Saturday, December 31, 2022

Beautiful Garments

Isaiah 61:10-62:3

Most brides take great care and expense in picking their wedding dress.  In the past, the bridal dresses for royal weddings or weddings of other extremely wealthy people have had pearls, diamonds, and other gems sewn into them.  The bridegrooms in royal weddings will often be wearing their military dress uniforms with their military awards all attached.  No bride or groom would ever want to appear dressed in poor, tattered, or dirty clothes.  In our Scripture for today, we’ll see how God will clothe those who come to Him for salvation.

In several places of Scripture, God refers to the Church as His bride, the Bride of Christ.  The Church is made up of all born-again believers, including you if you're saved.  How will we be dressed when we appear before the Lord God, as the Bride for His Son, Jesus?  Every sin that we have ever committed are terrible stains upon us.  No amount of good works that we can do will ever be able to cleanse those sin stains.  As the prophet Isaiah said later in his writings, all of our righteousness are as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6).  How can we possibly go to our own wedding ceremony as the Bride of Christ dressed in sin-stained and tattered rags?!

As the prophet testifies here in our Scripture, God will provide us with new garments! (vs. 10).  When we become a child of God, He clothes us with salvation and righteousness.  As we have seen, our own righteousness is like filthy, dirty, tattered rags, something that if seen dressed in out in public, we would be ashamed and embarrassed.  However, God gives us the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ, the sinless Son of God.  Instead of filthy rags, we are given a royal robe, just like Jesus has.  This Scripture is a picture of imputed righteousness.  When a penitent sinner recognizes that he cannot achieve his own righteousness by works, he needs to call on God’s mercy.  God then covers that sinner with His own divine righteousness by grace through faith.  We can now stand unashamed, as our garments are like those of a royal wedding, with ornaments and jewels.

Isaiah continues by telling believers that we are a crown of glory and a royal diadem in God’s hand (vs. 3).  A diadem is like a tiara, a smaller royal headpiece.  Crowns are larger, and are usually worn for state functions, whereas the diadem or tiara are worn for more social functions.  Both, though, have diamonds and other precious gems, and are very beautiful.  Crowns are meant to be worn, not carried.  So if God is carrying a crown, it is because He will be giving it to someone to wear, to place upon their head.  The Bible states that we believers are the crown and royal diadem, and God is carrying this crown to place it upon the head of the Lord Jesus.  We, His redeemed children, are Jesus’ crown of glory.

Jesus told a parable of a royal wedding feast.  Many people were invited to come and attend.  When the king was mingling with the guests, he saw one who did not have on the proper attire.  Because of that he was cast out from being able to attend the wedding festivities (Matthew 22:11-13).  Was this just a tale told about a mean king?  No, it was to show that we need to be clothed in the spotless righteousness that only God can give us to be able to enter heaven and to partake in the marriage supper of the Lamb of God, the Lord Jesus Christ.  We cannot come in our own garments, our own righteousness.  We must have on the garments that the Lord provides.

Our Scripture describes the righteousness that believers have, the robe of righteousness that we have been given, as shining in brightness (vs. 1).   This speaks of just how glorious the garments we have been given are.  They are so adorned with jewels and ornaments that they really shine with brilliance.   The light of our testimony, of the salvation and redemption we received from the Lord Jesus, will shine out for others, for the lost to see.  We are like a lighthouse that sends out a light warning those in danger of eternal destruction, and leading them to the Savior.

Are you clothed in the garment of salvation and the robe of righteousness that the Lord gives to those who have accepted Jesus as Savior?  Are you a crown of glory for Jesus?  Are you burning brightly like a lamp, leading others to find salvation in the Son of God?  What a wonderful way to start the New Year, by accepting Jesus Christ, the Son of God, as your personal Savior!

Friday, December 30, 2022

Gifts From God

Titus 3:4-7

On a birthday, who usually receives the gifts?  We’d all answer the person whose birthday it is, of course.  This past week we celebrated the birthday of the Lord Jesus.  However, instead of receiving gifts, Jesus, Himself was the gift that God the Father gave mankind to redeem us from sin.  The Lord God also gave us some other gifts, which goes along with the gift of His Son, which the Apostle Paul talks about in our Scripture for today.  Let’s look into God’s Word.

As we begin our Scripture passage, Paul speaks of three qualities of God that He shows or pours out upon us, and that is His kindness, His love, and His mercy.  First let’s look at kindness.  When someone shows kindness, they are generally selfless, compassionate, and merciful.  We think of someone showing gentleness to us or others, and they are considerate of the other person and their feelings.  They don’t act mean or hard-hearted to others.  Kindness is the patient love of God that would allow Him to humble Himself and leave heaven to meet us where we are.

The second quality we read about in our passage is that of love.  When someone loves another, they go out of their way to do things for that person.  They are completely unselfish, and again, think only of doing acts of charity and other things for their loved ones.  God also has deep love for us, a love that seeks only our good, and He is willing to act upon that to bring about what is good for us.  It is a love that is self-sacrificing, which we see in His sending His Son to die in our place.

The third quality that Paul speaks of, one that God has given to us, is that of mercy.  Mercy is when God withholds the punishment that we deserve from us.  When God shows mercy, He shows compassion and forgiveness when it would be within His right to bring just punishment.  We show mercy to others when we forgive, instead of giving the other person what they really deserve.  God shows us His mercy when He forgives us our infinite amount of sins for the sake of His Son, Jesus Christ, instead of immediately casting us into hell.

When we have a gift for someone, the only sensible thing is to give them that gift.  It does no good to just tell them about it, but never give it.  So how did God show His kindness, love, and mercy to us?  He sent His Son, Jesus Christ to earth to die on the cross to redeem lost humanity.  Jesus is kindness and love incarnate, appearing in human form.

When sin entered the world, mankind fell under the just sentence of death and hell.  That is what we justly deserved.  However, God showed His love, His mercy, and His kindness towards us by sending His Son to pay that price for us.  So many people, though, try to appease God by trying to earn their way to heaven by doing good works, or by offering their own type of sacrifice.  That is a futile effort, though, as it is impossible for man to perform works of righteousness to save himself.  A thousand lifetimes wouldn’t even begin to be long enough in order to do enough good works to atone for our sins.

We can only be justified by God’s grace, and not by any works which we have done (Ephesians 2:8-9).  There is nothing we could say or do that would motivate God to save us.  He offers us salvation completely because of His grace, which was displayed on the Cross (Romans 11:6).   Because of God’s deep love for us, we are the recipients of His mercy.  No one can claim that their righteous works earned a place for them in heaven.  We are saved through the mercy of Christ alone.  God loved us so much that He made a way for us to be in relationship with Him, both now and forever.

As we see, on His birthday, on Christmas, instead of receiving gifts, God gave us a gift - a gift of kindness, love, and mercy.  A gift of His own dear Son to bring us salvation.  Have you received that gift?  No amount of works can ever pay the price for our salvation, as it is a gift.  Accept His free gift today, so that you can be justified by His grace, and become a child and an heir of God.

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

When Nature Shouts And Claps Its Hands

Psalm 98

When I was a young child I used to love seeing non-living things come to life in an animation, or things like plants all of a sudden start talking or singing.  I loved the scene in Disney’s Alice in Wonderland when the flowers had faces and started to sing.  I liked seeing trees come to life, or household furniture get faces and walk around the room.  I knew that this was just make-believe, but it was fun to see as a child.  As we read through the Bible, there are many times when we see examples of anthropomorphism.  Our psalm for this week gives one small example of this.  Let’s take a look.

