December 29, 2013

The Flight Into Egypt - Dec 29, 2013

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We’re going to begin our message today by talking a little about prophets and prophecy.

The job of a prophet is to announce God’s Word. Sometimes that Word has to do with things that have already taken place. Sometimes that Word deals with things that are currently happening. And sometimes a prophet speak of things yet to come.

When most people think of prophecy, they think of Predictive Prophesy. Prophecy that foretells events that haven’t yet taken place. The Greek word for “prophecy” is made from two words smooshed together—“before” and “saying”. It literally means, “a before saying.”


Predictive Prophecy serves both the people who live before, and people who live after, its fulfillment.

For those living before, Predictive Prophecy engenders hope. When Adam and Eve heard that the Lord would crush the power of Satan through one of Eve’s descendants, they were given hope through that first Gospel prophecy.

Those living after a Predictive Prophesy is fulfilled receive reassurance of God’s faithfulness as well as validation that God’s wisdom and power transcend space and time.


There are two basic types of Predictive Prophecy: Direct Prophecy and Typical Prophesy. A Direct Prophecy is fulfilled by ONE person or event. Typical Prophecy is fulfilled by more than one individual at different times in history.  However, even though Typical Prophesy may be fulfilled by more than one individual, it finds its ultimate fulfillment in One person or event. For example, in our Old Testament reading for today a Typical Prophesy was announced to king David. We read…

“Also the Lord tells you that He will make you a house.
12 “When your days are fulfilled and you rest with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be his Father, and he shall be My son. If he commits iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men and with the blows of the sons of men. 15 But My mercy shall not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I removed from before you. 16 And your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you. Your throne shall be established forever.”” (2 Samuel 7:11-16 NKJV).

When king David wanted to build a temple for the Lord to replace the worship-tent they had been using, God told him “no”. Instead God prophesied the coming of one of David’s sons who would…

·         Have a kingdom
·         Build a house for the Lord’s name
·         Have the throne of his kingdom established forever
·         Be the Lord’s son
·         Be chastened if he sinned
·         Not have the Lord’s mercy fully removed because of sin

The question is, does this prophecy refer to David’s son Solomon, or does it refer to David’s later son, Jesus Christ? The answer is both. Solomon built a physical Temple for the Lord, but Christ builds the eternal house of God in people’s hearts, through the Gospel message. Solomon was a “son” of the Lord by faith, but Jesus Christ is the Son of God by substance, from eternity. Solomon and his descendents were indeed chastened by the Lord for their sinful departures from God’s Word. And yet their line was not extinguished because the promised Savior had to come from David’s family tree. Jesus Christ was also chastened, even punished fully for sins—though they were not his own sins. Christ experienced hell on the cross when he stood in the place of all sinners. And yet, when this payment was complete, three days later, the Lord raised his Son from the dead. Even though the Lord punished Christ on the cross, he was not abandoned forever.

Solomon is called a “type” of Christ because he fulfilled this Christ-prophecy in a small way. Jesus Christ later fulfilled this prophecy in the most complete way. This is how Typical Prophecy works. Smaller “types” fulfill the prophecy before the most complete fulfiller comes.


Sometimes Predictive Prophecy is made so that the hearers will be able to act when an event is about to take place. For example, Christ told his disciples about certain signs that would precede the destruction of Jerusalem so that they might recognize these signs and escape before the Roman army surrounded the city. But more often, Predictive Prophecy is simply God calling his shots so that afterward people will know this was no chance happening—this was the Lord’s hand in action.

The Bible tells us the Old Testament is full of “shadows of the good things to come”. What that means is, God used the actual events of Old Testament history, to foreshadow more significant events to come. These foreshadowings served to give hope to God’s people as they waited for the promised Savior. And these foreshadowings still serve us today by verifying that God’s hand has been preparing our salvation—and has now finished that work in Jesus Christ.

The Old Testament way of worship, with all its animal sacrifices foreshadowed the great sacrifice God’s Son would offer on the cross.

In Colossians it says…

16 So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, 17 which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ” (Colossians 2:16-17 NKJV).

Even the Old Testament days of rest and worship were shadows of things to come. The religious festivals and Sabbaths, on which the people rested and worshipped foreshadowed the peace that each believer finds in Christ.


Now, we’ve been reviewing all this stuff about Predictive Prophecy, and Typical vs. Direct Prophecy in order to help us understand our sermon reading for today. Our sermon reading speaks of the flight into Egypt. As we read, listen for the different kinds of prophesy we just talked about.

Matthew 2:13-23 (NKJV)

13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.”
14 When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, 15 and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt I called My Son.”
16 Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying:
18    “A voice was heard in Ramah,
      Lamentation, weeping, and great mourning,
      Rachel weeping for her children,
      Refusing to be comforted,
      Because they are no more.”
19 Now when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, 20 saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the young Child’s life are dead.” 21 Then he arose, took the young Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel.
22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea instead of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And being warned by God in a dream, he turned aside into the region of Galilee. 23 And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, “He shall be called a Nazarene.”
In the account of the flight to Egypt, we find a number of prophesies, some of them Typical Prophecies.

