Why’d He Do It? Joy!

(Please read Hebrews 12:1-3.  I have used the NIV for my study.)

Jesus endured the cross because He knew JOY awaited Him on the other side of suffering.

In the verse immediately following our passage, Paul helped his readers put their suffering in perspective: In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. (HBS 12:4, NIV)  Wow!  That’s some perspective.

In other words, “You think you’ve got it bad?  What have you got to complain about?”

Let’s consider an historical perspective.  From Illustrations Unlimited, “THE PRICE THEY PAID.”

“Have you ever wondered what happened to those fifty-six men who signed the Declaration of Independence?

  • Five signers were captured by the British as traitors and tortured before they died.
  • Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned.
  • Two lost their sons in the Revolutionary Army, another had two sons captured. Nine fought and died from wounds or the hardships of the Revolutionary War.

“They signed the Declaration of Independence knowing full well that the penalty would be death if they were captured. They signed and they pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor.

  • Carter Braxton of Virginia, a wealthy planter and trader, saw his ships swept from the seas by the British navy. He sold his home and properties to pay his debts and died in rags.
  • Thomas McKeam was so hounded by the British that he was forced to move his family almost constantly. He served in the Congress without pay, and his family was kept in hiding. His possessions were taken from him, and poverty was his reward.
  • At the Battle of Yorktown, Thomas Nelson, Jr., noted that the British General Cornwallis, had taken over the Nelson home for his headquarters. The owner quietly urged General George Washington to open fire, which was done. The home was destroyed, and Nelson died bankrupt.
  • Francis Lewis had his home and properties destroyed. The enemy jailed his wife and she died within a few months.
  • John Hart was driven from his wife’s bedside as she was dying. Their thirteen children fled for their lives. His fields and gristmill were laid waste. For more than a year he lived in forests and caves, returning home after the war to find his wife dead, his children vanished. A few weeks later he died from exhaustion and a broken heart.

“Such were the stories and sacrifices of the American Revolution. Standing tall, straight and unwavering, they pledged: ‘For the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of the Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other, our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.’    They made these sacrifices to give us an independent America.”

<Retrieved from http://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-michael-mccartney-quotes-price-62259.asp on 2/19/16.>

Jesus gave His life on the cross to give us salvation.  Are our love and obedience too much to ask in return?

  1. Jesus is our example of endurance.

Paul offers three reasons why we should take Jesus as our example.

First, our focus needs to shift: LET US FIX OUR EYES ON JESUS (v. 2).  Life’s difficulties tend to seem or actually become worse the more attention we pay to ourselves.  On the other hand, solutions present themselves, strength returns, and courage is renewed when we pay more attention to Jesus.  We need to “fix” our eyes on Jesus so we can “fix” the problems we’re facing.

Second, we need to remember Jesus’ role.  He is THE AUTHOR & PERFECTER OF OUR FAITH (v. 2).  Jesus is the AUTHOR of our faith in the sense that our life of faith begins with Him.  If He hadn’t loved us first and best, we’d have nothing of eternity in us.

However, Jesus doesn’t get us started and abandon us to our own devices.  He is also the PERFECTER of our faith.  That means He continues with us throughout the journey of life, working to perfect us, making us more like Himself.

Third, when we think about it, following Jesus makes the most sense; that’s why we must CONSIDER HIM (v. 3).  CONSIDER is one of three Greek words that are found only in this passage.  This is something special.

This whole passage is an athletic scene, so Jesus is our coach.  We respond positively to our coach’s training and duplicate the things he has demonstrated for us.  We follow his example.

Additionally, the best athletes do not rely on their physical talents alone.  They also play smart, learning the game, accepting the coach’s training; they are strategizing their way to victory, using their mental as well as their physical assets.

One of the many noteworthy aspects of Jesus’ character is His joy.  In this passage is juxtaposed next to the horrific suffering He endured before and during crucifixion.  The phrase, FOR THE JOY SET BEFORE HIM, is  key to our study. It seems incredible to think that JOY was enough of motive to endure all that pain & shame.  Jesus did more than survive the cross; he triumphed over it.  In Colossians 2:15 the Apostle Paul also wrote, HAVING DISARMED THE POWERS AND AUTHORITIES, HE MADE A PUBLIC SPECTACLE OF THEM, TRIUMPHING OVER THEM BY THE CROSS.

We’ve answered why Jesus endured the cross; JOY.  But how did He do it?  Paul offers two partial answers.

One, He ENDURED THE CROSS.  Like an athlete who endures enormous pain and exertion, Jesus outlasted the cross.  Willpower is power a power we can access through our human nature, augmented by the Holy Spirit.  A purpose of the Gethsemane scenes in the Gospels is to show that He was determined to be obedient, to follow through and do the entire will of God.  The temptation to quit is always strongest when we are at our weakest.  But Jesus never quit on the Father’s plan.  He “gutted it out.”

Two, He scorned ITS SHAME.  An oft-quoted proverb says, “pride comes before a fall.”  But pride can also cut short your effort and cause you to quit before you’re far enough in to fall.  Pride and fear and keep a person from starting at all!  I mention pride here because the cross was, in the culture of the Jews, the most disgraceful way to die.  As if dying wasn’t bad enough, dying disgracefully is worse.  But Jesus scorned all that.  He didn’t care.  Pride was swept away by the flood of obedience.

What source of JOY was so great that it motivated all this?  Glory.  Not in the usual sense of that term, nothing like receiving an “Oscar,” but in a far greater, more true and spiritual sense of glory as being the presence of God.  The cross was the threshold that Jesus crossed for the JOY of being restored to heaven.  It was reunion with the Father and the Spirit in relationship that had not fully existed since the moment of becoming enfleshed more than 33 years ago.

After the cross, Jesus got to sit down AT THE RIGHT HAND OF THE THRONE OF GOD (v. 2).  The greatest sacrifice merited the greatest honor. (See Philippians 2:5-11, where Paul described the same thing.)

We’ve all experienced the kind of joy that comes when your hard work and sacrifice are appreciated and honored.  That sensation of joyous satisfaction is a tiny scale sample of the JOY that motivated Jesus.

Another amazing thing is that Jesus shares His JOY with all of His people.  We too will experience – in our much smaller scale – the suffering Jesus experienced.  If we remain faithful as He was faithful, we will be glorified by eternal life in the presence of God.  WOW!  If that doesn’t motivate you to patiently endure suffering, trusting in God, then something’s wrong.

  1. Following His example enables us to endure.

JOY is not easily obtained or maintained.  There are  challenges we face that can rob us of our joy, or, if we overcome them, can become sources of joy.  Jesus’ threshold to joy was the cross.  Our crosses can be very typical experiences.  Paul provides four examples.

The first is EVERYTHING THAT HINDERS (v. 1).  This is the only time this Greek word is used in the New Testament; it refers to any kind of encumbrance that slows our progress in faith.  I would say that HINDERS is a symbol of self-inflicted wounds:

– Distractions we allow when we should be praying.

– Worldly things that seem more interesting to read than the Bible.

– Placing ourselves in circumstances that tempt us to sin.

– Discouragements that come with false guilt.

– Clogging our schedule with over-commitment.

– Stuff we chose but don’t need and is detrimental.