Throughout the Book of Psalms, and in several books of the prophets we see examples of this.  Were these examples of rivers, oceans, trees, and even rocks singing, clapping and dancing written just for fun, to put a humorous smile on our lips?  Were they just a touch of fantasy?  As we look at the examples in Scripture when the Lord gives anthropomorphic characteristics to plants, animals, and non-living objects, it is generally when telling of how nature is praising the Lord.

In our specific psalm, we read of how the sea, the rivers, and the hills, give their praise to God (vs. 7-8).  They shout out their praise to Yahweh so loud that it is like a roar, they clap their hands, and are joyful.  In other psalms we read of mountains and hills skipping like lambs (Psalm 114:4-6), they are so excited at the presence of God.  We read of the heavenly bodies giving praise to God, and of the sun like a strong, young man running a race (Psalm 19:1-6).

Throughout the Book of Psalms, including our Psalm 98 today, God’s children are encouraged to sing their praises to Him.  Yet how often in church are we sitting there, with a ho-hum look on our face and in our heart?  It is true that some people are less demonstrative than others, myself included.  However, when we see a beautiful sunset, a bright red cardinal against the white snow, strolling through a colorful and fragrant garden, or a stately woods, don’t you want to praise the Lord for His creation?  We shouldn’t just stand there like a mute, but instead give God the glory!  If the trees and rivers can, so can we!  And we certainly should praise Him when we narrowly miss an accident, or improve after having been sick.

What about the birds and other animals that make sound?  I believe that often the sounds they make could at times be praise to their Creator.  In the early morning, just about sunrise, many birds are cheerfully singing praise to the Lord.  Even whales sing a song of praise!  The wind whistling through the trees, the waves crashing against the coastal cliffs, the mountain stream as it passes over the rocks are all praises, as well.  For all we know, plants could be making sounds in a frequency that we haven’t yet discovered, and that sound is a praise to God. Astronomers have even recorded some sounds from outer space, sounds called cosmic or galactic noise, or gravitational waves.  Though they don’t sound much like any type of song, I believe it is their way of praising the Creator.

When Jesus entered Jerusalem, just a few days prior to His crucifixion, little children and some adults were praising Him.  The religious leaders did not want them to sing praises to Jesus, and tried to shut them up.  They even told Jesus to shut His followers up!  Jesus responded by telling them that if these people who were praising Him now were, indeed, to shut up, every rock would break forth in praise to God (Luke 19:37-40).

What about you and I?  Are we giving the Lord the praise that He is due?  The birds and whales are.  The trees, the rivers, oceans, and hills are.  The stars and planets do.  As Jesus said, even the rocks will sing praises to Him.  What about us, we who are created in His image, and redeemed by His Blood?  Let’s not be the only things in creation who do not sing out praises to our worthy Lord!

Monday, December 26, 2022

Are Your Feet Ready?

Isaiah 52:7

When we think of a beautiful part of someone, we often think of their hair, their eyes, their smile.  Those are frequently the first thing that pops into someone’s mind.  It’s not that often that we include feet on the list of beautiful parts of someone.  They can be dirty.  They can be smelly.  They can get calluses, bunions, and the toenails can cause problems.  And when they hurt or are achy, the whole body is miserable.  No, the feet are not generally considered one’s best point.  However, in our Scripture verse today we read that there are times when God calls some people’s feet beautiful!  Let’s take a look at when that might be.

Our Scripture verse this Christmas week comes from the prophet Isaiah.  Here he speaks about beautiful feet.  When does God think our feet are beautiful?  Is it after we have had a visit to a spa and received some pampering, including treatment for the feet, and a nice, fresh coat of toenail polish?  No, that is not it.  As we look at this Scripture passage we see that it has to do with what we do with our feet.   The activity that we put our feet to which brings praise from God has nothing to do with sports and kicking that all-important goal.  It certainly isn’t if we use our feet to kick and hurt someone, or some poor, helpless animal.  There are times when God says that He hates what we do with our feet, such as when we use them in running to do evil (Proverbs 6:18).   The activity that God says will make our feet beautiful is when we use them to bring His Good News to others.

We all like to hear good news.  Whether the good news comes via an email, an instant message, a text, or a good old-fashioned letter, it is always welcomed.  People have commented that it would be so much more pleasant if the evening news on TV or from internet news sources would try to balance their reporting by putting in more positive news content, instead of just all the negative, bad news stories.  God has some good news for mankind, and He would like to get it out for them to hear.  We find it written in His Word, the Bible.  However, not everyone reads the Bible, or attends church to hear His message.  They aren’t hearing God’s good news.  All they are hearing is the world’s negative news, and Satan’s deadly message.  God needs messengers to bring His news to the people.

What is God’s good news?  What is the message that He wants proclaimed?  As we read this Scripture we see that it is a message of salvation, a message of peace.  A message that shows that God reigns and is in control of this world.  Ever since the fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, mankind has been at enmity with God.  There has been no peace between man and God.  They have been following the path of Satan, and that is the cause of all the sin and evil in this world.  However, God has made a way for there to be peace between Him and mankind, and that is through salvation in His Son, Jesus Christ.  Through the death of Jesus upon the Cross of Calvary, sin and Satan have been defeated, and when we trust Him as our Savior, we can have peace with God.

That is the glad tidings of good things that God wants us to bring to others.  When we proclaim the message of salvation, when we tell others that they can have peace, knowing that God reigns and is in control, and that they no longer have to fear, we have beautiful feet.  We are using our feet for something good, and not in being swift in running to do evil.

The Apostle Paul quotes this verse in Romans 10:14-15.  Here Paul asks his readers several rhetorical questions.  How can people call upon the Lord if they don’t believe in Him?  How can they believe if they haven’t been told about Him?  How will they hear about the Lord if there is no preacher?   Someone has to bring to others the message of Jesus, and salvation in His Name.  Those people who do are counted beautiful and blessed by God.

In another one of Paul’s epistles, he speaks about the armor of God that believers should be putting on each day in our battle against evil and Satan.  He speaks of our feet being prepared to bring the Gospel of peace to others (Ephesians 6:15).  This is obviously an important task that all Christians should be ready to do.

God says that the feet of those who bring His good news are beautiful.  The word “gospel” means “good news”.  It is a wonderful privilege to be able to share God’s Gospel, His Good News with others, His message of redemption, salvation, love, and peace.

Saturday, December 24, 2022

The Light Has Come!

John 1:1-14

It’s Christmas!  The day where we honor the birth of our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, the day when the incarnate Son of God came to earth to live among us.  However, Jesus did not come into existence on this day, nor nine months prior, as some people might believe.  As we learn from our Scripture for today, Jesus has existed for all eternity.  The opening verses of the Apostle John’s Gospel tell us this.  Let’s take a quick look this Christmas morning.

The beginning of John’s Gospel goes back, all the way back before creation, when there was only God (vs. 1-2).  Jesus Christ was there before the beginning.  He is the Word that John is speaking of, the Word of God.  He was with God, and Jesus was, and is God.  He took part in the act of creation (vs. 3).  Jesus is the source of life and light (vs. 4).  The Word, the second Person of the Trinity, had intimate fellowship with God the Father throughout eternity.

