Advent Angel Sightings #1

hand it to you

Please read Daniel 8:15-27 in your Bible.

A man who lived on Long Island, New York ordered an expensive barometer.  It was advertised as a precision scientific instrument, a reliable guide for predicting the weather.  When it arrived he was extremely disappointed to find that the dial was stuck, pointing to “Hurricane.” After shaking the barometer very vigorously several times, its new owner sat down and wrote a scorching letter to the store from which he had purchased the instrument.  The following morning, on his way to his office in New York, he mailed the letter. That evening he returned to Long Island, to find the barometer missing – along with his house! The barometer had been right. There was a hurricane!

When we receive bad news we have an unfortunate tendency to blame the messenger.  That tendency is at play in Daniel, the scene of our first Advent Angel Sighting in this series of messages.  Daniel lived during the time the Old Testament people of God (Judah) were conquered by the Babylonians.  They suffered this setback in fulfillment of God’s prophecy of 70 years of captivity in a foreign land.  Daniel was the best and brightest young men of Judah.  The Babylonians cultivated his leadership skills and gave him considerable authority in their government.  The story of the lion’s den is a small part of the life of this extraordinary man of God.

CONTEXT: Chapter eight records the second of Daniel’s prophetic visions.  This one involved a supernatural ram and goat locked in an epic struggle.  The appearance of the angel Gabriel is to explain the meaning of the imagery employed in chapters two and seven, which were beyond Daniel’s understanding.

God’s messages demand a faithful – not fearful – response.

  1. Angels are God’s messengers:

their messages can be disturbing.

Here in Daniel eight we learn two things about angels. The first is that angels can take on the appearance of a human being (verse fifteen refers to Gabriel as ONE WHO LOOKED LIKE A MAN).  The Hebrew word for MAN (geber) is literally, “strong man.”  The visitor is named Gabriel, which means “man of God.”  Note the similarity of geber and Gabriel: we could translate his name as “strong man of God.”  If it helps, picture Arnold Schwarzenegger in a robe.

In the Old Testament, only Daniel names angels.  Those named are Gabriel and Michael.  The fact that they are named distinguishes them from the innumerable host of angels and may imply they are of a superior rank.

Notice how Daniel down-plays this event: the angel Gabriel “looks like a man” and the voice of God “sounds like a man’s voice.”  But there is no doubt this is a divine visitation.

Secondly, angels are messengers who deliver God’s messages to people.  As we read in verse sixteen, “GABRIEL, TELL THIS MAN THE MEANING OF THE VISION.”)

Daniel was disturbed by the vision and the visitation.  In verse seventeen he wrote, I WAS TERRIFIED AND FELL PROSTRATE.  Elsewhere in the Bible, we see this self-humiliating pose as typical when approaching royalty.  This was how Esther approached the king in Esther 5:2.  The Apostle John took this position when he encountered the SON OF MAN (Revelation 1:17).

We see this again in verse eighteen: I WAS IN A DEEP SLEEP, WITH MY FACE TO THE GROUND.  This wasn’t a sudden urge for a nap or a swoon. This word for SLEEP is used elsewhere in the Bible to describe a trance-like state in which a prophet receives a vision.  The fact that Gabriel lifted Daniel to his feet with a touch is another detail that gives this scene a supernatural quality.

The encounter took its toll on Daniel, as we see in verse 27: I, DANIEL, WAS EXHAUSTED AND LAY ILL SEVERAL DAYS.  I WAS APPALLED BY THE VISION THAT WAS BEYOND UNDERSTANDING.  We’ve all had the experience of having a nightmare that affected us so profoundly we lose sleep over it.  But not many of us have been so deeply affected that we were ILL for DAYS afterward.

But why was Daniel APPALLED at the message he’d received?  That Hebrew word can also be translated as “desolate, devastated, wasted, helpless,” so it is an extreme condition.  The simplest explanation is that he understood verses nineteen to twenty-five as warning of additional persecutions that would befall God’s people. He may have understandably felt they had already suffered enough and was saddened to hear more was to come.

What can we understand about this vision?  This passage, like all of Daniel’s visions, has been the subject of much speculation by people looking for clues to the end times events that are part of our future.  Based on the text alone, there are three things we can say with certainty.

Firstly, the vision looks to the future from Daniel’s perspective: to THE TIME OF THE END (verses seventeen and nineteen), a time in the DISTANT FUTURE (v. 26).  The expression THE TIME OF WRATH is used four ways in the Old Testament:

– One, for God’s wrath against His people for their unfaithfulness.

– Two, for God’s wrath against the foreign nations who made themselves enemies of His people and persecuted them.

– Three, the term marks the end of one historical era and the  beginning of another.

– Four, the end of reality as we know it; the putting away of the physical universe to replace it with an eternal creation.  We are tempted to assume the vision depicts God’s WRATH against the wicked at Judgment Day, but we need to be careful to note the context and determine which of the four meanings is appropriate to the text before and after it.

Secondly, verse 25 tells us this vision depicts the victory of God over the forces of evil in the world.  The fact is that the time of evil is limited and that God will win.  Apocalyptic literature like Daniel’s visions are given to encourage the faithful to resist the temptation to give up.  We are to be steadfast in our faith because we are assured the time of our trials is limited and that the end of the story is that God wins.

Thirdly, as this vision was BEYOND the UNDERSTANDING to a great man of faith like Daniel, we must approach it humbly.  As God gives us wisdom to attempt to understand it, we must give grace to others whose interpretations may not agree with ours.

  1. How are we to react to disturbing messages?

We can do no better than to follow Daniel’s example – humble yourself and pray (as we read Daniel’s prayer in chapter nine).  It was humbling for Daniel to admit he could not UNDERSTAND all the implications of this vision.

Chapter nine records a prayer of worship, recounting God’s mighty deeds on behalf of His people in times past.  It’s as if Daniel is reminding God He has been merciful with His people in the past in the hope He will show them mercy in the present.

In the Bible anyway, angel sightings are almost always shocking events.  Again, following Daniel’s example, we should be shocked into action, not frozen with fear.  Notice in verse 27 that the vision laid Daniel out for SEVERAL DAYS, he GOT UP AND WENT ABOUT THE KING’S BUSINESS.

After the vision had been explained to Daniel, the angel Gabriel ordered him to SEAL it up until the time the prophecy was fulfilled.  This command was a common feature of apocalyptic literature.

However, Daniel obeyed this command in an interesting way.  He did not put a physical seal on it, but a linguistic one.  Chapters two through seven of Daniel were written in Aramaic, a commonly used language in Daniel’s time, one his Babylonian captors would have readily known.  From chapter eight on, Daniel wrote in Hebrew – his home language – something his Babylonian overseers would not likely have been able to read.

The Apostle Paul would come along 100s of years later and explain the MYSTERY of the Gospel, revealing God’s plan for salvation as realized by Jesus Christ.  In effect, he was opening and explaining the salvation significance of OT prophecies like Daniel’s.

God’s messages demand a faithful – not fearful – response.

          Preparing this message, I searched “angel sightings,” and as you can guess, there was quite a variety of stuff on the web related to that title.  One website had a page where they had photographic evidence of the existence of angels.  Another one offered similar claims of sightings of Santa Claus.  This is a problem that occurs when we try to convince people of the reality of spiritual things by using earthly means.  I wonder why an angel would bother to mask his appearance to the naked eye but allow his picture to be taken.

It is a hard balance to achieve, but I believe it’s good to retain a healthy dose of skepticism when people want to use science to prove faith.  Angel sightings and miracles are a couple instances where the line gets blurred and it makes me skeptical about the means and the motive.

So we will limit our search for angels to the pages of Scripture.  My prayer is that our search will be part of for our Advent search for the Christ child, our personal spiritual preparations to celebrate His birth.  Keep your eyes and your heart open to God’s messages to you in this Advent season.