The second is THE SIN THAT ENTANGLES (v. 1).  This Greek word is also unique in the New Testament, which may indicate Paul is working hard to describe these truths.  In this case, I picture a runner who’s got tangled up with a hurdle.  That usually ends poorly!

The third is OPPOSITION FROM SINFUL MEN (v. 3).  We learn that bullies do not disappear the moment we outgrow the schoolyard.  The truth is that there are just mean, evil people in the world.  They may be motivated to oppose us out of spite or to persecute us for our faith.  Whatever their motive, our response to all who declare themselves our enemy is to refuse to retaliate.  We will have a more joyful life is we will strive to consider others our friends and treat them accordingly.

The fourth is growing WEARY and then losing HEART (v. 3).  The word WEARY is another word picture in the Greek; it is the exhausted athlete who does not give up. The word for losing heart literally means the unstringing of a bow.   There’s not much use for an unstrung bow, is there? It’s hard to be useful or even feel useful when you’ve given up.

But there are very good reasons to endure; Paul wrote about three.

One, WE ARE SURROUNDED BY A GREAT CLOUD OF WITNESSES (v. 1).  Suffering can be hard to endure at all; having to endure it alone is harder.   Good news!  You are not alone.  Most importantly, God is with you.  Secondly, your brothers and sisters are with you.  Thirdly, our brothers and sisters who have preceded us in death witness to us by the examples they have set.  Continuing the sports analogies in these verses, the CLOUD OF WITNESSES is like the cheering fans in the stands.

Two, we have Jesus’ example to follow (v. 2).  We don’t have to make this stuff up.  We have an example to follow, a template to use to guide us in living this life on God’s path.

Three, we have hope to strengthen our weary hearts (v. 3).  When we are discouraged and feel disheartened, we should CONSIDER all Jesus endured to give us this life.  It’s certain that whatever you and I face, it will not rise to the level of what Jesus overcame.

More importantly, hope motivates us to overcome.  As we’ve seen, the substance of our hope is that we will we find glory on the other side of misery, just as Jesus did.

Finally, let’s note what we must do.  Note the verbs:

We must THROW OFF hindrances and entanglements (v. 1).  It may sound goofy, but one measure of a person’s character is what they throw away.  Those are clearly the items they found they could live without.  I’m talking to spiritual and physical hoarders here: If we haven’t used it for God’s Kingdom in the last three months, GET RID OF IT!

We must RUN WITH PERSEVERENCE THE RACE MARKED OUT FOR US (v. 1).  To RUN WITH PERSEVERENCE simply means we don’t stop running.  Finish the race.  Keep moving.  Don’t worry about how far away the finish line is, just concern yourself with finishing the race.  Perseverance and patience are some of the hardest things to learn in life because we can only learn them the hard way.  Only by experience.

We’re all running in a RACE.  We often describe life as a race, even a “rat race.”  God did not use the metaphor of a RACE to discourage us, but to encourage us.  How is thinking about life as a “race” encouraging?

– We have a crowd in the stands encouraging us, urging us on to the finish line.

– It’s not a competitive race. All those who finish get the ultimate prize.

– There is a finish line. Every problem we face, no matter how long we have to face it, is temporary.  It will not join you on the other side of the finish line!

Obedience and holiness are running THE RACE MARKED OUT BEFORE US.  In the ultimate sense, this is not our race.  It is God’s.  He is the one who MARKED it OUT.  We follow His will, His path through life, not our own.  That also means we run for His sake, not our own.  Our life is not our own any more, it is His.  These facts ought to motivate us to keep running.

We must FIX OUR EYES ON JESUS (v. 2).  This is like setting your sight on the horizon while driving.  Your hands follow your eyes; it’s just human nature.  There’s a spiritual corollary as well.  Our heart follows where are eyes are fixed.  We fix our eyes on what’s really important to us, and our heart follows.

We must CONSIDER the example He set for us (v. 3).  In order to be able to follow Jesus’ example, we have to know what Jesus said and taught.  The Bible is our source of information about Jesus, so we must study it.

Of course, studying the life of Jesus isn’t the complete thing.  Knowledge alone isn’t enough.  We must live the life of Jesus, being transformed into a reflection of Jesus Christ.  We must be Jesus in word and deed.

“The story is told of a farmhand who had worked for a married couple for several years. As time went on, the couple grew older and older and they couldn’t do as much they had and the farm was beginning to look a little shabby. The paint on the barn was peeling. The fences had holes in them and slats were loose. The gravel road had potholes in it. Shingles on top of the farmhouse were beaten and weathered and needed replacing. But as the farmhand made his way to milk the cows each day, he thought: ‘What is that to me? It’s not my farm.’

“Then, one day the farmer and his wife asked him to come for dinner. They told him how much he had meant to them.  They told him that they had no children to inherit the farm, so they wanted to give it to HIM when they died.

“The next day, the farmhand was walking to the nursing barn, he noticed the paint on the barn. In a few days he’d painted the barn and fixed the fence, and in the next few weeks he was putting a new roof on the farmhouse and putting new gravel on the road.

“Why would he do that? What made the difference in his attitude? He was now an heir. And as a Son he began to treat the old farm different than he ever had before.

“And so it is with us. We are heirs to the Kingdom of God. And because we are heirs we have the joy of knowing that what we do, we do because of the fabulous gift of salvation our Father has given us. (From a sermon by Jeff Strite, entitled, “Beyond Servanthood” 8/26/2012)

<Retrieved from http://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-sermon-central-staff-stories-co-heirswithchrist-heirsofgod-servanthood-83733.asp on 2/19/16.>

An Unexpected Source of Strength

(Please read Nehemiah 8 in your favorite Bible.  The NIrV is cited in the following article.)

God gives joy as a source of strength.

In her book, Simple Words of Wisdom, Penelope J. Stokes described a scene in the 1997 film Amistad.  The movie recounts the true story of how a group of Africans who were illegally taken as slaves, escaped their bonds and took over the slavers’ ship.  They tried to return home, but were captured and brought to America where a legal battle occurred over whether they were property or not, and whose property they were.  A personage no less than John Quincy Adams argued for their freedom before the United States Supreme Court.

The scene to which Stokes referred is one that had a bit of humor in this very dramatic tale.  While the various sides were arguing about their fate in court, the Africans beheld a sight strange to their eyes – a group of Abolitionist Christians gathered to pray for them.  This group of men and women got on their knees, bowed their heads, and began to pray.

Seeing this, one of the Africans said, “It’s some sort of dance.”

“It can’t be,” another responded, “they look too miserable to be dancing.”  From that point on in the movie, the former slaves referred to the Christians as “The Miserable Ones.”

Stokes wrote that people in the theater laughed at that scene.  What makes me unhappy about it is my suspicion that people found that funny because they already shared that viewpoint.  In secular culture, Christians are seen as The Miserable Ones, judgmental and unfriendly.  This is, of course, to be blamed on bad theology in the Church, which places more value on being right than being righteous, on holiness without love, a graceless and mirthless misrepresentation of the Bible.  Here’s the truth: Joy is a sign of the reality of our faith.  It should be our characteristic emotion.