But in the fullness of time, Jesus took human form (Galatians 4:4).  He was fully God, and then became fully man.  Even though Jesus had the splendor of heaven, He left that to become man.  The Word became flesh (vs. 14).  He came and lived a human life, but without sin.  At Christmas, when Jesus was born as a human, the Infinite became finite, the Eternal became conformed to time, the Invisible became visible.  Jesus did not cease to be God, but became God in human flesh.

As we know, Christmas falls on December 25th, just a few days following the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, the day which has the shortest amount of sunlight, and which begins the long season of winter.  Some people do not mind the longer hours of dark, and it helps in seeing the Christmas lights on people’s homes, however most people are eager for the sunlight to return.  Throughout John’s Gospel, we see the theme of darkness versus light, sin and evil versus goodness and righteousness.  Sin came into the world back with Adam, and the world has been in spiritual darkness since then.

However, we need not despair.  Just as we are now beginning to slowly see more sunlight every day, Jesus came to bring spiritual light to mankind.  The darkness of Satan and sin is not able to overcome or conquer the Light of the Lord Jesus (vs. 5).  The powers of darkness are overcome by the Son of God, by His death on the Cross.  When we follow Jesus, the Light of the World (John 8:12), we can avoid walking blindly and falling into sin.  All of the despair, depression, darkness, and hopelessness we may face and fear cannot stand against the love of Jesus Christ.  When we stay close to Jesus in all circumstances, we will be safe.  All that Satan may bring against a child of God can never conquer God’s love for us.

Because of Jesus, we can leave the darkness of sin behind, and begin a new life.  If we are walking with Jesus, we will never walk in darkness (vs. 9).  He will open our eyes to salvation, and light up the way for us to walk.  There are many false lights in the world today.  However, Jesus is the only true Light.  If mankind is to find light, it will be only in Jesus.

The physical light is slowly returning.  We are slowly getting more daylight every day.  Is it still dark in your life today?  Do you feel down, discouraged, and hopeless?  Look to Jesus.  It’s not as dark as you think if Jesus is in your life.  You can be filled with hope.  He is Immanuel - God with us.

Friday, December 23, 2022

Joseph: Our Godly Model

Matthew 1:18-25

Many Christians set up a Nativity scene in their home and in their churches during the days prior to Christmas.  One of the figures in any Nativity set is that of Joseph.  He is generally positioned to be standing over the baby Jesus figure lying in a manger, and next to the Virgin Mary, protecting them both.  Not a whole lot is said about Joseph in the Bible.  Naturally he is mentioned in Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus.  He is mentioned when he, Mary, and the baby need to flee into Egypt, and once when he and Mary search for the missing Jesus in Jerusalem.  The only other mention of Joseph in Scripture is our account in today’s passage.  Though brief, it tells us more about him and his character than any of the others.  Let’s take a look.

As we begin, we read that Joseph was betrothed to Mary.  Betrothals among Jewish people in Biblical times were as binding as a modern marriage, and to break the betrothal would require a divorce.  During the time of their betrothal, Joseph learned that his fiancé, Mary, was pregnant.  He knew the child wasn’t his, as they had not been together, so naturally he believed that Mary had been unfaithful to him (vs. 18).   What was Joseph going to do?  Legally, the punishment that the Old Testament Law allowed for unfaithfulness was stoning.  Joseph could legally have brought Mary before the Jewish authorities, expose her as an unfaithful and unchaste woman, and have her stoned to death.  However, Joseph loved Mary, and did not want to see her put to death, especially in such a terrible way.  He was just and merciful, so the best solution seemed to be to just quietly end the betrothal and send Mary away (vs. 19).

Joseph was a just man, righteous, and with good standing in the village of Nazareth where they lived.  Then Mary must have come to him with the news that she was pregnant, and a bizarre tale that she hadn’t been unfaithful, but that an angel came to her, that this baby was from God, and would be the Son of God, the Messiah.  How could Joseph possibly believe something as fantastic as Mary’s story?  With this news, and the decisions he had to make, Joseph went home and to sleep.  While asleep, God sent an angel to him in his dream, who told him that what Mary had said was true, and to take her as his wife, and to raise this child, who was the promised Messiah (vs. 20-21).

Joseph chose to obey God, despite all that this meant.  No one else would likely believe the story that Mary was pregnant, but was still a virgin, and had not been unfaithful.  They would not believe that this was the Son of God.  Gossip was just as vicious then as it is now.  People would have believed that Joseph and Mary had been improper, and not waited until the actual marriage, or that he was marrying her, but raising the child from some other indiscretion of Mary’s.  Although Joseph knew that taking Mary as his wife would be humiliating, and he would be giving up his reputation, he chose to obey God.  Joseph placed God’s plans ahead of any of his own for the kind of marriage and life he may have been planning.

Mary had not been unfaithful to her fiancé, Joseph.  What she had told him was the truth, and though she was expecting this baby, she was still a virgin.  It was necessary for Jesus to be born of a virgin as the Son of God. as the sacrifice for our sins could not have any sin in Him, including original sin passed on from Adam.  If Mary were not a virgin, she would have been a liar about the visit of the angel.  She would have been unfaithful to her fiancé Joseph, and Jesus would have been illegitimate with no divine nature, who died a sorry death.  Apart from the virgin birth, Jesus would have been just another man, and unworthy of any one’s faith.

The name Jesus means “the Lord saves” (vs. 21).  Jesus came to earth to save us from our sins.  He didn’t come to help people save themselves.  He came to be our Savior from the power and penalty of sin.  Jesus also had the title “Immanuel”, which means “God with us” (vs. 23).  Jesus was God in the flesh, so in a very literal way God was among men.  Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus is present today in the life of every believer.

Joseph put God, His will, and His plans first and foremost in his life, despite anything it would cost him.  He remained humbly in the background, being a good father and protector of the Son of God and His mother, the Virgin Mary.  Joseph is a model to us of faithfully serving the Lord in whatever position He decides, no matter the personal cost.

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Both Human And Divine

Romans 1:1-7

With Christmas right upon us, Christians tend to think a bit more about the baby Jesus, born in a stable in Bethlehem.  However, there are some in this world who doubt whether Jesus ever really existed, or if He did, that He was just a plain, ordinary man like everyone else, just a religious philosopher with His head in the clouds.  In our brief passage of Scripture today, from the opening to Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome, he tells us that Jesus, the Baby born in Bethlehem, was both human and divine.  Let’s look at what God’s Word tells us today.

The Apostle Paul begins by telling us that the Lord Jesus Christ was the One promised by the prophets all throughout the Old Testament (vs. 2).  Beginning at the time when Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden, when God put a curse on the serpent, He promised that there would arise a Seed from the woman, who would bruise his head (Genesis 3:14-15).  Satan had spoken and tempted the woman through the serpent, and through a descendent of hers, One would come who would destroy Satan.  This was the first prophecy of the coming of the Messiah.  Then through Abraham, through Moses, through so many of the Old Testament prophets we read of God’s promises of a Redeemer.

Paul continues by testifying that Jesus was born of the seed or lineage of King David, as a human (vs. 3).  Both the Gospels of Matthew and Luke give genealogies of Jesus, which show that He was a descendent of David.  As Paul states, Jesus came in the flesh, called the Incarnation, that God became flesh, that He assumed a human nature and became a man in the form of Jesus Christ.  He was not just a spirit, as some heretical cults started to teach in the days of the early church, but had a body of flesh just like you and I do.

