Advent 2022: The Ancient Story of Christmas

When we tell the Christmas story we tend to tell it as if God send Jesus as a reaction to the state of humanity. But look at the words of the Old Testament prophet: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times” (Micah 5:2). This is a prophecy of the coming Messiah – the Son of God and King over Israel. Did you catch the last line: “whose origins are from of old, from ancient times”? The word “ancient” in Hebrew means eternal. It speaks of the eternal nature of God the Son and the plan that has been in place from before the creation of the world.

God was not taken aback when Eve grabbed for the forbidden fruit. He did not look upon the mess humans had made and concluded that this was the only solution. He did not send His Son in reaction to man’s sin. The Bible says that Jesus was “the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world” (Revelation 13:8). Jesus said that the kingdom was “prepared for you since the creation of the world” (Matthew 25:34). The plan for redemption – the birth, death, and resurrection of Christ – was established before God ever said, “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3).

When we celebrate the birth of Jesus, we are celebrating the plan of the ages. We are celebrating – not just the reason for the season – but the reason for creation. When we celebrate Christmas we are celebrating God’s eternal purpose – to reveal His love. Do you understand what that means for you? Long before your affair, the abortion, that little white lie that exploded on you, the time you shook your fist at heaven, the decisions you made that kept you awake at night  – it was all foreseen before you were born. The Baby in the manger was not in reaction to your sin but was out of His great heart. God was not shocked by your sinful actions. He made the way, Beloved before you needed the way. Because He has loved you from ancient times.

Advent 2022: Wise Men and Ancient Prophecies

What kind of faith must you have to chase a star for two years and hundreds of miles based on an ancient prophecy? The wise men – Matthew calls them “Magi” – traveled what scholars suppose to be about 800-900 miles “from the east” (Matt. 2:1), most likely ancient Persia, or our modern Iran. They were probably devout scholars who studied the ancient holy texts of many religions. The writings of the Jewish faith – which would include prophecies of a special King – would have likely come to them via Daniel’s time in Babylon. Through their studies, they came to recognize that the star that rose at a specific time signaled the birth of this very King. So they set out on a long, difficult journey with gifts fit for royalty.

Here’s what amazes me about the Magi – it wasn’t curiosity that caused them to leave their homes and families for such an arduous journey. It was worship. Matthew records their words to King Herod, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw His star in the east and have come to worship him” (v. 2). Here’s the other thing that is surprising to me – He wasn’t their king. Remember – they identified Him as the “King of the Jews.” The Magi didn’t owe him homage. Why would they worship a king not their own? They realized from all they had studied that this king was worthy of worship – not just the worship of the Jews, but the worship of all men everywhere. These Magi took ancient prophecies, looked forward, and recognized that Jesus was a unique king. In faith and awe, they set out on a long journey to worship Him.

You and I have more than just ancient prophecies; we have the New Testament Scriptures that proclaim that Jesus is this King. We have the eye-witness of the Apostles and we have the heart-witness of the martyrs that testify that Jesus is not just King of the Jews, but King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The faith of all these should inspire faith in us. Jesus – the baby in the manger, the child in Bethlehem, the man healing lepers and raising the dead and dying on a cross and bursting alive out of the grave – this Jesus is worthy of our faith and worthy of our worship. Let’s give Him all the honor and glory He deserves this Christmas – and every day.

Advent 2022: He is . . .

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.  And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Isaiah 9:6

 He is the Wonderful Counselor because He is all-knowing – He has absolute wisdom. He leads with knowledge of the way ahead.  He speaks from His Word – full of righteousness with not even a hint of error.  All His ways are right and true.  His counsel is without cost, His office never closes, and He is never too busy to meet with you.  Your Wonderful Counselor is only a whispered prayer away.

 

He is a Mighty God because He is all-powerful. This Child was born to save the world. He is a warrior who defeated the foe of His people.  Only the enemy is not a human army; the enemy is death – that is, eternal separation from God.  And He did not do battle with arrows or spears or any man-made weapon.  He used a wooden cross and an empty tomb. “Death has been swallowed up in victory!” (1 Corinthians 15:54) and we will live forevermore.

