Poetry Saturday—Hymn #120

What shall the dying sinner do
That seeks relief for all his woe?
Where shall the guilty conscience find
Ease for the torment of his mind?

How shall we get our crimes forgiv’n?
Or form our natures fit for heav’n?
Can souls all o’er defiled with sin
Make their own powers and passions clean?

In vain we search, in vain we try,
Till Jesus brings His gospel nigh;
‘Tis there such power and glory dwell
As save rebellious souls from hell.

This is the pillar of our hope
That bears our fainting spirits up:
We read the grace, we trust the Word,
And find salvation in the Lord.

Let men or angels dig the mines,
Where nature’s golden treasure shines;
Brought near the doctrine of the Cross,
All nature’s gold appears but dross.

Should vile blasphemers with distain
Pronounce the truth of Jesus vain,
I’ll meet the scandal and the shame,
And sing and triumph in His name. —Isaac Watts

Solving The Unsolvable Dilemma

When Gabriel told Mary that she would be the mother of Jesus, he said that “the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David.” Just before the angel showed up Luke noted that Mary was “pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David (Luke 1:27, 32).

At this time in history marriages were often arranged to preserve and strengthen family lines. Both Joseph and Mary could trace their family lineage through the royal line of Israel’s King David. 

Mary is betrothed to Joseph. Betrothal was considered as strong as a marriage with the only exception being that the couple didn’t yet live together nor sleep together. Betrothal usually lasted a year and would require a divorce to cancel it. 

Mary tells Joseph what Gabriel said to her and then she leaves to visit Elizabeth for the next three months! Joseph is left alone to consider his options. 

The word Luke uses for “consider” is not even close to what’s happening in Joseph’s mind. The word means to revolve around and around in your mind, like trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube. 

Consider Joseph’s options. If he divorces Mary—which was apparently his first reaction—Mary would be publicly embarrassed. Not to mention that Joseph knew that God hated divorce. 

If Joseph decided to proceed with the marriage, he would either have to confess he was the father of her child—which could result in both of them being stoned—or admit that she was pregnant by another man—which would be a permanent disgrace for Mary’s family. 

In either case, both families would be shamed! 

While Joseph was still considering all these unsavory options an angel says to him, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid.” By calling him by that title he is really saying, “I know how important your family heritage is to you. I know how important Mary’s family heritage is to her. But do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife because this all fits into God’s plan. 

Would it have been easier on Joseph and Mary and their families if God could have waited until after they were married? Of course! But then it wouldn’t fit into God’s miraculous plan, because 700 years earlier God promised that Jesus would be born of an unmarried virgin. 

Fearing what’s coming in the future means we have forgotten Who already knows the future. 

God knows YOUR future too! It’s a future He already saw as good and fruitful, if you will put your trust in Him (Psalm 139:16; Jeremiah 29:11; John 15:16).

If you seem paralyzed by a no-win dilemma like Joseph was, first DON’T do what Joseph did: pray! Then DO what Joseph did after hearing the angel: obey. 

Remember Who knows you and Who knows your future, and then take each step on your journey as God directs you. 

If you’ve missed any of the other messages in our series called Do Not Be Afraid, you can access the full list by clicking here. 

Clinging To God’s Words

When it comes right down to it, faith and fear both hinge on our beliefs: Fear believes something bad; faith believes something good. Fear is an invitation for us to evaluate in who or in what we have placed our trust.  

According to the dictionary, fear is a distressing emotion we feel whether the threat is real or imagined. Five hundred years ago, Michel de Montaigne said, “My life has been filled with terrible misfortune; most of which never happened.” Even more recently, an extensive study found that 85 percent of things people feared never happened!

According to the dictionary, faith is trust in something even without proof or evidence. That sounds tremendously close to the biblical definition of faith: Now faith is the assurance—the confirmation, the title deed—of the things we hope for, being the proof of things we do not see and the conviction of their reality—faith perceiving as real fact what is not revealed to the senses. (Hebrews 11:1 AMP) 

Mary is the second person to whom an angel says “Do not be afraid” in the First Advent story. Consider her story alongside Zechariah’s story and especially notice when these words were spoken. The angel Gabriel first tells Mary, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” 

Mary’s initial response is being “greatly troubled.” This Greek word means an internal agitation that today psychologists would call “cognitive dissonance.” In other words, what Mary believed about herself didn’t line up with what God believed about her. Her next response is wondering how she could ever measure up to God’s high standard of her. 

It’s at this point that Gabriel says those key words, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have already found favor with God.” She didn’t have to make herself worthy of God’s favor because she already had it! Now Mary just had to believe it. 

Fear is overcome by clinging to God’s words instead of the world’s words. 