CRUNCHING THE NUMBERS:

A Comparison of Biblical Mentions of these Contrasting Emotions

JOY (218)

(With cognates enjoy (39), enjoyed (9), enjoying (3), enjoyment (4), enjoys (3), joyful (16), joyous (1), joyfully (11), overjoyed (5), rejoice (133), rejoiced (16), rejoices (18), rejoicing (24) and synonyms happy (24), happier (3), happiness (6), pleasant (20), pleasantness (1), please (115), pleased (78), pleases (40), pleasing (58), pleasure (34), pleasures (6), delight (69), delighted (15), delightful (4), delighting (1), delights (21), mirth (1).)

GRAND TOTAL on the SMILE side: 991.

SORROW (36)

(With cognates sorrowful (3), sorrows (4), sorry (2) and similar words like sober (2), serious (8), seriousness (1), grief (33), griefs (1), grievance (2), grieve (18), grieved (22), grieves (1), grieving (3), grievous (7), sad (9), saddened (1), sadness (1), distress (84), distressed (24), distresses (2), distressing (1), contrite (4), remorse (1), penitent (1), affliction (21), afflictions (5), woe (102), woes (2), dejected (2), adversity (2).)

GRAND TOTAL on the FROWN side: 367.

  1. The problem: a lack of joy steals our strength.

Their problem: the reading of the Law intimidated the Israelites.

First, some background on their situation.  The situation: because of their disobedience the people of Judah had experienced 70 years of captivity in a foreign country; Babylon.  In spite of pressures to conform to that foreign culture, they kept their spiritual and ethnic purity.  Just as God promised, they were freed and allowed to return to Jerusalem, to rebuild the ruined city of Jerusalem.  The Old Testament books of Ezra and Nehemiah detail the challenges the returning remnant faced trying to rebuild their city and nation.  Our passage takes place after the rebuilding of the walls, which sparked a renewal of interest in returning to their lost faith & rebuilding the temple.

Second, as the passage makes clear repeatedly, it was the reading of the word of God (THE LAW OF MOSES) that was at the center of this movement.  The people had an emotional (see verse nine), visceral reaction to the word; they took it seriously.  More importantly, they obeyed what they heard.  More on that later.

Our problem: we see joy as a benefit, not as a necessity.  Well, that’s half right.  Joy is a benefit.  It is something God gives to His people who will read His word, learn His will, and obey it.

But that’s not all: joy is necessary for life.  Not all people are naturally joyful, but joy is a mark of spiritual maturity for everyone.  Joy is not an “unrealistic” attitude or an avoidance of problems, but it is, instead, the reward for overcoming them in as positive a way as possible.

My problem: I let adversity get me down.  I mistakenly think that trials are the typical situation and joy the exception.  I focus on the problems and fail to see the solutions or the benefits.

  1. God used the leaders to encourage His people.

Ezra, Nehemiah, and the Levites corrected their understanding of the word and lead them in worship.  It is clear in verses seven and eight that the leaders were doing more than just reading the Word of God to the people; they were explaining it and enlarging their understanding.

Worship was part of the people’s response.  They feasted and observed the Festival of Booths all in the way God commanded (see verse eighteen).

If we support our leaders, we create a more joyous environment.  Negativity most often exists to serve selfish purposes, not divine.  It steals our joy and makes us nervous about our relationships.  In this passage, the people were attentive to the godly leadership they were receiving and supported their initiatives.  For example, it says in verse three that they built A STAGE so that their leaders could address the people.

How about me?  As a leader, am I characterized by joy?  Here are four questions that can be used to evaluate one’s own “joy quotient.”

– Do I look for and focus on the good in persons and situations?

– Do I live in the present moment, not dominated about regrets from the past or anxiety about the future?

– Do I laugh easily, deeply, and often?

– Do I value my relationships more highly than getting my way?

  1. The people responded with obedience and received joy.

They observed the feast and Festival of Booths.  Generally speaking, it’s easy to get people to join a party.  But they partied God’s way.

The Festival of Booths (“Tabernacles” or “Ingathering”) was commanded in Exodus 23:16. It was both an agricultural (firstfruits of harvest) and religious (a reminder of what it was like for Israel to live in tents for 40 years). It was also the end of the year in the Jewish calendar. These were understandable occasions for joy among God’s people, celebrations of the life of faith.

Turn your attention to your group – your business, family, or church – ask: are we characterized by joy?

We all come to understand that life is a mixture of emotions; sometimes joy, sometimes sorrow.  We also understand that one circumstance can create simultaneous feelings of joy and sorrow. (The older I become, the more often I’m mixed up!)  So when we note in this text that the people’s first reaction after understanding the LAW, was to weep, we can sympathize.  We’re not told why they were weeping, but it seems likely that when they heard the righteous demands of the Law, when they understood and felt the extreme contrast between God’s holiness and their sin, they despaired.  Their sorrow was regret for their failure to obey and the failure of their ancestors.

Whatever the reason for their weeping, you will notice the counterpoint, the multiple affirmations of joy:

– V. 9 = Sadness does not honor God. Also v. 10 = “THIS DAY IS HOLY, SO DON’T BE SAD.” Regret over sin and quiet reverence can be part of worship, but sadness is not.  Perhaps this is because it is contrary to faith in God who works everything out for our good.

– V. 10 is our key verse, with three affirmations.

– “GO AND ENJOY SOME GOOD FOOD AND SWEET DRINKS.” = It was a day of feasting, not fasting.

– “SEND SOME TO PEOPLE WHO DON’T HAVE ANY.” = Service – not selfishness – is a source of joy.

– “THE JOY OF THE LORD MAKES YOU STRONG.” = Joy makes us strong in every way.  It is empowering.

– V. 12 = They feasted and CELEBRATED WITH GREAT JOY.

– V. 17 = THEY HADN’T CELEBRATED THE FEAST WITH SO MUCH JOY FOR A LONG TIME. THEIR JOY WAS VERY GREAT.

Get the message?  God gave them joy as approval of their obedience and worship!

Where do I need to be more obedient to God? The bottom line is obedience.  We must obey God’s commands to us.

– First, it is the way we love Him.

– Second, it is the source of our joy.

Obedience can be motivated by duty or responsibility, but it is at its best and highest when we obey because it gives us JOY.

Too often people reject Christianity as sour and negative.  How sad.  How much responsibility do I bear for that characterization?  God is my constant companion and heaven is my destination!  No earthly sorrow can compare with that!  We ought to wear a genuine smile and radiate a transcendent joy that demonstrates the true STRENGTH of our faith!

  1. JOY is STRENGTH because…

It comes from our relationship with God.

It comes from our relationships with one another.

It encourages and empowers us to dream & dare.

It is contagious in a positive way.

It is an outward sign of spiritual maturity.

It helps us endure difficult seasons and motivates us to overcome obstacles.

It contributes to physical and mental well-being.

Of course, communicating this understanding of joy is a challenge, but that’s something every believer experiences.  Most commonly, we see this in the Sunday School classroom.  For instance, there was a teacher of a junior high class who was trying to illustrate what was meant by the word “miracle.”

“Boys and girls,” he said, “Suppose I stood on the roof of a ten story building, lost my balance and fell off.  Then all of a sudden, in mid-air, a whirlwind swept me up and brought me safely to the ground.  What word would you use to describe this?”

After an uncomfortable silence, a boy raised his hand and ventured a guess, “Luck?”

