Devotions for Advent Week 3 Tuesday Zephaniah 3:1-2, 9-13 Matthew 11:1-6

Woe to her who is rebellious and defiled, the oppressing city! She listens to no voice; she accepts no correction. She does not trust in the LORD; she does not draw near to her God.
“For at that time I will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech, that all of them may call upon the name of the LORD and serve him with one accord. From beyond the rivers of Cush my worshipers, the daughter of my dispersed ones, shall bring my offering. On that day you shall not be put to shame because of the deeds by which you have rebelled against me; for then I will remove from your midst your proudly exultant ones, and you shall no longer be haughty in my holy mountain. But I will leave in your midst a people humble and lowly. They shall seek refuge in the name of the LORD, those who are left in Israel; they shall do no injustice and speak no lies, nor shall there be found in their mouth a deceitful tongue. For they shall graze and lie down, and none shall make them afraid.”
Zephaniah 3:1-2, 9-13

When Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their cities. Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”
Matthew 11:1-6

Often God’s people find out that “honesty costs.” There are no lies or deceit in the kingdom of God for “all liars [have] their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur.” John was sitting in prison for telling the truth. John was awaiting execution because the truth embarrassed and enraged the ruling authority. His doubts about the Messiah’s identity are surprising after his previous announcements, but they are understandable. Why are the wicked still prospering?

The Messiah had indeed come. The kingdom was in fact arriving. Jesus encouraged John and his disciples to focus attention on the works that were being done rather than the ones that were left undone. The kingdom is introduced as leaven or a seed: starting small but growing into something more. The kingdom has come. The kingdom is coming.

When Christ returns all of the promises of the kingdom will be consummated. Everything that offends will be removed from earth. All things will be made new. Until then, all things are being made new. Advent is a season of patience. All things are not well. The wicked prosper. The innocent suffer. Authority is corrupt. But blessed is the one who is not offended by Jesus. Blessed is the one who has faith that Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords. Blessed is the one who has faith that everything is under the control of Jesus. Blessed is the one who has patient faith.

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Devotions for Advent Week 3 Monday Numbers 24:2-7, 15-17; Matthew 3:13-17

And Balaam lifted up his eyes and saw Israel camping tribe by tribe. And the Spirit of God came upon him, and he took up his discourse and said, “The oracle of Balaam the son of Beor, the oracle of the man whose eye is opened, the oracle of him who hears the words of God, who sees the vision of the Almighty, falling down with his eyes uncovered: How lovely are your tents, O Jacob, your encampments, O Israel! Like palm groves that stretch afar, like gardens beside a river, like aloes that the LORD has planted, like cedar trees beside the waters. Water shall flow from his buckets, and his seed shall be in many waters; his king shall be higher than Agag, and his kingdom shall be exalted.”
And he took up his discourse and said, “The oracle of Balaam the son of Beor, the oracle of the man whose eye is opened, the oracle of him who hears the words of God, and knows the knowledge of the Most High, who sees the vision of the Almighty, falling down with his eyes uncovered: I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel; it shall crush the forehead of Moab and break down all the sons of Sheth.”
Numbers 24:2-7, 15-17

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
Matthew 3:13-17

Jesus goes down into the waters an unknown teacher from Galilee. Crowds were flocking to John for baptism. Part of his message was the arrival of one greater than himself. But one the Promised One finally comes to John, there is nothing to identify him as such. While John was taken aback that Jesus would come for baptism, the crowds must have been taken aback that Jesus was the One John spoke of. “Who is that guy?” “Have you ever seen him before?” “Where is his army?” “Where are his servants?”

But Jesus does not need an army, for he is the army of His people. Jesus is the lovely encampment of Jacob. Jesus is the refreshing garden planted by waters. As the offspring- the offspring of Eve, the offspring of Abraham, the offspring of David, the offspring of God- Jesus certainly must “fulfill all righteousness” and “be in many waters.”

He rises out of those waters the publically acclaimed Messiah of God. The Spirit has descended on him and he then promises the Spirit will flow from his followers. Out of the water of Israel he rises to do hear the royal proclamation. Out of the water he rises to do battle with the foe. Out of the water he rises to conquer all the allies of sin and death.

Out of the skies he is coming to destroy sin and death. We see him, but not now.

 

 

John Chrysostom On the Incomprehensible Nature of God Sermon 12 The equality of the Son and Father; the church as fountain of youth

In sermon his twelfth and final sermon On the Incomprehensible Nature of God John Chrysostom ends by once again focusing on one text of Scripture. In his final confrontation with the Anomoeans the preacher expounds the text of John 5 and the healing of the lame man at the pool of Bethesda.