Jesus was an actual, historical figure, unlike what some enemies of the Faith have asserted.  The Roman historian Tacitus, who lived from around 56 - 120 AD, spoke about Jesus, about His execution by Pontius Pilate, and about the early Christian church.  Also the Jewish historian Josephus (37 - 100 AD), mentioned both Jesus and John the Baptist, along with the Roman Imperial magistrate and lawyer, Pliny the Younger (61-113 AD, who also mentioned Him and the early church.  These three men’s writings have been held to be accurate, and since none of them were Christians, what they have said would be considered to be unbiased as they verify Jesus’ historicity.

Paul then declares that Jesus was shown to be the Son of God by the power of the Holy Spirit, when God raised Him from the dead (vs. 4).  Jesus was the Son of David regarding His humanity, and the Son of God regarding His divinity.  Because Jesus is fully human, as well as fully divine, He can serve as man’s substitute and as sympathetic High Priest.   The resurrection was one proof of His deity.  Jesus’ victory over death was the supreme demonstration, and most conclusive evidence that He is the Son of God.  The Jews crucified Jesus because He claimed to be the Son of God.  God resurrected Him because He was the Son of God!

In closing Paul speaks of two additional gifts that God gives us, in addition to the most supreme gift He gave us, that being His Son, Jesus Christ.  Those two gifts are His grace and His peace (vs. 7).  Grace is what God gives us that we do not deserve.  It is His love, His beauty, His work in our life.  The peace He gives us brings us freedom from anxiety, fear, and worry.

At this Christmastime, let us thank our Heavenly Father for His grace and peace, and especially for the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ, born as a human baby, yet remaining fully divine.


Monday, December 19, 2022

The King Of Glory

Psalm 24:7-10

Among other things, Christmastime is one where we like to think of welcoming others.  We welcome guests to our home for Christmas parties and gatherings.  Or perhaps we are the guest that comes to someone’s home.  Churches welcome guests to their special Christmas programs and concerts.  People also like to count down the days till Christmas.  Many people like to get Advent calendars for that purpose.  Even secular TV will often remind us of how many days are left till Christmas.  What are we looking forward to?  Why the anticipation, the welcome?  Is it just the presents, the gathering for a nice, special meal?  Is it just looking forward to Santa Claus for the children?  Today’s psalm gives us the answer of Who to welcome and look forward to.

The closing verses of Psalm 24 give joyous cries of welcome for the arrival of a king.  The verses also give instructions to open the gates and doors, possibly of either the city or the royal palace, in welcome for this king.  This is a psalm written by David.  As we know, David was king, first of just the tribe of Judah, and then of the whole nation of Israel.  However, as we read this psalm, it is evident that David is not speaking of himself as the king who is to be welcomed.

David identifies this king as the King of Glory.  Who is this King of Glory?  Even the psalm asks the question, one that David quickly gives the answer to.  David assuredly tells us that the King of Glory is the LORD, strong and mighty, the LORD of hosts (vs. 8, 10).   The term Lord, when only the “L” is capitalized, and the rest is lower case, usually refers to an honorific title that one would give a king or a nobleman, or title used when speaking to a master.  However, when the word is written in all capital letters it is always specifically referring to Yahweh.  As we read these verses, we see that the word LORD is written here in all capital letters, thus the King of Glory is Yahweh.

David is calling upon all people to lift up their heads, be alert, be ready, open the doors and gates, so that the King of Glory can come in (vs. 7).  The whole household, the whole city should be ready to welcome Him.  As David describes Him, Yahweh is strong and mighty in battle.  There is no foe or enemy that He cannot readily defeat.  The Lord Jesus Christ defeated sin and Satan at the Cross.  When He rose again, He defeated death.

There are many who fight against God, and are His enemies.  The Lord Jesus is certainly not welcome by many.  Here at Christmastime, the day set aside to honor and celebrate His birth, His coming to earth, He is frequently not welcomed.  Nativity scenes on public property are banned and taken down.  Many traditional Christmas carols are not played on the radio because they are “too religious”.  Even some TV Christmas specials, ones that were shown for so many years, are not shown anymore because, again, they are considered “too religious” and thus too offensive.  It seems that Jesus is no longer welcomed at His own birthday!  Many today do not even consider Christmas a celebration for Jesus, and that it is only a time to give and get presents, a time for Santa Claus.

Christians are openly persecuted in some places, and subtly persecuted in other places.  However, the King of Glory is strong and mighty in battle, and Yahweh will defeat His enemies.  We see that the King of Glory is also the LORD of hosts (vs. 10).  The word hosts refers to an army, and who would be in God’s army, but countless legions of angels.  They are far more powerful than any earthly enemy that thinks they can come against God!  We picture here the time when the Lord Jesus will return at His Second Coming, when He will permanently and forever defeat every one of His enemies.

Right now, though, believers are counting the days, the hours, until Christmas, when we celebrate the birth of the Lord Jesus.  That little babe we see in Nativity scenes, whose birth we celebrate, is the King of Glory!  Have we opened up the doors and gates of our hearts and homes for Him?  Is He a part of your Christmas celebration, or is it just decorated trees, Santa Claus, and snowmen?  Let us lift up our heads, open our doors, and welcome the King of Glory in!

Saturday, December 17, 2022

The Virgin Birth

Isaiah 7:10-14

Do you sometimes wish for a sign from God?  Many people have requested a sign from God, to show them that He is there, He is really God, that the claims that people make of Him are truly real.  “If you’re really there, God, then show me!” are cries that some people make.  In our Scripture passage for today, as we mark the fourth and final Sunday of Advent, we read of a sign that God has given us, as recorded in the book of the prophet Isaiah.

As our Scripture opens, we read about King Ahaz.  Ahaz was a king of the southern Kingdom of Judah.  He was one of several unbelieving, evil kings that Judah had, ones that did not worship Yahweh, but instead trusted in and worshiped foreign, pagan gods.  Ahaz ruled Judah from 732-716 BC.  During this time the mighty Assyrian Empire to the north was attacking the Kingdom of Damascus and the northern Kingdom of Israel.  Ahaz did not want his country to be overrun by an enemy empire, himself possibly killed, and his people slaughtered.  Should he try to make a peace agreement with Assyria, or should he join with other nations and oppose Assyria?

The prophet Isaiah counseled King Ahaz to not trust in any foreign alliances, either with the pagan Empire of Assyria, or with the neighboring pagan nations.  Isaiah urged Ahaz to trust in the Lord God, as He alone, would protect the country.  Only Yahweh could save His people.  Isaiah then told King Ahaz to ask the Lord for a sign that He would protect them, but he refused (vs. 10-12).

It was then that Isaiah gave one of the most significant prophecies in all of the Bible.  Ahaz refused to ask for a sign to show that Yahweh would redeem His people from their enemies because he did not believe or trust in the Lord.  Isaiah said that the Lord would give His own sign - the virgin would conceive and bear a Son, who would be called Immanuel (vs. 14).

This prophecy points ahead several hundred years to when the Virgin Mary conceived the Lord Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit, while remaining a virgin.  There are people who have tried to discount this verse, saying among other things, that this verse doesn’t even refer to a virgin, but instead refers to a young woman, and that it possibly even referred to Isaiah’s own wife, who shortly after this had a child.  Let’s look at some reasons that clearly show that this does refer to a virgin.

The Hebrew word for “virgin” here is “almah”.  It occurs seven times in the Old Testament.  In every instance the term implies a young girl of child-bearing age who is a virgin.  The ancient scribes agreed with this interpretation when they translated the Bible from Hebrew to the Greek in the 3rd century BC, the version called the Septuagint. Since that translation was written several hundred years before Jesus was born, it is an unbiased and reliable witness.