 

Resources:

Zondervan NIV Exhaustive Concordance

Zondervan Bible Commentary, Daniel, A. R. Millard

Kingdom Come, Sam Storms

The Daily Study Bible Series, Daniel, D. S. Russell

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, #11, Daniel, Gleason L. Archer, Jr.

https://www.sermoncentral.com/sermon-illustrations/19164/in-september-1938-a-man-who-lived-on-long-by-stephen-wright?ref=TextIllustrationDetails

When Family Fails

Sons of Noah

CONTEXT = We generally have a high opinion of Noah.  This opinion is well-founded, as the Bible testifies to Noah’s standing in the eyes of the Lord.  Here are some examples of biblical testimony about Noah.

Genesis 6:8-9 = BUT NOAH FOUND FAVOR IN THE EYES OF THE LORD.  THIS IS THE ACCOUNT OF NOAH.  NOAH WAS A RIGHTEOUS MAN, BLAMELESS AMONG THE PEOPLE OF HIS TIME, AND HE WALKED WITH GOD.

Genesis 7:1 = THE LORD THEN SAID TO NOAH, “GO INTO THE ARK, YOU AND YOUR WHOLE FAMILY, BECAUSE I HAVE FOUND YOU RIGHTEOUS IN THIS GENERATION.”

Genesis 9:1 = THEN GOD BLESSED NOAH AND HIS SONS, SAYING TO THEM, “BE FRUITFUL AND INCREASE IN NUMBER AND FILL THE EARTH.”

Noah is mentioned in the “Faith Hall of Fame in Hebrews 11:7, where it is written, BY FAITH NOAH, WHEN WARNED ABOUT THINGS NOT YET SEEN, IN HOLY FEAR BUILT AN ARK TO SAVE HIS FAMILY.  BY HIS FAITH HE CONDEMNED THE WORLD AND BECAME HEIR OF THE RIGHTEOUSNESS THAT COMES BY FAITH.

And so we find today’s passage a little shocking and disconcerting.

Please read Genesis 9:18-29.

          Now be careful.  There’s good information here even if it comes from a cracked pot.

One proof that the Bible is true is that it is completely honest about its heroes.  They are not paragons of perfection, but are fallible human beings.  They sin and are forgiven again and again, just like we are.  This fact alone should make them more accessible to us, more relatable as people.

More good news – God forgave Noah and blessed Noah just as He’d promised He would. We all mess up.  We fall into sin, have errors of judgment, and often inflict our worst behavior on our family members.  God is not done with you, so get over yourself, get forgiven, and get moving forward!

When we fail at being family, there must be room for forgiveness and restoration that causes our relationships to improve.  Today we look at a negative example, people who failed as family.  May we learn from their mistakes and not repeat them in our own family!

Our family deserves our best behavior.

  1. Noah got “three sheets to the wind,” minus the sheets! (18-21)

In vs. 18-19 we are re-introduced to Noah’s three sons (first mention: 7:13).  The author takes pains to point out two important facts.  One, Ham was the father of Canaan.  (This fact may be a reason this account is included in the Bible.)  These three sons are the “fathers” of all the people who were – in ch. 11 – SCATTERED OVER THE EARTH.  There are elaborate theories about the dispersion of the peoples across the earth – suffice it to say everyone alive is a descendant of one of the three sons of Noah.

Noah is described as A MAN OF THE SOIL in v. 20.  This is new information.  Previously, we’ve only seen his carpentry skills.  This item is offered to explain why he planted a vineyard in the first place.

Apparently some time passed between verses 20 and 21.  According to an article on Inc.com, it takes two years for vines to bear fruit and four years before the first bottle of fermented wine is available.  This is not a spur-of-the-moment decision by Noah, it was something into which he poured a lot of time and effort.  I mention this only because it puts the full weight of responsibility on Noah.  This was not a reaction to the stress of the whole ark incident.  It was a genuine, full-fledged mistake.  No excuses.

After four years of toil and waiting, Noah finally got to enjoy the fruit of his labors and enjoyed it too much (21).  First sin: HE BECAME DRUNK.  Drinking wine is not a sin.  For example, Psalm 104:14-15 says that God gave wine to gladden the hearts of men.  But drunkenness is a sin.  Ephesians 5:18 condemns drunkenness as it lead to all other kinds of sin.  Proverbs 20:1 calls wine a MOCKER.

Second sin: Noah passed out and LAY UNCOVERED INSIDE HIS TENT.  Recall that just six chapters earlier (2:25) Adam and Eve were both NAKED in the garden but they FELT NO SHAME.  Then they disobeyed God (3:7) and those days of innocence were replaced with shame over their nakedness. The two situations are parallel; Noah, as were our original parents, in a garden paradise.  They both sinned against God and were ashamed by their exposure.  Biblically, to get drunk and be exposed in this way was a disgrace (see Habakkuk 2:15 and Lamentations 4:21).  The grammar of the Hebrew makes it clear that Noah uncovered himself before passing out.  This was no accident; for whatever reason, Noah chose be naked.  That’s what makes this a sin, not an accident.

The three brothers reacted to the news in different ways.  We start with Ham, the troublemaker.   The Hebrew implies there was more to Ham’s reaction than mere amazement at seeing his father lying naked in his tent.  It implies Ham was somehow happy to see his father uncovered.  Medieval Jewish scholars theorized that Ham mutilated Noah or committed a homosexual act with him.  It could be Ham thought the whole episode was funny.

However you explain it, Ham went and told the “whole world” what Noah had done (22).  This is the only explanation the text supports: Ham was guilty of the sins of gossip and of disrespecting his father.  Had he simply not said a thing, this whole event would have passed peaceably.

Shem and Japheth had a more respectful attitude and devised a means to cover up their father without embarrassing him further (23).  That’s why they got the blessing and Ham got the bane.

  1. Noah got up angry and cursed Ham. (24-29).

In verses 24-25 Noah launched into a curse.  Given the usual state of a hangover, we can understand a certain amount of crankiness.  What’s not understandable is why he named Canaan, not Ham, as the object of the curse.  This is odd because the text does not name Canaan as having had anything at all to do with disrespecting Noah.

This discrepancy can be a clue into the purpose of including this account in the Bible.  The name “Canaan” should sound familiar to Bible readers.  Canaan was the set of people nations who settled on the east side of the Mediterranean Sea.  They would were a people of great wickedness.

Obviously, they are descendants of Noah’s grandson Canaan, the person Noah cursed.  Canaan was the region God gave to the Hebrews as their Promised Land.  It was the Canaanite people whom God commanded be utterly destroyed.  Therefore, a purpose of this event is to explain why God made that choice; why he took the newly-founded nation of Israel to take the Canaanites land and their lives.  Not only were they a wicked people (their sexual deviance has been revealed many times over by the archaeologist’s shovel), but they were also descended from the son Noah had cursed.

We need to look at the context to see another explanation for this discrepancy.  In verse one of this chapter it is written, THEN GOD BLESSED NOAH AND HIS SONS, SAYING TO THEM, “BE FRUITFUL AND INCREASE IN NUMBER AND FILL THE EARTH.”  Noah was aware of this blessing and knew it was folly to curse Ham when God had already blessed him.  Canaan had not enjoyed God’s blessing and could be cursed.

Verses 26-29 deal Noah’s blessing of his other sons and the end of his days. He blessed Shem.  One of Shem’s descendants was Abram, the man whom God called into the territory of the Canaanites.  He would become known as Abraham.  The offspring of Shem have come to be known as “Semites,” a name we use as synonymous with Jews.

As later chapters in Genesis will testify, God promised Abraham all the territory occupied by the Canaanites.  In the books of Exodus, Joshua, and Judges, we read how, after 400 years of slavery in Egypt, the Israelites got that land.  Incredibly, the sons of Shem were to triumph over and enslave the sons of Canaan, bringing Noah’s curse into being.

Noah also blessed Japheth, but under the blessing of Shem: “MAY JAPHETH LIVE IN THE TENTS OF SHEM.”  In the curse and blessings Noah spoke predictively; foreshadowing world changing events that started with a disrespectful son.  It’s a shame that after having cleansed the world with a flood, humanity immediately returned to its sinful ways.