Mary did indeed choose this. Her song (in vv. 46-55) is loaded with Old Testament references, and she concludes by singing to God, “You have helped Your servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as You said to our fathers.” 

Here’s the truth—

  • Your Word, Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens. (Psalm 119:89) 
  • God is not human, that He should lie, not a human being, that He should change His mind. Does He speak and then not act? Does He promise and not fulfill? (Numbers 23:19) 
  • And Jesus would tell us that clinging to God’s words puts us on the surest of foundations that no storm of life could ever shake (Luke 6:46-49)! 

Clinging to God’s words lets us realize God’s grace toward us. 

If you know Jesus as your Savior, you can insert your name in the same place where Gabriel said to Mary: “Do not be afraid, ____________, you have found favor with God!” 

If you have missed any of the messages in our Advent series Do Not Be Afraid, you can access the full list by clicking here. 

Fear’s Invitation

Have you ever had a really good scare? Maybe in the dark or when you were young? Then in the light or as you got older you thought, “Why was I afraid of that?” Our relief came from the fact that we think we know more. But here’s the problem: there is a difference between a healthy fear and an unhealthy fear, so not every fear is something we should try to alleviate.

Sometimes we treat too lightly the things that are really quite powerful. Consider the arrival of Jesus in Bethlehem. There are more angels sent by God surrounding this one event than anywhere else in all the Bible. Yet all four angelic appearances have the same message: “Do not be afraid.” 

Why would people fear what we now celebrate as such a joyous event? I think it’s because God Himself—the All-Holy Creator of the Universe—is coming near to sinful man (see John 1:9; 1 Timothy 6:15-16). 

God is holy, and His holiness is unapproachable by sin. At the exact same moment, God is love, and His love desires for us to approach Him. We cannot make this happen on our own, which leads to more fear. 

Thankfully for us, God Himself has provided the way for sinful man to approach His awesome, unapproachable holiness!  

In the Greek language of the New Testament phobeō is the main word for “fear.” This word can be defined as either fleeing from a terrible thing or clinging in obedience to an awesomely reverent thing. Jesus said the same things when He told us, “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear Him” (Luke 12:4-5). 

In the Advent story, the first appearance of “Do not be afraid” is when an angel appears to Zechariah. Why would Zechariah be so afraid at the approach of God? I think there may have been three reasons: 

  • Herod was king—making the society Zechariah lived in politicized and irreligious 
  • Zechariah was without a priestly heir to carry on his family name 
  • his wife Elizabeth may have sinned—at least that’s what people would have whispered about her barrenness 

All of this added up to Zechariah feeling like God was displeased with them and that He was only coming close to bring fiery judgment. 

The angel told Zechariah not to fear because “your prayer has been heard.” In other words, “I am inviting you to trust in what God HAS already done versus trusting in what you might or might not be able to do on your own.” Phobeō was an invitation to choose reverential obedience (holy fear) of the eternal over the terror of the temporal. 

Sadly, Zechariah initially clung to the negative phobeō. Yet after Elizabeth did conceive and John was born, this was transformed into holy, reverential fear, as heard in the Spirit-inspired song he sang. Notice in Luke 1:67-75 Zechariah’s emphasis on all that God has done: He has come, He has redeemed, He has raised, He said, He has kept His covenant, He has rescued, He has enabled.  

Have you put yourself in the category of “unworthy of God’s favor”? Has fear crippled you—like it had done with Zechariah—from continuing to pray, believe, and try? 

Fear is an invitation to evaluate in who or in what I have placed my trust.

I invite you to accept the invitation to take your eyes off the temporary and put them on the Eternal One. “…The time is coming quickly, and what I show you will come true. It may seem slow in coming, but wait for it; it will certainly take place, and it will not be delayed. (Habakkuk 2:3 GNT) 

Check out the other messages in this Do Not Be Afraid series by clicking here. 

“Do Not Be Afraid”

There are more angels sent by God concerning one event than anywhere else in the Bible—the Advent of Jesus. Clearly, this is a big deal: The coming to earth of God Himself! 

You would think this would be an occasion for great joy. But all four of the angelic appearances around the birth of Jesus have the same message: Do not be afraid. 

Why are people so afraid? It’s because fear invites us to make a decision to trust God completely. People remain crippled by fear when they try to deal with fear by themselves. But when they learn to fear God instead, there is an almost inexpressible joy and freedom that explodes in our hearts! 

Join us for this Advent series where we will explore why this “Do not fear” message is still relevant for us today. Please join us either in-person or on Facebook. 

If you have missed any of the messages in this series, check them out here:

Now And Not Yet

Psalm 68 is a Christological Psalm. That means it points to Jesus and it is fulfilled through Christ’s First and Second Advents. These types of psalms don’t make sense if they are restricted strictly to the Old Testament. 