First off, after the wise men visited the Christ Child and presented their gifts in reverent worship, they were warned by God not to return to King Herod. Herod wanted to use the wise men to find the newborn King so that he could kill him. Simple minded Herod saw the Christ Child as a threat to his reign.

So, an angel was sent to Joseph, and away they fled to Egypt. Matthew notes that this event was guided by the very hand of the Lord so that what had been foretold in the past would come true in its greatest sense. Through the Old Testament prophet Hosea God had said…

11 “When Israel was a child, I loved him,
And out of Egypt I called My son” (Hosea 11:1 NKJV).

At the time when this prophecy was originally spoken, this had already happened. God had called Israel out of Egypt. Moses had gone down to the enslaved Israelites and had led them out of Egypt to the Promised Land. But in Christ’s time this Typical Prophecy was fulfilled in a greater sense. It wasn’t just God’s figurative “son” that was called out of Egypt, but his actual Son, the eternal Son whose human name is Jesus.

This example of prophecy and fulfillment serves to strengthen our faith in God’s promise keeping ability. First God called Israel out of Egyptian slavery to a new and bountiful land. Then God called his only-begotten-Son out of Egypt to return to Judea. And now, God has called us through the Gospel to live no longer in the land of sin, and condemnation, but to live in the land of forgiveness and justification through Christ. And this prophesy will be fulfilled one more time on the Last Day when God calls all his faithful followers to live beside him in the promised land of heaven.
When Herod found out that the wise men weren’t coming back to him, he was enraged, and tried to carry out his plan to extinguish the Christ’s life. He ordered the execution of any child that had been born around the same time. Matthew notes that another Typical Prophesy was fulfilled in this tragic event. The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah had said,

“A voice was heard in Ramah,
Lamentation and bitter weeping,
Rachel weeping for her children,
Refusing to be comforted for her children,
Because they are no more” (Jeremiah 31:15 NKJV).

Ramah was a town about five miles north of Jerusalem. In the Old Testament, when Jerusalem was conquered and the Israelites led captive to Babylon, they passed through this town on the way. There must have been much weeping and sorrow, for before Jerusalem was finally conquered, many had died at the hands of the Babylonian armies.

At the time of Christ, this “weeping prophesy” was again fulfilled. Herod’s rampage left the unspeakable carnage of many dead children. Once again, there was much weeping in Ramah.

And yet, this dark prophesy has a light of hope along its edge. The Babylonian Captivity, which caused the first weeping, did not last forever. A remnant of the people returned to Israel, after a time, and from that remnant the Savior of the world was eventually born.

Furthermore, we are given hope today. Just as Herod was not able to extinguish the life of our Savior before his time had come, so also we are assured by God’s Word that a remnant of faithful followers will remain in this world until the Last Day. The light of the Gospel will continue to call sinners to forgiveness and life in Christ. And finally, the remnant of God’s followers will be called to eternal peace and glory at God’s side in heaven where there will be no more weeping  and sorrow among God’s redeemed children.
The final prophesy that Matthew relates is a little different than the first two we’ve addressed. When Herod was dead, God sent an angel to tell Joseph to return to Palestine with his family. Upon returning, Joseph learned that Herod’s son Archelaus was ruling in Judea. So, instead of returning to Bethlehem, Joseph took his family north to a little back-water village called Nazareth. Matthew tells us that yet another prophesy was fulfilled here. A prophesy that had been spoken by a number of different prophets.

If you search the Old Testament for a specific prophecy that says, “He shall be called a Nazarene” you won’t find one. The statement that the Christ would grow up in Nazareth simply wasn’t made in the Old Testament. However, if we look a little closer, we can see what Matthew was talking about.

Over and over in the Old Testament it was predicted that the Savior would be despised by the people. In Psalm 22 the Savior himself says…

6 But I am a worm, and no man; A reproach of men, and despised by the people” (Psalm 22:6 NKJV).

In Isaiah 49, the Redeemer of Israel is called…

“…Him whom man despises…Whom the nation abhors…” (Isaiah 49:7 NKJV).

Isaiah again describes the Savior in chapter 53, saying…

3 He is despised and rejected by men,
A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him;
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him” (Isaiah 53:3 NKJV).

When Jesus began to reveal himself as the promised Christ during his ministry, his enemies seized on the opportunity to remind everyone where he came from. That he was a mere Nazarene. Nothing good came from Nazareth. It was a piddly back-water city not noted in the Old Testament even a single time. The title “Jesus of Nazareth” served to simply indicate which Jesus this was, the one who came from Nazareth. But, to those who hated Jesus it also served as a title of insult and disgrace, “Jesus—OF NAZARETH.” Thus was fulfilled every Old Testament prophecy that proclaimed that the Christ would be despised by the people.

