Advent Day 16 – Prince of Peace

“And He will be called . . . Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6)

I would guess that most of you reading this devotional are, like me, from the Western Christian tradition, that is, not a member of the Jewish faith.  Therefore, words and phrases in the Bible such as “Prince of Peace” don’t ring with the same significance to as they did to the descendants of the Hebrews.  Taken separately, these two words simply mean Prince as a ruler or leader of a nation and PeaceShalom – or in the ancient Hebrew – salom – means safety, prosperity, wellbeing, wholeness, and contentment. But when a Jew heard these words, they spoke volumes more – of the long oppression of the Hebrew people and their struggle to survive.  And they spoke to the hope of the promised Messiah.

The nation of Israel cycled in and out of oppression and blessing because of their hot-then-cold devotion to the Lord.  In 607 bc, after falling deeper and deeper into idolatry and disobedience, God took the nation of Israel away from the Jewish people and for seventy years exiled them in Babylon.  When they returned to Jerusalem, their homeland was under foreign rule; they were subjects of the Persians, Greeks, and, at the time of Jesus’ birth, the cruel Romans. They would continue under foreign rule until May 14, 1948 when they were once again recognized as an independent state.

The Jewish people longed for a descendant of the line of King David – the Prince of Peace –  who would free them from oppression and re-establish their nation.  He would reign on “the throne of His father David, and  . . . over the house of Jacob forever; His kingdom will never end” (Luke 1:32-33).  At the time of Jesus’ birth they expected a warrior-King who would defeat their enemy and restore the kingdom.

They were right about the Messiah’s mission – yet they were also wrong.  He did come to defeat their enemy.  But their enemy was not Rome – the real enemy that had enslaved them was the curse of death and sin – the same enemy that has oppressed every human being since Adam and Eve. The same enemy that has enslaved you and me.  The Prince of Peace – the Messiah – came to break the power of that curse.  His mission was much bigger than freeing a nation; He came to free all of humanity.

You may not trace a Jewish heritage, but you can proclaim Jesus Christ as your Prince of Peace, the One who set aside His crown in heaven to wear a crown of thorns on earth that you might be free and reconciled to your Creator.  The mission of Messiah was to rescue you and restore you to the family of His Father.  At the cross of Calvary Jesus accomplish that mission.  For you.

 

Read: Colossians 1:19-20

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Advent Day 7 – JOY to the World!

“And the angel said unto the, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”  Luke 2:10-11 KJV

This time of year, we greet one another with a joyful “Merry Christmas!”  We sing the Christmas hymn, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come!”  We delight to see joy on our children’s faces as they take in the sights and sounds all around them.  There are joyous shouts as gifts are unwrapped around the tree.  Christmas is truly a time for joy.

But is our joy merely in the lights and gifts and festive activities at this time of year?  Do we truly understand the reason for the joy of the Christmas season?

The angels brought the good news of the birth of Jesus with a proclamation of joy.  This baby was the fulfillment of a promise from God that the Jews had clung to for centuries.  The LORD had said He would send them a King – the Messiah – who would rule in righteousness and justice, who would save His people and restore all that God had given to them.  And they were right about the coming Messiah – yet they were also wrong.  The Jews lived for hundreds of years under the oppression of enemy nations; the Babylonians, the Medes and Persians, the Greeks, and, at the time of Jesus’ birth, the Romans.  Their beloved Jerusalem had been taken hostage by this sometimes cruel and evil nations, Rome being the worst.  The Jews expected a Messiah who would break the Roman rule and restore Jerusalem back to its former glory in the days of David and Solomon.

But the true enemy of the Jews was the same enemy you and I have today.  Our own sinfulness.  Sin is what kept the Jews in bondage, and it is what keeps you and me in bondage today.   The Messiah of God came, not to break the back of an enemy nation, but to break the bonds of sin that keep mankind imprisoned.  Jesus came as an infant, not to give us a reason for a party, but to bring freedom from the curse of sin.  And that is the true JOY of Christmas.  The baby Jesus in the manger is the Savior Jesus on the Cross, and the Risen Jesus who has “proclaimed freedom for the prisoners, release for the oppressed” and the JOY of “the Lord’s favor.”

Don’t let your Christmas JOY stop at the tree.  Look beyond the tinsel and wrappings and see the Messiah in the manger, the Savior on the Cross and the Risen Christ who has come to set you free.  JOY to the world, indeed!

Read: Psalm 72

Waiting for Christmas

Two children waiting for Santa Claus - Getty Images

Two children waiting for Santa Claus – Getty Images

“When they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her first-born son” (Luke 2:6).

A woman waits many long months before her baby is born.  We wait in doctor’s offices, we wait our turn in kindergarten, we wait for a plane, and many a parent has waited up for their kids to get home. Waiting is part of life, often a frustrating one.  But it’s really all in our attitude and expectation.  Have you ever been around children waiting for Christmas?   They are so impatient, but they are so full of joy and excitement at what’s to come.