“Ah, it could be luck,” the teacher conceded.  “But that’s not the word I wanted.  I’ll repeat the story.  There I am on top of the ten-story building again, and I fall.  A whirlwind catches me in mid-air and places me safely on the ground.  Think now, what word would describe the situation?”

“Accident!” cried one girl.

“No, no,” answered the teacher.  “Listen carefully for the third time.  I’m on that same building, I fall and am swept to safety by a sudden whirlwind.  What word would account for my safely reaching the ground?”

The boy and the girl said, “Practice!”

Let me suggest to you that “practice” is the answer if joy is the question.  We must practice obedience to God first.  Then we must practice seeing ourselves and the world around us as God sees us.  Then we must practice the joy that will inevitably come when we have done the first two things.

God the Father Rejoiced

(Please read John 12:20-36.   My quotations are from the NIV.)

MESSAGE: By an audible voice, God the Father expressed His satisfaction with Jesus and His ministry.

In December 2010, a church erected a Nativity scene in their yard. One night, the folks came across the scene pictured in your message notes. An abandoned dog was looking for a comfortable, protected place to sleep. He chose baby Jesus as his comfort. No one had the heart to send him away so he was there all night.

doggie nativity      We should all have the good sense of this dog and curl up in Jesus’ lap from time to time. And did you notice that the dog is a “Shepherd”? Inspired by this photo I’ve written a new Christmas carol. I call it, “A Stray in a Manger.”

 

 

  1. The occasion was not particularly joyful.

The context: some Greeks wanted to see Jesus (20-22).  They were likely Gentile converts to the Jewish faith, as they were AMONG THOSE WHO WENT UP TO WORSHIP AT THE FEAST (20).  Philip is a Greek name, so they may have decided to approach him as a kindred spirit.  “WE WOULD LIKE TO SEE JESUS,” they asked (21).  For some reason, this had to go to committee, but ultimately the request was approved (22).

No doubt part of the buzz-kill was Jesus’ prediction of His death: HE SAID THIS TO SHOW THE KIND OF DEATH HE WAS GOING TO DIE (33).  Jesus used an illustration of a kernel of wheat (24-26).  The planting of a seed is a symbol of burial; the germination of the seed is a symbol of resurrection (24).  Jesus warned them that in like manner, He would be killed and raised to life (32).  He went on to explain a general principle that gaining eternal life requires sacrificing this life (25).  It’s a matter of priorities.  In v. 26, Jesus applied that principle to those who would be His disciples.  There is no true discipleship where a person does not follow Jesus.  God will bless everyone who follows Jesus.

And yet, His heart was TROUBLED (27-28).  This sounds a lot like the inner struggle Jesus had in the Garden of Gethsemane, prior to His arrest.  (Interestingly, the Gospel of John does not record Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane, so this is it for John.)  Verse 28 is an apt summary of the purpose of Jesus’ ministry; to GLORIFY the NAME of God the Father.

– To GLORIFY means to draw attention to God, to worship Him and encourage others to do the same.

– The reference to God’s NAME includes His character & purpose. It’s a different way of referring to God Himself.

  1. God the Father expressed His approval.

Jesus saw His death as His time to be GLORIFIED (23).  The purpose of the cross is to make God known, to bring people to Him so they can be saved.  Jesus was GLORFIED because of His obedience to the will of God.  This means that He was identified with God the Father.  Of course, they are as one.

In this, Jesus gives us an example to follow.  If we will faithfully obey God’s will, we show that we are truly His children with a heavenly home and rewards.

God the Father affirmed Jesus with His words (28).  This is our key verse.  It is here that we see the joy of the Father expressed in His complete satisfaction with the work and person of God the Son.  In each case, the purpose of the voice is to confirm the identity of Jesus as God the Son and to affirm that His message is true.

This is the third time in the Gospels where God the Father speaks from heaven.  Each of these occasions represents a turning point in the ministry of Jesus, a time when additional affirmation was needed.

– Jesus’ Baptism was the beginning of His public ministry. We can use extra support getting started.

– Jesus’ Transfiguration was the turning point when Jesus’ steps began to lead to the cross.

– This occasion is John’s version of the Garden of Gethsemane. This would be a time when confirmation and affirmation would be especially necessary.

Jesus’ mission – and ours – is to lead people to God.  We do this by following His example of sacrifice and by grace.

  1. Some didn’t get it, so Jesus explained it to them.

People who heard the voice had different reactions to it.  Some didn’t even hear it as a voice; they thought it was THUNDER.  Others did not understand that it was the voice of God the Father; they attributed it to an ANGEL instead.

It is clear in v. 29 that they were questioning this teaching.  Maybe they just didn’t understand and/or maybe they didn’t WANT to understand.  In vs. 30-32 He rephrased His teaching, restating it in different terms.

He said, “THIS VOICE WAS FOR YOUR BENEFIT, NOT MINE (30).”  Because He was in close fellowship with the Father (14:10), Jesus was constantly aware of the Father’s approval.  However, no one else was aware of this and so God the Father spoke from heaven to let them know clearly that He was fully satisfied with Jesus.

Jesus elaborated, “NOW IS THE TIME FOR JUDGMENT (31).”  THIS WORLD will soon be judged.  Unlike the Son, all of us will be found wanting, falling short of God’s standard.  The only way to avoid judgment against you is to accept Jesus as your Savior and follow Him all the days of your life.

A result of that judgment is that THE PRINCE OF THIS WORLD WILL BE

DRIVEN OUT; there will be no room for the devil or his followers in heaven. Jesus warned them not to be found a member of the wrong team when Judgment Day arrives.

The reference to being LIFTED UP in v. 32 is clearly about Jesus’ crucifixion.  By means of His death on the cross, Jesus drew all people to a saving relationship with God the Father.  Why say this?  The text explains, HE SAID THIS TO SHOW THE KIND OF DEATH HE WAS GOING TO DIE (33).  Jesus warned the about Judgment Day and the means to avoid the righteous wrath of God the Father that will be poured out on all wickedness on that day.

Some refused to understand; even so, further explanation was given them (34-36).  Truth is, they only knew enough Scripture to be dangerous.  What they thought they knew was that when he appeared, the Messiah would lift forever.  They understood Jesus to say that the Son of Man was going to be killed (LIFTED UP).  These two facts did not square up and in v. 34, they asked him who he meant by the SON OF MAN.

Jesus’ answer (35-36) was couched in symbolism and His response was to give them a taste of what life would be like without Him around.  He is the LIGHT.  Just as it is easier to walk in the light than in the darkness, so it is easier to navigate life in general with the illumination of Jesus guiding our steps.

After that, the text says, Jesus not only LEFT them, but also HID FROM them!  He provided these people with the opportunity to experience firsthand the things He had just taught them!

Here are a couple of news stories that form a commentary on the sad condition of American culture:

Entire School District Closed Over Calligraphy Lesson

By Arden Dier, Newser Staff                                                                                             Posted Dec 18, 2015 7:01 AM CST

           (Newser) – Students of Augusta County Public Schools in central Virginia are enjoying an early winter break thanks to outrage over a lesson in Arabic calligraphy. During a world geography unit on Islam on Dec. 11, Riverheads High School teacher Cheryl LaPorte asked students to practice calligraphy by copying an Islamic statement of faith known as the shahada. Some refused, with at least one parent calling the lesson “indoctrination.”