When Joseph made the decision to turn aside and settle his family in Nazareth, he just wanted to put them in a safe, easily overlooked location. But the Lord of Heaven was working behind the scenes, even in this. And this fact should also strengthen our faith in the power of God. In the Old Testament, God guided the actual events of history to foreshadow the work of salvation which his Son would do. And in the life of Jesus, God was continually working so that each Direct Prophecy, and every Typical Prophecy was fulfilled. Through these foreshadowings and fulfillments God draws our attention to his great work of saving us through Christ.
So, how has the Lord guided your life to this day? What has he caused to happen so that you have been led to just the right place, at just the right time, to see your sin and your Savior from sin? And how has the Lord guided your life to help bring others the knowledge of salvation through Christ?

Some people wonder what we’ll fill our days with in heaven. Perhaps God will take some time to show us just how he worked in the lives of each redeemed sinner to carry out his master plan of bringing salvation to the world. What a feature presentation that would be.

But for now, lets just take comfort in the lessons God has given us here in the simple story of the flight into Egypt. God’s plan of salvation was predicted and foreshadowed in so many ways. And his every promise and prediction was fulfilled. The Christ Child, though hated and despised, was not allowed to die until he had suffered on the cross for each and every sin we have ever committed. Only after our debt was fully paid did he speak those precious words…

“…It is finished…” (John 19:30 NKJV).

It was then that Satan’s power was shattered. With our sins forgiven, Satan no longer has any charge to make against us that can stick. Praise be to our gracious, and all powerful God who has painted prophecy and fulfillment right into events of human history. May his skilful and beautiful craftsmanship serve to give us hope, and strengthen our faith in our great Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

December 25, 2013

Jesus Our Brother, Kind and Good - Dec 25, 2013

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This year, during the Sundays of Advent we prepared to celebrate Christmas by taking a look at the miracles that happened in the days and months before Jesus was born. We heard how an elderly couple was miraculously blessed with a child, a child who would one day prepare the people for the Messiah. A young girl conceived a Son while she was yet still a virgin. Later, it was revealed to that young girl’s husband that her Child had been conceived by the Holy Spirit’s power. Still later, it was revealed to a group of shepherds, in the fields outside of Bethlehem,  that a Savior had indeed been born. A Savior who was God’s gift to the world. Each of these events was marked by the appearance of one or more of God’s angel messengers.

And yet, in the actual place where the Savior was born there was no bright light. No miraculous messenger. When the world’s Savior was born, it was a remarkably natural occurrence.  

Though we’ve probably heard the account of our Savior’s birth hundreds of times, perhaps we’ve missed this fact. As we read the story again this year, try to hear it with different ears. Try, if you can, to listen to the details of this account like someone who isn’t familiar with the story. Like someone who doesn’t yet know the significance of this Child’s life.

Luke 2:1-7 (NKJV)
2         And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. 3 So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city.
4 Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. 6 So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. 7 And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
When Caesar Augustus, also known as Gaius Octavius, had the decree published that his empire should undergo a census, he was not thinking of the Savior that God had promised to send the world. Rather, his decree was just one more governmental exercise. If you’re going to tax people, it helps to know how many people are going to need to pay.

This wasn’t the first census ever taken. So, Luke notes that this census was the the first that took place while Quirinius was governing Syria.

Instead of sending counters out to the people, in Judea the people were required to travel to certain cities. Cities that matched up with their family’s origin where they would then be registered. Around Christmas time today, the roads are packed with people on their way to buy gifts, or groceries. But at the time of the first Christmas the roads were packed for a different reason. The people had to comply with the emperor’s decree.

When Joseph and Mary left Nazareth, bound for Bethlehem, they probably weren’t thinking about the prophesy that said the Savior would be born in Bethlehem. They were descendants of King David, and so their census city was the one where David had been born—Bethlehem. Like everyone else, they too had to comply with the emperor’s demand.

No flashy miracles here. Just the Governmental red-tape, and the everyday taxation of a nation.

And then the time came for Mary to give birth. The contractions came slowly at first, and gradually increased in intensity and frequency. And with one final push, the little Child that the world had waited so long to see, let out his first cry into the cool air of the Judean night.

There was no lightning. No flash of heavenly glory. Just a tired young Mary, and a beautiful new Child, wriggling and kicking in the dark.

And what did they do with this Child? They did what parents do with newborn children. They wrapped him up tightly to keep him warm and calm. And because poor Mary needed to rest, they laid him down in his first crib. Sure it was a manger, usually used to hold food for animals, but even this detail, though now famous, was not miraculous. They simply used what they had at hand. What else could they do?

No miracle here. Just a poor Judean couple doing their best to care for their newborn Child.
You see, the miracle had happened nine months before, when Mary had conceived this Child without the help of Joseph. When Mary had been overshadowed by the Spirit of God and had received the spark of life that would grow into the very Son of God in her womb. That’s when the miracle happened. At the actual time of Christ’s birth it was all a very common natural occurrence. A child was born.
And there are reasons why the birth of God’s own Son happened in this ordinary way. First of all, back in the Garden of Eden, God had promised that one of Eve’s descendants would crush the power of the devil. And so the Savior had to be HUMAN. God had told Satan…

15        And I will put enmity
            Between you and the woman,
            And between your seed and her Seed;
            He shall bruise your head,
            And you shall bruise His heel”(Genesis 3:15 NKJV).

