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

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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 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.