The Virginia Department of Education and Superintendent Eric Bond found her lesson involving the shahada met state standards and didn’t violate students’ rights because they weren’t asked to “translate it, recite it, or otherwise adopt or pronounce it as a personal belief.” (The translation: “There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.”)   However, an abundance of “profane” and “hateful” calls and emails followed, says a sheriff. Based on the “tone and content” of the communications, the district on Thursday announced the Friday closure. School officials say a non-religious sample of Arabic calligraphy will be used in the Islam unit in the future.

< Retrieved from http://www.newser.com/story/217726/entire-school-district-closed-over-calligraphy-lesson.html?utm_source=8at8&utm_medium=email&utm_content=2188322&utm_campaign=20151218 on 12/18/15.>

Kentucky School Edits Christmas Play to Remove Bible Passage; Protests Ensue

Bill Young byoung@waaytv.com

The scene in “A Charlie Brown Christmas” where the character Linus quotes from the Bible has been cut from an elementary school production.  In the Charlie Brown play, as well as the classic TV special, Linus said, “Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in the manger. And suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, ‘glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace, good will toward men.”

That is the part being cut from the play.

The Superintendent of Johnson County Schools said that Christmas programs district-wide were being edited for any religious references.  He also said that past performances where religious references were made lead to complaints to the district.

The decision lead to protests outside the district administration building. Despite the anger, the superintendent told CNN that he checked with the district attorney who advised the changes be made to honor law that requires separation of church and state.

<Retrieved from http://www.waaytv.com/appnews/kentucky-school-edits-christmas-play-to-remove-bible-passage-protests/article_81fd263c-a519-11e5-8827-e33cba797e4f.html on 12/18/15.>

It’s remarkable how convenient the doctrine of the separation of church and state can be, isn’t it? Our objective as Christian citizens should be to ensure a level playing field, a uniform application of the doctrine of separation.  This nonsense of Islam receiving favorable attention and Christianity being ignored is nothing like a level playing field.  We must be vigilant and assertive without being offensive.  Especially in this Advent season, the world needs us to reflect the light of Jesus Christ.

The Magi Rejoiced

(Please read Matthew 2:1-12 in your Bible.  I have used the NIV to prepare the following remarks.)

MESSAGE: The joy of the Magi resulted in worship and giving. May we follow their example.

Headline: “President Of European Parliament: Christians Most Persecuted Group, Not Safe In Europe”

By Taylor Tyler | Dec 04, 2015 11:57 AM EST

Christians are “clearly the most persecuted group” in the world, and Europe cannot afford to continue ignoring the breach of their fundamental rights, the President of the European Parliament (EP) said Wednesday in a high-level meeting on religious persecution in Brussels.

EP President and German MEP Martin Schulz said the persecution of Christians is “undervalued,” does not receive enough attention, and “hasn’t been properly addressed,” according to Breitbart.

“I can assure you that Parliament will make its contribution wherever it can to protect Christians,” Schulz said, according to Church Times. “Persecution is happening outside the EU, but we can’t afford to ignore it. All of us, particularly in the EP, are aware that dialogue and mutual respect are needed. Fundamental rights are under great threat today and persecution of a religion.”

EP Vice President Antonio Tajani, an Italian MEP in the Parliament’s European People’s Party (Christian Democrats), echoed the concerns of Schulz, warning that Europe sometimes “falls into the temptation of thinking we can ignore” the task of protecting persecuted Christians.

Tajani cited a new report from Open Doors that found that “Islamic extremism is by far the most significant persecution engine” of Christians and that “40 of the 50 countries on the World Watch List are affected by this kind of persecution.”

“Every month at least 200 churches or places of worship are attacked. Every day, in every region of our planet, we register new cases of systemic violence and persecution against Christians. No other religious community is faced with such hatred, violence, and aggression as is the Christian community,” Tajani said.

He claimed that more than 70 percent of Christians have fled Iraq since 2003 due to Islamic persecution, with another 700,000 Christians being displaced in Syria since the start of the civil war.

“The West must break the silence on the persecution of Christians in the world,” said Tajani, and Europe must establish “a model of society in opposition to religious radicalism and brutal and criminal projects, such as creating an Islamic caliphate in Iraq and Syria and then extending its tentacles into to Libya,” reported Breitbart.

“It should shake us up, that on our continent, Christians are not safe,” Schulz said.

Tajani also said that he was convinced that the battle against religious extremism can only be won with the help of religion. “No one may, in fact, forget that in all the great monotheistic religions life, a gift of God the Creator, has sacred value. In the name of religion, we have an obligation to condemn all those who show contempt for life and kill in the name of God. Who shoots in the name of God, shoot against God,” he said, according to EU News.

Copyright @ Headlines & Global News.

(Retrieved from http://www.hngn.com/articles/157094/20151204/president-european-parliament-christians-persecuted-group-safe-europe.htm on 12/11/15.)

In today’s post we’ll see how people from the East travelled to see the infant Jesus.  It’s a sad irony of our time that same region of the world is a focus of persecution of followers of Jesus Christ, as the article above proves.  While we actively protect ourselves and our fellow believers, one thing we must guard is our joy.  Joy that comes from God is terror-proof.

  1. The Magi volunteered (1-8).

They volunteered to seek out the newborn King (vs. 1-2).  Notice that they don’t ask IF a king has been born, but WHERE the newborn king is.  These men were confident enough about their prediction to undertake a long and dangerous journey and come to find out the details.

There’s been lots of speculation on who the Magi were.  What the text tells us for certain is that they were astronomers; “WE SAW HIS STAR IN THE EAST” (v. 2).  The timing of the visit of the Magi can be a little confusing.  The STAR appeared on the day of Jesus’ birth.  A trip from anywhere considered EAST would have taken several weeks.  So the STAR started them on their journey but they completed the trip with their arrival in Bethlehem up to 2 years after Jesus’ birth (this based on Herod’s “slaughter of the innocents” in Matthew 2:16-18).

However, the STAR did not guide them to Jerusalem; logic did.  If you’re looking for a new king, the logical place to start looking is in the capitol city.  Ancient Roman historians tell us that people from many different cultures were looking for a king to appear among the Jews.  It was a question to which many learned men had devoted study. This came about as Jews travelled and lived in places across the Roman Empire and took their expectation of a Messiah with them, sharing that with their neighbors.  In Roman culture, heavenly phenomena always accompanied the birth or death of a king.  They believed, for example, that a comet appeared at the time of the death of Julius Caesar.  Stars and other heavenly phenomena were widely believed to both reveal and influence human events, similar to people’s belief in astrology today.

In Greek culture, the word MAGI was either an insult, referring to frauds who used illusions to convince superstitious folk they had “powers” (that is how Luke used it) or to learned men who were trained in astrology and other arcane subjects, advisors to kings on supernatural matters (that is how Matthew used it).  It doesn’t really matter which these men were because Matthew’s emphasis is on the Holy Birth, not these messengers.  He offers their visit as evidence that Jesus fulfilled Scripture and was recognized as the KING OF THE JEWS; just not by His own people.  Their identity as MAGI, their origin in the EAST, and their superficial familiarity with Old Testament prophecy are clues that these Magi were not Jews.