After noting how the power of Jesus is greater than that of angels (8-10),[1] marveling at the resolve of the paralytic (12-14), and explaining the rationale for Christ’s questionings of the man (15-23), Chrysostom gives three reasons for Christ’s command to take up the bed (24-31). Chrysostom uses this command as the catalyst of the narrative. By healing on the Sabbath and by commanding another man to break the Sabbath, Christ was demonstrating his glory. Jesus knew that doing such things would raise the ire of the religious leaders. But in doing so we only see Psalm 76:20 confirmed: Surely the wrath of man shall praise you.

This miracle demonstrates at least two core truths about Jesus. First, he is sinless.

If he transgressed the law, he sinned. But if he sinned, he would not have so much power. Where there is sin, there can be no manifestation of power. But he did show his power. Therefore, he did not transgress the law and did not sin. (32)

Secondly, he is God. Chrysostom zeroes in on Christ’s statement, “My Father is working until now, and I am working” (43-52). Such a statement demands one of two options: Christ is God, or Christ is increasing his guilt. Jesus gave this response when the Jews questioned his healing on the Sabbath. The import of the saying is: I am doing this because this is what God does. To bring Chrysostom’s illustrations into our day: what if someone snatched out of the Oval Office said, “But this is where the President works.” Or what if a man went around letting people out jail saying, “This is the authority the President has.” If such a man were not, in fact, the President, he would be in for quite a rude awakening.

This is precisely what the statement of Jesus means. And the Jews realized it: “This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.”[2] One wonders how many Christians would realize the true meaning of this statement if John had not given us the Jew’s reaction to it. Throughout this series of sermons Chrysostom has shown this strength: bringing out the true force of Scriptural sayings.

The preacher closes out the sermon in the typical fashion with a pastoral exhortation to the congregation (53-59). Once again he exhorts them to faithful attendance at the services of the church:

Spiritual beauty cannot be developed perfectly anywhere else except in this marvelous and divine stronghold of the church. Here the apostles and prophets wipe clean and beautify the face, they strip away the marks of senility left by sin, they apply the bloom of youth, they get rid of every wrinkle, stain, and blemish from our souls. Therefore, let us all, men and women, be eager to implant this beauty in ourselves.(57)


[1] All paragraph references refer to those in Paul W. Harkins, St John Chrysostom On the Incomprehensible Nature of God (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1984). It is noted that Chrysostom’s text of Scripture included John 5:4: a verse excluded to the margin by some modern translations.

[2] John 5:18

Devotions for Advent Week 2 Friday: Isaiah 48:17-19 Matthew 11:16-19 Holiness of God and man

Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the LORD your God, who teaches you to profit, who leads you in the way you should go. Oh that you had paid attention to my commandments! Then your peace would have been like a river, and your righteousness like the waves of the sea; your offspring would have been like the sand, and your descendants like its grains; their name would never be cut off or destroyed from before me.”
Isaiah 48:17-19

But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates, “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.” For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He has a demon.” The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.
Matthew 11:16-19

Advent is a season of holiness. The Holy Spirit came upon Mary so that the child born of her would be called holy—the Son of God. This occurs because the Holy One of Israel desires the salvation of a people. People need salvation because they are not holy: this is the message of the prophet and apostle.

If “God’s people” had an earnest desire to know God’s will they would have peace, righteousness, prosperity, and security. They would have all these things because they would always be before the Lord.

But we have very warped conceptions of holiness. It is perverted because it is immature, individualized, and situational. The “holiness” of man violently reacts against holy men of God. John was beheaded. Jesus was crucified. When people are confronted with the truth they will always look for an excuse to discredit the messenger: “he is an ascetic radical; he is a profligate drunkard. In any event you can’t trust a word he says.” And they pat themselves on the back for protecting the status quo.

Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds. How do you know the holiness of God from the holiness of man? When man acts holy people are hurt, character is assassinated. God is holy and people are saved.

Salvation is made in the midst of the earth, O God. Alleluia.

Devotions for Advent Week 2 Thursday Isaiah 41:13-20; Matthew 11:11-15

For I, the LORD your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Fear not, I am the one who helps you.” Fear not, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel! I am the one who helps you, declares the LORD; your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel. Behold, I make of you a threshing sledge, new, sharp, and having teeth; you shall thresh the mountains and crush them, and you shall make the hills like chaff; you shall winnow them, and the wind shall carry them away, and the tempest shall scatter them. And you shall rejoice in the LORD; in the Holy One of Israel you shall glory. When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue is parched with thirst, I the LORD will answer them; I the God of Israel will not forsake them. I will open rivers on the bare heights, and fountains in the midst of the valleys. I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water. I will put in the wilderness the cedar, the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive. I will set in the desert the cypress, the plane and the pine together, that they may see and know, may consider and understand together, that the hand of the LORD has done this, the Holy One of Israel has created it.
Isaiah 41:13-20

Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come.  He who has ears to hear, let him hear.
Matthew 11:11-15

The coming of Jesus results in the exaltation of his followers. It is not the same exaltation as the cronies of a dictator; or the members of a president’s party. It is not an exaltation that advances their own agenda or lines their own pockets. It will be the exaltation of having every need met by the Lord. The exaltation of God’s people means a sure and certain knowledge that God has acted. No more debates on Creation, the Resurrection, the reliability of Scripture.