 

He is our Everlasting Father because in Him is everlasting life. But not just an existence that never ends,  It is about the uninterrupted presence of God and His everlasting love (Ps. 103:17), everlasting righteousness (Ps. 119:142), an everlasting kingdom (Ps. 145:113), everlasting Joy (Is. 35:10), everlasting salvation (Is. 47:17), everlasting kindness (Is. 54:8), everlasting light (Is 60:19, 20), and an everlasting name (Is. 56:5). It will be an everlasting paradise (Rev. 2:7)!

He is the Prince of Peace who came to this earth, not in a castle, but in a stable. He came to bring us peace that cannot be broken. Certainly, in Him there is peace of mind and peace in the storm and peace between men, but Jesus Christ came that you and I might have even more – peace with our Creator.  He came to lay His body down as a bridge between us and God, ensuring peace in the most important place of all, our souls.

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. What greater gift could there be, Beloved?

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

Mirror Image

I’ve been a Bible student for at least thirty years, a Bible teacher for more than twenty, and a Bible writer for ten. I’ve taught, studied, or written about every book in the Bible. I have a bachelor’s degree in Theology and Biblical Studies and have almost completed my master’s. But I’ve barely scratched the surface of biblical truth. I have only a minuscule glimpse of God. There’s far more to discover than my finite middle-aged, deep-southern mind can grasp. Still, I will keep digging until I draw my last breath. And then I will know more.

Paul said that in this life, “we know in part . . .” (1 Cor 13:9). We know fragments of truth, and that makes it hard to believe because there is so much we don’t know. The world thinks of us as fools for trusting in what we cannot see and cannot fully comprehend. Yet. One of the most important things God has been teaching me is to keep an eternal mindset. That’s not a Pollyanna “it’ll all turn out okay in the end” attitude. An eternal mindset isn’t focused on the circumstances, it’s focused on the sovereign King of the universe. The Lord God Almighty. The Creator of all that is.

Here is what I believe is at the heart of an eternal mindset. You and I – and every human that was, is, or is to come – is made in the Imago Dei – the image of God. Before He scooped up the dust of the earth God said, “Let us make man in our own image” (Gen 1:26). And that is what He did. We are walking, talking, breathing expressions of our Creator. But sin separated us from our Creator and marred the perfect image we were meant to bear. It’s what Paul meant in verse 12: Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror . . .” We look at our spiritual reflection, knowing we’re supposed to see God, but we see only ourselves – our sinful human selves.

But one day, because of Jesus, we will see that perfect image. No, we won’t be looking into a divine mirror, we will be looking at the Divine Himself. Paul says, “then we shall see face to face.” We will see God. Face to face. I can’t even imagine. But I long for it. It’s my heart’s highest desire. I hope it’s yours too, Beloved.

Do You Know Jesus?

I recently saw a meme that said, “I follow Jesus, not the Bible.” But the Bible is where you will find everything you need to know about Jesus.

He is the Seed of the woman who will one day crush the head of Satan and the Passover Lamb. He is the great high priest and the perfect sacrifice, the Prophet and the Captain of the Lord’s army.  He is the Deliverer and our Kinsman Redeemer and the King in the line of David. He is the Restorer of Jerusalem, the Shepherd, and the Source of all wisdom.  He is the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, and Suffering Servant. He is the Man acquainted with sorrows and the one who brings life to dry bones. He is the Ancient of Days, a faithful Husband, Source of Hope, Judge, Preacher, Mighty Savior, and the Son of Righteousness.