The motive they gave for their search: “WE HAVE COME TO WORSHIP HIM” (v. 2).  This is the honest truth.  We know this because that’s exactly what they did when they found the newborn King (v. 11).  But I wonder what else motivated them.  It seems like a lot of trouble to satisfy some intellectual curiosity.  Did they hope to gain influence in the court of the new king?  Did they misunderstand the sign and think BORN meant coronated?  In some ancient cultures, a king’s “birthday” was his coronation day.

Their arrival turned Jerusalem upside down (vs. 3-8).  WHEN KING HEROD HEARD THIS HE WAS DISTURBED, AND ALL JERUSALEM WITH HIM (v. 3).  Why?

– Herod ruthlessly guarded his power. He would have been DISTURBED because this news would’ve been seen as a threat to his rule.

– He had been on the throne for more than 30 years by this time and history shows that his reign would not last much longer.

– As seen by his senseless slaughter of all the ale children of Bethlehem later in this chapter, Herod willingly resorted to any steps that removed rivals to his throne.

OK, that’s easy enough to see. But why was ALL JERSUALEM disturbed along with Herod?

– The people might’ve joined Herod in his worry because of a variation on the old saying, “If the king ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” Herod was bloodthirsty and widely feared.

– They were excited to think that the promise of the Messiah would finally be fulfilled.

– They might have been afraid because every change of authority brought bloodshed and turmoil; Herod’s especially.

– The appearance of such a caravan of distinguished persons, even in a city, would cause a sensation of gossip. The MAGI may’ve started asking the minute they arrived at the city gates and from there word would’ve spread rapidly.

In response to this growing “threat,” Herod put together a staff to answer the magi’s question and they way he conducted this matter demonstrated political savvy (vs. 4-8).  Herod was vicious, but he was also capable of some subtlety.  We see this in v. 4 where he asks the religious leaders where the CHRIST would be born, not the KING OF THE JEWS.  He was trying to make this look like a religious symposium, not a political investigation.  Herod realized the CHRIST and the KING OF THE JEWS would be the same person, though this may have been a popular belief.

This group was not the ruling members of the Jews, but an “invitation-only” assembly of scholars and students of Scripture.  They arrive at the correct answer: BETHLEHEM IN JUDEA. Interestingly, their quotation of Micah 5:2 is not correct.  It’s a melding of Micah 5:2 and 2 Samuel 5:2.  If we assume the Jewish scholars are at fault and not Matthew, then it raises the interesting question of why they misquoted it.  This may indicate their use of a different translation than the ones that survived to our day, or that they deliberately misquoted it.  If they are deliberately misquoting it, I assume they are doing so out of fear of Herod.  This was one king you didn’t make angry, for fear of your life.

We see more of Herod’s careful political maneuvering in vs. 7+8.  He did not put the Magi and the scholars together, but kept them apart, so that neither side would know what the others were doing.  The word SECRETLY is an important clue, evidence of Herod giving both sides the “mushroom treatment.”

Herod questioned the Magi first, looking for exact information about the STAR (v. 7).

This was not necessary to answer their question, for he already had the answer in hand, but was expedient for his later violent actions. Their information was useful for determining the age of the newborn KING OF THE JEWS.

This is a way of throwing academics off the scent of your real purpose; get them started talking about their favorite subject and they become wrapped up in the sound of their own voice and forget all else.  Herod got information and allayed suspicions.

After this one-sided exchange of information, Herod ordered them to go to Bethlehem, search out the child, and then report back to him.  In that way, he used the magi as unwitting spies to protect his throne (v. 8).  Bethlehem was just 6 miles from Jerusalem.  Being so close, Herod had to tread lightly or give away his plan to assassinate the newborn King.  That is part of the reason he deceived the Magi and used them as proxy spies.

Obviously, Herod had no interest in worshiping the child.  His intent was to secretly send a squad of soldiers to assassinate the newborn after the MAGI had departed and also out of the knowledge of the people.  This is nothing new or out of character for Herod; ancient historians tell us that he invited his own son, Aristobolus, to the palace for a meal and had him drown in the royal bath afterward.  To the world, he feigned grief at the awful “accident.”

  1. The Magi rejoiced (v. 9-11).

They were OVERJOYED to see the star again and it led them to the newborn King (vs. 9-10).  Following the directions from Herod , they set out from Jerusalem and headed south. However, after they left the city, the Magi got their direction by following the star.  By its guidance, they found THE PLACE WHERE THE CHILD WAS.  There have been lots of attempts over the years to explain this star.  That’s OK, but clearly this STAR is not something astronomy can explain.  The fact that it led them to the very place WHERE THE CHILD WAS is important.  I cannot imagine any natural heavenly body being that specific. It’s a miracle.  Period.

The fact that they followed a STAR means that they travelled to Bethlehem at night.  This would be advantageous for Herod, who wanted to keep the whole thing as secret as he could.  Maybe he “suggested” it.

The point is found in the words THEY SAW.  These Magi had a personal experience of the Christ.  Likewise, our faith has to be a personal experience, not just intellectual agreement with theological particulars.

Their reaction?  They were OVERJOYED.  Again, the Greek word is more emotional than the English; this could be translated, “they joyed a great joy, very much.”  This is great excitement, not cool satisfaction.  When was the last time you got that excited about anything?

There are three demonstrations of the Magi’s joy in v. 11: they BOWED DOWN…WORSHIPED HIM…PRESENTED HIM WITH GIFTS.  In the shepherds, baby Jesus was recognized and honored by His own people, the Jews.  In the Magi, honor was bestowed by Gentiles.

They worshiped Him and gave Him gifts (v. 11).  Did they worship Him as a king or as God?  It is safe to assume the MAGI did not WORSHIP Jesus in the same way as we do or for the same reasons.  They looked for a KING, not a Messiah.  In this situation, what they’re likely talking about is show respect; paying homage to a king in the way typical to their cultures.

Was there any particular reason for these gifts?  The FRANKINCENSE and MYRRH were luxury items that originated in eastern countries.  These gifts may be another clue that they came from the EAST.  Lots of people have tried to see symbolism in these gifts but there’s simply nothing in the text to support that kind of interpretation.  They are simply expensive gifts – TREASURES – that would be appropriate to give to a king.

  1. The Magi responded to God’s warning (12).

God warned them in a dream.  He had to; these “wise men” did not see through Herod’s subterfuge on their own.  To these men, dreams would carry the same weight of evidence as the portent of the star.  This isn’t reliable evidence that the MAGI found faith in God, for God also spoke to unbelievers in their dreams.  Had they travelled to Bethlehem at night, as we have supposed, then it naturally follows that when the Magi left the Holy Family they retired for the night before going any further.

Risking Herod’s wrath, they went home another way.  We must give the Magi credit for being obedient to the revealed will of God.  Defying Herod and risking his wrath was no small risk to ask them to take.  God took care of these devout Gentiles and sent them on a way that avoided the peril of Jerusalem.  Even if they were “kings” as some suppose, we can’t be sure that Herod wouldn’t have them killed to eliminate witnesses.

The Magi are our latest example of JOY.  When they saw the star the rejoiced and when it lead them to Jesus, they rejoiced again and presented him with gifts appropriate to a king.

