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

Dig a Ditch

The nation of Moab was on the attack. The armies of Israel, Judah, and Edom set out to fight Moab in the desert. After a week of marching, they ran out of water – a deadly thing to face in a desert. Jehoshaphat, the king of Israel turned to God’s prophet Elisha for the Word of the Lord. “This is what the Lord says: ‘Make this valley full of ditches’” (2 Kings 3:16). Jehoshaphat assumed God was going to send rain to fill the ditches and provide water. Not so. Elisha said, “You will see neither wind nor rain, yet this valley will be filled with water” (v. 17). Water is going to magically appear in the desert? Right! The prophet answered, “This is an easy thing in the eyes of the Lord” (v. 18). Not only will God provide water for Israel, but “He will also hand Moab over to you” (v. 19). The armies obeyed and set to digging. In the morning the ditches were flowing with water! The army and the animals were refreshed and ready to press on.

But remember God’s second promise? When the Moabite army began to take up their battle positions in the early morning, the rising sun was shining on the water. “To the Moabites, the water looked red like blood” and they assumed that the armies had turned on one another and slaughtered each other. Their battle plan changed – “To the plunder, Moab!” (v. 23). But Moab walked right into the revitalized armies, and the few that survived turned tail and ran.

I confess I sat down to write with a heavy heart this morning. I am facing some tough things right now. I feel the press of the enemy against me. I feel his hot, nasty breath on the back of my neck. I was flipping through my Bible for inspiration and God stopped me here on this page. This is what He is speaking to me right now – and to you. “Yes, the enemy has put a bullseye on you, but I will help you. Watch Me easily do what is too hard for you. Dig a ditch and prepare to receive My blessing. Watch Me use that blessing to overthrow your enemy.”

I don’t know what the enemy has up his evil sleeve against you. But I know Who has your back. Beloved, dig a ditch.

Hebrews: Passing on the Blessing

A father’s role is different with every culture and every era. Dads today are more involved with the care and nurturing of their children than they were even in my generation. My Dad was the provider first and he taught my brother about working on vehicles. But the emotional care of my brothers and me was largely left to my Mom. He wasn’t really a disciplinarian either. He usually forgot that he had grounded me after a couple of days. But if Mom grounded me for a week it stuck to the minute. 

Still, some things haven’t changed. Fathers in the days of the patriarchs were also providers, then teachers especially of religion and the family trade. First-century fathers had one other very important role in their family – passing on the blessing. In Hebrews 11:20-21 we see Isaac and Jacob doing just that. “By faith, Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future. By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff.” That’s pretty cut-and-dried without any of the drama that surrounded them.

Isaac and Jacob were passing on the promise of God that had been first given to Abraham for a land of their own – Canaan. The author of Hebrews said those blessings were given “by faith” because the land that had been promised was not yet in their possession. Abraham believed God would be faithful to the promise and he passed that confidence and faith to his son and grandson. But it would be many more generations before they would take possession of the Promised Land.

But the promise and the blessing were about more than the land. The “everlasting covenant” the Lord made with Abraham was “to be your God and the God of your descendants after you” (Gen 17:7). For a season the Jewish people lost possession of the land. From the fall of Babylon in 586 bc until May 14, 1948, Israel was under foreign rule. But she was never without God. Nor are you. In their seasons of disobedience and rebellion, God disciplined them, but He also kept a loving eye on them and brought them back to the land – and to Himself. I find a lot of hope in that. You can too. Jesus said, “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt 28:20). He meant it Beloved. Every word.

Broken Glasses

Joy is learning how to swing on her own and honestly, I’m a little sad about that. But there is one piece of her swingset for which she still needs my help – the trapeze. Her favorite trick is to hang upside-down from her knees, so I set her up on it and we count 1 – 2 – 3 and I ease her back and down while she squeals with delight. Of course, I’m holding onto her legs the whole time. Then I raise her back up and repeat. And repeat. And repeat.

A couple of weeks ago she didn’t wait for the count and launched herself backward unexpectedly – and slammed her very hard head into the side of mine. The pain was stunning. My glasses went flying as I instinctively grabbed her legs to keep her from falling. I sat her down on the grass and heard her say, “Uh-oh Nana.” She held up my glasses with one leg spayed out at 20° instead of 90. I tried to straighten the leg but was afraid I would break it completely. The warped leg caused the left lens to sit so close to my eye that I couldn’t blink. It threw my vision off completely. I couldn’t afford to replace them so I wore them warped leg and all and I was constantly trying to adjust them so I could see clearly. My vision was badly skewed and everything was out of alignment. Reading was a challenge and driving was especially difficult.  We did finally get them a little straighter, but this certainly “opened my eyes” to something about spiritual life.