In spite of all the family drama, Noah lived a supernaturally long life (28-29).  This would be a good place to clarify; just because Noah’s curse and blessings came to pass throughout the course of history, it would be a mistake to say Noah “caused” all this.  Each person and each generation makes their own choices.  Neither God nor Noah’s offspring were in any way “fated” because of Noah’s words.  Noah’s blessing and curse were as much prophecy as they were disciplinary.

This passage may seem like a poor choice of texts for Father’s Day; a sad chapter of biblical history best forgotten.  However, this text has historically been misused to justify some horrible things by making them seem biblical.

This text was used to justify African slavery.  Without any biblical reason to do so, people said that Ham and his sons were dark-skinned; therefore the curse of slavery was applied to the Negro race by Noah and was therefore legitimate.

If that sounds superficial, unbiblical, and just plain stupid, it should.  Especially on Father’s Day, I’m ashamed to say it was someone who shared my family name that first popularized this so-called “Curse of Ham.”  In 1578 a sailing captain named George Best published an account of his travels in the southern hemisphere and attempted to justify his work as a slave trader.  In that book he set forth this false teaching.

I mention this so you understand why this goofy little passage everyone overlooks needs to be scrutinized and understood.  It’s also important for us to see that choices have consequences.  Sometimes the consequences are temporary and personal; sometimes they are inter-generational and universal.

Noah sinned by getting drunk and being uncovered.  Ham sinned by gossiping and disrespecting his father.  The immediate consequence was Canaan being cursed.  The long-term consequence was all of Canaan’s descendants being enslaved by the descendants of Shem.

We tend to trivialize things, especially when we are the guilty party.  We say things like, “It was a little white lie.  Why are you making a big deal over it?”  This passage should impress us with the seriousness of all sin and the deadly consequences it can have even generations after us.

Look at it another way.  Consider something a parent or some other adult you trusted did or said that hurt you.  Forgiveness may have been offered and received, but the words are not forgotten.  Whether you repeat them or not, they affect your behavior and your behavior is repeated or avoided in the next generations.  Families are serious business!

All of this to explain and motivate us to adhere to this simple truth: Our family deserves our best behavior.  I tell you this not on the authority of an expert practitioner.  I have failed my family too often.  Instead, I tell you this on the authority of the Word of God and my calling to tell you the truth, no matter how unpleasant and unpopular it may be.

I have never preached on this passage and I would venture to say most preachers go their careers without bringing it up.  It’s like one of those “skeletons” in the family “closet,” the story we know but ignore because it’s embarrassing.  However, we ignore things like this at our peril.  We need to face it, confess it, be forgiven and do better.  That’s what we do when family fails.

 

RESOURCES:

https://www.inc.com/ss/8-steps-to-owning-your-own-vineyard

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curse_of_Ham

More Hard Sayings of the Old Testament, Walter C. Kaiser, Jr.

Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 2, John H. Sailhammer.

 

A Forever Kind of Love

God’s love is eternally expressed in Jesus Christ.

Please read Psalm 89 in your Bible.  I used the NIV to research my remarks.

Picture the usual Christmas scene and focus on the husband and wife opening their gifts to each other.  This is one of those moments in life when something funny is bound to happen.

The husband pointed to an ill-wrapped package and said, “Open that one next.”

The wife picked up gift and unwrapped it, opening it to find one of those obnoxious singing-and-dancing robot Christmas trees. She is a bit shocked, remembering how just days ago she had pointed out how much she hated those things when she and her husband were shopping together.

Holding it at arm’s length she said, “Weren’t you listening when I said I thought these were the most annoying things ever?”

“Open that other gift,” the husband said, pointing to a long package that is even more poorly wrapped and is very heavy.

His wife set down the robotic Christmas tree as if it were radioactive.  She opened the second package to reveal a sledgehammer.

“Is this for what I think it’s for?”

The husband replied, “And you thought I wasn’t paying attention!”

<Adapted from https://www.rd.com/funny-stuff/funny-christmas-jokes/ on 12/21/17.>

We pin a lot of hopes and waste a lot of time trying to both please and surprise one another with Christmas gifts, don’t we?

One person wrote about how her dad got her mom a DVD of her favorite movie.  That would’ve been a thoughtful gift, except the DVD was a rental and they didn’t own a DVD player!

When calamities come, one question that springs to mind is “Why?  Why did God allow this to happen to me?”  The worst calamity to ever befall the OT people of God (Judah) was to be taken over and taken captive by the Babylonians.  This psalm is one of many examples of songs lamenting this terrible circumstance.

The psalm writers were not shy about expressing these questions, even accusing God of neglecting them.  They pleaded for an end to their suffering and leaned on His promises to encourage their hope.  This morning’s Psalm is an example of this way of attempting to renew the hopes of the captive Jews.

  1. The forever love of God is found in the dynasty of David (Psalm 89:1-4).

In verses one and two the LORD is worshiped because of His LOVE and FAITHFULNESS.  These words occur seven times in the 52 verses of this psalm.

Eternity is bound up in this song; it is meant to be “The Song that Never Ends.”  We see this in the use of FOREVER and THROUGH ALL GENERATIONS; this worship is as eternal as HEAVEN ITSELF.  In Hebrew, the word translated as FOREVER is an indefinite length of time.  It is not exactly the same as the New Testament idea of eternity.  For example, in Romans 11:29, Paul wrote GOD’S GIFTS AND HIS CALL ARE IRREVOCABLE.  This assures us that God is not going to suddenly change His mind.  Our salvation is secure.  Here we see the idea that eternal means “unchanging.”

The LORD’s GREAT LOVE, a constant (faithful) LOVE.  So faithfulness is another aspect of things eternal.

These divine virtues they have been ESTABLISHED…IN HEAVEN ITSELF. The idea implied in the Hebrew is that the psalmist is creating a record of God’s faithfulness that will be preserved for future generations.

The appropriate human response is to praise God for His perfect love.  The words SING and DECLARE cover the two main ways we humans use our mouths to praise God.  The phrase WITH MY MOUTH meant “aloud” or “loudly.”  The joy of being in God is not supposed to be something we contain.  It ought to be too wonderful for us to conceal or hold inside; it ought to flow out of us, revealing God’s LOVE and FAITHFULNESS to our family and community.

The rest of this song gives us examples of other reasons the LORD is worthy of worship.

Vs. 5-13 = God’s power over creation.

Vs. 14-18 = God’s moral power.

Vs. 19-29 = God’s Son will be imbued with power.

Vs. 30-45 = God’s wrath against sin is mitigated by his covenant LOVE and FAITHFULNESS to keep His part of the covenant.

Vs. 46-52 = Worship includes pleading to God for mercy and relief from His discipline.

Verses three and four explain one aspect of His LOVE and FAITHFULNESS: His eternal covenant with David in which God established the dynasty of David forever.  (See also vs. 26-29.)  King David is referred to as the LORD’s CHOSEN ONE and His SERVANT, emphasizing the special relationship they enjoyed.

The title CHOSEN ONE refers to the way God always works.  He chooses us first.  He makes His plans and attempts to work them with our cooperation.  The emphasis is never on our qualifications, but on God’s choosing and empowering.

The title SERVANT refers to David doing his part of the covenant-relationship; doing God’s will.

The COVENANT God swore with David was to establish an eternal dynasty, having one of David’s descendants reign over God’s people for all eternity.  The fulfillment of this promise was realized in Jesus, who was a member of David’s royal family and because of His victory over death, Jesus Christ will reign as King for all eternity.

We are to feel secure in this promise.  The psalmist expressed that feeling of security in a couple different ways: he used the words STANDS FIRM (2) and ESTABLISH (4) to assure us of this trustworthy foundation to our faith.

  1. The forever love of God is found in the Son of David, Jesus Christ.

The genealogy of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel (1:1-17) is there to prove that Joseph, Jesus’ stepfather, was of the line of David and went back only as far as Abraham.  The purpose behind that family tree was to show that Jesus is related to all Jews.

