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.

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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.

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.