Some of us have a skewed image of God because life has dealt us some very painful blows. It’s as if we have been smacked upside the head and our vision is all wonky. Maybe you’re looking at God through the pain of broken relationships, broken promises, or a broken heart. No wonder you can’t see Him as He really is. Let me straighten your glasses, Beloved – God loves you. His heart is to bless you and heal you, not hurt you. David said, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). That verse gives me an image of a loving father, bending over His child, tending to her wounds, and speaking words of comfort and assurance. Like He is doing for you now.

I Promise

You stood together at the front of the church and promised to “love, honor and cherish till death do us part.” Yet, here you are alone and hurting. My child promised to come home on time, and two hours later I’m fuming as I hear his key finally turn in the door. They promised advances and promotions when you were hired, but you’re still stuck at entry-level. What happened? Promises were made and then broken. You’ve been on the receiving end, I’m sure. If you’re honest, you may have been on the giving end as well.

Part of our human sinful condition is that we are selfish and self-centered and that often means we will fail to keep our word. We make promises to get our way. We make promises we know we won’t keep. Of course, sometimes we make a promise and something unexpected causes us to break our promise. Whatever the reason someone usually gets hurt. Someone is placed at a disadvantage. Is it any wonder that we find it hard to trust others? Even God.

One thing of which I am certain is that God is faithful to His promises. His Word is as sure as His character, and His character is flawless. He doesn’t make promises based on feelings, so we never have to worry that His feelings will change and His promises will fail. He does not need to make promises to gain an advantage. He always has the advantage. He doesn’t make promises He cannot keep. He is almighty, all-powerful, and able to do everything He says He will do. He never makes a promise He doesn’t intend to keep. God wouldn’t be God if He did not or could not keep His promises.

What has God promised you? If you are in Christ He has promised you salvation and eternal life. He has promised you hope and peace and joy. He has promised His presence, His power, and His protection. He has promised to provide, comfort and care for you. He has promised you victory over sin and death and this world. Elizabeth said of Mary, “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished” (Luke 1:45). Blessed are you, Beloved, when you take God at His Word.

The Face of God

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The ancient blessing from God contained the words: “The Lord make His face shine on you . . . The Lord turn His face toward you . . .”  (Numbers 6:26). In the terminology of the Old Testament, to “turn one’s face toward” someone was to signify favor and blessing from the greater to the lesser.  A king might show favor to a trusted soldier or advisor and shower him with gifts and position—he had turned his face toward him.  It was a mutual benefit as the king gained greater loyalty from the one he favored.  For the nation of Israel, the God of heaven and earth turned His face toward them and promised His blessing, His grace, and His peace (see vs. 24-26).  This weary group had just escaped from Egypt after four hundred years of slavery.  They had nothing to offer that would garner His favor, they had no country of their own, no wealth or treasure, and no political or military power.  When God turned His face toward them, it was purely an act of unmerited favor on the part of the Lord.

As we celebrate Christmas, we celebrate the favor of the Creator poured out on us, His creation.  We celebrate the gift of His mercy and His grace given in the Baby in the manger. Our celebrations are meager compared to this gift. We hang lights in our homes to honor the Light of the World.  We give gifts just as the Magi gave gifts to the Christ Child.  We sing songs remembering the song of the angels: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests” (Luke 2:14).  We rejoice at the Joy of the shepherds who first saw this wondrous gift from heaven.

But let us not forget that God showed His highest favor toward us at Calvary.  The gift given at Jesus’ birth was made complete in His sacrifice.  At the cross, the Father turned His away from His one and only Son so that He might turn His face toward sinful humanity – toward you, Beloved – and give you peace.  It is the highest act of benevolence and it is the greatest gift you will ever be given.

Love Your Enemies

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Our Ladies Bible study group continues to study through the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5-7. Six times in chapter five Jesus said, “You have heard . . . “ and followed it with “But I tell you . . ..” In matters of murder, adultery, divorce, oaths, and, in verses 38-48, revenge, and enemies. Maybe you should grab your Bible and read those verses. In vs. 38-42 He said “Do not resist an evil person” and gave specific examples of people who persecute and take advantage of you. He established the principle of “going the extra mile and turning the other cheek.” He said when someone makes demands of you – not only should you meet their demands, but you should exceed them. Peter took this to heart when he said, “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing . . .” (1 Peter 3:9). In our “stand up for yourself” culture, that rubs the wrong way.