As I have explained previously, Hebrew literature often puts the key point in the middle—in the case of this psalm, that’s verses 18-20. The opening verse sets the stage, or the scene of battle, and then right in the middle of this psalm of David is the description of God’s victory won through Jesus. 

There are three Selahs in this psalm, and I want you to notice what’s happening at each one: 

  • When You marched through the wasteland (v. 7) 
  • Who daily bears our burdens (v. 18) 
  • Sing praise to the Lord (v. 32) 

Do you remember the three definitions of Selah? A pause to consider; a breath before the crescendo; a time to weigh what’s valuable. In this case, I believe we should lean more to the second definition. Why? Because all three of these Selahs shows us what God has done, what He is still doing, and what He will ultimately do in the eternity of Heaven. I believe we are living in the breath/Selah after Christ’s First Advent and leading up to the crescendo of His Second Advent. 

Jesus is BOTH the Immanuel that came to earth at His First Advent AND the returning King at His Second Advent. We are living in an era of BOTH “now” AND “not yet.” 

The apostle Paul looks back to this psalm (especially those middle verses of 18-20) even as he looks forward to the Second Advent. He captures the essence of “now” and “not yet” in all these passages:  

Jesus paid the price for our sin.
He broke the bonds of hell and death.
He prepared the way to Heaven.
He showed the way to Heaven.
He built our mansions in Heaven.
He WILL return to take us to be with Him in Heaven!

 

So how shall we now live in this time of “now” and “not yet”? In a word: AWARE… 

  • …of His ultimate victory (Psalm 68:1) 
  • …of the desperation of the enemy. Death, sin, and the devil have been defeated! We now deal with a broken army, a scattered foe in the final death throes, a wounded, dying warrior desperately lashing out. The prince of this earth is quickly failing, while God is liberally pouring out rewards that were purchased by Christ our King! 
  • …of the brevity of this life (v. 2)
  • …of the joy of living in God’s presence (v. 3) 
  • …of the power of worship (v. 4) 
  • …of our confidence in being heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ (vv. 5-6) 

Now is not the time for fainting, but fighting the good fight. Our Immanuel has won the battle, He will continue to strengthen us every day that we walk this Earth, and He will keep us by His side as He reigns for all eternity as King of kings and Lord of lords! 

If you’ve missed any of the previous posts in this series, you can check out the full list by clicking here. 

How Will You Respond To Jesus?

Although most nativity scenes show the wise men visiting Jesus alongside the shepherds the night He was born, in reality the Magi showed up much later. 

They came first to Israel’s capital city—Jerusalem—and went to the man who currently bore the title King of the Jews—Herod—with an odd question, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? We’ve come to worship Him.”

The call to come to worship the Christ has always stirred different responses in people’s hearts. But I have noticed that the responses today aren’t any different than they were over 2000 years ago at Christ’s first Advent. 

Notice these four responses in the Gospel of Matthew:

  1. King Herodwhen King Herod heard this he was disturbed.

The word disturbed means an inward commotion, someone robbed of any calmness; someone who has become restless and agitated. 

King Herod wasn’t all that different from a lot of people today who have their personal lives organized according to their own plans. They have everything figured out. They are masters of their own fate. They know how everything is supposed to work. They are god of their own world. 

But inside it’s a different story. They may not acknowledge it to anyone else, but they are uneasy. King Herod was political, not religious. He knew how to play the games with the right Jewish leaders and Roman politicians to get and keep his throne. So when he hears, “Where is He who is born KING OF THE JEWS?” you can understand why he instantly becomes so agitated! He feels like his well-ordered world and best-laid plans are about to crash in on him! 

  1. All JerusalemKing Herod…was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 

The people of Jerusalem had a love-hate relationship with King Herod. If you were on his side, he could be quite generous with his gifts and favorable with his influence. But if you were against him, he could be incredibly cruel (just take a look at verse 16!). 

So when Herod got upset, you can imagine why the citizens of Jerusalem were as well. They all longed for the Messiah—the Christ—to come and set them free, but in the meantime they were trying to keep their options open. They wanted the Messiah, if they could have Him, but they didn’t want to abandon Herod yet, just in case the Messiah couldn’t follow through.  

  1. Religious leadersHerod…called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law. 

Of all the people looking for the Christ, you would think the chief priests and teachers of the law would be the most excited! When Herod asked them for the birthplace of the Messiah, they immediately knew the answer, but after they delivered this information to King Herod they aren’t mentioned again in this narrative. Bethlehem was only 6 miles away, but they didn’t do a single thing! The Messiah being born in such a lowly manner didn’t fit the image they had concocted in their minds. Later on, Jesus would challenge them on this (see John 5:38-40). 