Perhaps this last aspect is where we are to find the key to the perplexing problem of John’s position as the great but low. As a prophet he was truly closest to seeing all the things the prophets “searched and inquired carefully” for. Yet even in his life he had uncertainties and ultimately he dies without seeing the culmination of God’s salvation.

We are blessed with something John did not have: the knowledge of God’s love. Old Testaments saints hoped in God’s love. They believed in God’s love. They even knew aspects of God’s love. But only now has God’s love been truly revealed:

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 1 John 3:16

In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 1 John 4:9

The greatness this knowledge gives us is the ability to praise God more fully.

 

Hail to the Lord’s anointed, great David’s greater Son!
Hail in the time appointed, His reign on earth begun!
He comes to break oppression, to set the captive free;
To take away transgression and rule in equity.

He comes in succor speedy to those who suffer wrong;
To help the poor and needy, and bid the weak be strong;
To give them songs for sighing, their darkness turn to light,
Whose souls, condemned and dying, were precious in His sight.

He shall come down like showers upon the fruitful earth;
Love, joy, and hope, like flowers, spring in His path to birth.
Before Him, on the mountains, shall peace, the herald, go,
And righteousness, in fountains, from hill to valley flow.

O’er every foe victorious, He on His throne shall rest;
From age to age more glorious, all blessing and all blest.
The tide of time shall never His covenant remove;
His Name shall stand forever, His Name to us is Love.

 

Devotions for Advent: Week 2 Wednesday Isaiah 40:25-30; Matthew 18:12-14

To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name, by the greatness of his might, and because he is strong in power not one is missing. Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the LORD, and my right is disregarded by my God”? Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted…
Isaiah 40:25-30

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Matthew 11:28-30

Christmas is stress. There are too many places to go. There are too many things to do. There are too many people to see. There is not enough time, money, or patience for any of it. Christmas is depression. I am alone. I have nothing or no one. No job. No family. No friends. And “Christmas cheer” just rubs it all in my face. Christmas is hurt, hassle, and hurry.

But Christ.

Christ is rest. Christ is comfort. Christ is understanding. Christ all-powerful. Christ all-knowing. Christ all-merciful.

Away with Christmas. Seek Christ.

Christ, whose glory fills the skies,
Christ, the true, the only Light,
Sun of Righteousness, arise,
Triumph o’er the shades of night;
Dayspring from on high, be near;
Day-star, in my heart appear.

Dark and cheerless is the morn
Unaccompanied by Thee;
Joyless is the day’s return
Till Thy mercy’s beams I see;
Till they inward light impart,
Glad my eyes, and warm my heart.

Visit then this soul of mine,
Pierce the gloom of sin and grief;
Fill me, Radiancy divine,
Scatter all my unbelief;
More and more Thyself display,
Shining to the perfect day.

John Chrysostom On the Incomprehensible Nature of God Sermon 11 The Father and Son share one Glory One Power

Though considered the 11th sermon in the series, this sermon is in some ways a first even though it was second. Confused yet? It appears that this sermon was the second sermon that John Chrysostom preached in Constantinople after his appointment as bishop. After an introduction in which he encourages his hearers and alludes to some elements of his first sermon in Constantinople, the preacher delves into the subject matter rather conversationally (1-7).[1]

Would it be better to base argument on the Old Testament or the New? Chrysostom astutely observed that it would be better to start with the Old Testament. He reasons that using the Old Testament allows him to confront a greater number of heretics (8). In many ways his reasoning still applies today. Non-Christians are not going to be surprised if the New Testament speaks of the glory of Jesus. No one is surprised to find Ipads in an Apple store. But if the glory of Christ can be demonstrated from the Old Testament, it is an even more impressive argument apologetically speaking.

Chrysostom begins at the beginning with the statement “Let us make man in our own image” (12-13). By saying “Let us” the Father demonstrates that the Son is an equal part in the work of creation. The Father has no counselor: Scripture makes this clear. But to show the glory of the Son, Scripture calls him Wonderful Counselor. No man knows the mind of the Lord. No one knows the Father except the Son. The Father creates man in counsel with the Son.

Together they make man in the image of God.

