“…The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14b).
This prophecy, spoken by Isaiah to an unworthy Judean King named Ahaz, was offered 700 years before its fulfillment in our Savior’s birth. It’s not important that we know the date of Jesus’ birth, but it’s vital that we understand the fact of His birth. It was the pivotal event up to which all of history had been leading. The “seed of the woman” (Genesis 3:15) Whose bloodline was carefully traced throughout the narrative of the Old Testament arrived in anticipation of the defeat of the Devil, his seed and his evil purposes. The time came for the child to be born (Luke 2:6)…the fullness of the time which had been chosen and accomplished by God (Galatians 4:4). God’s eternal purpose to redeem mankind had flesh put on it (John 1:1,14). Shepherds looked into the tiny face of God’s loving salvation and glorified Him. Romans 5:6 explains that the timing of Jesus’ arrival was just “at the moment of our need” (New Century Version), when we were helpless to do anything useful about our condition. We were groping about in spiritual darkness, until God lit up the world with that great Light which was Jesus (Matthew 4:16).
The birth of Jesus meant His absence in the land of the trinity while His presence continued among men. It meant that He Who was rich beyond anything this world ever had to offer in terms of possessions, position or condition, divested Himself of all of it and became poor in order to bless us. (He did not however divest Himself of His Godhood.) It meant, amazingly, that God in the flesh would have to learn to eat, to talk, to crawl and walk, to listen and learn, to obey, to suffer physical pain, to sweat and to work. It meant that His Father loved people to the extent that He gave His wonderful, one and only, Son to fill our otherwise absolutely un-fillable need for forgiveness and redemption. It meant that God came not only to visit us, but to be with us. The angel told Joseph that the baby’s name would be called “Immanuel” the interpretation of which is “God with us” (Matthew 1:23). And what would God do among us? Keenly aware of our weaknesses and our sins, we might have expected Him to, at the very least, revile or ridicule us…to stare at us in unbelief at our hard-heartedness and slow-wittedness…and then, finally, to damn us and cast us from His presence. But He didn’t do that at all! God “with” us was also God “for” us! All through His earthly life He moved among us in kindness with patience and amazing love. He listened to us, served us, fed us, taught us the truth about His Father Who has always wanted to be our Father as well. He held out living hope for us. He lived and wept and died for love of us. The hymn says, “no one ever cared for me like Jesus.” Truer words have never been written. No love…not the highest of human loves…can compare with the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. It brought Him from heaven to a manger. It moved Him in everything He did and said and thought. It led Him to the Cross, but didn’t end there. He rose from death never to die again. He secured our spiritual welfare. And still His love for us continues as He represents us before our Father God right now and forever and as He continues to seek and to save lost people. Praise to our Immanuel!
What do you suppose went through the mind of the young man, Isaac, immediately following his Moriah experience with his father Abraham? I don’t know how old Isaac was when all that happened, but he was old enough to carry a load of wood for a burnt offering up a mountain. And, he was old enough to reason with his father, “Here is the wood and the fire, but where is the lamb for the offering?” Well, you remember the story, don’t you (check out Genesis, chapter twenty-two)? As he lay bound upon the wood of the altar, the harsh reality dawned upon him…his father intended to kill him and burn his body as a sacrifice to God!!! Abraham had responded to Isaac’s question by saying, “God Himself will provide the lamb.” Now he realizes that he is to be that lamb! And then, Abraham stretches out his hand to take the knife for offering Isaac. But God’s angel stops Abraham. Isaac is spared. A ram is discovered, caught by his horns in a thicket. The animal takes Isaac’s place and becomes the sacrifice.
What would that experience communicate to young Isaac? He knew that he was beloved of his father. And yet his father was prepared to kill him at God’s command. Surely that would indicate to Isaac that love and devotion to God must come first, above all other loves and allegiances. Wouldn’t this have caused Isaac to look at his father’s faith differently? No wonder Abraham is referred to as the father of the faithful. Isaac saw this truth up close and personally.
And at some point, and for some amount of time, Isaac believed he was going to die. But God prevented his death and provided a substitute sacrifice. Wouldn’t this have caused Isaac to view his own life differently? In a manner of speaking, Isaac received his life back again from God. Don’t you think this would have caused him to consider thoughts like this…since God gave me my life back, shouldn’t I live in gratitude and in honor to Him? And he proceeded to do just that.
I can’t help but believe the story of Moriah was in Paul’s mind as he wrote Romans 12:1-2. In that place Paul instructs Christians (actually, he begs them) to offer themselves as living sacrifices to God. You see, our sinfulness carried with it a requirement. Sins incur the punishment of death (Romans 6:23). But God provided for Himself a Lamb…a pure, spotless, innocent Lamb…a Lamb to take our place that we might live. And that’s how Jesus Christ came to die upon the cross to atone for the sins of the entire world, in every generation, from the dawn of humanity until the end of time. And ever since we learned the story of how He did that, we’ve felt the debt of love we owe and can never repay (no matter how hard we try-though such amazing love compels us to work for Him). The Scripture says this, “And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him Who died for them and was raised again” (2 Corinthians 5:15).