As we look at this prophecy, this was supposed to be a sign, something that was to happen which was to be quite extraordinary.  Just having a young woman conceive and give birth is no big deal.  That happens every day.  However, a virgin conceiving and giving birth is something unique and miraculous.

There is another reason why this prophecy is of such importance. The virgin birth of the Savior Jesus is central to salvation.  The Lamb of God had to be absolutely perfect, with no stain of original sin inherited from Adam (Leviticus 22:17-21).  Because of the virgin birth, Jesus does not have the same sin nature as we do, which is why He was able to take all of our sins upon Himself upon the cross, and bring us forgiveness.  To cast some doubt as to whether Jesus was born of a virgin would negate all of salvation and the efficacy of the atonement.  If Mary was not a virgin when she conceived Jesus, if He was the physical son of any man, then He had original sin, and no matter how good He may have been, He was a sinner like all of us, and His death on the cross did nothing.

Isaiah’s prophecy in verse 14 states unequivocally that the virgin shall conceive.  Jesus was born of a virgin, and thus He, and He alone, is able to atone for our sins upon the cross, and bring salvation to all who believe.  Jesus is “Immanuel”, meaning “God with us”.  The Lord God Himself came to dwell among us and save us from our sins.  If you have not already accepted the Lord Jesus as your Savior, then do not hesitate another day.  Call upon the virgin-born Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, as your Savior today!

Friday, December 16, 2022

Dealing With Doubts

Matthew 11:2-11

This week, as we close out the third week of Advent, we take another look at John the Baptist.  This time our Gospel reading from the Lectionary focuses on one specific event in the prophet’s life.  It focuses on probably the lowest point in this man of God’s life.  Let’s look into the Scripture to see what we might learn from John the Baptist.

As we read through the Gospels, looking at portions that speak about John the Baptist, we see that he boldly preached the Word of God.  He was not timid, nor was he afraid to speak forth what the Lord gave him to say.  If he saw that the religious leaders, namely the Pharisees and Sadducees were not obeying God’s Word, then he called them on it.  John the Baptist was also not afraid to speak out when he saw sin in the life of the king.  God gave him a job to do, and that was to prepare the way for the coming Messiah and to preach His Word to the people, and he was going to do that regardless of what the consequences would be.

As our Scripture opens, we find John the Baptist in prison.  The reason he was in prison was because he spoke out against the improper marriage that King Herod Antipas had made with his brother’s wife.  Herod Antipas was the son of Herod the Great, the king who tried to have the baby Jesus killed.  Herod Antipas took his half-brother’s wife, Herodias, to be his own wife.  This was not a levirate marriage, where a man could marry his late brother’s widow if there were no children, in order to raise up children for the deceased brother.  This was sanctioned by Scripture in Deuteronomy 25:5.  Herod’s brother was still alive, and Herodias divorced him to marry Herod Antipas.  John the Baptist spoke against this, which led to his arrest and imprisonment (Mark 6:17).

Prisons in Biblical days were extremely harsh.  John most possibly was chained to the wall.  Depending on where his cell was, it could have been damp, and either cold or quite hot, depending on the weather.  Food was probably just bread and water, enough to keep him alive.  In these conditions, John started to become discouraged and disillusioned (vs. 2-3).  He wondered why God had let him be imprisoned when he was doing His work.  He wondered whether he might have been mistaken as to whether Jesus was really the Messiah.  So John the Baptist sent a message through his disciples to Jesus, bringing his doubts to Him.

Jesus did not condemn or chastise John’s questioning and doubts.  Instead, He pointed to what the disciples could see, and the messages that they heard Him preach (vs. 4-6).  Jesus was healing people, the blind, crippled, lepers, the deaf.  The people were hearing the gospel message of salvation.  Jesus’ ministry was a fulfillment of Isaiah 61:1-3 and Isaiah 35:5-6.  Jesus urged John to not lose faith or have doubts about Him.

Jesus then turned to the crowds, and rather than scold or berate John’s moments of doubting, He praised his ministry and work for God (vs. 7-11).  He reminded them that many in the crowd had gone out to see and hear John the Baptist when he had been preaching God’s Word, and that they believed he was a prophet.  He wasn’t some slick con-man preacher in an expensive, designer suit, flying around in private jets.  John was the forerunner of the Messiah, and the fulfillment of Malachi 3:1. (vs. 10).  Jesus proclaimed that John the Baptist was greater than other Old Testament prophets because he got to see the promised Messiah in person (vs 11).

Do difficult and tough circumstances that you go through ever steal the joy of your Christian life?  Do they raise doubts in your mind if Jesus is really God’s Son?  Doubt is the enemy of faith, and plagues every Christian at one time or another.  John the Baptist, one of the greatest believers in the Bible, had some of these doubts at the lowest time in his life, shortly before he would be executed for speaking and preaching God’s Word. Jesus reassured John, reminding him of God’s Word and promises, and pointing to all He was doing, which were signs proving He was who He said He was.  When doubts and questions come our way, we need to do what Jesus told John the Baptist to do - look to Him.  We need to look into God’s Word.  John called out to Jesus, and had his faith revitalized.  We, too, can have our faith restored and revived when we turn to Jesus and His Word.

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

In Need Of Patience

James 5:7-10

People today are not very patient.  We don’t want to wait around for things to get done.  We want our meals done in a matter of minutes, quick prep time, quick cooking time.  Fast food meals are even delivered to your door in just a few minutes.  TV shows solve all the problems within 30 or 60 minutes.  Forget about reading a long novel, as it takes too long.  There are some things, though, that do require time, and one must learn patience for the results.  In our Scripture reading today, James gives us some examples of patience, to encourage us to have patience.

Sometimes as Christians, we become impatient for the Lord’s return.  It is good that we are eagerly anticipating, and looking forward to His return.  However, as problems mount in our personal lives, and with society and the world becoming increasingly evil, our waiting may turn to impatience, which could even begin to turn to doubting if the Lord will ever return.  The people to whom James wrote his epistle were living through some very difficult days, just as we are.  There was persecution for their faith.  There was oppression from the government.  Many of the people to whom he wrote were poor or working class laborers, and they were being oppressed and taken advantage of by the rich, wealthy class, which James mentioned just prior to the start of our passage.

James encouraged his readers, and us as well, to be patient for the return of the Lord (vs. 7).  He will return when the time is right.  James gives us the example of the farmer to consider.  Anyone who has done any gardening knows that when you plant the seeds, you have to wait weeks, sometimes many weeks, before the plant will come in, whether it is vegetables or flowers.  Then there are many vegetables, which after the plant comes up, you have to wait many more weeks for the crop to ripen before it can be harvested.  The farmers are also subject to waiting for the seasonal rains to come.  There is nothing a farmer can do to hasten the process, so he has learned to be patient.  So James tells us to also be patient.

We are encouraged to establish our hearts, to have resolute and firm courage and commitment (vs. 8).  These early Christians were going through some very harsh persecution, and some were on the verge of collapsing under this strain.  James wanted to stir them up to not quit or give up hope in their faith.  Just as the farmer knows that the crop will eventually come, so will the Lord return.  Today, in some parts of the world, persecution of Christians is very severe.  In other places the persecution is much more subtle.  In either situation, the Scriptures encourage us to not lose heart, but patiently endure mistreatment (Romans 8:18).