…when God said: “Let us make man,” he did not add: “According to your image which is less than mine.” Nor did he say: “According to my image which is greater than yours. What did God say? “According to our image and likeness.” And by speaking in this way, he showed that there is a single image of the Father and the Son. (23-24)

Chrysostom supports this assertion of equal power and glory with some careful exegesis. He notes to sit on a throne demonstrates power and glory, while to stand at a throne demonstrates the mark of a subordinate waiting for orders (25). So the Old Testament several times makes mention of the myriad of hosts attending the throne.[2] The Son is not one of these countless ministers to the Lord. The Son is seated with the Father, sharing in one glory.

Chrysostom concludes in his customary fashion: a pastoral exhortation. The preacher encourages his hearers not to forsake the assembly. Church[3] is where believers are fed by the word of the Lord (30). The gathering of the church is to be valued above all earthly treasure, there is nothing more valuable (31-33). The mere attendance is an encouragement to believers and a shame to the enemies of the cross (33-37). The habit of gathering serves to encourage other believers to faithfulness. When Christians see other members of the church lax in their attendance it is discouraging to them and might lead them to stop attending as well. Perhaps the most important thing to remember is what the church is: the body of Christ. As its head, Christ is always present when his church gathers. But where is his body?

Therefore, do not let the head to be allowed to set foot in this sacred place without its body, let not the body be seen without its head, but let whole human beings come in, head and body… (39)


[1] All paragraph references refer to those in Paul W. Harkins, St John Chrysostom On the Incomprehensible Nature of God (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1984).

[2] Dan. 7:9-10; Is. 6:1-2; 1 Kings 22:19

[3] By “church” I mean the gathered assembly of believers to worship the Lord and edify one another.

Devotions for Advent: Week 2 Tuesday Isaiah 40:1-11; Matthew 18:12-14

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.
A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
A voice says, “Cry!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the LORD blows on it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.
Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!” Behold, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.
Isaiah 40:1-11

What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.
Matthew 18:12-14

Advent is a season of proclamation. In Isaiah a voice cries that all flesh will see the glory of the Lord. A voice commands others to cry out concerning the fate of man and word of the Lord. The herald of good news is to proclaim with strength the coming of the Lord. In Matthew the shepherd goes and looks for the lost.

Advent is a proclamation of comfort, peace, and forgiveness. But it is not a peace without cost. There is a proclamation of judgment. Sins are repaid double. All the proud are laid low. Man is nothing. God comes with recompense and reward. God comes as a shepherd to gather, carry, and lead, his flock. Through the Spirit of Christ, the Shepherd continues to go out seeking the lost; gathering, protecting, and leading the flock.

Devotions for Advent: Week 2, Monday Isaiah 35:1-10; Luke 5:17-26

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus; it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the LORD, the majesty of our God.
Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.”
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; in the haunt of jackals, where they lie down, the grass shall become reeds and rushes.
And a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Way of Holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it. It shall belong to those who walk on the way; even if they are fools, they shall not go astray. No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there. And the ransomed of the LORD shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
Isaiah 35:1-10

On one of those days, as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with him to heal. And behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus, but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus. And when he saw their faith, he said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.” And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” When Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answered them, “Why do you question in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”–he said to the man who was paralyzed–”I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God. And amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, “We have seen extraordinary things today.”
Luke 5:17-26

At Advent we remember that the greatest need of man has been met. The promise of seeing the glory of the Lord is empty. It is a promise made with full knowledge that it will never be fulfilled. Unclean people will never see the Lord. No man will ever see the Lord.

The promise of gladness and joy is check with insufficient funds. Yesterday in our small, country church, prayer was asked for three different children undergoing treatment for cancer, or seizures, or having surgery. One man had just spent the week in the hospital. A woman still could not find the cause or relief for a debilitating illness. Life is pain.

But Advent reminds us that both of these promises are fulfilled. In the coming of Jesus man is made whole. Given a choice, most people would probably chose physical healing over spiritual healing: even most religious people. Why did the Jews seek more signs from Jesus and not more sermons? Because people would rather walk than see God. But the Gospel reading in Luke teaches us the reason Jesus healed man’s physical ailments: to prove his power to heal man’s spiritual ailments.

Any quack, or cultist, or priest, can claim to grant forgiveness of sins. It is truly a matter of faith. There is no tangible demonstration that sins have been forgiven. Jesus performed the lesser work- healing the body of man- to show his power to do the greater work- healing the soul of man.

So now we wait. The Good Shepherd has bound up the spiritual wounds of his flock, but there are many who are still halt and lame. The joy of forgiveness is pierced and strained by the pain of life. But Jesus is coming to complete the work he came to do. Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you. He is coming to complete the work of salvation: and man’s whole body, soul, and sprit will be preserved blameless.