The genealogy of Jesus in Luke’s Gospel (1:1-17) is also there to prove that Joseph, Jesus’ stepfather, was of the line of David.  But Luke’s version goes all the way back to Adam, with the purpose of showing that Jesus is related to all people.  Some people also think that even though Mary’s name is not used by Luke, these ancestors Mary shared in common with Joseph.

The love of God the Father for Jesus, God the Son, was expressed three times in the New Testament.

The first was at Jesus’ baptism by John (Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22), where the voice from heaven said, “THIS IS MY SON, WHOM I LOVE; WITH HIM I AM WELL PLEASED.”

These words were repeated by the voice of our Heavenly Father at Jesus’ Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-8; Mark 9:2-13; Luke 9:28-36), with an addition, “LISTEN TO HIM.”

In John 12:20-50, Jesus taught some Greeks about eternal life and prayed, “FATHER, GLORIFY YOUR NAME.”  The heavenly voice responded, “I HAVE GLORIFIED IT, AND WILL GLORIFY IT AGAIN.” Jesus explained that the voice spoke so that the people there would realize that His immanent death would provide salvation for all people.

God’s love is eternally expressed in Jesus Christ.

In an article entitled “Keep Close to the Heart of Christmas,” Bible Teacher and Pastor John Piper put Christmas in perspective.

“Now, I think this is as close as we get to the actual description of the event of the incarnation — of the divine nature, in some way, uniting with the human nature in the womb of Mary. We know from numerous texts in the New Testament that Jesus was God, very God, who had a divine nature. He had a real divine nature. Colossians 2:9 says that in his body there was ‘fullness of deity.’

“And we know that Jesus Christ also had a human nature. Paul says, ‘There is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus’ (1 Timothy 2:5). So he was a mediator between God and man because he was a man. So we know that Jesus was a God-man. There were two natures, the divine nature and the human nature, in this one person — Jesus Christ.”

<Retrieved from https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/keep-close-to-the-heart-of-christmas on 12/21/17.>

On this last Sunday in Advent, with Christmas Eve just hours away, we reach the climax of our struggle to keep Christmas centered on Christ.  Too soon, the day will be over and we’ll wonder why we got into such a fuss again this year.  We’ll vow to do better next year and probably fall back into old habits instead.

We’ve learned that Jesus Christ is the focus of both Old and New Testaments.  He gives all that is needed for salvation to all who will, by faith, receive it.  Be one of those people at Christmas and all year long.

The Shining Face of Jesus

Please read Psalm 80 in your favorite Bible.  I used the NIV to research these remarks.

Jesus is our light and our salvation.

The Appalachian Trail is the longest hiking trail in the US.  It winds up and down the rugged Appalachian mountains and is 2,200 miles long.  Imagine!  It runs from Georgia to Maine.

Most people only tackle part of the trail, but if you’re really ambitious, the whole thing takes an average of 165 days to complete.  It is just putting one foot in front of the other, right?  Do that about 5 million times and suddenly you’re all done!

I mention this because it takes 365 days to hike through the average year.  As the average American takes just 5,900 steps a day, the year is a journey of just over 2 million steps.  That’s not half the distance down the Appalachian Trail.

This data helped me put into perspective what a “hike” a year of living can be.  I am grateful that Christmas comes at the end of the year.  Imagine how tedious life would be if we trudged through another year without anything more to celebrate than another one starting up?  Depressing.

Nobody really thinks Jesus was born on Dec. 25, but I say, who cares?  We need Christmas most at the end of the year and God bless it!

Similarly, the birth of Jesus Christ was the culmination of God’s plan for world salvation.  We celebrate His birth because in that one baby God kept the promises He had made to His people.  This Advent season we are going to uncover and explain some of the delightful promises of God in an unlikely place; the Psalms.  In these worship songs we see the footprints that led to the Messiah whom God had promised to His people.  It’s amazing to consider that the first part of this journey to salvation was literally taken in baby steps!

  1. Jesus is our Shepherd.

In Psalm 80:1-2 God promised He would send a Shepherd for His people.  Although shepherding was a major occupation at the time, in their culture, being a shepherd wasn’t a glamorous/desirable vocation.  In that respect I wonder why did God choose to represent Himself as a shepherd (PSS 23:1; ISH 40:11; JMH 23:1-3; 31:9; EKL 34)?  He had at least two reasons.

One, because we are all like sheep.  In Isaiah 53:6 it is written; We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; & t Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.  Sheep need a shepherd to survive.  If the flock is to be successful, the shepherd must guide, protect, and care for them.  Like sheep, we tend to wander off to do our own thing and get ourselves in calamity.

Two, because God is our leader.  Shepherds need a protective and sacrificial attitude; God has demonstrated that spirit time after time.  A shepherd leads from among the flock, not from a distance.

In this Psalm the nearness of God is implied in the phrase, ENTHRONED BETWEEN THE CHERUBIM.  This refers to the statuary atop the Ark of the Covenant in the temple.  These heavenly creatures faced away from one another with their wingtips pointing backward.  They did not quite touch and the space between was considered to be the dwelling-place of God.  All of this is meant to reassure us that He is in the midst of His people; He is intimately related to us.

JOSEPH is chosen to represent the people of God because, according to 1 Chronicles 5:1-2, the rights of the firstborn were taken from Reuben and awarded to Joseph instead.  Also, Joseph is one of the holiest men in the Bible.

The psalmist calls on the SHEPHERD OF ISRAEL to AWAKEN to their plight and to SAVE them.

Anticipating the chorus (vs. 3, 7 & 19) in v. 1, the FLOCK asks the SHEPHERD to SHINE FORTH.  When God appeared to His people, He appeared in His glory, in actual light.

We find the fulfillment of this problem in John 10:11-15, where Jesus called Himself THE GOOD SHEPHERD and told us what that meant.  The Greek word translated as GOOD is kalos, which includes perfect competence and moral purity.  Jesus is the Ultimate Shepherd.

Most importantly, it meant the GOOD SHEPHERD sacrificed Himself to save his sheep (11).  Jesus gave His life on the cross to save us.  For, unlike a hired hand, the GOOD SHEPHERD cares about the sheep (12-13).  This “hired hand” was intended by Jesus to be a symbol of the Jewish religious leaders and an indictment of their leadership of the people of God.

The GOOD SHEPHERD knows His sheep and He knows God the Father (14-15).  The Greek word for KNOW is ginosko, which implies a knowledge based on something more substantial than facts; it is also knowledge based on personal experience.

  1. Jesus is our Light.

A plea is made three times in this Psalm (vs. 3, 7, 19), a plea that becomes a promise of light to shine on God’s people.  Three times the psalmist plead with God, RESTORE US, O GOD; MAKE YOUR FACE SHINE UPON US, THAT WE MAY BE SAVED.  (See Numbers 6:24-26; Psalms 31:16; 67:1 for similar language.)  If it helps, think of these verses as the chorus or refrain of the song.

To have God’s FACE SHINE UPON you meant to have God’s attention, experience His presence, and receive His blessing.  When we endure trials it’s easy to feel lonely and wonder where God is.   The purpose of His attention – as far as the psalmist was concerned – was to RESTORE and SAVE them.  This is a plea for deliverance from their enemies and further, to bring them back to a place of favor.

According to v. 17, the FACE is that of God’s appointed representative; THE MAN AT YOUR RIGHT HAND, THE SON OF MAN YOU HAVE RAISED UP FOR YOURSELF (also in v. 15).  At the time this prophecy was made, the readers would’ve understood that the MAN referred to here was the king and/or the whole nation of Israel.  However, with the benefit of the New Testament, we have perspective to see that Jesus is this MAN.  That is the prophecy God intended to convey.  We see this cycle of prediction and fulfillment in the following details:

First, AT YOUR RIGHT HAND: the right hand being the position of power and influence in their culture as well as ours.  Matthew 26:64; Mark 16:19; Acts 2:33; 5:31; 7:55-56; Romans 8:34; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1; and Hebrews 1:3 testify that in heaven, Jesus sits at the right hand of God the Father.

Second, THE SON OF MAN is the title Jesus preferred to use for Himself, as we see often in the Gospels.