And so the Seed of Eve was born to Mary, in the same way that every other Child has been born since the beginning of the world.

And though this human Child was also the very Son of God, he would not use his divine power to ease his way in this world. For if he was to be the great stand-in-sacrifice for all sinners, he would have to struggle along like everyone else. And so even in his birth, the Christ refrained from the miraculous, and was born in the ordinary way of physical exertion and pain.

It was necessary for this Child to be truly human for another reason. He had to be able to die. The great redemption of the world could only be accomplished by a great sacrifice. The Messiah must not only live a life of sinless perfection, he must also die a humble death in accordance with prophesy. And so he was born in the same way as every other human child.

One of our lesser known Christmas carols reads like this…

Jesus our brother, kind and good,
Was humbly born in a stable rude.
The friendly beasts around Him stood,
Jesus, our brother, kind and good.
This Christmas carol points out one last reason why our Savior was born in this common, ordinary way. He was born to be our brother. That phrase, “Jesus our brother” simply means that Jesus was truly one of us, though without sin. Truly human. And that’s the whole reason why he was born like he was. The eternal Son of God became a HUMAN BEING so that he could rescue sinners like you and me from hell.

Jesus became our brother. What a comfort that fact is. He didn’t just APPEAR human like the angels sometimes do when delivering God’s messages. He actually BECAME human.

And so he knows. He knows what our lives are like. He’s experienced it. And even after all the abuse he received in his life, he was still willing to give his life to save mankind. To save you, and me, from all our ugly sins. Jesus our brother, kind and good.
Artists often portray the little Christ Child with beams of light shining from his face as he lays there in Mary’s arms, or in Joseph’s arms, or in the manger. They paint him like this to illustrate the fact that he is true God, the eternal Son.

But today, as we look into the manger, let’s see the OTHER great truth. He was born a human child, that he might save the human race. He was born a human child, that we might believe that he really gets it, he knows our thoughts and dreams, he knows our struggles and problems, and he cares. Jesus our brother, kind and good.

Prayer: Dear Father in heaven, thank you for sending your precious Son to be our brother. The fact that this has happened is mind-boggling and awe-inspiring. Strengthen our faith that we may always hold this truth dear, and look to the Christ Child as our only Savior, and our great King. Fill us with peace at the birth of your Son. And along with your forgiveness, fill our hearts, minds, and mouths with praise for your astounding grace. Amen.

December 22, 2013

Glory to God, Peace to Mankind - Dec 22, 2013

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Our great God is capable of turning the most humble substances into the most beautiful things. This fact is displayed in his creation at nearly every turn. In the earth’s mantle, under intense heat and pressure, black carbon is transformed into sparkling diamonds. When a bit of sand finds its way into a clam, it is surrounded by layer upon layer until it is transformed into a shimmering pearl. A grain of dust floating through a cloud in the winter sky is surrounded by a sheath of frozen water that gradually crystallizes into the gorgeous and intricate shapes we know as snowflakes.

When the creative power of the Lord comes into contact with the humble elements of this world, astounding and beautiful things result. 

When the glory of the Lord came down to mankind in the form of the Christ Child, the result was the same. On the first Christmas, God’s glory met our darkness, and two things happened: God was glorified, and sinful mankind received peace.

Luke 2:8-15 (NKJV)

8 Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. 10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”
13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:
14    “Glory to God in the highest,
      And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
15 So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.”
In this account, Luke paints a beautiful picture of dramatic contrasts. The story of the shepherds is one on great darkness, and one of brilliant light. We’ll start with the darkness.

These were shepherds. We might imagine a kindly band of working men, maybe a boy here or there, snuggled around a fire out in the countryside. But that image is more from our idealized nativity sets and Christmas decorations than from reality. Shepherds were outcasts. They were considered among the lowest classes of society, and not to be trusted. Sure there were trustworthy men among the shepherding class, but the number of unscrupulous ones led to a harsh stereotype. At the time when these events took place, shepherds could not serve in judicial positions and they were forbidden from being witnesses in a court of law.

Reputations aside, lets take a look at why these men had to be out in the fields at all. They were tending sheep. Sheep that were easy prey for predators, thieves, or simply harsh weather. After the fall into sin, the world became an ugly place of struggle, death, and robbery. Sin’s effect on the world was what made shepherding necessary.

This is the scene as Luke paints it to begin with: Out in the night, a band of rough shepherds, guarding a flock of sheep from death and theft. That’s a pretty dark picture.
But then into the scene enters an angel of the Lord, and with that angel, the glory of the Lord. If you search the Bible for that phrase, “the glory of the Lord” you’ll see it in the Old Testament most of all. The glory of the Lord was a brilliant light that appeared when the Lord wanted to make his presence known.

