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.

 

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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.

Devotions for First week of Advent: Tuesday, The Advent of the Trinity

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins. The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples–of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.
Isaiah 11:1-10

In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” Then turning to the disciples he said privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.”
Luke 10:21-24[1]

Advent is the season of appearing. In Advent God makes himself known. Today’s passages reveal the deepest aspect of the mystery of God’s appearance: the fact that God is Trinity. Jesus did what he did because of who he was: God. Jesus was able to do what he did because of the power he received from the Holy Spirit. The work of Jesus from beginning to end was the work that the Father willed.

In Isaiah 11 we see that God’s kingdom comes through the Branch who judges righteous judgment. This righteous judgment is empowered by the Spirit of the Lord, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. The gospels make the role of the Spirit in the life of Jesus unmistakable. It is by the Holy Spirit that he is conceived;[2] the fills people to worship God because of Jesus;[3] Jesus was announced as the one who would baptize with the Holy Spirit;[4] the Holy Spirit rested on Jesus when he was baptized;[5] it was in the power of the Spirit that Jesus entered the wilderness, left the wilderness, and began his teaching ministry;[6] it was in the power of the Spirit that Jesus cast out demons;[7] before he left Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to his disciples;[8] Jesus commanded that new disciples be baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit;[9] Jesus kept his promise and sent the Holy Spirit.[10] Advent makes known the inseparable bond between Jesus the Messiah and the Spirit of the Lord.

But the advent of Jesus also makes known the inseparable bond between Jesus the Messiah and God the Father. In Luke we stand upon holy ground. We enter into the communication of the Trinity. In wonder and amazement we hear the Son of God proclaim that he has all of the authority of the Father. The sovereignty of God over salvation is made explicit. The Father hides salvation from some and reveals it to others. The Son chooses whom he will reveal the Father to. We know these hard words are true because who said them: Jesus the Son; and because of how he said them: “in the Holy Spirit.”

At Advent God makes himself known. God reveals that he is Triune: God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. Three in person, one in essence.

 Lo, how a Rose e’er blooming from tender stem hath sprung!
Of Jesse’s lineage coming, as men of old have sung.
It came, a floweret bright, amid the cold of winter,
When half spent was the night.

Isaiah ’twas foretold it, the Rose I have in mind;
With Mary we behold it, the virgin mother kind.
To show God’s love aright, she bore to men a Savior,
When half spent was the night.

The shepherds heard the story proclaimed by angels bright,
How Christ, the Lord of glory was born on earth this night.
To Bethlehem they sped and in the manger found Him,
As angel heralds said.

This Flower, whose fragrance tender with sweetness fills the air,
Dispels with glorious splendor the darkness everywhere;
True Man, yet very God, from sin and death He saves us,
And lightens every load.

O Savior, Child of Mary, who felt our human woe,
O Savior, King of glory, who dost our weakness know;
Bring us at length we pray, to the bright courts of Heaven,
And to the endless day!


[1] For more on this text see my post on the Trinitarian aspects of it click here.

[2] Luke 1:35

[3] Luke 1:41; 2:25-27

[4] Luke 3:16

[5] Luke 3:22

[6] Luke 4:1, 14, 18

[7] Matt. 12:28

[8] John 15:26

[9] Matt. 28:19

[10] John 20:22; Acts 2:33

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