Third, God the Father RAISED UP Jesus in two senses; from birth to maturity He raised Jesus in a human body and also He raised Jesus from the dead.

We look to a couple of places in the Gospels as examples of the fulfillment of God’s promise in the chorus of Psalm 80.

In Matthew 17:1-2 it is written, After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.  There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.  (See 2 Peter 1:16-18 for Peter’s account of this event.)  This is the literal fulfillment of Psalm 80.  The face of Jesus literally shone brightly on three of His disciples.

This supernatural event was accompanied by a voice from heaven identifying Jesus as God’s Son, the Father was pleased with Him, and they were to LISTEN TO HIM.  This is called the “Transfiguration” because of the supernatural change in Jesus’ appearance.  Its purpose was to fulfill prophecy and confirm Jesus’ claims He was God’s Son.

In John 8:12 we read, When Jesus spoke to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”  Here Jesus used LIGHT more as a figure of speech than a literal luminescence.  The LIGHT is a symbol of the goodness, truth, and glory of God.  In Jesus, God the Father was present and the truth was revealed in His teachings.

DARKNESS symbolizes the evil and falsehood of this world where it is ruined by sin.  It is the opposite of the character of God and the righteous standards to which He calls us.

Jesus is our light and our salvation.

Not everyone embraces the rapidly-changing world of social media.  I, for one, will not surrender my 90’s vintage flip phone for a smart phone and only accepted the flip phone under duress.  But even I can see a couple positives in social media.

First, of all the technologies that could have experienced this unprecedented change rate of change, I’m encouraged that the one people chose the kind of technology that empowers our communication.  We could’ve been crazy about solar-powered vehicles or sunk a lot of research into robots or space travel, but the market chose phones.  This is proof to me that people want companionship.  We need and want to be heard and to listen.

Second, it has enlarged our definition of “neighbor.”  The Internet and all forms of social media have given us access to one another that defies geography.  “Neighbor” no longer means just the people who live near us or our co-workers or family.  We can access one another around the world literally at the speed of light.  Deeds of darkness can be exposed to the entire planet in minutes.

Obviously, as a human invention, social media is capable of grave sins and presents serious dangers.  It needs to be handled carefully and we’re still learning and feeling out the ethics of this kind of instantaneous and virtually unlimited access to each other.

The challenge social media presents to believers is to set an example in using it in the most God-honoring way possible.  Though the media has changed, the message remains the same.  We must let the world know that Baby Jesus became the Good Shepherd and the Light of the World so the world may be saved.  During Advent, make full use of your Contacts list.  Pray for them daily and contact them to proclaim Jesus as Savior.

Hostile Witnesses?

(Please read Matthew 2:1-12 in your favorite Bible.  I have used the NIV for these remarks.)

You may have heard the phrase “hostile witness” in a TV courtroom drama.  The practice of designating someone a “hostile witness” is quite rare in actual courtrooms; or so I’ve read.

Witnesses for the opposing side are always treated as “hostile” in the sense that they’re going to testify against you.  And normally, witnesses for your own side are “friendly” in the sense that their testimony will help you make your case.

Without complicating the matter, asking the judge to declare one of your own witnesses as “hostile” allows the attorney to ask more leading questions of the witness.  Instead of questions that must be answered with a simple “yes” or “no,” the lawyer can ask questions where the answer is more complex and the answer is implied or included in the way the question is worded.

<Researched at http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/business-career/legal/hostile-witnesses? on 12/8/16.>

The thing about hostile witnesses on which I want to focus is that they’re generally believed to be more objective about an issue because their bias would be contrary to the case at hand.  Take the Magi, or wise men, as an example.  They were not Jews.  They were not Christians, because that term had not been coined yet; the Founder of our Faith was still learning to talk and perhaps be potty trained!

These were not people who would lie or exaggerate to make a case for Jesus as the Son of God, let alone as the King of the Jews.  Their actions were directed by their pagan beliefs and superstitions, not by faith or any philosophy supportive of the Jews and their God.

As we will see, an exciting part of this account is that these non-Jewish men recognized Jesus as the rightful King of the Jews nearly three decades before any Jewish folk came to that discovery.  Their recognition of the Christ-child is something God accomplished – in part – outside His usual means of revelation.  He used people who were not His people to confirm that He had indeed kept His promises.

Here we are at the “Three Kings,” or the “Wise Men,” as they have been called over the ages.  Here is the part of the Christmas story that has the most effect on the cultural celebration of Christmas.  The tradition of giving gifts at Christmas flows from the gifts of the magi to baby Jesus.  Just think of economic impact if they had composed poetry in His honor instead?  How would the American retail sector survive without the annual influx of cash in December?

Forgive me that skepticism.  What matters here is that the Magi witnessed to the true identity of the Baby in Bethlehem.

  1. The magi provided a pagan witness to Jesus’ identity.

Who they were: astrologers and court magicians who gave advice to kings.  Their beliefs bear a resemblance to the beliefs of a number of modern Americans: henotheism.

Wikipedia defines “henotheism” as the belief in and worship of a single god while accepting the existence or possible existence of other deities. Ancient peoples were extremely territorial and they believed that the gods were too; the popular superstition was that all gods existed and competed for worshipers and space on earth through the nations that they patronized.

This is the religious flipside of the modern politically correct view of “tolerance” set in a religious context.  While people of those cultures were competitive about their beliefs, they weren’t at all concerned about disproving the existence of anyone else’s gods.  These men were not Jews and they did not start out as believers in Jesus in any sense that would be familiar to us.

In this context, men like the MAGI were schooled in the beliefs and practices of many religions and sought to learn from them all.  They wanted to use their knowledge to divine the future and thereby establish their usefulness to the governing powers of their time.

As superstitious people do even in our own time, the MAGI believe that there was a cause and effect relationship between the movement of the stars and the actions of people.  Astrology was one of the tools they used to try to divine the future.

What they did is more important to our study: they came from Persia looking for a king.  They were seeking a KING OF THE JEWS, a political figure. We might conjecture they were seeking knowledge or political influence; we aren’t told whether their motives were selfish or not.  It seems more likely to me that they spotted this star, reported it to their king or nobleman and that person sent them on a quest to find the king and open relations with them.  In this case, their motive is primarily duty.  This would have been an extension of their job.

There are three clues the text gives us to measure the status of the MAGI and the effect of their visit.

– Verse three shows they were taken so seriously that the question they asked DISTURBED King Herod and the entire city of Jerusalem.

– In verse four we read the king called together ALL THE CHIEF PRIESTS AND TEACHERS OF THE LAW to research the answer to the Magi’s question.  The key word here is ALL.  The Magi were given VIP treatment!

– In verse eight, Herod attempted to use them to flush out the child-king.  Once exposed, he undoubtedly planned to have the child killed, which is how Herod dealt with all threats to his throne.  This implies Herod’s respect for the Magi in the sense that he was to some degree certain they would succeed in their mission.  If they found the newborn king, you can be Herod wanted to be first in line right behind them!

  1. The magi set an example for us to follow.

They are an example of seeking. The MAGI undertook such a long and difficult journey, so we can safely say they were highly motivated.  Further, they were motivated enough to leave their homeland with only a general destination in mind; they knew they had to go to Judea.  As Jerusalem was the capital of Judea, they likely went their first.  As they were court officials they knew how to behave around a king and may have carried papers that officially introduced them.  It’s logical to assume they went to Herod first.

Once Herod directed them toward Bethlehem, verse nine tells us the STAR took over and somehow directed them to the exact place in the village where Jesus and His family resided.  In spite of the way the scene is depicted on Christmas cards and in crèches, the MAGI did not appear on the same night as the shepherds (see Luke 2:1-20).  Based on the next passage (2:16), we think the MAGI arrived two years after Jesus’ birth.  This does not mean their search took them two years.

The point is this: they completed their quest.  They were OVERJOYED at seeing the STAR and having it guide them on the last leg of their journey to the new Jewish king.  (In fact, the original language is redundant, bordering on gushing; “thy rejoiced with a great joy exceedingly.”)