The Bible tells us that the nation of Israel had waited for centuries for the One whom God would send – the Messiah.  Devout Jews prayed daily for this coming.  They longed for and watched diligently to see God’s Redemption.  Yet the Lord delayed in sending the Chosen One.  The people prayed and waited. And waited. And waited.

Can you relate? Have you prayed and waited with no end in sight?  What could possibly be taking so long?  God’s delays are often a season of preparation.  Whether it is a situation, a place or a person, something needs to be made ready.  Very often, it’s me and you.   I want to give you a Word from the Bible I hope will bring you peace as God tarries.  “But when the time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman” (Galatians 4:4).  When the time fully comes – when things or people (or you) are as they need to be – God will bring about something wonderful.  He never delays one millisecond past the right time. 

What is your part?  Keep praying.  Keep waiting.  Keep watching.  But do so with hope and expectation, like a child waiting for Christmas.  God is at work – perhaps He’s tying the bow on your gift right now. 

Advent 2015 – Day 3 – The Hope of His Presence

Advent candle 1O Immanuel . . . God is with us.  Isaiah 8:8, 10

My best friend and I are separated by almost five hundred miles.  We chat often on social media and talk with one another on the phone, but when I have the chance to see her face-to-face my heart rejoices.  There is something about presence—about being together that touches the heart more than a phone conversation ever could.

In the beginning, in the Garden, God and His first children, Adam and Eve enjoyed one another’s presence regularly.  The Bible tells us that they delighted in spending time together “in the cool of the day” (Genesis 3:8).  But sin forever altered that.  Over time, the Lord instructed the Israelites to build a temple where He could dwell among them, though still separated from them by walls and curtains.  When Israel’s apostasy reached a certain point, the Lord withdrew His presence from the Temple—and the people.  But He promised His presence would one day return to them, in the person of the Messiah.  That is the promise of Immanuel—God with us.  And as He always does, The Lord kept His promise.  God’s very presence was born on earth in a stable in Bethlehem, wrapped in fragile flesh with tiny toes and tiny fingers, crying for the comfort of His human mother.  Once more God was present with His people, and the world didn’t even notice.

A Second-hand God?

“We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.” John 4:42
I have been a Bible Study teacher for more than 10 years, it is my passion and my calling from God. I take very seriously the responsibility to “correctly handle the Word of Truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). I take very personally the care and feeding of “my sheep” as Jesus charged Peter after His resurrection (see John 21:15-17). The spiritual health of those God has entrusted to me is my constant prayer. So last night, when one of my “lambs” called me to share a revelation from God as she meditated on the material we are studying, I was overcome with thanksgiving and my eyes welled up with tears of joy! There is nothing that blesses any teacher’s heart – whether a Bible teacher, school or college teacher or even the master craftsman training his apprentice – like when your student “gets it.” When the bell rings in their heart and the light goes off in their head – and the lesson taught becomes a truth received.
Take a few minutes to read John 4:1-42. Go ahead, I’ll wait for you here.
This account of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well is rich with so many wonderful illustrations, one could write a book from all the treasures in this just passage of Scripture. And I may just do that someday. But I want to focus on verses 28-30 and 39-42.
This woman, with her sinful track record and obvious disregard by her neighbors, went back into the town and told the people to come and see this remarkable Man, “who told me everything I ever did” (v. 29). She wondered aloud if this was “the Christ,” the long awaited Messiah of the Jews. They came, because of her testimony and her witness of the Man. Verse 39 says “Many of the Samaritans…believed in Him because of the woman’s testimony.” But verse 40 tells us that they didn’t just take her word for who this Man was, but they urged Him to stay and they listened to His Words. And the beautiful result is in verse 42, our key verse. “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”  They spent two days listening to Jesus, and they came to a personal knowledge and a personal relationship with Him.
Too many of us have settled for a second-hand relationship with God. We go to church every Sunday and listen to the words that are preached. We may go to Sunday School and hear the lesson brought by the teacher from the material of a writer in another place. We may even go so far as to attend a Bible study class and listen to the leader, and read the lesson. But we don’t make it our own. We settle for what someone else tells us about God, and we wonder why He is not so real to us.
God created you that you might have a deeply intimate and personal relationship with Him. Jesus came to interact personally with people, and He sends His Holy Spirit to live in us in the most intimate way. Bible study and listening to godly teachers and preachers is vital to our spiritual growth, but if we don’t take those Words and make them personal, we have full heads and empty hearts.
God knows your heart and your needs, and He has a Word just for you. He has a purpose just for you. You won’t find it anywhere else but at His feet.
I will teach the Word of God for as long as He gives me breath. There is so much to learn, and so much to share, the Word of the Lord never gets stale or boring. But the ultimate goal of every teacher to teach ourselves out of a job – to stir in our students a hunger and passion for the Word, and the God who wrote it. I pray that you make His Word your own, and that you never settle for a second-hand relationship with the God who created you, loves you, and died for  you. I pray that you will be able to say, with Job, “My ears had heard of you  – but now  – my eyes have seen you” (Job 42:5).
Holy Father, thank you for godly teachers and preachers who lead us into the riches of Your Word.  Lord, be real to me today. Speak to my heart of intimate things. Draw me to You so that I can know You for myself.  Amen.