At Mount Sinai, where Moses received the Ten Commandments, the glory of the Lord is described as being “like a devouring fire” (Exodus 24:17). This awe-inspiring sight was often accompanied by a mysterious cloud. When the prophet Ezekiel received a vision of the Lord sitting on his throne, he saw the glory of the Lord and said it was like the vivid brightness of a rainbow. When Solomon dedicated the first Temple of the Lord, the glory of the Lord filled the Temple making it impossible for the priests to enter it.

Here in the countryside outside of Bethlehem, the shepherds found themselves SURROUNDED by this brilliant and vivid glory.

And before long, that single angel of the Lord standing before them received backup. Luke says that all the sudden a multitude of the heavenly host appeared. That word, “host” is the same word used to describe an army arrayed for battle. That is to say, an angel army appeared before these shepherds, and with one unified voice they praised the God of heaven.
This is the contrast that Luke presents. A dirty, rag-tag bunch of sinful shepherds and a brilliant and powerful band of angel messengers—accompanied by the light of God’s glory. And to add to the contrast between these two, Luke tells us that the shepherds were filled with fear, while the angels were filled with ecstatic joy. “Don’t fear!”, the first angel said, for we bring you GOOD NEWS!

If we attempted to actually put this scene on a canvas, we could start by simply putting a huge swatch of black on the bottom half, and huge swatch of light on the top of our canvas.
And on the line between these contrasts we find the message of the Christ Child’s birth. Where the glory of God meets the darkness of sinful mankind we find God-made-Man. Human, yet sinless. Laid in a humble manger for his first crib. This was one through whom the whole universe had been created.

And in this Child, the glory of the Lord was expressed in a way that was far more glorious than the brilliant light shining on the fields and flocks and shepherds. Here in this Child the glory of the Lord was expressed in his GRACE.

What a gift was being given to mankind! This Child was to be a source of joy for all the people of the world, for he had been born for the specific purpose of being their Savior from sin. God’s promise to send salvation for sinners was being fulfilled. And the angels praised the Lord for what he was doing. They said…

“Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:14 NKJV).  
Now, I want to clear a little something up here about verse 14. Some English translations have the angels saying something like, “peace to those on whom his favor rests” (NIV), or “peace among those with whom he is pleased” (ESV). These translations fail to capture the meaning of the original Greek. They make it sound like the angels are saying, “peace be to SOME of mankind, namely, on those whom God is pleased with”. That’s not the meaning of the Greek.

The New King James Translation does a better job expressing what the angels said. They weren’t saying, “peace be to you humans who have made God happy”. They were saying, “peace be TO YOU MANKIND, because GOD IS SMILING ON YOU TODAY! By HIS goodwill, GOD is giving you ALL the gift of a Savior!”

When the glory of the Lord met the darkness of sinful mankind, two things happened: the Lord’s glory as the powerful and yet merciful God was shown, and peace was given to mankind.
And then the light was gone. The angels went away from the shepherds, back into the realm of heaven, back to the Lord who had sent them.

And the shepherds who had seen the brilliant light that was the glory of the Lord, agreed that they should go and see the other glory of the Lord. The one that was wrapped in swaddling cloths, and lying in a manger.
As we approach the manger this Christmas, let’s remember the details of this account. God sent his glorious angel messengers to dirty, sinful shepherds because this Savior was for them. No matter what sins stain your past, this Savior is also for you. The first angel made it clear enough even for the uneducated shepherds to understand—

“…Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to ALL PEOPLE. For there is born TO YOU this day in the city of David A SAVIOR, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11 NKJV).

And the angel army repeated the message—

“Glory to God in the highest, And on earth PEACE, goodwill TOWARD MEN!” (Luke 2:14 NKJV).
The creativity and power of God is revealed in nature in a million different and breathtaking ways. But in the birth of our Savior, God’s glory is revealed in a way that far exceeds the diamond or the pearl or the snowflake. For these things may make us stare in awe or smile with joy, but the forgiveness that comes to us through the Christ Child gives us PEACE WITH GOD.

This is what Christmas is all about. Glory and praise being given to God from all his creatures, because peace has been given to us, from our all gracious King.

Prayer: Father in heaven, strip away from our hearts and minds all the second rate tinsel that the world litters around Christmas. Help us to see the glory of your forgiving grace when we see the Christ Child again. This Christmas drown out the darkness of our guilt and shame with the light of your Son, and fill us with the unshakable peace that his forgiveness brings. Amen.

December 15, 2013

The Lord Will Provide - Dec 15, 2013

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Ever since that fateful day in the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit and sinned against God, fear has been part of mankind’s daily experience.

We fear what others may think. We fear what tomorrow will bring. We worry about our jobs, our friends, our children, our debts. We fear what the economy will do. We fear wars abroad and violence on our own soil. We fear pain, and sickness, and disease. We fear sadness, depression, and mental illness.

After Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, the Bible tells us that they heard the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day. And what did they do? Did they run to their Creator and seek his help for what they had just done? No. They hid from God. And when the Lord called out to Adam, saying, “Where are you?”, Adam replied,

I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid,” (Genesis 3:10a ESV).