They did what they were commanded to do back in Persia: find and open relations with the new king.  They BOWED DOWN AND WORSHIPED HIM.  Normally, this phrase refers to the respect given royalty but it does not rule out the devotion offered to divinity.  The MAGI gave expensive gifts to the baby Jesus; gifts befitting a king.

In this, the MAGI accomplished their mission.  But I believe they must have immediately sensed there was more to this child than had been revealed to them by the STAR and Herod’s religious researchers.  As we will learn next week, the three gifts served a practical purpose.  Joseph was commanded to take Mary and Jesus to safety in Egypt.  The GOLD, FRANKINCENSE, and MYRRH could be sold/traded/spent there to provide the small family with the resources they needed to survive.  This was Providence at work.

Have you ever wondered why they followed through in this way?  Why weren’t they surprised to find a “king” in a peasant’s house?  Why didn’t they assume they’d made a mistake and turn for home?  My guess it was the STAR.  It was the STAR that had started them on this journey and it was the STAR that lead them to the end.

I wonder how highly motivated we are?  The availability of information and the abundance of churches can make finding Jesus pretty easy.  Or is that the case?  Have we complicated matters with our endless options and minute variations?  Are we compromised by worldliness?  Has our culture put blinders on us so we see only what is directly ahead and have only a partial conception of the bigger world and our even-bigger God?

They are an example of obedience to God.  In verse twelve, the MAGI received a message from God in much the same way Joseph had back in 1:20; IN A DREAM.  There is no mention of an ANGEL appearing in their dream and it is a warning, not a command.

Think about two things here: One, how seriously these superstitious men would have taken a dream.  Interpreting dreams was part of their daily work, so the dream was, like the STAR, a very effective way for God to get their attention.  Two, we see God’s grace in sparing them from Herod’s violence.  Don’t doubt for a moment that a violent, sinister man like Herod would hesitate to use torture to extract the information about the child’s exact whereabouts from them if they returned to Jerusalem.  We’ll talk more about Herod next Sunday, but he was paranoid and very near the end of his life at this time.  He would have had no hesitation to hurt and kill the MAGI in order to get at the new-born KING OF THE JEWS.

Also in verse twelve, we see the MAGI taking seriously the warning they were given as they RETURNED TO THEIR COUNTRY BY ANOTHER ROUTE.   Remember, back in v. 8 King Herod had specifically commanded them to come back to Jerusalem and report their findings to him.  To not do so was to risk his wrath, and thereby risk their lives.  This is no small decision.

Ruthless and powerful, King Herod was a very real threat; but they chose to give more heed to a dream they all had shared.  Not everybody would be wise enough to heed God more than the king.  Do you suppose that’s why we call them “the wise men?”

Years later, when the baby Jesus had become a man He said in MTW 10:28, “DO NOT BE AFRAID OF THOSE WHO KILL THE BODY BUT CANNOT KILL THE SOUL.  RATHER, BE AFRAID OF THE ONE WHO CAN DESTROY BOTH BODY AND SOUL IN HELL.”  I would say that the MAGI are an example of someone who possessed this wisdom.

            In his sermon entitled, “The Wise Men Worship The King” Pastor David Anderson made the following observations about the MAGI and their unique place in the NT story of Jesus.

  • These Magi are not identified with perfect precision.
  • Educated speculation says that they were likely the priestly caste of the Medes and Persians.
  • Daniel refers to the “magicians, enchanters, sorcerers, and the Chaldeans be summoned to tell the king his dreams”
  • These Magi are called “wise men” because they were people of learning. Think of these folks as a mixture of being the elite, the intellectuals, and the religious priests of their culture.
    • They were like science-math-literature-priests.
    • They were astronomers/astrologers.
    • Star-gazing book worms.
    • And they were Gentiles.
    • There is no indication they were kings.
  • And there is no indication that there were only three of them. There were three gifts, but this doesn’t prove a thing.
  • Sorry to ruin the Christmas song, “We Three Kings from Orient Are.”

So what do we take away from the account of the Magi’s visit to the Christ-child?  What can we learn from these events and how can we put it to work in our lives?

We can follow the example of zeal and dedication in following God that the Magi showed in seeking the newborn king of the Jews.  They set out on a long and difficult journey to a foreign land with very little to guide them.

We, on the other hand, have all the information we need and don’t need to move an inch to find Jesus.  What’s required from us is faith.

The Magi recognized Jesus as King and responded appropriately: they worshiped Him and  immediately obeyed His command.

(If you’d like the video version of this message, look up EBCSF on YouTube.)

Why’d He Do It? To Fulfill Prophecy

(Please read LUKE 24:25-27 in your preferred version of the Bible.  I have cited the NIV in the following article.)

Jesus gave His life to keep God’s ancient promises.

“Professor Emeritus of Science at Westmont College, Peter Stoner, has calculated the probability of one man fulfilling the major prophecies made concerning the Messiah. The estimates were worked out by twelve different classes representing some 600 university students.

“The students carefully weighed all the factors, discussed each prophecy at length, and examined the various circumstances which might indicate that men had conspired together to fulfill a particular prophecy. They made their estimates conservative enough so that there was finally unanimous agreement even among the most skeptical students.

“However, Professor Stoner then took their estimates, and made them even more conservative. He also encouraged other skeptics or scientists to make their own estimates to see if his conclusions were more than fair. Finally, he submitted his figures for review to a committee of the American Scientific Affiliation. Upon examination, they verified that his calculations were dependable and accurate in regard to the scientific material presented (Peter Stoner, Science Speaks, Chicago: Moody Press, 1969, 4).

“After examining only eight different prophecies (Idem, 106), they conservatively estimated that the chance of one man fulfilling all eight prophecies was one in 10^17.

“To illustrate how large the number 10^17 IS (a figure with 17 zeros), Stoner gave this illustration :

If you mark one of ten tickets, and place all the tickets in a hat, and thoroughly stir them, and then ask a blindfolded man to draw one, his chance of getting the right ticket is one in ten. Suppose that we take 10^17 silver dollars and lay them on the face of Texas. They’ll cover all of the state two feet deep. Now mark one of these silver dollars and stir the whole mass thoroughly, all over the state. Blindfold a man and tell him that he can travel as far as he wishes, but he must pick up one silver dollar and say that this is the right one. What chance would he have of getting the right one? Just the same chance that the prophets would’ve had of writing these eight prophecies and having them all come true in any one man, from their day to the present time, providing they wrote them in their own wisdom (Idem, 106-107). “

<Retrieved from http://www.biblebelievers.org.au/radio034.htm on 3/17/16.>

We’ve spent the weeks of Lent looking at why Jesus surrendered His life on the cross.  Today we find out that He offered Himself because that was the will of God the Father, a decision that He revealed hundreds of years before Jesus was born.

We will learn that this fact helps establish the trustworthy character of God and the reliability of His self-revelation.  Here on this Palm Sunday we will see what the Bible tells us about Jesus Christ the King of Kings is a completely reliable witness.

  1. CONTEXT: Jesus explains His death after the fact.

WHEN? The afternoon of Resurrection Day.

WHO? Two followers of Jesus, Cleopas & his wife.

Their son Simeon would later be head of the Jerusalem church.

Elsewhere, one of Jesus’ female followers named Mary is said to be the wife of “Clopas.”  Pretty similar spelling – same guy?

WHERE?   Emmaus was seven miles northwest of Jerusalem.

HOW? Jesus journeyed with them.  In their culture it was not at all unusual for a teacher to take a walk or trips with their students as they taught.

WHY? They thought it was over; Jesus was dead.

They were leaving Jerusalem and returning home because they thought Jesus’ story concluded.

In the fashion of their culture, they invited the stranger in from the night to share food and shelter.  They probably wanted to hear more of His teaching.

WHAT? They did not understand the meaning of their recent experience.

Jesus appeared to them in disguised form so they would listen to His teaching.  He wanted to correct their misunderstanding.

Another purpose was to benefit all the people who would hear Cleopas and Mary’s testimony, including their son Simeon.

