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 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.

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 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.

John Chrysostom On the Incomprehensible Nature of God: Sermon 8, Is Jesus Judge?

Sermon 8 in John Chrysostom’s series against the Anomoeans begins with a jaw-droppingly graphic description of the preaching event not likely to be endorsed in any contemporary homiletic text book:

Yesterday we returned from war, from a war and battle with the heretics. Our weapons were stained with blood, the sword of my discourse was red with gore. We did not strike down their bodies but we did destroy their arguments and “Every proud pretension which raises itself against the knowledge of God.” For such is the kind of battle this is and, therefore, such is the nature of the weapons. (1)[1]

Chrysostom is known for railing against Christian attendance at the theatre, games, and circus of the empire. We know from the beginning of the previous sermon the chariot races had begun. One might wonder if the preacher was not trying to out-spectacle the spectacles. But he does cite 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 convincingly. And I suppose if Paul can wish for the castration of his opponents,[2] we cannot fault Chrysostom for such thoughts.

The preacher moves on quickly to inform the congregation of the subject matter of the sermon to follow. The text of Matthew 20:23 will be under investigation: “He said to them, ‘You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.’”(4). The Anomoeans present this text to assert that the Son must be lesser than the Father in some way. Chrysostom does not just flee to the standard method of using the temporary humility of the incarnation of the eternal Son. For this, I am thankful. Not because the standard argument is wrong, but because constant reliance upon such answers can serve to blunt spiritual maturity. Can one truly fight for the faith when he has never explored its depths? It can be more helpful to know how to discover the right answer than simply knowing the right answer.

Chrysostom’s first line of defense is to survey some of the verses that teach the Son indeed has the authority to judge. In Matthew there is the sheep and goat judgment and the parable of the 10 Virgins in Matthew 25; and the parable of the talents in Matthew 23:14-30 (7-15). In the gospel of John we read, “The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son”[3] (17). From the gospels he turns to passages in Paul that speak of the Lord’s rewarding of his servans: 1 Cor. 3:8 and 2 Tim. 4:7-8. (20-22).

But even with passages such as these, the job is still only half-done. While Chrysostom has effectively demonstrated that the Son does indeed have the prerogative of judgment, there remains the substance of Matthew 20:23. If Jesus says he will grant and forbid entrance into the kingdom, why does he here state that he does not have the right to offer rewards? If Jesus has all authority, why can he not assign John and James their place in the kingdom? If Jesus does not have the right to grant rewards, why does Paul expect Jesus to reward him? The rest of the sermon (23-48) is devoted to answering such questions.

Chrysostom’s argument is amusing, but I do not find it ultimately persuasive. The preacher basically maintains that Jesus does not want to “poison the well,” as it were. If Jesus told John and James they would have positions of power, they might get proud, over-confident and lazy. If Jesus told John and James they would not have positions of authority, they might get discouraged and disinterested. In both situations the result would be the same: James and John would do less for the kingdom if they knew their position in it. Jesus is playing coy and holding out the kingdom as a sort of carrot. The summary of the argument in is paragraph 40:

Because Christ wished to prevent men from growing more careless and lax since they were expecting further honors, he led them away from this erroneous surmise when he said: “It is not mine to give,” but yours to take, if you should show the willingness to do so. He said this so that you might show greater earnestness, more pains, and abundant zeal. He was saying: “I grant crowns to deeds, I give honors to pains, I award the prize to him who sweats. In my eyes, the strongest proof is the proof which comes from deeds.”

As far as it goes, Chrysostom’s logic is sound. The problem is that he still does not address the crux of Matthew 20:23. The problem is not just that Jesus says it is not his reward to give; the problem is that he says this and that the Father has prepared it. It is telling, however, that every time Chrysostom quotes this text in the last half of the sermon he leaves off the words “by my Father.” These are the very words that undercut his argument; the very words that the heretics would cling to.

In keeping with the militaristic beginning of the sermon, Chrysostom did not fare so well on the battlefield this day. To defend the truth is a noble and high calling. To be zealous for truth is vital: but sometimes zeal blinds. If, in our zealousness to support the truth, we distort the truth; we are no longer fighting for the truth. God keep me from being a blood-thirsty pastor.

 

 


[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] Gal. 5:12

[3] John 5:22

Devotions for Advent: Week 1, Monday

 The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD.
Isaiah 2:1-5

 When he entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment.
Matthew 8:5-13

The hope of Advent is the hope of all nations. Yet in so many ways and places the Scripture makes plain that this hope is not embraced by all nations. What is a faint whisper in Isaiah 2 is unmistakable in Matthew 8.

The hope of Advent is nothing less than God dwelling on earth. It is not too much to say that this is the hope of the Old Testament: I will be their God and they will be my people.[1] No, this is the hope of the New Testament as well.[2] It is the conclusion to which the entire history of redemption is moving toward: Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.[3]

But this word that is “concerning” Judah and Jerusalem in Isaiah in Matthew is shown to be the word against Israel. All nations will flow into Jerusalem, but it is not for the sake of the city itself or for the Jews who live there: it is for the Lord, God, his law, his word. What sanctifies the place is the presence of the Lord. The prophet concludes by pleading with his people to be a part of this great throng of nations: O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD. In his understated way he is telling the people that geographical proximity or simple ethnicity is no guarantee of inheritance. There must be a decision. A person must will to walk in the Lord’s light.

The great hindrance to this is pride. The centurion was not proud. His military life had taught him at least one thing: chain of command. The centurion knew that ultimate power of life and death existed and that it did not exist in him. He was not the final arbiter of life and death. The centurion recognized and yielded to the authority of the Lord. This soldier of Rome was a citizen of the kingdom. On the other hand, the “sons of the kingdom” would have no part in it.

The coming kingdom is a kingdom of peace for it is ruled by the Prince of peace. When peace is achieved there is invariably a humbling that accompanies it. The victor subdues his foes. The defeated give up their weaponry. The Jews were not willing to do this. They were not willing to give up their positions of respect and power; their traditions of legalism and enslavement.

May it never be so in my heart. May it never be so in the church. The hope we look for is the one we live in. May Christ the mighty victor subdue all his foes. May he destroy all the weapons I form against him.

 

Batter my heart, three-person’d God ; for you
As yet but knock ; breathe, shine, and seek to mend ;
That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp’d town, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but O, to no end.
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betroth’d unto your enemy ;
Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

 John Donne, Holy Sonnet XIV


[1] Ezek. 37:27; cf. Jeremiah 24:7; 31:33; 32:38; Ezekiel 11:20; 37:23; Zechariah 8:8

[2] 2 Corinthians 6:16; Hebrews 8:10

[3] Rev. 21:3