  1. MagiMagi from the east came to Jerusalem. 

Whereas the Jewish religious leaders were only 6 miles away, the Magi that came from the east might have been anywhere from 400-800 miles away. They left the comforts of their home to travel perhaps as long as 4 months. But, Oh! the journey was so worth the effort! They got to see the Christ with their very own eyes! We read that they were overjoyed, and that they bowed down and worshiped Him and opened their treasures. 

What’s your idea about Jesus? 

  • King Herod wanted a Savior that would enable him to continue to run his own life, but he didn’t want a King that would call the shots. 
  • The people of Jerusalem wanted access to God’s power, but they didn’t want to give their full allegiance to Jesus. 
  • The religious leaders wanted Jesus to fit their mold, but they didn’t want to have to change anything about their own lives. 
  • Only the Magi accepted Jesus as both Savior and King, willingly laying everything at His feet. 

What about you? What’s your idea about Jesus? He isn’t just a Baby in a manger; He’s also King and Judge and Ruler and Lord. When you hear the call to come worship Him, what will your response be? 

Everywhere, Everywhere Christmas Tonight

christmas-stockings-and-treeEverywhere, everywhere, Christmas tonight!
Christmas in lands of the fir tree and pine,
Christmas in lands of the palm tree and vine;
Christmas where snow-peaks stand solemn and white,
Christmas where corn-fields lie sunny and bright;
Everywhere, everywhere, Christmas tonight.

Christmas where children are hopeful and gay,
Christmas where old men are patient and gray,
Christmas where peace, like a dove in its flight,
Broods o’er brave men in the thick of the fight;
Everywhere, everywhere, Christmas tonight.

For the Christ-child who comes is the Master of all,
No place too great and no cottage too small;
The Angels who welcome Him sing from the height,
“In the city of David, a King in His might.” 
 Everywhere, everywhere, Christmas tonight.

Then let every heart keep its Christmas within
Christ’s pity for sorrow, Christ’s hatred for sin.
Christ’s care for the weakest, Christ’s courage for right,
Christ’s dread of the darkness, Christ’s love of the light.
Everywhere, everywhere, Christmas tonight.

So the stars of the midnight which compass us round
Shall see a strange glory, and hear a sweet sound,
And cry, “Look! the earth is aflame with delight,
O sons of the morning, rejoice at the sight.” 
Everywhere, everywhere, Christmas tonight. —Phillips Brooks 

Thursdays With Spurgeon—Christ Came On Purpose

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.

Christ Came On Purpose

     This heavenly knowledge is not given to us for its own sake alone. Even the high and blessed revelation of the righteous Father is not made to us that we may know it and end in knowing. Our Lord says, “I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You have loved Me may be in them, and I in them” [John 17:24-26]. The objective of the knowledge bestowed upon us is the infusion of a love unrivaled in value and extraordinary to the last degree! … 

     Therefore does Christ declare the blessed name of the righteous Father, in order that it may come home to you with an unconquerable power that the Father loves you and loves you beyond conception, seeing that not even His dear Son was so loved as to be spared, but He must die that you might live and that the justice of God might be satisfied on your account! … 

     Christ has come on purpose to declare the name of God that the love of God may be perceived by us, its power felt, its glory recognized, its greatness wondered that, its infinitude delighted in. … 

     Now, if you fully know the righteous fatherhood of God, as Christ would have you know it, you will learn that God loved you as He loved His Son. … If He had not loved you as He loved His Son, He would have said to His Son, “Son, you will never leave heaven for that polluted planet. You will never descend to poverty and suffering. You will never have Your hands and feet pierced. You will never be despised and spit upon and put to a cruel death.” But because He loved us as He loved His Son, He gave His Son! …

     Do you try, if you can, to realize this high privilege. It is true, O believer, that God, the infinite Father, takes pleasure in you!

From The Righteous Father Known And Loved

THIS is what we celebrate in remembering Christ’s First Advent! 

THIS is why forgiven sinners can eagerly long for Christ’s Second Advent!

Prophecy Fulfilled

Jesus doesn’t just appear in the pages of the New Testament. All of the Old Testament Scriptures are pointing to Jesus, with some of them being quite specific concerning the time that Jesus would be living on Earth. 

Whether or not the New Testament writers explicitly point to how Jesus fulfilled those prophecies, they are all there for us to discover. It’s absolutely astounding! 

Here are two graphics from The Infographic Bible and the Faithlife Illustrated Study Bible that will help you see some of these fulfilled prophecies in Christ’s First Advent. And there are still more prophecies that Jesus will fulfill in His any-day-now Second Advent! 

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