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.

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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!

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 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.

 

 

Devotions for Advent: Week 1, Thursday Isaiah 26:1-6; Matthew 7:21,24-27

In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah: “We have a strong city; he sets up salvation as walls and bulwarks. Open the gates, that the righteous nation that keeps faith may enter in. You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock. For he has humbled the inhabitants of the height, the lofty city. He lays it low, lays it low to the ground, casts it to the dust. The foot tramples it, the feet of the poor, the steps of the needy.”
Isaiah 26:1-6

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.
Matthew 7:21,24-27

The hope of Advent is the hope of righteousness. Only “the righteous nation” enters the kingdom. Only the one who “does the will” of the Father and “does” the words of the Son will enter the kingdom.

As an aside, we see again the subtle yet unmistakable way in which Scripture demonstrates the equality of the Father and the Son. God leaves things obscure enough for heretics to condemn themselves, but plain enough for believers to have faith. Who will enter the kingdom? The one who obeys the Father? Who will have a house of strong walls (cf. Is. 26:1)? The one who obeys the Son. So we are left with only few options. Either that Father and Son share in power and glory and essence so that their will is one; or there are at least two ways to enter the kingdom. And if there are two, why can there not be three, or four, or five, ad infinitum? All the Father has in his essence the Son has, saving Fatherhood.

But what is the way to enter the kingdom? A cursory reading of these texts points plainly to works. Good people will enter the kingdom and bad people will not. That is all well and good, if the Bible did not also teach that there are none good. A careful reading of these passages demonstrates the true requirement of entering the kingdom.

In Isaiah the righteous nation enters in. But what is the nature of this righteousness? The righteous nation is the nation that “keeps faith,” or, remain faithful. They are further described as “poor” and “needy.” In other words, they have nothing of worth in themselves to claim. They are the “poor in spirit.” Everything they receive from God is graced to them; none of it is earned. They can offer nothing.

In Matthew, they do the will of the Father and the Son. Yet the verses 22 and 23 clearly address the issue of “which came first: righteousness or salvation.” Matthew 7:22 leaves no doubt that man is not saved by doing righteous deeds. On the last day people will stand before Jesus with a laundry list of their good deeds and be promptly dismissed to eternal destruction. In the next verse Jesus makes plain the entrance requirements of the kingdom: personal knowledge. If Jesus does not know you, you are not getting into his kingdom.

Only the righteous will enter the kingdom of heaven. But the righteousness of the righteous is not their own. They are faithful because they have believed and cried out to God for aid. They do the will of the Father and Son because Jesus has identified himself with them. All of their righteousness is found from God. All of the righteousness is found in Christ.

 

Devotions for Advent: Week 1 Wednesday

On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken. It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the LORD; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” For the hand of the LORD will rest on this mountain, and Moab shall be trampled down in his place, as straw is trampled down in a dunghill.
Isaiah 25:6-10

Jesus went on from there and walked beside the Sea of Galilee. And he went up on the mountain and sat down there. And great crowds came to him, bringing with them the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute, and many others, and they put them at his feet, and he healed them, so that the crowd wondered, when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled healthy, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. And they glorified the God of Israel. Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.” And the disciples said to him, “Where are we to get enough bread in such a desolate place to feed so great a crowd?” And Jesus said to them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven, and a few small fish.” And directing the crowd to sit down on the ground, he took the seven loaves and the fish, and having given thanks he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up seven baskets full of the broken pieces left over.
Matthew 15:29-37

Things are not the way they should be. Internally, everyone realizes this. Why is there such outcry, such grief, when tragedies occur? Why is there such rage and indignation when the innocent are victimized? Why is there such disgust at the brokenness of this world? Because planted in the soul of every person in the realization that this world is not as it was meant to be. Atheists betray their own knowledge when they despair over the calamities of this planet. If there is no God there is no explanation for the universal hope and expectation of justice, peace, and prosperity. If we are the products of random accident that is all we should expect out of existence: just more and more bangs.

The hope of Advent is the hope of joy. It is the hope of a banquet richly furnished and joyfully received. It is the hope of no more death. It is the hope of no more sorrow. It is the hope for God dwelling on earth.

The coming of Jesus is that hope. When Jesus comes pains are erased. When Jesus comes hope is reborn. When Jesus comes God is glorified by all who see him. When Jesus comes no one goes hungry. When Jesus comes all are satisfied. The grace of Jesus is always greater than the need of man.

The hope of Advent is the joy of restoration. Jesus is the restoration. Even as we await his coming, we live in the confidence that Jesus restores even now. Pain still comes. Loss still comes. But Jesus never leaves.

Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s Strength and Consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear Desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.

Born Thy people to deliver,
Born a child and yet a King,
Born to reign in us forever,
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring.
By Thine own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone;
By Thine all sufficient merit,
Raise us to Thy glorious throne.