Our fears are often wrapped up in uncertainty. We don’t know what is going to happen, and this fills us with anxiety. But today, the Lord will dispell our fears by saying, “Do not be afraid. I will provide for you.”
In the days and months before the birth of our Savior, Joseph found himself in a fearful and heavy situation. And yet, through the miraculous appearance of an angel, God provided answers for Joseph, and lifted up his heavy heart.

And in doing so, God was also fulfilling his promise to provide a Savior, a Hero to rescue sinners like us from sin, hell, and fear.

Matthew 1:18-24 (ESV)

18 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. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 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. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
23     “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel”
(which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.
To fully understand what was going on here, it’s helpful to be familiar with Jewish marriage customs. Jewish betrothal was not the same thing as American engagement. When a Jewish couple got betrothed, that was a legal binding. They were married. But they didn’t start living together right away. The wife would continue to live with her parents, or wherever she was living, and the husband would prepare their new home.

After a period of time, sometimes a year, the husband would go on a special “marriage walk” to the home of his wife. Then they would walk together, with joyful friends and family, to their new home where a special marriage celebration would take place.

At the beginning of our sermon reading, Joseph and Mary were already betrothed. But the “marriage walk” had not yet taken place. And so it came as quite a surprise to Joseph that his young wife was pregnant. It must have all been very confusing and distressing to him. He knew Mary’s character. She was no promiscuous girl. And he knew that they had not shared a bed. It was not his child growing in her belly. Matthew informs us that this child was from the Holy Spirit, but Joseph didn’t have this information as of yet. And so anxiety gripped him. What was to be done?

It appeared that his wife had already been unfaithful. It appeared that all his work to prepare a home for them had been wasted. With a heavy heart Joseph decided to divorce his wife, though quietly. He had no wish to drag Mary through the mud and subject her to public disgrace. Back then there was a way to go about securing a divorce that required only two witnesses be in attendance, and which required only the vaguest reason to be submitted by the husband. This was the path that Joseph decided to take.

Joseph had a grief-filled problem. But he had arrived at a solution. And though that solution would still be grief-filled, it was all he could think to do. And it was at this point that the Lord stepped in to provide a better solution.
In the dark of night, an angel was dispatched by the Lord to go once again to the city of Nazareth. But this time, this angel was to go to Joseph. The angel pushed through Joseph’s restless turnings and troubled dreams, and appeared to speak on behalf of God.

Is it surprising that the angel’s first words to Joseph were, “do not fear?” It shouldn’t be. This has been the Lord’s message to sinners since the very beginning: Don’t be afraid, I, the Lord will provide.

And all of Joseph’s fears and anxieties were laid to rest in the short and simple message of the Lord’s angel.

“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” (Matthew 1:20-21 ESV).

Joseph’s crisis was averted. Mary’s Child was not conceived as a product of her unfaithfulness. Instead this Child was the product of God’s faithfulness. Through the life of this Child God would keep the promise he had made to Adam and Eve—to send a Savior to rescue the world of sinners from hell.

All Joseph’s work to prepare a home for them was not wasted. He would not only gain a blessing from God in Mary, his wife, but he would also become the step-father of the Son of God. His dream of a family had not been crushed. His family would be unique among all the families the world had ever known.

And as for Joseph’s grief-stricken decision to divorce Mary—well that plan no longer needed to be carried out. All the puzzling happenings of late had now been revealed as the mysterious workings of the Lord.

And though it was still all very strange and miraculous to Joseph, answer enough had been provided for Joseph’s anxious uncertainty.

May the Lord help us to remember how the Lord works when we find ourselves in heavy and distressing situations. In the same way that the Lord provides food and drink, and clothing and shelter, he will also provide the answers that we need if we but wait for him to do so.
Through the words of the angel, God not only provided answers for Joseph, he also provides insight for us today. He reveals that the Savior of the world was born to a virgin. And this doctrine of the virgin birth is incredibly important in the history of our salvation.

In the book of Genesis we’re told that God created living creatures in “kinds”. That is, when cats get together, they have more cats. When dogs get together, they have more dogs. And the same is true of human beings. When sinful human beings have children, those children are also sinful human beings. Think about it as “spiritual genetics” if that helps.

But the Savior of the world would need to be holy—sinless and pure. Only a sinless sacrifice could be accepted by God to free sinners from their fate. And so the Savior of the world would need to be born differently than all other human children. And so the Christ Child was conceived in the womb of Mary, but was holy, being the Son of no human father, but the Son of the Holy God. Only God could provide this needed quality in our Savior, and he did through the virgin birth.
The virgin birth also happened as the fulfillment of long standing prophecy. Isaiah had written…

“…the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14 ESV).

And now at least two people understood exactly what God had meant by having Isaiah pen those words. Mary knew, and now Joseph knew too.

And by revealing this to Joseph God was continuing to provide for his people. In later years both Mary and Joseph could witness to the fact that Jesus had been miraculously conceived, just like the prophesy had foretold.

And here, God also provided for poor young Mary. Just imagine what it was like to be her. There weren’t many who could understood the things that were going on in her life right now. But now her husband was one of them. Now he could support her like no one else.
As sinners living in a sinful world, we have many problems, fears, and anxieties. But through the Bible we have come to know that we also have a great God who provides the answers to all of these. And this powerful promise of peace is encapsulated for us in the name that Isaiah gave the Savior—Immanuel.