James then gives a somewhat less common example of waiting, and that being of a courtroom (vs. 9).  If you have ever had to go to court, or have watched some courtroom dramas on TV, you know that the attorneys and others begin to gather in the courtroom, getting everything ready for when court convenes.  Then, at just the precise moment, the judge comes through the courtroom door and everything springs into action.  James reminds us that the Judge, the Lord Jesus, is standing at the door.

We are also told to remember what others in the past went through, and to look at their examples of suffering, endurance, and patience (vs. 10).  Today we can look back at many centuries of martyrs for the faith, with the suffering and patience they had.  At the time of our Scripture, James pointed his readers to the example of many of the prophets of the Old Testament.  We can look at the prophet Elijah who was persecuted by Queen Jezebel, as he had to flee for his life (I Kings 19:1-3).  There was the godly High Priest Zechariah who was ordered stoned by King Joash because he condemned the sin of the king and others (II Chronicles 24:20-21).  The prophet Urijah was executed by King Jehoiakim for speaking God’s Word (Jeremiah 26:20-23).  The prophet Jeremiah was frequently mistreated and imprisoned for his message by King Zedekiah (Jeremiah 20:1-2; 38:4-6).

We must wait patiently for the return of the Lord Jesus.  We cannot make Him come back any sooner.  While we wait there is much work we can be doing for God’s Kingdom, and not be living as if He will never return.  We must live by faith, looking towards our future reward.  The finish line is just ahead, just around the corner.  Don’t give up!

Monday, December 12, 2022

Hallelujah To The Lord

Psalm 146

As we are in the midst of the Christmas season, one thing that many people enjoy doing is going to a production of Handel’s Messiah.  Many churches, universities, and community choirs give performances throughout December.  One favorite part that many people look forward to is the famous “Hallelujah Chorus”.  Our psalm for this week could be said to begin a type of Hallelujah Chorus to close out the Book of Psalms.  Let’s take a quick look.

The Book of Psalms contains 150 songs, which are a mixture of praise, prayer, confession, lament, and encouragement.  The last five psalms in this type of Biblical hymnbook each begin and end with a call to praise the Lord.  Depending upon your translation, it might be written as “Hallelujah”.  The word hallelujah is Hebrew, and means “praise Yahweh”, or as we frequently say, “praise the Lord”.  These last psalms of praise are a most fitting way to close out the Book of Psalms, the Bible’s hymnal.

As our psalm begins, the psalmist proclaims that he will praise the Lord as long as he is alive (vs. 2).  There is nothing that will stop him from praising God.  As we don’t know who the author of this psalm is, we don’t know what his life was like.  However, as we all can attest, everyone has various and diverse trials, so we can know that he, like everyone, had difficulties that he went through.  No matter what he faced, the psalmist was determined to continue to praise the Lord.  His is an example that we should follow.  No matter what we face, we should also proclaim that “while I live I will praise the Lord.”

The psalmist continues to instruct us to not put our ultimate trust in our political leaders or other leaders (vs. 3-4).  Instead, we are instructed to put our trust in the Lord (vs. 5).  I don’t know about elsewhere in the world, but it seems that here in the U.S. there are always elections for something happening, and campaigning going on.  We just had elections for many state governors and senators.  I live right near Chicago, and they are having an election for mayor soon.  There is already talk of who will be running for president, with campaigning for that beginning in little over a year.  There are so many campaign promises for any election, promising they can do more and better than the next guy.  Who will bring a better economy, ensure healthcare or jobs, bring down crime, etc?  No matter what they promise, God’s Word says we shouldn’t be putting our ultimate trust in them.  They are only human, and are not our source for help.  Instead, we are to put our trust and hope in the Lord God.

There is a big contract between trusting in God, the King of Kings, and trusting in earthly rulers.  Man is faithless, powerless, and mortal.  Jesus is faithful, all-powerful, and eternal.  As we’ve all probably experienced, so many politicians' promises rarely come to pass. They promise everything just to get a vote, but ultimately are not faithful in keeping those promises.  Even outside of politics, so many people’s words cannot be relied on.  Many times our leaders aren’t able to bring us the help that we need, as they don’t have the power to.  Even if we do find a good leader, they are human, and don’t live forever.  However, when we are trusting in the Lord for all we need, we know we can trust His Word, for He always keeps His promises.  He also is omnipotent, and is able to do anything and provide everything that we could possibly need.  Our Lord is eternal, as well, and is always present to help us.

As our psalmist continues, he gives us many reasons to put our trust in the Lord God rather than man, and to give Him praise.  Yahweh is the One who made all creation, brings us justice in an evil world, and provides our food and sustenance every day (vs. 6-7).  God cares for the oppressed, the poor, the prisoners, the blind, orphans, and widows (vs. 7-9).  None of the Old Testament prophets ever healed the blind.  Jesus did, though, on numerous occasions.  He opens the eyes of the physically blind and the spiritually blind.  We have a model of compassion and mercy in the Lord Jesus (Luke 4:16-21).

As we close the first of the final five praise psalms, the first of the Book of Psalms “Hallelujah Chorus”, we can learn that our allegiance should not be to the things of this world.  Praising God helps to remind us where our true source and hope lies, in the Son of God, whose birth we celebrate this month.

Saturday, December 10, 2022

The Desert Shall Blossom

Isaiah 35:1-10

Quite a few years ago I had the opportunity to travel through the southwestern part of the U.S., through the hot and vast desert there in Arizona and New Mexico.  The hot and harsh environment in that part of the country isn’t conducive for too many plants, other than varieties of cactus.  When one pictures in their mind a desert or wilderness, one doesn’t think of a place with a lot of color, usually just various shades of tan, beige, and gray.  However, if it is just the right time of year, and the right amount of rain falls at that time, those grayish green cacti will blossom and bloom into some of the most spectacular colors.  Vibrant hues of pink, orange, blue, and yellow will paint the once dull landscape.  Our Old Testament Scripture for this Third Sunday of Advent comes from the prophet Isaiah, and speaks of such a time coming for the children of God.

Scattered throughout the world are desert and wilderness areas, including in the Holy Land.  Travel through those areas can be hazardous if one isn’t prepared, and not too many people choose to live in or near the wilderness or desert.  The southern part of Judah, and east of the Jordan River by the Dead Sea contain such landscape  Now picture in your mind just the opposite of those deserts and wilderness.  Picture lush and fertile fields, where crops grow in abundance, and where gardens thrive.  Galilee, the coastal areas by the Mediterranean, and up through Lebanon are such areas.   As we read through our Scripture, Isaiah speaks of a day when the wilderness and desert will become as lush and fertile as Carmel, Sharon, and Lebanon along the coasts of the Mediterranean (vs. 1-2).   The dry and dusty landscape will have life-giving pools of water throughout them (vs. 6-7).

Isaiah speaks not only of this change that God will bring for His children, but also of a day when the blind will see and the deaf will hear again.  Those who cannot speak will sing forth, and the lame will walk and leap again.  The weak and feeble will be strengthened (vs. 3-6).  This was a day that the people in his time would look forward to, as any one of these afflictions could mean a lifetime of begging and poverty.  Even today with modern medicine, these afflictions make life more difficult, and we seek for cures.

When the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ came, He brought healing to folks with each of these afflictions, the blind, deaf, mute, and lame. Even more importantly, He calls for those who are spiritually blind, for those who have not heard His message of salvation, for those who are in a sense spiritually lame to turn to Him for redemption.  When they turn to the Lord Jesus, finding salvation, they will then be able to dance and sing His praises (vs. 6).