So, today, and everyday, love your family, do your job, help your friends, seek your God and live your life as a living sacrifice to God which is, after all, what you are. Pay attention to the Message Version of Romans 12:1… “So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for Him.”
That’s how Jesus responded to the man He had freed from a host of evil spirits that had taken up residence inside him and held him captive in the cemetery. The grateful man wanted to go with Jesus immediately. He begged Jesus that he might do so. But Jesus wouldn’t permit him. Instead, He told him to return home to his own family and friends and share with them the great mercy of God and the great things God had done for him. (See Mark, chapter five.)
This story rebukes me. Having become a Christian when I was thirteen years old, I was inspired by the dream shared with me by preachers and other older Christians…the dream to do great things for God…to go on door-knocking campaigns and try to save lost people. I did plug in at church and participated in every program they had that was appropriate for me. BUT, I failed, almost completely in my first and most basic mission field…my own home.
Ask yourself where the former demoniac’s story would have had, at least potentially, the greatest impact. Would it have been among strangers who hadn’t known him before or among family and friends who could now see clearly the amazing change in him? And so, Jesus said, “Go home. Share your story. Live your new life in the presence of those who know you best. Give all the glory to God.”
The truth is that if we don’t live for Jesus in our own homes then whatever influence we hope to have for Jesus on others is lessened. The truth is that if we don’t treat our own family and friends as Jesus has treated us, we are missing the best preparation we could ever have to serve others. The truth is that every single Christian has a commission from Christ which is inspired by His life, teaching, suffering, dying and resurrection. And this commission is not complicated. We obsess on all kinds of mitigating factors…what if I am rejected by someone I try to reach…what if I don’t have all the answers to their questions…what if I just don’t know enough Bible, or if I say it wrong. When, all the while, Jesus simply asks of us to first take Him home with us. Live out the difference Jesus makes in a person’s life. Live it out before your family and friends. Those are the people who have loved you. They know you. They will be able to see the wonderful change in you. Neither they nor Christ expect sinless perfection of you. But they do expect you to be for real!
Maybe we need to begin in prayer, confessing to God our failure to show and tell His glory and grace to those closest to us in life. Maybe we then need to apologize to them. Maybe…just maybe…we need to go home to our families and friends and love, serve and show them the glory and grace Jesus offered us…and them also.
In a context of future judgment brought by God upon His rebellious children (Deuteronomy 29), Moses anticipates a question asked by surrounding nations who witness the devastation. They want to know why the destruction happened. He answers the question showing the justice of the judgment God brought. Then he concludes with verse 29 which says, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.” It’s as if Moses were saying, “Listen. When you’ve heard all God has to say about future judgment, it will still be true that you don’t know everything.” Ask yourself, “Do I know God?” How would you answer? I would say to every Christian the answer is yes. And what would I mean? I would mean that you know God loved you enough to send His Son to become human, to live and serve as Jesus did, and then to suffer and die as an atoning sacrifice for us. You would know things like God is good, holy, just, loving, impartial, patient…and that Jesus Christ is the reflection of the character of God. And there are many aspects of God’s nature, heart and will, revealed in Scripture that we grow to know as we live in Christ. However, I ask again, “Do you know God?” And the answer is no. For we cannot fully know God. Even considering the revelation God has given us of Himself in the Scriptures, there remain many more questions than answers. Just as God told Moses that a man could not see God and continue to live, so we cannot begin to grasp fully all the profound aspects of our God. We just don’t have the capacity! A number of things follow from this consideration: 1) We ought to more fully focus on the things God has revealed to us in the Bible rather than on what is yet concealed from us. The Bible is a deep, deep well of faith-building truths that we may spend our lives drawing from without coming near to exhausting its riches. 2) Though there are profound truths touched upon in Scripture, the vital truths which pertain to life and godliness (what we must know and believe in order to become and remain saved and be enlisted in His purposes) are clearly revealed (Ephesians 3:1-5 and 2 Peter 1:3). 3) God is eternal. And, though we are able to consider only truths about Him in relation to His creation of planet earth, the cosmos and humans, as well as all life, the things that are known of God are much more than sufficient to be absolutely convincing that He is worthy of all our souls’ adoration. “Great is Jehovah and greatly to be praised (Psalm 145:3).
Let’s praise God that the secret things belong to Him, but the revealed things belong to us and our children forever that we may follow all His words!