Matthew declared Him as the long-awaited Messiah and the fulfillment of prophecy. Mark showed that He was the King with power and authority over every realm. Luke proclaimed Him as the Son of God full of compassion and mercy.  John said that Jesus “was the Word” made “flesh” and the “true light” and the “One and Only” from the Father (John 1:1, 14, 9, 14, respectively). And throughout John’s Gospel, Jesus is revealed as “the Bread of Life” (6:48), “the Light of the world” (8:12), “the Door” and “the Good Shepherd” (10:9,11), “the Resurrection and the Life” (11:25), “the Way and the Truth and the Life” (14:6), and “the true Vine” (15:1). Paul said Jesus is “the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15) and the writer of Hebrews said that “the Son is . . . the exact representation of [God’s] being. In other words, when you see these truths about Jesus, you are seeing God. What we know about Him from the Scriptures is enough to change our lives forever.

The Lord posed the most important question when He asked, “Who do you say I am?” (Matt 16:15). You need to know the right answer, Beloved. Your eternal destiny depends on it.  You will only find Him on the pages of Holy Writ. I encourage you to pick up a Bible and meet the Son of God. It’s the most wonderful discovery you’ll ever make.

God Knows

There is much fear in hearts and minds around the world today because of the actions of one wicked man. Who knows how far he wants to take his evil plan? People are suffering horribly because of his thirst for power and disregard for human life. So I asked God what message He wanted to bring you today and  He led me to Luke 12 and the Parable of the Rich Fool. A parable about greed. Thanks, God, that’s gonna be real helpful right now.

But you know that one biblical story taken out of its greater context is missing the whole point. So as I began to look at the surrounding passages and as I realized what God was up to.

Let me set the stage. Jesus tells the story of a rich man who, after a bountiful harvest, decided to hoard up all he had, even though he had more than he needed. Rather than share the blessings with his neighbors, he decided to build bigger barns and stockpile it all for himself. The man would not enjoy his harvest though, for that night he would die. This parable is pretty straightforward: Don’t be greedy. But look at the bigger picture. Before and after this parable, Jesus says over and over: “do not be afraid,” and “do not worry.” (Check out Luke 12:7, 11, 22, 25, 26, 29, 32.) He followed the parable with the famous discourse of the Father providing for the birds and the flowers – “how much more valuable are you than they?” (v. 24).

Worry and fear cause us to “run after” the things the world chases (v. 29-30) or to hoard up what we have in fear of not having enough (v. 16-19). Over the past couple of years, we lived out the illustration of this message as stores have been stripped of basic necessities. Do you remember to great toilet paper shortage of 2020? Yet Jesus tells us not to worry. Why? Because “your Father knows that you need [these things].” And because it delights the Father to provide for His children.

God knows all about what’s happening on the world’s stage. He knows that these are scary times. As His child, He knows what you need. And He says, “Do not be afraid.” Beloved, your Father is the King of Heaven and Earth – what could you possibly have to worry about?

Hebrews: The Throne of Christ

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I worked at a grocery store several years ago as a floral clerk – it was the most fun job I ever had. But after 25 years of desk jobs, it was hard to be on my feet for 8 hours a day. I so looked forward to the end of my shift when I could go home take off my shoes and sit down. When the work was done so was I. There’s a powerful point that the writer of Hebrews makes about Jesus, our great high priest. He said, “Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But [I love that word in the Bible!] when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God” (Heb 10:11-12). Did you get that? He. Sat. Down. His work – providing the atoning sacrifice for mankind – was done so He could climb the steps to His heavenly throne beside His Father and take His seat once more. That is why He was able to cry out from the cross, “It is finished.” (John 19:30). 

This was important to the Jewish believers who were accustomed to the yearly cycle of sin and sacrifice that never completely took away the stain and guilt of sin. But no more. One sacrifice – the death of the God-man, Jesus, was enough. “Enough for what?” you may ask. Enough to permanently remove the sin that hinders fellowship with our Creator. Enough to satisfy the demands of a holy God. Enough to cover the sins of every person who would receive this great salvation. Enough to last “for all time.” Enough for you and for me.

Oh, He will stand once again. The Old Testament prophet Zechariah had a vision of the last days: “On that day [the Lord’s] 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 . . .” (Zec 14:4). When He comes again He will stand atop the very same spot from which He surrendered His will to the will of His Father and surrendered His body into the hands of the murderous Jewish leaders.