People will tell you “You can’t be happy all the time.”  I don’t believe it.  Why?  Because the Bible says, “Rejoice in the Lord ALWAYS,” (Philippians 4:4).  And, in case they didn’t really believe him, Paul repeated himself in that verse, “I will say it again: Rejoice!”

God will not command you to do something He knows you cannot do.  SO – what we should more accurately assert is that joy will not come naturally or easily in all circumstances.  Some seasons of life will push us in the opposite direction.  But we can find, if we look with the eyes of faith, reasons for joy even in the most sorrowful trials.

Simeon and Anna Rejoiced

(Please read Luke 2:22-40 in your preferred version of the Bible.  My quotes are from the NIV.)

MESSAGE: In Jesus, God fulfilled the hopes of two godly people and they rejoiced to see it.

The front cover of New York’s Daily News for Thursday takes a strong stance against how some politicians are reacting to the San Bernardino shooting with calls for prayer instead of tighter gun control laws.

The headline says, “God Isn’t Fixing This.”

“As latest batch of innocent Americans are left lying in pools of blood, cowards who could truly end gun scourge continue to hide behind meaningless platitudes,” the cover reads.

House Speaker Paul Ryan and GOP presidential hopefuls Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush and Lindsey Graham all responded with “prayers” for the victims of San Bernardino.

The tweet of the Daily News provocative front page is currently the most retweeted of 2015 for the news organization, according to Twitter.

Meanwhile, Democratic presidential hopefuls, including Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, took a different tone and called for “action” to stop gun violence.

President Obama underscored the need for stronger gun control laws in the United States after Wednesday’s mass shooting, which left at least 14 dead and 14 wounded.  “There’s some steps we could take, not to eliminate every one of the mass shootings, but to improve the odds that they don’t happen as frequently,” Obama told CBS News.

<Retrieved from http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/daily-news-provokes-with-cover-on-calif-shooting-god-isnt-fixing-this/ar-AAfXrhd?ocid=ansmsnnews11 on 12/3/15.>

  1. The context: Joseph & Mary’s faithfulness (22-24).

Dr. Luke wrote for a non-Jewish audience, so he provides enough detail so that those unfamiliar with the Law of Moses will know why Jesus’ parents brought Him to the temple (22+24).  WHEN THE TIME CAME and REQUIRED BY THE LAW OF MOSES are phrases that indicate Joseph and Mary were faithful to observe the Law in all its particulars.  Luke uses the word LAW five times in this chapter, more often than it is used in the rest of his Gospel.  He very much wants the reader to understand that Joseph & Mary were godly people.

The PURIFICATION RITES were for Mary; her “purification” after birth.  This was a period of 40 days after birth if the first born was a son, 80 days if the child was a female (Leviticus 12:3-4).  (This is THE TIME referred to in v. 22.)  During this time the mother was not allowed to leave the house and was considered “unclean.”

Leviticus 12:8 allowed for the sacrifice of birds instead of a lamb in the case of those who were poor.  So Jesus’ family was part of the peasant class; they were poor but pious.  One bird was a burnt offering, the other a sin offering.  There is a fair amount of chatter among Bible commentators about how a sin offering was not needed in this case, as the Virgin Birth did not involve sin.  I believe this is simply Joseph and Mary being careful to observe the full requirements of the Law.  Besides, would YOU like to try to explain to the priest why you are the lone female in all of history who did not require a sin offering?

The consecration rite was for baby Jesus, as the Law dictated, EVERY FIRSTBORN MALE IS TO BE CONSECRATED.  The firstborn son had to be “redeemed.”  This was because the firstborn male of any species was considered to belong to the LORD (see Exodus 13:2; 34:19; Numbers 18:15-16).  That’s what CONSECRATED means.  In order for the parents to keep the child, they had to buy or redeem him from service to God by paying 5 shekels to the priests.

  1. Simeon was overjoyed to see the Messiah (25-35).

Simeon’s qualifications as a man of God are impeccable.  Luke wrote that he was:

– RIGHTEOUS or “just;” Simeon was faithful in his dealings with both God and man.

– DEVOUT or “feared God.”  Luke uses this word three times in the book of Acts to describe Jews who carefully kept the Law of Moses.

– WAITING F/T CONSOLATION OF ISRAEL.  This CONSOLATION was in the form of comfort, but also counsel from God, sending a leader who would lead His people to true freedom. This phrase was typically used of people who were expectantly awaiting the coming of the Messiah. This same phrase was used later in Luke to refer to Joseph of Arimathea, the man who provided the tomb in which Jesus was buried (see Luke 23:51).

This hope was so widespread it manifest itself in their culture in a couple of ways.  Jews who wanted to swear an oath to verify their statements would say, “May I never live to see the consolation of Israel if I am lying.”  This hope was also expressed frequently in prayer; “May I live long enough to see the consolation of Israel.”  This was clearly Simeon’s greatest hope and desire in life, the most important thing to him.

– THE HOLY SPIRIT WAS UPON HIM: at this time they were still under the Old Testament system: the Holy Spirit was only given to specific persons to do a specific job, and then withdrawn.  THE HOLY SPIRIT…REVEALED 2 things to simeon.

First, that he WOULD NOT DIE BEFORE HE HAD SEEN THE LORD’S CHRIST. From this people guess that Simeon was an old man, but the point is the God had encouraged him w/ a promise that his own eyes would behold God’s salvation.  The non-biblical “Gospel of the Nativity of Mary” sets Simeon’s age at 113.

Second, the true nature of the baby Jesus.  I’m sure there was nothing about baby Jesus or His family that stood out to the unaided eye.  The Spirit gave Simeon true insight.

– MOVED BY THE SPIRIT (v. 27) means that God put Simeon at the right place at the right time to reveal the truth to him.  In contrast to Anna, Simeon did not stay in the temple courts all the time; he was MOVED physically and spiritually to be there right at the appropriate time.

Simeon’s relationship with God was manifest in a gift of prophecy.  Luke records what he prophesied about Jesus in vs. 29-32, 34-35.

– He would be the means of SALVATION God prepared for His people (v. 30).  We are saved because of what God has done for us, never by what we do for Him.  The universal offer of salvation is also affirmed in the phrase IN THE SIGHT OF ALL PEOPLE (v. 31).  I think this also implies that God had been working toward this end from day one and anyone who had, like Simeon, the Spirit-led eyes of faith, could understand that fact.

– He would be A LIGHT FOR REVELATION TO THE GENTILES (v. 32) so that non-Jews could be saved.  Verse 32 uses the word LIGHT in both of its typical biblical senses: revealing and understanding the truth and as the visible manifestation of the presence of God.  This was foretold by the prophecies in the Old Testament, Isaiah 9:6-7, 49; Psalms 98:3; Malachi 4:2.

He would bring GLORY to Israel because He was one of their own; a Jew (v. 32).  We need to remember that non-Jewish (Gentile) folks like us were ADDED to the Kingdom of God.  He has not abandoned His promises to Israel in order to save the rest of us.  Instead, as Paul explained in RMS 11, Gentiles were like a wild branch grafted onto an existing olive tree.  This means that the most glorious thing Israel is capable of doing is taking the Good News of God’s salvation to the Gentiles.