  1. COMMENT: Why this is so important.

While they didn’t recognize Him – probably because they didn’t recognize Him – Jesus taught them.  His teaching was to show one reason for His death and resurrection: that it was to keep all the promises God had made in the Scriptures.

He began by rebuking them as FOOLISH and SLOW OF HEART TO BELIEVE (25).  In the Bible, FOOLISH is a synonym for “unbeliever.”   They are people who perceive the world around them but do not understand it.  For example, the world says it is foolish to believe the Bible is true, Jesus said it is FOOLISH to not believe the Bible is true.

Jesus also rebuked them as being SLOW OF HEART or “dim-witted.”  They were slow to give up their worldly notions to find faith.  It’s significant that a portion of having faith is UNLEARNING what the world has taught us.  It is overcoming skepticism, superstition, and negativity.  Their slowness was in regard to believing ALL THAT THE PROPHETS HAVE SPOKEN (all the promises God made in the Old Testament portions of our Bibles).  One of those promises was that God’s Anointed (chosen) Servant, the CHRIST, would have to first SUFFER and after that, enter His GLORY (26).

It is a theme of this passage that Jesus turned the attention of His followers to the word of God.  V. 32 says He OPENED THE SCRIPTURES to them.  In vs. 44-48, Jesus had essentially this same conversation with the Twelve Disciples.  In v. 45 it is written, THEN HE OPENED THEIR MINDS SO THEY COULD UNDERSTAND THE SCRIPTURES.  A college or seminary education is less important for understanding the Bible than having your mind opened to the truth by Christ.

In 1 Corinthians 2:14 the Apostle Paul explained that a merely worldly mind cannot perceive spiritual things because that knowledge is revealed, not discovered.  It is revealed by the Holy Spirit.  Jesus EXPLAINED to them which parts of the Old Testament were prophecies of the Messiah and how He had fulfilled them.  No one has ever proven the Bible is wrong or at fault, though many have tried.  Instead, the Bible is the utterly reliable guide to our utterly trustworthy God, who will save us to the uttermost!  Both His suffering and His glorification had been predicted in the Scriptures.

All this had been promised in their Scriptures.  Jesus fulfilled more than 350 Old Testament predictions (v. 27)!  In Matthew 5:17, Jesus Himself said that His mission was not to “abolish” the Law and Prophets (what we call the Old Testament) but to “fulfill” them.  This was the mission of His life and His death and His resurrection

Here’s what Matthew meant when he used the word “fulfilled.”  “The Greek term for “fulfilled” is pleroo. The verb was used in the sense of “to fill” something, or “to be filled” (Acts 2:2; Romans 15:13). “Fulfill” was employed of bringing to completion something that had been pledged earlier (cf. Jeremiah 44:25). This is the sense of Old Testament prophecy.

“In the New Testament certain events are said to have occurred in order to fulfill prophecy. The thought is that the thing spoken in prophecy has now been accomplished, and in such passages the word “fulfill” is the practical equivalent of “accomplish,” “complete” (Young 1960, 232).

“J. H. Thayer identified the “fulfilled” texts in Matthew’s Gospel (as listed above)as “sayings, promises, prophecies, to bring to pass, ratify, accomplish” (1958, 518). Danker states it means “to bring to a designed end, fulfill a prophecy, an obligation, a promise . . . of the fulfillment of divine predictions or promises” (2000, 828-829), with the twelve Matthew passages listed. “

<Wayne Jackson, retrieved from https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/1418-matthews-use-of-the-term-fulfilled on 3/17/16.>

Here’s how they reflected on it: “WERE NOT OUR HEARTS BURNING WITHIN US WHILE HE TALKED WITH US ON THE ROAD AND OPENED THE SCRIPTURES TO US? (v. 32)

The fact that God can be trusted to keep His promises is not just important, it is essential.  How could we trust our lives, let alone our eternity to anyone who is not trustworthy?  Trust is the foundation of all relationships, including our relationship with God.  The death and resurrection of Jesus confirmed all the promises of God and proved the reliability of His revelation in the Word of God.

Clark Harden wrote about a group of mountain climbers and what we can learn from their experience.

“There was a group of climbers who set out to scale a large mountain in Europe. The view boasted a breathtaking peak of snowcapped rocks.

“On clear days the crested point reigned as king on the horizon. Its white tip jutted into the blue sky inviting admiration and offering inspiration. On days like this the hikers made the greatest progress. The peak stood above them like a compelling goal. Eyes were called upward. The walk was brisk. The cooperation was unselfish. Though many, they climbed as one, all looking to the same summit.

“Yet on some days the peak of the mountain was hidden from view. The cloud covering would eclipse the crisp blueness with a drab, gray ceiling and block the vision of the mountaintop. On these days the climb became arduous. Eyes were downward and thoughts inward. The goal was forgotten. Tempers were short. Weariness was an uninvited companion. Complaints stung like thorns on the trail.

“We’re like that, aren’t we? As long as we can see our dream, as long as our goal is within eyesight, there is no mountain we can’t climb or summit we can’t scale. But take away our vision, block our view of the trail’s end, or ask us to walk awhile in faith, and the result is as discouraging as the journey.”

<From a message entitled, “The Road to Emmaus,” retrieved from http://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/the-road-to-emmaus-clark-harden-sermon-on-disciples-175034.asp on 3/18/16.>

Another benefit to Jesus’ fulfillment of prophecy is that it provides evidence that substantiates the truthfulness and reliability of the Bible.  People react to this truth differently:

People who have faith don’t need it.  Faith exists on its own.  Evidence of the kind I offered in my introduction is inspiriting and vindicating, but it’s not strictly necessary.  True faith is circular; it provides its own reason and validates itself.

People who don’t have faith don’t want it.  I’ve done some reading lately by Jewish authors who want nothing to do with Jesus.  They reject any claims that He is the Messiah and offer persuasive, reasoned arguments against it.  I am not at all persuaded, but it’s clear they are.

It is good for us to study the Bible and the objective evidence that supports it.  But most will receive more benefit from a testimony that shows how it makes a difference in us.  The Bible can be approached and argued from all sides, but I rarely hear of people finding faith by losing an argument.

What happens more frequently is that people are convinced by genuine love and good behavior that is consistent with the faith we claim.  We are to prepare to give a good answer to anyone who questions our faith, but the most convincing answers are the ones we back up in everyday life.

The Spirit and Success

(Read Isaiah 61:1-3 & Luke 4:14-30.  I use the NIV – you use whichever version of the Bible you prefer.)

Message: Isaiah predicted the Messiah would successfully do the work of God because of the Spirit’s anointing.

The story is told of a new bank president who met with his predecessor and said, “I would like to know what have been the keys to your success.”

The older gentleman looked at him and replied, “Young man, I can sum it up in two words: Good decisions.”

To that the young man responded, “I thank you immensely for that advice, but how does one know which are the good decisions?”

“One word, young man,” replied the sage. “Experience.”

“That’s all well and good,” said the younger, “but how does one get experience?”

“Two words,” said the elder. “Bad decisions.”

(Today In The Word, November, 1989, p.23.)

Clarence Jordan was a man of unusual abilities and commitment. He had two Ph.D.s, one in agriculture and one in Greek and Hebrew. He could have done anything he wanted. He chose to serve the poor. In the 1940s, he founded a farm in Americus, Georgia, and called it Koinonia Farm. It was a community for poor whites and poor blacks. As you might guess, such an idea did not go over well in the Deep South of the ’40s.

In 1954, the Ku Klux Klan had enough of Clarence Jordan, so they came one night with guns and torches and set fire to every building on Koinonia Farm but Clarence’s home, which they riddled with bullets.

The next day, a reporter came out to see what remained of the farm. The rubble still smoldered and the land was scorched, but he found Clarence in the field, hoeing and planting.

The reporter said in a haughty voice, “Well, Dr. Jordan, you got fourteen years into this farm, and there’s nothing left of it at all. Just how successful do you think you’ve been?”