JOY to the World!

“And the angel said unto the, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”  Luke 2:10-11 KJV

As we enter into this third week of the Advent season, we focus our thoughts and hearts on JOY.  Who doesn’t delight to see the joy on the faces of children this time of year?  We greet one another with a joyful “Merry Christmas!” the word “merry” being a joyous greeting that repeats the message in our key verse – one of “great joy at the birth of Christ”.  (Maybe that’s why there is such a PC battle over the traditional greeting.) We sing the Christmas hymn, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come!”  Christmas is truly a time for joy.

But is our joy merely in the lights and gifts and festive activities at this time of year?  Do we truly understand the reason for the joy of the Christmas season?

The angels brought the good news of the birth of Jesus with a proclamation of joy, and the fulfillment of a promise from God that the Jews had clung to centuries, the promise of the Messiah.  God had promised to send a King who would rule in righteousness and justice, who would save His people and restore to them all that God had given to them.  And they were right about the coming Messiah – yet they were also wrong.  The Jews lived for hundreds of years under the oppression of enemy nations; the Babylonians, the Medes and Persians, the Greeks, and, at the time of Jesus birth, the Romans.  Their beloved Jerusalem had been taken hostage by this sometimes cruel and evil nations, Rome being the worst.  The Jews expected a Messiah who would break the Roman rule and restore Jerusalem back to its former glory in the days of David and Solomon.

But the true enemy of the Jews was the same enemy you and I have today.  Our own sinfulness. Sin is what kept the Jews in bondage, and it is what keeps man in bondage still today.   The Messiah of God came, not to break the back of an enemy nation, but to break the bonds of sin that keep mankind imprisoned.  Jesus came as an infant, not to give us a reason to party, but to bring freedom from the bonds of sin.  And that is the true JOY of Christmas.  The baby Jesus in the manger is the Savior Jesus on the Cross, and the Risen Jesus who has “proclaimed freedom for the prisoners, release for the oppressed” and the JOY of “the Lord’s favor.”

Don’t let your Christmas JOY stop at the tree.  Look beyond the tinsel and wrappings and see the Messiah in the manger, the Savior on the Cross and the Risen Christ who has come to set you free.  JOY to the world, indeed!

Holy Jesus, Messiah, Savior, and risen King, fill my heart with the true JOY of this Advent season.  Let me ring the freedom bells of Christmas and proclaim – JOY to the world, the LORD has come, let earth receive Her KING!”  Amen.

The Hope of Advent

“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

Advent is a time of preparation, as we prepare our homes, our menus, our gift-lists, and calendars for Christmas.  More importantly, it is a season to prepare our hearts for the coming of the Christ Child.  Advent traditionally follows four weekly themes: Hope, Peace, Joy and Love.  Additionally, the tradition is to light a series of candles in observance of these special themes.  With all the “hustle and bustle,” shopping, cooking, visiting, and cleaning, it is easy to lose sight of the true reason for the Christmas season.  I would like to invite you to join me every day at “Deeper Roots” for a short devotional during the Advent season, which I hope, will help your keep your focus on the greatest Gift of all.

Our key verse is likely familiar as a standard during the Christmas season, for it foretells the hope of the Jewish people – and of all mankind, and it prophecies the coming of the Messiah on whom all hope rests.  In the season of Advent, the first Sunday of Advent is traditionally focused on Hope and the prophetic promises of God.

For hundreds of years the Jews had waited and watched for the birth of this special child, as Isaiah had prophesied: “The Lord Himself will give you a sign.  The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call Him Immanuel” (Is. 7:14).  The Jewish people had God’s promise, and their hope was founded on God’s faithfulness to keep His promises.

When hope was born, the Redemption of the world lay in a manger, surrounded by hay and the lowing of cattle.  This Child, the fulfillment of God’s greatest promise, was the Hope, not just of the Jewish people, but of the whole world.

There is no greater reason for hope than to hope in the promises of the Lord.  Why? “For no matter how many promises God has made they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through Him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God” (2 Corinthians 1:20).

The nation of Israel looked forward in hope to a Messiah who they believed would free them from the rule of their enemies.  Mankind today looks in hope for an end to poverty and disease and hatred.  But the true enemy of all humanity is evil – evil wrought by Satan, the enemy of God and His creation.  The Jewish people expected a military savior, and our world today looks for a political savior, but God sent to us exactly what we needed – a holy and perfect Savior who would save us from our sins, from death and from the wrath of God.

The Lord promised us Hope and Peace and Joy and Love – and He fulfilled every promise in His Son, Jesus Christ.  The hope of all mankind came, not as a military conqueror, nor as a great political leader, but as a tiny and helpless baby – Jesus, the Child of Hope and Promise.

I hope you will join me every day during the Advent season as we  prepare for the coming of the Christ Child.   This first week of Advent will focus on the HOPE we have in the promises of God.

Holy Father, my hope is in You, in Your Word and Your promises, You are forever faithful.  Thank you for this Christmas season, please prepare my heart for this special Gift of Hope.  Amen.