Devotions for Advent Week 4 Friday 1 Samuel 1:24-28 Luke 1:46-56

And when she had weaned him, she took him up with her, along with a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour, and a skin of wine, and she brought him to the house of the LORD at Shiloh. And the child was young. Then they slaughtered the bull, and they brought the child to Eli. And she said, “Oh, my lord! As you live, my lord, I am the woman who was standing here in your presence, praying to the LORD. For this child I prayed, and the LORD has granted me my petition that I made to him. Therefore I have lent him to the LORD. As long as he lives, he is lent to the LORD.” And he worshiped the LORD there.
1 Samuel 1:24-28

And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.” And Mary remained with her about three months and returned to her home.
Luke 1:46-56

God’s character demands worship. God is mighty, holy, and merciful. God’s acts demand worship. God acts to debase the proud. God acts to build up the humble.

All of these attributes are brought together in the birth of the Messiah. It is Jesus who mightily accomplishes the impossible by mercifully reconciling a holy God to sinful man. It is Jesus who unfailingly reveals what is in the heart of man. Jesus enthralls the humble and enrages the proud.

On Sunday, the Lord’s day, go to his house and worship him there.

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Devotions for Advent Week 4 Tuesday Judges 13:2-7, 24-25; Luke 1:5-25 The Barren Rejoice

There was a certain man of Zorah, of the tribe of the Danites, whose name was Manoah. And his wife was barren and had no children. And the angel of the LORD appeared to the woman and said to her, “Behold, you are barren and have not borne children, but you shall conceive and bear a son. Therefore be careful and drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, for behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. No razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb, and he shall begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines.”
Then the woman came and told her husband, “A man of God came to me, and his appearance was like the appearance of the angel of God, very awesome. I did not ask him where he was from, and he did not tell me his name, but he said to me, ‘Behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. So then drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb to the day of his death.'”
And the woman bore a son and called his name Samson. And the young man grew, and the LORD blessed him. And the Spirit of the LORD began to stir him in Mahaneh-dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol.
Judges 13:2-7, 24-25

In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.
Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”
And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.”
And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute. And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home. After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying, “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”
Luke 1:5-25

 

At Advent we remember the long line of barren women that God accomplished the impossible for. Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Manoah’s wife, Hannah, and Elizabeth all must have wondered at the cause of their fate. After all, the promise of the Lord was that none that he favored would be barren (Ex. 23:26; Deut. 7:14). Yet in their struggle they would each be able to bless the Lord saying, “He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children. Praise the LORD!” (Ps. 113:9).

Advent is a testimony to the powerful creativity of God. God can give life to a man from the ground without man or woman- Adam. God can give life to a woman from a man without a woman- Eve. God can give life to a man from a woman without a man- Jesus. God can give life to the barren.

Such mighty acts are not limited to the sphere of procreation. God accomplishes the impossible in the salvation of the Gentiles. In Galatians 4 we have Paul’s teaching that the church is the fulfillment of the promise given in Isaiah, “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. In the church god has granted life where there was only death. The Gentile nations were long barren and without hope but now the gospel bears abundant fruit. Now the Gentiles, like Isaac, are children of promise.

Devotions for Advent Week 4 Monday Jeremiah 23:5-8 Matthew 1:18-25 The Name above all names

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness.’”
“Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when they shall no longer say, ‘As the LORD lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt,’ but ‘As the LORD lives who brought up and led the offspring of the house of Israel out of the north country and out of all the countries where he had driven them.’ Then they shall dwell in their own land.”
Jeremiah 23:5-8

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.
Matthew 1:18-25

When our fourth child was born my wife and I went in the hospital not knowing what we would name her. And we almost left the hospital not knowing what we would name her. In the end we had to rely more on the internet than on angelic instruction. The little one born to Mary, however, has been given the name above every name…and that name is not Jesus. Anyone who has spent time in Latin America or knows what Joshua means knows there is nothing particularly unique about the name “Jesus.”

As Matthew 1:21 indicates Jesus- the Lord is salvation- certainly declares what he came to do. But even more exalted are the names that indicate the character and nature of Jesus and not just his actions.
Jesus is “the LORD our righteousness.” All of our righteousness is an alien righteousness. It comes from outside of us: “Christ Jesus…became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption.”

Jesus is “Immanuel.” Jesus is God with us. Not just “with us” in the sense of location. Jesus is God with us in the sense of identification. “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” The impact of “God with us” is in the fact that the eternal Son of God became “man with us.”

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 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.