Devotions for Advent Week 4 Friday 1 Samuel 1:24-28 Luke 1:46-56

And when she had weaned him, she took him up with her, along with a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour, and a skin of wine, and she brought him to the house of the LORD at Shiloh. And the child was young. Then they slaughtered the bull, and they brought the child to Eli. And she said, “Oh, my lord! As you live, my lord, I am the woman who was standing here in your presence, praying to the LORD. For this child I prayed, and the LORD has granted me my petition that I made to him. Therefore I have lent him to the LORD. As long as he lives, he is lent to the LORD.” And he worshiped the LORD there.
1 Samuel 1:24-28

And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.” And Mary remained with her about three months and returned to her home.
Luke 1:46-56

God’s character demands worship. God is mighty, holy, and merciful. God’s acts demand worship. God acts to debase the proud. God acts to build up the humble.

All of these attributes are brought together in the birth of the Messiah. It is Jesus who mightily accomplishes the impossible by mercifully reconciling a holy God to sinful man. It is Jesus who unfailingly reveals what is in the heart of man. Jesus enthralls the humble and enrages the proud.

On Sunday, the Lord’s day, go to his house and worship him there.

Devotions for Advent Week 4 Thursday Song of Solomon 2:4-8 Luke 1:39-45

The voice of my beloved! Behold, he comes, leaping over the mountains, bounding over the hills. My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag. Behold, there he stands behind our wall, gazing through the windows, looking through the lattice.
My beloved speaks and says to me: “Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away, for behold, the winter is past; the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. The fig tree ripens its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance. Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away. O my dove, in the clefts of the rock, in the crannies of the cliff, let me see your face, let me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely.”
Song of Solomon 2:8-14

In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”
Luke 1:39-45

Does the voice of the Lord thrill you?

Devotions for Advent Week 4 Friday Isaiah 7:10-14 Luke 1:26-38 The Virgin Birth

Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, “Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.”
But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test.”
And he said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”
Isaiah 7:10-14

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be.
And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”
And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy–the Son of God.
And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.”
And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
Luke 1:26-38

Karl Barth wrote, “The Virgin birth at the opening and the empty tomb at the close of Jesus’ life bear witness that this life is a fact marked off from all the rest of human life, and marked off in the first instance, not by our understanding or our interpretation, but by itself. Marked off in regard to its origin: it is free of the arbitrariness which underlies all our existences. And marked off in regard to its goal: it is victorious over the death to which we are all liable. Only within these limits is it what it is and is it correctly understood, as the mystery of the revelation of God.”

The Virgin birth of Christ stands guard, as it were, at the entrance of the Christian faith. The Virgin birth confronts man with an astounding assertion. The Virgin birth proclaims that if you cannot believe this, there is no point in pressing forward into even greater mysteries.

As mentioned yesterday, the Virgin birth is not all that surprising to someone who comprehends the testimony of Scripture concerning God’s granting life. Anselm reminds us of the five ways God creates life:

1.         By the law of natural generation—a man and a woman
2.         Through divine empowering of a man and woman past age—Abraham and Sarah; Zechariah and Elizabeth
3.         Without man or woman—Adam
4.         A man without a woman—Eve
5.         A man without a woman—Jesus

Theologians spill much ink discussing the meaning, necessity, and reality of the Virgin birth. All along ignoring the very thing the Isaiah proclaims it to be: a sign. As we ponder the wonder of the Virgin birth this is what should guide and form our thinking: it is a sign.

The Virgin birth is a sign of the essentially supernatural character of Jesus and the gospel. If we find the virgin birth offensive, there is really no point in progressing forward. Yes god is not limited in how he creates life. But life has only come this way once. The birth of Jesus is different.

The Virgin birth is a sign of God’s judgment on fallen human nature. The race needs a redeemer but cannot produce one. Salvation cannot come through will or desire, education, civilization, or evolution. Salvation is not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. Jesus came to earth through the Virgin birth as fully human to show that humanity had fully failed.

The Virgin birth is a sign that Jesus Christ is the new beginning. He is the divine interruption of the power of God into the plight of man. All things are new.

The Virgin birth is the joy of Christmas because the Virgin birth is the gospel. The Virgin birth declares man to be lost, God to be holy, and salvation to be created.

Devotions for Advent Week 4 Tuesday Judges 13:2-7, 24-25; Luke 1:5-25 The Barren Rejoice

There was a certain man of Zorah, of the tribe of the Danites, whose name was Manoah. And his wife was barren and had no children. And the angel of the LORD appeared to the woman and said to her, “Behold, you are barren and have not borne children, but you shall conceive and bear a son. Therefore be careful and drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, for behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. No razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb, and he shall begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines.”
Then the woman came and told her husband, “A man of God came to me, and his appearance was like the appearance of the angel of God, very awesome. I did not ask him where he was from, and he did not tell me his name, but he said to me, ‘Behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. So then drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb to the day of his death.'”
And the woman bore a son and called his name Samson. And the young man grew, and the LORD blessed him. And the Spirit of the LORD began to stir him in Mahaneh-dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol.
Judges 13:2-7, 24-25

In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.
Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”
And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.”
And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute. And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home. After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying, “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”
Luke 1:5-25

 

At Advent we remember the long line of barren women that God accomplished the impossible for. Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Manoah’s wife, Hannah, and Elizabeth all must have wondered at the cause of their fate. After all, the promise of the Lord was that none that he favored would be barren (Ex. 23:26; Deut. 7:14). Yet in their struggle they would each be able to bless the Lord saying, “He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children. Praise the LORD!” (Ps. 113:9).