We also see in our Scripture mention of a highway, which God has named the Highway of Holiness (vs. 8-10).  This highway is found only by following God, as the unclean or sinful cannot travel upon it. It is only for believers in the Lord Jesus.  Those who do much traveling know of the dangers that one can encounter, both today, and especially back in Biblical times.  There are criminals all around to take advantage of others, who might harm or even kill the traveler.  If one is camping, or traveling through desolate areas, one can encounter dangerous animals.  However, on this highway, those who have put their trust in the Lord can know that He will protect us from any danger.  God has prepared a way for His people to travel to His home.  Jesus doesn’t just point the way there, He walks with us.

This message from Isaiah is a picture of God’s final kingdom, where He establishes His justice, and destroys all evil.  This is the world that believers can anticipate coming when the Lord Jesus returns.  We look around today and see a world that is falling apart, both morally, spiritually, and physically.  When Jesus returns, all will be set right and good.  The deserts will blossom like the rose, and the weak and crippled will be made whole.  All creation will rejoice in God.

Friday, December 9, 2022

John the Baptist

Matthew 3:1-12

In the Gospel reading for this past week, for the Second Sunday of Advent, we are introduced to the man John the Baptist.  He is a man that is mentioned in all four Gospels, and whose ministry was an important one in the Bible.  He is also one of the more interesting people in Scripture, and it is worth taking a look at his life.

In each Gospel we are introduced to John the Baptist as he begins his ministry.  In Luke’s Gospel, however, we are told the special information surrounding his birth (Luke 1:5-25, 57-80).  John the Baptist’s parents were Zechariah and Elizabeth, both of the priestly line of Aaron.  Elizabeth was also a relative of the Virgin Mary, making John a probable cousin of Jesus.  This couple was childless, and “well advanced in age”.  While serving as priest in the Temple, the archangel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah, telling him that he and his wife would have a son.  However, Zechariah doubted the words of the archangel, and because of that, he was mute until the date of naming of the baby John.   While still within his mother’s womb, John recognized the Son of God while Jesus was within the womb of the Virgin Mary.  This occurred when the two women met, and he gave a sudden, specific movement that Elizabeth immediately recognized as the babe giving honor to the other (Luke 1:41-44).  John was brought up in the relatively well-off household of his priestly parents, compared to the working class background of his cousin Jesus. 

When John was an adult, he left the comfort of his parent’s home, and went out into the wilderness, living the life of an ascetic, until called by the Lord to bring His message as a forerunner of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.  When John did return from the wilderness he stood out for several reasons.  For one, his appearance was sharply different from that of everyone else.  He wore clothes made from camel hair, rather than woven cloth of linen, cotton, or wool (vs. 4).  This was reminiscent of the great prophet Elijah (II Kings 1:8).  John’s diet consisted of locusts and wild honey.  Another reason that John was immediately noticed was his message.  While in the desert, it had been revealed to John that the Messiah was about to start His public ministry, and that he was to prepare the people for that, so John returned to society with a message of repentance and baptism (vs. 1-2, 6).

John the Baptist spoke with authority.  He was not afraid to speak God’s truth to anyone, whether high in power or lowly, to Jewish or Gentile.  His message was the same to all - repent of your sins, turn your life around, for the Messiah is at hand.  Many people flocked to hear his message, and many of the ordinary folks took his message to heart and were baptized (vs. 6).  Even some of the Roman soldiers occupying the country were influenced by his message (Luke 3:14).  John was the first real prophet since the time of Malachi, some four hundred years prior.  He spoke the truth.  He challenged people to turn from their sins, and he baptized them as a symbol of their repentance.

Repentance does not mean making a slight change.  It is a 180 degree turn.  When we repent, we turn away from our former ways, leaving them behind, and we turn to live for God.  It involves a complete change in attitude regarding God and sin.  Genuine repentance leads not only to a change in attitude, but also to a change in behavior.  Merely feeling sorry for some wrong action does not constitute repentance.  Genuine repentance proves itself by the fruits of a changed life (vs. 8-10).

Though John the Baptist’s words of truth moved many to repentance, they also drove others to resistance and resentment, especially among some of both the Pharisees and Sadducees.  When one’s life is not right with God, people frequently don’t want to hear His Word being preached, and that was the case with many of the religious leaders.  This is the same today, as many of the religious leaders and establishment do not want to hear the plain truth from God’s Word, the Bible, and try to hush or discredit those who preach boldly from Scripture, calling them crazy, just as they did to John the Baptist.  This mighty prophet of God was not afraid of them, nor was he afraid to even speak the truth to King Herod, preaching against the king taking his brother’s wife to be his own (Matthew 14:3-4), which eventually led to his imprisonment and death.

John the Baptist was always obedient to the Lord.  He knew that he had a specific job to do for God, and he was obedient to that.  He always pointed beyond himself, never forgetting that his main role was to announce the coming of the Savior.

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

We Might Have Hope

Romans 15:4-13

Are  you a person who is filled with hope, or are you one who is more negative, feeling that things are more likely to go wrong?  Watching the evening news or scanning the headlines from various internet news sites can be rather discouraging, and can certainly lead one to believe that this world today is rather hopeless.  The Apostle Paul also lived in a very hostile and dangerous time.  His life’s work, spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ, was not one that was welcomed in too many places, and his life was threatened on numerous occasions.  However, Paul was a man who was filled with hope, as many of his epistles record.  In our Scripture for today, he speaks of believers having hope.  Let’s look into this passage from the Book of Romans.

As Paul begins in our verses today, he reminds the believers in Rome that God’s Word, the Bible, was written for our learning (vs. 4).  Here he would have been referring to the Old Testament, as most of the New Testament was currently being written at the time, and certainly not compiled together as a whole yet.  But they did have the Old Testament, and Paul said that the historical accounts, the words of the prophets, the psalms were all written for us to learn about God.  Some people say that Christians don’t need to bother with anything in the Old Testament any more, but that is not true.  Though we are no longer under the Old Covenant, God’s moral law has not changed, and all Scripture is of spiritual benefit.

As Paul wrote in another letter to his fellow missionary Timothy, he reminded Timothy that all of the Bible is inspired by God, and is to be used for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction (II Timothy 3:16-17).   As we read the accounts of God’s people in the Old Testament, we can see and learn from their lives, and have hope.  The more we know about what God has done in year’s past, the greater the confidence we have about what He will do in the days ahead.  As we read through the Bible and study God’s Word, we can increase our trust that His will is best for us, and we can have hope for our days ahead.

Everything we need to know in regards to salvation, living a godly life, and maintaining our faith in the midst of trials can be found in God’s Word.  All of the accounts in the Old Testament were documented for our encouragement and for our instruction.  The Bible is an immovable anchor in times of the storms we face in our lives.  Through His Word, God can give us the strength and hope to endure.

Paul continued in our Scripture passage to urge his fellow believers to strive for unity, and to be like-minded towards one another (vs. 5-6).  This does not mean in any way to compromise on essential truths and doctrines, as throughout the Bible we are told to be steadfast and immovable in the truth.  However, on non-essential issues we should show love to others.  If the perfect, sinless Son of God was willing to bring sinners into God’s family, how much more should forgiven believers be willing to warmly embrace and accept each other in spite of their disagreements over minor issues (vs. 7).