The wise old Samuel, prophet and judge of Israel, agreed with his penitent people that they had done so much evil (1 Sam. 12:20). What then? Give up?! Just be honest enough to quit! There is no hope! He doesn’t say a word like that.
Instead he said, with all that evil in view, “yet do not turn away from the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart.” What heart? Did they actually still have any heart? Samuel, speaking for God, believed so. Isn’t that a truly wonderful thing?! At times aren’t we so given to extremes? Tonight I am glad that even when I see absolutely no reason why He should bother with me…that He still bothers…and that He would never call it a bother. I’m glad that when my hope is flickering He reminds me again that He is my hope of glory. Listen, beloved, we are His …Cross-bought…Kingdom-dwellers…guilt-ridden but glory-bound…undeserving but delighted in…weak but supported in every way. We are His. He has made us exceeding great and such precious promises that He will never go back on. And right now, even with our record of sin and failure, He is bringing to completion the good work He began in us when we first came to Him. Don’t turn away! In morning worship tomorrow, turn your heart toward Him again. Say and mean, “Thank you, Father.” And surrender to Him one. more. time. Glorify His Name!
Jesus prays this lovely thing in a most beautiful prayer shortly before His death…“Father, I want those You have given Me to be with Me where I am, and to see My glory, the glory You have given Me because You loved Me before the creation of the world” (John 17:24).
All through life we are followed by a shadow, aren’t we? When we are young we scarcely ever notice it. But it has a way of imposing itself upon us as we age. Living as humans means a degree of isolation…there are places and times that no one can enter with us, as much as their love would cause them to do so if they could. And we can’t do it for them either.
We understand, on some level, that we were never intended to live life as we now know it forever. This necessarily means that a dreaded separation is coming between loved ones…mates, friends, parent/child/grandchild, and etc. Many of us have faced these experiences and will for the rest of our lives here be feeling the pain of soul-shaking losses. And while others care, they cannot fully understand or enter our pain. It is, in some ways, uniquely “our” pain. But the separation is not the end of the story. It’s true it hurts beyond what we thought we could ever endure and still live. But it’s also true that the ache in our souls for togetherness with our beloved was anticipated by our Lord. He feels it too. He wants us to be with Him where He is in glory. This was His prayer request. Amazing! We are filled with all kinds of reasons why this should be impossible…why we ought to be disqualified. But the One Who died and rose again for us wants us to be with Him. He is willing and able to eternally cure our ache!
Dear Father God, please, may we ask of You…
Some sense of the Pleasure You take in us simply because we are Yours…
Some hint of the Fatherly Pride You take in our purpose to honor You in our lives…
Some idea of what our hanging in there with You through thick and thin, when we understand and when we don’t, when we see light at the end of the long dark tunnel and when no end is in sight…some idea of what this kind of faithful clinging means to You…
Some notion of the Fondness You feel for us when it is in our hearts to do good for and to You…
Some vision of You, in our corner, speaking out courage and inspiration to us, even, and especially when, we’re feeling alone and forsaken…
Some ground gained…some Victory won in our lives over some sin…over some enemy…over some frustration…over some doubt…over some fear…
Some growing, inner Conviction, that You are now and will ever be with and in us, loving us into Your holiness, leading us into Your joyful Heart and thrilling us with the truth that You will never give up on us and never walk out on us. Through Christ, Amen.
His name was Stephen…a Christian…a man full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom. He was chosen, along with six others, to see that all the widows in the church were treated fairly as the daily distribution of food was made (see Acts 6). As Luke continues to recount the days of the early church, he focuses for a time on Stephen (Acts 6:8-7:60). He was not only filled with the Holy Spirit and wisdom (v.3), but with faith (v.5) and with God’s grace and power (v.8). He was also able to do great wonders and signs among the people (v.8). Surely such a gifted Christian would have the protection of God, right? Right! Weren’t Jesus’ words in John 10:28-29 applicable to Stephen? You know…the words where Jesus said He would hold His sheep in His hand and no one could snatch them away…and that they would never perish! Of course that promise was applicable to and operational for Stephen and every Christian before and after him down to our day. But what does that promise look like in its unfolding. Does it mean that no Christian will suffer physically or in other ways? Does it mean that they cannot die painfully…that they will instead by carried off to heaven when that sweet chariot swings low to get them? You have only to peruse the New Testament to see that is not the case. The promise means that though a Christian dies, he/she does not perish. It means that even when a Christian dies a painful or violent death, God has not forsaken them (please see Acts 7:54-56). But wouldn’t it have been better for Stephen to keep living on earth to bless the church and help the lost? I would answer yes, but God had a different plan for him. And God kept all His promises to Stephen. As Stephen’s body lay broken and bloodstained among those stones, he didn’t look like a winner. When other Christians took up his body and mourned and buried him, they didn’t appear victorious. But looks can be deceiving! God does right!