Advent is a testimony to the powerful creativity of God. God can give life to a man from the ground without man or woman- Adam. God can give life to a woman from a man without a woman- Eve. God can give life to a man from a woman without a man- Jesus. God can give life to the barren.

Such mighty acts are not limited to the sphere of procreation. God accomplishes the impossible in the salvation of the Gentiles. In Galatians 4 we have Paul’s teaching that the church is the fulfillment of the promise given in Isaiah, “Sing, O barren one, who did not bear; break forth into singing and cry aloud, you who have not been in labor! For the children of the desolate one will be more than the children of her who is married,” says the LORD. In the church god has granted life where there was only death. The Gentile nations were long barren and without hope but now the gospel bears abundant fruit. Now the Gentiles, like Isaac, are children of promise.

Devotions for Advent Week 4 Monday Jeremiah 23:5-8 Matthew 1:18-25 The Name above all names

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness.’”
“Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when they shall no longer say, ‘As the LORD lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt,’ but ‘As the LORD lives who brought up and led the offspring of the house of Israel out of the north country and out of all the countries where he had driven them.’ Then they shall dwell in their own land.”
Jeremiah 23:5-8

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.
Matthew 1:18-25

When our fourth child was born my wife and I went in the hospital not knowing what we would name her. And we almost left the hospital not knowing what we would name her. In the end we had to rely more on the internet than on angelic instruction. The little one born to Mary, however, has been given the name above every name…and that name is not Jesus. Anyone who has spent time in Latin America or knows what Joshua means knows there is nothing particularly unique about the name “Jesus.”

As Matthew 1:21 indicates Jesus- the Lord is salvation- certainly declares what he came to do. But even more exalted are the names that indicate the character and nature of Jesus and not just his actions.
Jesus is “the LORD our righteousness.” All of our righteousness is an alien righteousness. It comes from outside of us: “Christ Jesus…became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption.”

Jesus is “Immanuel.” Jesus is God with us. Not just “with us” in the sense of location. Jesus is God with us in the sense of identification. “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” The impact of “God with us” is in the fact that the eternal Son of God became “man with us.”

Devotions for Advent Week 3 Friday Isaiah 56:1-3, 6-8 John 5:33-36

Thus says the LORD: “Keep justice, and do righteousness, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed. Blessed is the man who does this, and the son of man who holds it fast, who keeps the Sabbath, not profaning it, and keeps his hand from doing any evil.”
Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the LORD say, “The LORD will surely separate me from his people”; and let not the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.”
And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant– these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.
The Lord GOD, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares, “I will gather yet others to him besides those already gathered.”
Isaiah 56:1-3, 6-8

You sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth. Not that the testimony that I receive is from man, but I say these things so that you may be saved.  He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me.
John 5:33-36

During Advent we sing of joy, hope, and peace. Yet for many people it can be the darkest time of the year. Such darkness and depression often comes from focusing on one’s own life circumstances. The foreigner mourns his nationality. The Eunuch bewails his physiology. Even John the Baptist’s forerunner Elijah suffered depression- believing he was the only servant of the Lord remaining.[1]

In each situation the remedy of the Lord is the same. In each case one must exchange the morbidity of self-centeredness for the medicine of God’s perspective. The foreigner must realize he is accepted in God’s kingdom. The eunuch must embrace the eternal family gathered in from all outcasts. Elijah needed to get busy with the work God gave him to do.

Man is born for trouble as sparks fly upward. His life is 70 years of toil, misery, and let downs and then he dies. As long as his focus is on all the things wrong inside of him that are outside of his control, his misery will only increase. Like John, all of God’s people have a witness and a testimony. Like John, our light is only found in Christ and is only seen as we point others to Christ. Christ has come into the world as the Sunrise from on high. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.

We are commanded to rejoice in everything. We are not commanded to be fake. As long as your focus is on the multitude of excuses you have to be miserable you will be miserable. When you take your eyes off of what God has not done for you and instead focus on what he has done for you in Christ, light will begin to shine.