Matthew explains that in the Hebrew that title simply means, “God with us”. And how comforting it is to know that we have a God who is not distant and unfeeling to our anxious fears. We have a God who came down from heaven to be one of us. To live like us. To suffer like us, and far beyond. To die like us. And in doing so, to erase the record of our sins and open the door to heaven.

King David once wrote,
   The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
       The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1 ESV).

Paul later wrote,

If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32 ESV).

And today we rejoice with the same certainty. Through the virgin birth the world received a perfect, holy, sinless Child—God himself made human to be the perfect sacrifice for all our sins. Indeed! If God is with us like this, what is there to fear?

With a heart of repentance over our sins and a heart of faith toward our saving God, WHAT IS THERE TO FEAR?

Take those words of the angel to Joseph today and personalize them for yourself. They were spoken TO Joseph, but they were preserved FOR you. “Dear Christian, do not fear, for that which was conceived in Mary was from the Holy Spirit. The Son she bore was Jesus—the one who saves you from all your sins. Don’t be afraid, the Lord has provided, and will continue to provide, for you.”


December 8, 2013

The Miracle is the Mercy - Dec 8, 2013

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What do you think of when you think of Santa Claus? Perhaps a fat, jolly, bearded man dressed in red? Maybe you think of his sleigh, with its eight reindeer and Rudolph at the front.

If you trace the legend back into the ages, you’ll find more than just a photo-op at the mall, or an explanation for that rustling on the roof. If you trace the legend back you find a humble Christian with a compassionate heart.

Saint Nicholas was born in the third century in what is now the southern coast of Turkey. Though wealthy, Nicholas didn’t seek to hoard his gold. Instead, he used it to bless other people in his village. 

Legend says that there was one family in particular that Nicholas’ heart went out to. That family had three daughters. Sadly, their father was so poor that he couldn’t afford their weddings.

When the eldest daughter approached the time of marriage, Nicholas secretly left a bag of gold on the family’s doorstep.

When it came time for the middle daughter to be married, Nicholas threw another bag of gold down the family’s chimney.

When the youngest daughter was to be married, Nicholas threw one last bag of gold through an open window, where curiously, it landed in a stocking hung by the fireplace to dry.

Compassionate Nicolas was not seeking to build a legend around himself. He was simply putting into practice what his Savior taught in Matthew 6

But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:3-4 ESV).

In Saint Nicholas we find a lesson in Christian giving.

In today’s sermon reading we learn how God gives, and we see the proper way to receive the gift of God’s mercy.

Luke 1:26-38 (ESV)

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”
35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. 36 And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
Six months before the angel Gabriel had been sent to deliver a message to a certain priest named Zacharias. When Gabriel appeared to him, he was in the city of God, Jerusalem. Furthermore, Zacharias was at the Lord’s Temple. Better still, this priest was actually standing in the first room of the sanctuary burning incense to the LORD.  

It was gracious of the Lord to send an angel messenger to speak with Zacharias. But it probably wasn’t too shocking to Gabriel to go to God’s Temple and speak with one of God’s faithful priests. Gabriel’s next assignment, however, might have ruffled his feathers a bit.

You can almost imagine Gabriel looking quizzically down at his mission papers. Nazareth? Seriously? Nazareth?

Nazareth had the distinct honor of being mentioned in the Old Testament a grand total of ZERO times. Nothing great, or even notable, had ever happened there. When the apostle Philip later told his friend Nathanael that they had discovered who the Christ was, and that he was from Nazareth, Nathanael sarcastically replied,

“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46 NASB).

And yet, Gabriel’s assignment was no mistake. He was to go to a poor young girl and tell her that she was to be the mother of the Savior of the world.
The destination of Nazareth, and the person of poor, young Mary should be enough to erase any doubts we have about God being kind and merciful. In these humble details we see that the Son of God was coming to save each and every soul. From the highest, to the humblest—God’s gift of forgiveness in Christ is intended for every sinner.
In verse 27 Luke takes care to record that Mary was a virgin, and that she was betrothed to a man named Joseph who was a descendant of David. Incidentally, Mary could also trace her lineage back to King David. But that mighty house was now a rotting stump compared to what it had been.

It had been almost a thousand years since David had ruled in Jerusalem, and since then the mighty cedar of his family had been cut down. Mary and Joseph were descendants of David, to be sure, but that didn’t mean all that much anymore. They were just another poor couple scraping out a living in backwater Nazareth.

That’s what that prophecy in Isaiah 11 was all about.

11 A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of might,
the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord
and he will delight in the fear of the Lord” (Isaiah 11:1-3 NIV).