Clarence stopped hoeing, turned toward the reporter, and said quietly but firmly, “About as successful as the cross. Sir, I don’t think you understand us. What we are about is not success but faithfulness. We’re staying. Good day.”

Beginning that day, Clarence and his companions rebuilt Koinonia and the farm is still going strong today.

(Holy Sweat, Tim Hansel, 1987, Word Books Publisher, pp. 188-189.)

  1. Isaiah 61:1-3 predicted the Messiah would be anointed with Holy Spirit power.

CONTEXT: These vs. begin a chapter of good news (which is why we refer to Isaiah as the “Gospel of the Old Testament”) for the people of God returning from captivity in Babylon. These verses are here to get the reader to take the following verses more seriously as it establishes the credentials of the one who will fulfill the prophecy.

COMMENT:

What the anointing means on a literal level is to apply oil.  This was done for ceremonial, religious, and/or medicinal purposes.  On a spiritual level, it means to apply Holy Spirit power to someone to endow them for ministry.

It is not typical in the Old Testament for these things to be mentioned together. Only in King David do these two concepts come together.  This makes me think Isaiah is anticipating a unique individual and there has never been anyone as unique as Jesus Christ.

What the anointing would accomplish initially, was that all these things would have happened when the Jews returned from their captivity in Babylon.  (Notice how these verses sound like the Beatitudes in Matthew 5.)

– PREACH GOOD NEWS TO THE POOR = The word POOR may be literal, but poverty and piety often went together in the Old Testament (see Psalms 40:17; 72:12-14).  In fact, the righteous poor were called the anawim.

– BIND UP THE BROKENHEARTED = This can be sorrow over sin or over life’s wounds.

– PROCLAIM FREEDOM FOR THE CAPTIVES = The word for FREEDOM is only used for the freeing of slaves in the Sabbath and Jubilee years. Judah’s release from the Babylonian captivity is the obvious and immediate fulfillment, but Jesus bought us greater freedom from a worse captivity; a spiritual one.  He has set us free from a slavery to sin.

– RELEASE FROM DARKNESS THE PRISONERS = ditto.

– PROCLAIM the following…

THE YEAR OF THE LORD’S FAVOR = FAVOR showed to His people, in contrast with VENGEANCE on their oppressors.  These were considered two sides of the same act.

THE DAY OF VENGEANCE OF OUR GOD = The justice of God is difficult for us to comprehend.  Though the Assyrians and Babylonians were wielded by God as instruments of wrath on His people, He still holds them responsible for their actions Israel and Judah.  An answer is that this shows how God is so powerful He is able to turn evil and use it to accomplish His will.

– COMFORT ALL WHO MOURN = COMFORT is one of Isaiah’s favorite words.  It is both the promise that things will get better and actions to resolve situations favorably.

– Turn signs of mourning into symbols of joy.

ASHES were put on the head as a sign of deep DESPAIR and in times of MOURNING.

These were exchanged for a CROWN OF BEAUTY, OIL, GARMENT, which are all typical preparations for a feast, or celebrating a wedding.

– OAKS OF RIGHTEOUSNESS and A PLANTING 0F THE LORD are symbols of redemption.

Why do all this? FOR THE DISPAY OF HIS SPLENDOR. It’s about God, not us. The highest good we can do for one another is to direct our attention to God (GLORY).

  1. The prophecy came true in Luke 4:14-30.

The occasion is the beginning of Jesus’ ministry = HE RETURNED TO GALILEE. He had been to the Jordan River to be baptized by John (3:21-22). That experience left Jesus FULL OF THE HOLY SPIRIT (4:1). The Spirit lead Jesus out into a nearby wilderness area where He fasted for 40 days and was tempted by the devil (4:1-13).  Similarly, that experience left Jesus IN THE POWER OF THE SPIRIT.

So when Jesus read from the scroll of the prophet ISAIAH, “THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IS ON ME,” He really meant it!  We’ve seen that asserted twice already!

The setting is a typical Saturday service in the synagogue.  This was a worship service that consisted of prayers, readings from Scripture and a message that explained the readings, usually showing how they were related.

The outcome was mixed.

Jesus’ ministry had been successful throughout Galilee. NEWS (pheme) is the Gk root of our word “fame.”  Jesus was just starting & already becoming famous.  He was not only famous, but popular: EVERYONE PRAISED HIM.

His ministry in Nazareth, however, is met with disapproval.  In Nazareth, people are impressed, but not persuaded.

Apparently Jesus’ reputation preceded Him.  The people in the synagogue had evidently heard the rumors from other parts of the region and were looking at Jesus to see if they were true.  Look at v. 20 = THE EYES OF EVERYONE IN THE SYNAGOGUE WERE FASTENED ON HIM.

Initially, their reaction was favorable: V. 22 = ALL SPOKE WELL OF HIM AND WERE AMAZED AT THE GRACIOUS WORDS THAT CAME FROM HIS LIPS.  This good impression didn’t last long, as they began to question Jesus’ claim.  “ISN’T THIS JOSEPH’S SON?” THEY ASKED in v. 22.  How could HE be the Messiah?

At first, Jesus’ response to them in vs. 23-27 seems out of proportion to this question. Without going into a lengthy historical explanation, we could summarize Jesus’ response as a warning that if they reject Him as Messiah, they will be guilty of a greater blunder than their ancestors’ worst moment.

Also, He knew their hearts and noted two things:

–  One, that they showed up at the synagogue not to hear His teaching, but in hopes of seeing some miracles of the kind they’d heard Jesus did earlier in Capernaum.

– Two, that they were just a few minutes away from being angry enough to throw Him off a cliff!

As Jesus confronted their lack of faith in Him, their amazement changed into anger.  Vs. 28-30 = ALL THE PEOPLE IN THE SYNAGOGUE WERE FURIOUS WHEN THEY HEARD THIS.  THEY GOT UP, DROVE HIM OUT OF THE TOWN, AND TOOK HIM TO THE BROW OF THE HILL ON WHICH THE TOWN WAS BUILT, IN ORDER TO THROW HIM OFF THE CLIFF.  BUT HE WALKED RIGHT THROUGH THE CROWD AND WENT ON HIS WAY.  Note the word ALL in vss. 22 + 28. The whole crowd in the synagogue had this reaction to Jesus.

The primary message here is “Don’t be like the home town crowd, be like the other crowds.  Have faith in Jesus.”  The secondary message has to do with the Spirit and success.  Success is to be defined as faithfulness to God, regardless of how people react.  If we will keep the main thing the main thing (directing people’s attention to God) then we can be considered faithful.  Let God take care of everything else.

In his commentary on Luke, Darrell L. Bock wrote a couple things about how we can successfully apply the promise and fulfillment of Jesus the Messiah in our increasingly hostile culture.  As we’ve talked a lot about this lately, I want to share his insights with you.

“It is important to appreciate how central good teaching is to ministry.  In an era when feelings and interpersonal relationships are high on the agenda, it is wise to reflect on why Jesus spent so much time instructing people.  One of the fundamental biblical assumptions is that human cultures distort reality.  Our minds need reshaping and renewing, so that our feelings and reactions, will be more like what God desires.” (Bock, pp. 139-140.)

“Since Jesus’ ministry was built around his teaching and since he showed that God’s will was not what the religious culture was delivering, then how careful should we be to make sure that our communities are well instructed and grounded in God’s truth.” (Bock, p. 141.)

“The church has a difficult task.  On the one hand, to discuss redemption and release we must mention sin.  On the other hand, the offer of the gospel is ultimately positive, so that the goal is not a message of doom but of hope.” (Bock, pp. 143.)

Here’s the hopeful thing we’ve learned today.  God kept His promise and sent the Messiah He promised.  This is not just a historical or Jewish thing, but is essential for our message.  God sent THE Messiah, the only hope of salvation.

Rather than let the world define success for us, we need to trust that the God who keeps His promises will also equip us with all we need to not just survive but thrive in this 21st century world.  Let success be putting that hopeful message out there on a congregational & personal basis.

(The NIV Application Commentary (Luke), Darrell L. Bock, Zondervan Publishing House, 1996.)