[1] 1 Kings 19

Devotions for Advent Week 3 Thursday Isaiah 54: 1-10 Luke 7:19-23 Salvation, the Sovereignty of God, and will of man

“Sing, O barren one, who did not bear; break forth into singing and cry aloud, you who have not been in labor! For the children of the desolate one will be more than the children of her who is married,” says the LORD. “Enlarge the place of your tent, and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out; do not hold back; lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes. For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left, and your offspring will possess the nations and will people the desolate cities.”
“Fear not, for you will not be ashamed; be not confounded, for you will not be disgraced; for you will forget the shame of your youth, and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more. For your Maker is your husband, the LORD of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called. For the LORD has called you like a wife deserted and grieved in spirit, like a wife of youth when she is cast off, says your God. For a brief moment I deserted you, but with great compassion I will gather you. In overflowing anger for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,” says the LORD, your Redeemer.
“This is like the days of Noah to me: as I swore that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth, so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you, and will not rebuke you. For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you.
Isaiah 54:1-10

When John’s messengers had gone, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who are dressed in splendid clothing and live in luxury are in kings’ courts. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, “’Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’ I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” (When all the people heard this, and the tax collectors too, they declared God just, having been baptized with the baptism of John, but the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected the purpose of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him.)
Luke 7:24-30

 

It is the purpose of God to glorify himself though the salvation of a multitude of sinners washed in the blood of his Lamb. God sent the flood to judge mankind. But Noah built an ark large enough to save multitudes. God sent his Son to judge sin. But the death of Christ is sufficient to save the world.

Those involved in small or struggling ministries may tend to console themselves with, “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” And, “For many are called, but few are chosen.” Or with thoughts like, “God is just as glorified when he condemns a sinner as when he saves one.” But is he?

There is a secret delight in reading Jesus’ scathing criticisms of the Pharisees. But that delight is not one shared by Jesus. Jesus was not pleased to constantly point out the wickedness and hypocrisy of the Pharisees. This was not God’s purpose in sending his Son. It was God’s purpose that the Pharisees join with all the people- tax collectors included!- in recognizing the justice of God.

The convergence of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility is one that may never be understood. But this I know, when the Day of Judgment comes not a single person will be able to say to God, “I wanted to be saved but you just wouldn’t let me.”

God is a “big tent” God. If heaven rejoices when one sinner is saved, what must go on when ninety-nine are saved? God is not narrow in his grace. He is not constrained in his mercy.

 

The quality of mercy is not strain’d,

It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven

Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;

It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:

‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes

The throned monarch better than his crown;

His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,

The attribute to awe and majesty,

Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;

But mercy is above this sceptred sway;

It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,

It is an attribute to God himself;

And earthly power doth then show likest God’s

When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew,

Though justice be thy plea, consider this,

That, in the course of justice, none of us

Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;

And that same prayer doth teach us all to render

The deeds of mercy.

 Portia’s Speech, The Merchant of Venice Act 4 Scene 1

Devotions for Advent Week 3 Wednesday Isaiah 45:6-8, 18, 21-25; Luke 7:19-23

that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the LORD, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things. “Shower, O heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain down righteousness; let the earth open, that salvation and righteousness may bear fruit; let the earth cause them both to sprout; I the LORD have created it.”

For thus says the LORD, who created the heavens (he is God!), who formed the earth and made it (he established it; he did not create it empty, he formed it to be inhabited!): “I am the LORD, and there is no other.”

Declare and present your case; let them take counsel together! Who told this long ago? Who declared it of old? Was it not I, the LORD? And there is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides me. “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: ‘To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.’ “Only in the LORD, it shall be said of me, are righteousness and strength; to him shall come and be ashamed all who were incensed against him. In the LORD all the offspring of Israel shall be justified and shall glory.”
Isaiah 45:6-8, 18, 21-25

 

calling two of his disciples to him, sent them to the Lord, saying, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And when the men had come to him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you, saying, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’“ In that hour he healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight. And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”
Luke 7:19-23

 

As we ponder the wonder of the Incarnation it is remarkable that any could be offended at Jesus. Yet from his infancy- with Herod- to his death- the Jews- Jesus offended. In particular, Jesus offended those with power. Jesus continues to do so.

All authority continues to be offended at this new born King. The name of his day is being erased. The display of the scenes is being banned. In the name of “tolerance” Jesus is being removed from the holiday even as stores increasingly advertize and prepare for the day earlier and earlier in the year. But tolerance is not the reason, incense is…the anger not the fragrance.

Like his first disciples we face the dilemma of what to do when Jesus is persecuted. Shall we flee and deny, or stand and proclaim? Once Jesus came in humility to deal with sin. Again he is coming apart from sin to judge all unrighteousness. Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess. Until then, we should only expect anger and offence.

Who is He in yonder stall
At Whose feet the shepherds fall?
Who is He in deep distress,
Fasting in the wilderness?

Who is He the people bless
For His words of gentleness?
Who is He to Whom they bring
All the sick and sorrowing?

Who is He that stands and weeps
At the grave where Lazarus sleeps?
Who is He the gathering throng
Greet with loud triumphant song?

Lo! at midnight, who is He
Prays in dark Gethsemane?
Who is He on yonder tree
Dies in grief and agony?

Who is He that from the grave
Comes to heal and help and save?
Who is He that from His throne
Rules through all the world alone?

’Tis the Lord! O wondrous story!
’Tis the Lord! the King of glory!
At His feet we humbly fall,
Crown Him! crown Him, Lord of all!