In verses 43-48 He said we are to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Again, that is so completely counter-cultural. But there is a purpose in all of this. Peter continued in his letter by saying “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (3:15).

My family was stationed in Mannheim, Germany in the early-mid ’70s and my oldest brother was working at one of the base stores as a stocker. Jim carried his Bible with him to work and read it on his break. One of his co-workers constantly ridiculed him. Jim never said a word back, but was gracious to the guy and often helped him complete his work. One day the co-worker took his box cutter and slashed several pages of my brother’s Bible. Again, Jim never said a word but spent his break taping the pages back together. Finally, the offender asked, “Why?” And Jim was able to lead him to faith in Jesus. He asked my brother if he could have the very Bible that he had tried to destroy.

That’s why we don’t resist and we love those who hate us. Because our example could be the bridge to brings them to Christ. Beloved, who comes to mind when you think about people who do you wrong? That’s the very one you need to pray for and love into the Kingdom.

The Blessedness of Obedience

“Six days before the Passover, Jesus arrived at Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.  Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor.  Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with Him.” (John 12:1-2)

The weary people stood at the edge of the Jordan River, listening to their aged leader Moses recount the history of their journey from Egypt, across the wilderness to the place where they now waited to enter the Promised Land.  He reiterated the commands and laws of God and, as he neared the end of his message, as all good preachers do, he delivered the application and gave them a choice: obedience or disobedience – and with the choice came consequences – blessing for obedience or punishment for disobedience.

I have set before you life and death, blessing and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to His voice and hold fast to Him.  For the Lord is your life. Deuteronomy 30:19-20

 God so desires to bless us.  He has a vast storehouse of good things waiting to be poured out on your life and mine.  Because He loves us, He watches – not for us to do wrong – but for the moment we do right so that he can rain down “showers of blessings” (Ezekiel 34:26). God is generous with His blessings – lavish even (1 John 3:1).  It delights Him to delight us.  You can’t begin to imagine what God wants to give you as Paul said: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).

But God reserves those blessings for those who love and obey Him.  True, “rain falls on the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:45), but He saves the greater blessings for His children who hear His voice and obey.  The account of Lazarus is a perfect example.

In our key verse, Lazarus is at the table with Jesus, his beloved friend, teacher and Lord.  The reason for the gathering is significant – it was a dinner to honor and thank Jesus for what He had done for Lazarus and his sisters, Martha and Mary.  And it is also the point of this devotional.  Look back at the first part of our key verse and note that Lazarus had been raised from the dead by Jesus.  Take a few minutes to read the account in John 11:1-44.  Notice with me in verse 43 that “Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” And what did Lazarus do?  He obeyed. “The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face” (v. 44).  Lazarus heard Jesus’ voice and he obeyed.  And because he obeyed, He was restored to life.  Because He obeyed, he was sitting at the table, sharing a meal with Jesus.  Lazarus heard, Lazarus obeyed, and Lazarus lived to enjoy the blessings of his Savior.  What if Lazarus had decided not to obey?  He would have stayed cold and dead in the tomb and not received the blessings of life and fellowship with Jesus.  His family would not have given a dinner and Jesus would not have been honored.

Lazarus’ obedience brought blessing, it brought life and a deeper relationship with Jesus than ever before.  Lazarus’ obedience brought honor to Jesus – and this in the last week of his friend’s life, for Jesus would die on the cross just six days later.

Jesus called Lazarus out of the grave and into life.  He calls you and me out of the grave and into life.  We are all spiritually dead until we hear the voice of Jesus calling us out of the grave, and He calls to us all – every man, woman, boy and girl.  Some will hear His voice and obey and receive the blessings of everlasting life and fellowship with God.  Some will hear His voice and refuse to obey and remain cold and dead, and will receive everlasting punishment.  But we all hear.  We all are called from death to life.  We all have a choice to make.

“Choose life . . . and live.”

 Merciful and gracious Heavenly Father, I pray for the soul that reads these words.  I pray that they will choose to obey.  I pray that they will chose to receive all the blessings You have in store for them.  I pray they will chose life.  Amen.