Continuing to read in our Scripture, Paul teaches further on a subject that has been one of several themes in the Book of Romans, and that is of God bringing salvation to the Gentiles.  God revealed His truth first to the Jewish people, and to show that He is true to His promises, Jesus proclaimed the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecies (vs. 8).  Then through God’s love and mercy, the Gentiles, all people of all nations who receive Jesus as Savior, are grafted in (vs. 9-12).

As we wrap up our Scripture, Paul proclaims that God is a God of hope, and that we can be filled with both hope, peace and joy through the Holy Spirit (vs. 13).  Christian hope is not a vague wish, such as what we might wish or hope for Christmas, or a birthday wish as we blow out the candles.  Christian hope is a sure confidence that we will receive what God has promised us.  Because God keeps His promises, we can live with joyful hope.  God always remains faithful to His Word!

Monday, December 5, 2022

How Long, O Lord?

Psalm 74

When there seems to be a lot of devastating world events, when society seems to be heading in the wrong direction, and sin is rampant, believers often ask where God is.  They look at the world, and everything that is happening, and how society is steadily getting worse.  They cry out to God, feeling like they have been abandoned in a world that rejects everything that is good, righteous, and godly.  Are you feeling a bit like that today?  Do you wonder where God is in this sinful and godless world today?  That is what Asaph, the author of our psalm today, wondered, too.  Let’s take a look.

The historical context of Psalm 74 was either the destruction of the Temple when Nebuchadnezzar conquered Judah, destroyed Jerusalem, and led the people captive, or several centuries later when Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who ruled the Greek empire from 175-164 BC, defiled the Second Temple.  During Antiochus’s reign he instituted a number of laws against the Jewish people, along with setting up pagan idols in the Temple, and made sacrifices of swine on God’s altar, which was sacrilege.  Either event was devastating to God’s people, and those who had remained faithful to Him were questioning where He was in all of this.

As we read through our psalm, we see the cries that Asaph made.  With what was happening in their world and society, it seemed like God had turned His back on His people (vs. 1).  God’s enemies had dared to enter into the Temple, into the very Holy of Holies, and defiled it.  They even set up their pagan idols and signs in the Temple (vs. 3-9), and destroyed everything that was holy and sacred to Yahweh.  And in addition to that, there didn’t seem to be anyone to speak out against this, speaking up with God’s Word (vs. 9).

There is no longer a Temple in Jerusalem.  Believers and followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, do not have just one centralized place of worship on earth, as there are believers all throughout the world, with their churches.  We are free to worship God in our hearts anywhere we are.  However, we can and do feel the same distress when we see godless society tearing down God’s truths and standards that we hold up.

In some parts of the world, Christian churches or even the gathering of Christians together to worship are not allowed.  In some places the messages that the pastor or priest preach are censored so that they cannot freely preach from God’s Word, but are only allowed to give a message that is officially approved by the government or by what the society dictates.  This is happening more and more, where godless society’s standards are deciding what is acceptable, even when it contradicts God’s Word.

In verse 8 we read of what the response is of those who hate God.  This is the case, both back when this psalm was written, and also today.  The wicked try to wipe out every trace of Yahweh, not just in the Temple or other houses of worship, but also throughout society as a whole.  They try to rid society of any mention or sign of God.  That has happened in schools, in the workplace, and in any public gathering.  As Christmas is approaching, we are reminded of how the world doesn’t even want any mention of Jesus and the real meaning of Christmas in public.  No Nativity scenes or any religious carols sung in public or on the secular radio.  Stores or public institutions are told to not even say “Merry Christmas”, but instead to say “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings”.   Just like the godless heathen of the past, people are trying to wipe God away from society.

Believers cry out, just like the psalmist did, wondering if God sees all this, or if He has forgotten them.  We know that the answer is no, He has not forgotten us, and He does see and take account of what is going on.  God is biding His time.  He is holding off judgment so that everyone may still have the opportunity to turn to Him for salvation (II Peter 3:9).  Of course, many will not.  They will prefer to remain in their sins, and their judgment will come.  Believers need to remain true and faithful to the Lord, and continue in prayer, prayer that they will stay steadfast and true to Him, and prayer that the unbelievers will repent of their ways and turn to Jesus.

Saturday, December 3, 2022

The Root Of Jesse

Isaiah 11:1-10

A few years ago we had to have a tree in our backyard cut down.  Though not completely dead, the emerald ash borer had infested it, and it wouldn’t survive.  Furthermore, that once sturdy tree would now sway in a strong wind, and we did not want it to topple onto our kitchen in a storm, which we frequently get.  That was a few years back, and that tree stump is still in the yard, just a dead stump.  There is no life in it.  Sometimes, though, when a good, living tree is cut down, if there is life still left in the roots, a sprout might eventually grow out of the stump.  New life comes forth from something apparently thought dead.  On this Second Sunday of Advent we read from the Prophet Isaiah of something similar happening.  Let’s look at what God’s Word says.

Isaiah was a prophet mainly to the southern Kingdom of Judah approximately a hundred years prior to the Babylonian conquest and exile of the people.  He preached against the sins of the people of Judah, their political and their religious leaders.  He foretold of God’s judgment on the people and nation, and how their royal line would be cut down.

For centuries the royal line of the great King David had sat upon the throne of the Kingdom of Judah.  During the reign of David’s grandson, Rehoboam, the northern Kingdom of Israel had split away, but his descendants continued to rule in Judah.  However, Isaiah and many other prophets told of how the kings of Judah, the line of David, would be cut down.

This happened when Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian Empire conquered Judah, and carried the people away captive.  This was a very distressing time for the people, especially knowing that the royal family of David was cut down like a tree, and was no longer on the throne.  Yet our Scripture today from Isaiah gave the people hope.  God promised His people that a stem, a branch would yet come forth from Jesse’s family line (vs. 1).  Jesse was David’s father, and Isaiah told that though it looked like his family line was now a dead stump, God would bring new life, and a sprout, a branch, a new king would come forth.

The Messiah, Jesus Christ, was of the line of King David.  We can read His genealogies in both the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.  He is the Rod, the Branch that came forth from the cut down stump of David’s family line.  The Spirit of God was upon the Lord Jesus (vs. 2).  Unlike the previous rulers of David’s line, who frequently did not rule justly or righteously, Jesus, the Messiah, would rule with righteousness and justice.  We know that quite often our political leaders and judges bring faulty judgment.  They hear false testimony and believe it and they take bribes.  Jesus, though, is a righteous and just ruler and judge (vs. 3-5).  He does not judge based on appearance, false evidence, or hearsay, like man often does.  Jesus has true spiritual vision, and will judge the poor with righteousness, making right, correct, and righteous judgments.   As verse 4 states, the words from His mouth will bring down and slay the wicked (II Thessalonians 2:8; Revelation 19:15).  This would be good news for the common folk, both in Isaiah’s day and even today, as so often we must live under the whims of unjust rulers.  The just rule of the Messiah Jesus will come when He returns to earth.

Another sign that will occur when Jesus returns is that there will be peace and harmony among animals, and between animals and mankind (vs. 6-8).  If you ever watch nature documentaries on TV, you sometimes see one animal bring down and kill another.  Though the one animal kills in order to survive, it is still sad to see.  Isaiah spoke of the day in Jesus’ kingdom when lions and wolves will live in harmony with the weaker animals.  Little children will be able to play with snakes that were once poisonous and deadly.

Jesus, the Root of Jesse, the branch that comes forth from the stump, will bring salvation to both Jew and Gentile (vs. 10).  Everyone will know Him when He returns.  And on that day, there will be justice, righteousness, peace, and harmony, both among men and all creatures.