Just when it seemed like God’s promise to grant one of David’s descendants an eternal throne was going to go unfulfilled, Gabriel showed up at Mary’s door with a most remarkable gift. It was to be her Son. From the stump of David’s family a glorious shoot was soon to grow forth. The Messiah himself was coming.
I want to take just a moment to clear up a little phrase here. In verse 30, Gabriel tells Mary not to be afraid, because she has “found favor with God.” Now, in the English this sounds like Mary had done something to get God’s attention. Something that warranted a blessing from the Lord. But this is only how the English phrase sounds. The Greek phrase actually means something more like, “you have been given a gift from God.”
This gift was the Child that Mary would bear. A Child whose name was to be “Jesus.” Now, this name is notable for two reasons. First of all, it meant, “Yahweh Saves.” A fitting name for the Savior of sinners. But the second reason this name is notable is that it was a common name in Jewish circles. Many other boys had been given this name. God’s selection of this name serves as one more expression of God’s desire to save ALL people.
Gifts, gifts, and more gifts. That’s what Gabriel was sent to announce to Mary. It’s no surprise that gift giving has become such an important part of celebrating our Savior’s birth. But what is the right way to receive a gift of this magnitude?

When a person unexpectedly receives a valuable gift, their response is often to try and give the gift back, or to refuse it on the grounds that it is “too much.”

Mary teaches us a different way. Though just a young girl, Mary was a faithful follower of the Lord. And yet when Gabriel greets her, she doesn’t know how to react. Luke says that she was “greatly troubled” and tried to figure out what Gabriel’s greeting could mean. SHE was to be given a gift? HER? The LORD was with HER? This is how the heart of a believer responds to the Lord’s gift of mercy. We wonder why the almighty God wants anything to do with us.

Mary teaches us how to receive God’s gift of mercy, when she helps us remember our lowly position. We are all sinners who don’t deserve even the littlest of God’s blessings. We are certainly unworthy to receive full and free forgiveness. It was crazy that an angel of God would visit Mary in Nazareth. It’s equally crazy that God would reach out to each one of us with the gift of forgiveness. We must remember this, and never take this gift for granted.  
Even though Mary knows she isn’t worthy of the honor God was giving her, she doesn’t try to give that gift back. She accepts it and wants to know more. In verse 34 Mary asks Gabriel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin.” With these words Mary isn’t questioning the validity of Gabriel’s claim. Instead, she’s showing her faith in what he said. She wants to know just how this is going to come about. She wants to know the details.

In this also, Mary teaches us how to receive God’s gift of mercy. Not with doubt, but with excitement and an eagerness to learn just how this all works. You’ve erased the record of my sin, Lord? Wow. Just how did you make that happen? Tell me more.
Because Mary’s question wasn’t a question of doubt, but a question of eagerness to learn, Gabriel explained to Mary how she would become pregnant while still a virgin. The same Holy Spirit who brooded over the waters in the very beginning would overshadow her. The same Holy Spirit who breathes life into all creatures on earth, would cause life to spark into being in Mary’s womb. And the holy, human, Son of God would begin growing in her belly.

This was quite a lot for Mary to take in, and Gabriel knew it. So he gave Mary’s faith a little boost. He told her a little secret. There was another miracle from God that had already taken place. And Mary could go see it. Elizabeth, Mary’s relative, who was supposed to be barren, and who was well beyond child bearing age, was right now six months pregnant. As Gabriel said, “nothing will be impossible with God.”

And what a special verse that is to hold onto. For our own salvation is impossible apart from God. You and I cannot do a single thing to erase the long and sordid record of our sins against each other, and against God. But God can, and he did. He sent his one-and-only Son into the human race to be the sacrifice which obliterates the record of our sins, and pronounces us holy before the eternal God.

One last time, Mary teaches us how to receive this gift of mercy. Mary’s final words to Gabriel were…

“Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38 ESV).

This might have shocked Gabriel a little bit, if angels are capable of being shocked. “Behold” is a strong word! “Look here” it means, “Note this carefully.” And this was coming from a tender young virgin from Nazareth to a mighty angel of God! Behold! I am the servant of the Lord, and to what you say, I respond—AMEN!

This was the response of simple faith. And this is how Mary would counsel us to respond to the gift of God’s mercy that is found in Jesus Christ. You say I’m forgiven because of your Son God? Mark it well, I believe you! Let it be so, according to your promise.
Think of that old legend about Saint Nicholas again for a moment. Wouldn’t it have been a sad, sad ending if the pride of that family of girls had made them return Nicholas’ gift? That would have been sad indeed. For the proper response to a great gift is to simply receive it with joy and thanksgiving.

And that’s the right response to God’s gift of mercy too. When we hear God’s gift of full forgiveness speak out to us in the Christmas story, and in countless other passages in the Bible, how sad it would be if we tried to return that gift. Wait God, wait. Let me clean a few things up in my life first. Then I can accept your gift and be worthy of it. Oh, how foolish our hearts can be. Better to follow Mary’s example, and simply receive God’s mercy with a heart of awe, with a mind which eagerly wants to know more, and with a mouth which gladly says, “Amen Lord! Let it be to me, according to your word.”

May the Holy Spirit bless us this Christmas, so that we receive the Christ Child, and all the blessings that come with him, with a simple faith and a thankful heart.