For now, He sits, but not idly. He is “at the right hand of God, interceding for us” (Rom 8:34). Beloved, behold your great High Priest.

The King is Coming!

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In the first-century world, before a king came to visit one of his cities, the call would go out to prepare the roads on his path – to make the way level and straight and free from any possible danger. When God prepares a people for a great move on His part, He always calls them to make themselves ready by repentance – confessing and turning away from sin, and consecration – setting oneself apart exclusively for Him. “I am the Lord your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy” (Lev 11:44).  Before Jesus began His earthly ministry John the Baptist was sent to “Prepare the way for the Lord, [to] make straight paths for him” (Mark 1:3).   John was calling for the people to prepare their hearts for the Lord by repentance and consecration. He declared a clear warning of the coming wrath of God – but you might be surprised to know his comments were aimed directly at the “religious leaders.” 

Christians have pleaded with God for a great move of His Spirit in the world.  We want Him to “do amazing things among us.”  But are we hearing the call to prepare the way for Him?  Are we heeding the call for repentance?  Am I carefully examining my life for habits, desires, laziness, distractions, and selfishness that serve as a quiet rebellion against God?  Are our lives straight paths for the King? Are we consecrating ourselves unto the Lord?  Are you willing to let go of everything that draws your heart away?  Are you getting rid of the things that compromise your testimony and drag you into the world?  What T.V. shows, movies, music, magazines, and websites need to go to make your heart ready for the Lord?  What attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, rights, and worldly influences do I need to turn from in order to be used for the Kingdom of God?

I believe God is getting ready to do a great work in the world.  But it will require His people to will set everything aside and prepare the way.   That means wholehearted devotion to Christ and an unwillingness to compromise with the world.  I also believe a great battle is coming in this nation; the lines have already been drawn in our culture and our courts.  Only people with pure, consecrated hearts will be able to stand firm in the face of it.   Beloved, how will you get ready?

Hebrews: Who’s the Greatest?

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In our last devotional on Hebrews 7, we looked at Melchizedek, a mysterious figure from the days of Abraham, who was held in high esteem by the Jewish people. Go back and read verses 1-10. There are several similarities between Melchezidek and Jesus. Melchezidek was both a priest and a king, an unheard of combination in the Jewish nation. Nations outside of Israel often combined the offices, but for God’s people, kings were descendants of Judah, specifically David, and priests descended from Levi, specifically Aaron. Jesus was the only other person in Scripture who could fill both roles perfectly. He was a descendant of David through his adoptive father and was appointed to the priesthood by God (Psalm 110:4). We’re going to come back to this thought.

Melchizedek, the author said, was “Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, like the Son of God he remains a priest forever” (v. 3). Bear in mind that he does not claim that Melchizedek was more than a mortal human being.  And we do know Jesus’s human mother, Mary, and Matthew and Luke record the genealogical record of Jesus (through Joseph). But the Scripture did not mention the birth or death of Melchizedek, which the author used to point to Jesus’ eternal nature, “without beginning of days or end of life.” That is because Jesus is the Son of God and has always existed. “He was with God in the beginning” (John 1:2), and “His years will never end” (Heb. 1:12). Melchizedek was a figure of Christ, but Christ was the reality and the standard.

Finally, Melchizedek’s name and title are the identity of Jesus. His name meant “the king of righteousness” and his domain meant “the king of peace” (Salem=Shalom). Jesus is the one who brings us righteousness before God and peace with God. No human priest or king could ever do that. It is Christ’s work alone.

The author’s point is not to set our focus on Melchizedek, but to turn all eyes to Jesus who exceeds the great priest-king. He continued to press the point that Jesus is – not just the better way to God and eternal life – but the only way. To those who were on the fence about staying with Christ or returning to the Law, the choice is clear. There is no other way but Jesus. The same is true for you and me, there is no other way to eternal life. Stick with Jesus, Beloved, all the way home.