surely all that could be heard was the splashing of water as He moved around the room. Peter wanted to spare His Lord such humiliation and drew back his feet, but Jesus refused to pass him by. When the task was done, Jesus told them to take His example and live by this expression of humility and service.

Something strikes me about it this scene. John (who was the only gospel writer to record this scene) never says that anyone washed the feet of Jesus that day. Perhaps one of them did, but surely John would not leave out such an important detail.

There will come a day – sooner or perhaps later – when I will see Him face to glorious face. When I bow before Him in grateful adoration, I want to wash my Jesus’ feet. I want to hold those beautiful feet in my hands. I want to splash water from the River of Life (Rev. 22:1) on His feet. Yes, Mary washed Jesus’ feet. But the feet she washed did not bear the scars from the cross. Those precious marks would come after His act of holy love. I want to touch the imprints left by the nails and kiss the scars that bought my redemption. I want to show Him “the full extent of my love” (Jn 13:1 NIV). I want to wash my Savior’s feet. The feet that kicked against the swaddling clothes in the manger. The feet that carried the Teacher to the shores of Galilee. The feet that walked the dusty road of the Via Dolorosa. The feet that bore the weight of His body and the weight of my sin on the cross. I want to wash those beautiful, glorious nail-scarred feet that speak of this sinner who has been set free.

Just Pray

A few days ago I shared the blessing of Joy praying at every meal, thanking God for her every single thing on her plate, for the family, and for the day. I shared about this vision in my mind that as soon as she says “Faudder,” God hushes all of heaven, “Quiet everyone, Joy is praying.” It is a sweet thought that touched many of your hearts. I was pondering that this morning and I sensed the Spirit saying, “I do that for your prayers too.”

Over and over the Lord assures us that He is indeed listening to all of our prayers. Psalm 66:19 says, “God has surely listened and heard my voice in prayer.” And Psalm 34:17 promises “The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; He delivers them from all their troubles.” Peter agreed with David and said, “The eye of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer” (1 Pet 3:12). And the disciple that Jesus loved said, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, he hears us” (1 John 5:14).

God loves to hear the voice of His children, in song, in proclamation, and especially in prayer. I used to think that God is going to do what He wants to do and there was no real point to me praying. But I know now that prayer is more than just rote words and a list of wishes thrown up in vain hope. Prayer is “powerful and effective” (James 5:16). It moves the heart of God. It moves our hearts too. Prayer changes circumstances and it changes us. It aligns our hearts with God’s will and causes us to desire the things He wants to do in and through us.

How do I know that prayer is so important to God? John reported on the scene in heaven saying, “[An] angel who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar before the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God” (Rev 8:3-4). The prayers of God’s people are a sweet aroma before Him.

So pray, Beloved. Even if it sounds awkward and uneloquent. God is listening to your heart – it is a beautiful thing in His ears.