– He was DESTINED TO CAUSE THE RISING AND FALLING OF MANY IN ISRAEL (v. 34).  This is in fulfillment of Isaiah 8:14-15; “[The LORD Almighty] WILL BE A SANCTUARY; BUT FOR BOTH HOUSES OF ISRAEL HE WILL BE A STONE THAT CAUSES MEN TO STUMBLE AND A ROCK THAT MAKES THEM FALL. AND FOR THE PEOPLE OF JERUSALEM HE WILL BE A TRAP AND A SNARE.  MANY OF THEM WILL STUMBLE; THEY WILL FALL AND BE BROKEN, THEY WILL BE SNARED AND CAPTURED.”

In any of us, being a stumbling block is a bad thing.  But where Jesus is concerned, He is the cornerstone that sets the rest of the building as true.  He is the standard that will condemn some as sinners and commend others as saints.  Even though the word CAUSE is used here, it is clearly a matter of individual choice, the individual’s destiny chosen by themselves in relation to Christ.  Jesus is like the line drawn in the sand and the content of our inner self is revealed by the side on which we choose to stand.

– A SIGN THAT WILL BE SPOKEN AGAINST (v. 34).   A SIGN is a symbol; something we can see that points to and explains something unseen.  Jesus would be SPOKEN AGAINST because He revealed things about God and from God that people did not want to hear.  This prophecy was literally fulfilled when people mocked Jesus at his trial and crucifixion.  But earlier, during His ministry, Jesus’ opponents insulted Him in many different ways.

– THE THOUGHTS OF MANY HEARTS WILL BE REVEALED (v. 35).  In the first case, the inner state of every person is revealed by their reaction to Jesus.  By faith in Him and their righteous living, the true followers of Jesus reveal themselves.  On the other hand, a lack of faith and the absence of good behavior are self-condemning revelations.  In the second case, all hearts were revealed to Jesus’ mind.  He supernaturally knew what others around Him were thinking (see Mark 2:8).  In the Bible, the word “thought” often had an evil shade to it; the word was used most often with the adjective “evil.”

What he prophesied about Mary in v. 35 is dramatic:  A SWORD WILL PIERCE YOUR OWN HEART TOO. This is a special word for SWORD; it refers to a large, two-handed weapon.  In this sense, Simeon may be using it as a symbol of a particularly strong grief.  It is the word used for Goliath’s sword in 1 Samuel 17.  Simeon predicted that Mary would share in the pain of Jesus being rejected by His own people.  Mary already had a strong faith, but God is speaking through Simeon to prepare her for even more heartache.

I had never thought about how unsettling this prophecy may’ve been for Mary over the next 33 years until I read this quote; “The childhood in the Nazareth home, and the early manhood in the Nazareth carpentry, were no doubt her happiest days, though, in those quiet years, expectation, fears, dread, curiously interwoven, must have ever torn that mother’s heart. The days of the public ministry for Mary must have been sad, and her heart full of anxious forebodings, as she watched the growing jealousies, the hatred, and the unbelief on the part of the leading men of her people. Then came the cross. We know she stood by it all the while.” <From the Pulpit Commentary, retrieved from http://biblehub.com/commentaries/luke/2-35.htm on 12/4/15.>

We know Simeon found joy in Jesus.  There are several clues in the text.

– HE TOOK THE CHILD IN HIS ARMS (v. 28).  If he was a priest, this would have been expected behavior.  BUT, there’s nothing here to indicate priesthood, so Joseph and Mary were probably surprised at Simeon’s sudden action.

– He PRAISED GOD (v. 28).  Every experience in life should turn us to God.  Good times and bad should likewise result in praise.  Even so, THIS is the most praiseworthy moment in Simeon’s life.

– He blessed Joseph, Mary, and Jesus (v. 34).

– His joy was so complete that Simeon was content to die.  Now that God’s promise to him (v. 26) had been kept, his greatest desire fulfilled, he could see no further use of life in this world.  Imagine the level of satisfaction that is indicated in these words!  He is ready to be dismissed from this life.  DISMISS is a word that carries a lot more emotion in the Greek language: it means to “deliver from bondage or misery.”  It makes me wonder if Simeon was not old, but had a terminal or chronic illness.  We have all known someone in that kind of situation who is admittedly waiting to die.  He adds the words IN PEACE, implying that his life previously had not been peaceable.  This hymn of Simeon is called the Nunc Dimittis (Latin for “now you dismiss”) and has been used by Christians throughout history as a prayer to end the day.

– FOR MY EYES HAVE SEEN: Ironically, it was the spiritual vision supplied by the Holy Spirit that enabled Simeon to recognize the baby Jesus as Messiah when he beheld the baby with his physical eyes.

Of all the people we’re going to talk about this Advent, Simeon is arguably the best example to follow.  He was one focused individual!  You get the sense from Luke that Simeon’s life revolved around waiting to celebrate the appearance of t Messiah!  That should be our focus during Advent; not all the usual fluff-n-stuff we add during the season.

  1. Anna was overjoyed to see the Messiah (36-38).

Anna’s qualifications as a woman of God are impeccable.

– Anna was recognized as a PROPHETESS at a time when no men were recognized as prophets.  From the perspective of the New Testament, the office of prophet ceased with Malachi and there had been 400 years of silence, no prophecies given.  Some consider John the Baptist to be the last of the prophets in the Old Testament sense.

– Her family relationships were summed up as DAUGHTER OF PENUEL, TRIBE OF ASHER. It is strange that Anna is mentioned in connection with her father not her husband.  Perhaps this is because her father was a more noteworthy man.  The tribe of ASHER was NOT part of the southern kingdom.  This woman’s ancestry was Israelite, but not of the tribe of Judah.  In the strict sense, she wasn’t Jewish.  Women of this tribe were known for their beauty and were frequently wed to important people.

– A WIDOW: the text mentions the length of her brief marriage to establish that Anna was a godly woman and to show how long she had been a widow.  The reader would understand that Anna is on equal footing with Simeon in terms of religious authority.  In this society, widows typically held a very low spot on the social ladder.  Apparently Anna was the exception to this rule.  Though an old woman, she had never remarried after her husband died.  Her deep piety would have endeared her to the faithful who frequented the temple and always found Anna there.

– SHE NEVER LEFT THE TEMPLE, BUT…  Technically, only the priests resided in the temple district.  If this verse is literally true, then Anna was exceptional in this detail as well.  Her name means “grace” or “gracious,” so her personality may have also endeared her to the priests and they made an exception to allow her to live in the temple district.

Anna did not just occupy a space in the temple courts: she WORSHIPED NIGHT AND DAY.  There were set hours for prayer in the temple and she was on hand for all of them.  She was FASTING AND PRAYING; godly Jews fasted at least two days a week.

Anna’s relationship with God was manifest in a gift of witnessing.  Here’s something interesting; the phrase AT THAT VERY MOMENT means that she must have heard what Simeon prophesied about Jesus & added her affirmation.  We often overlook this detail of the narrative, but it’s important to connect these two events.

The witness she gave was not only immediate, but ongoing; SHE…SPOKE ABOUT THE CHILD TO ALL WHO WERE LOOKING FORWARD TO THE REDEMPTION OF JERUSALEM.  Like the shepherds, Anna went from the presence of the infant Jesus and told everyone about Him.  Like Simeon, she had been looking forward to the coming of the Messiah (the phrases CONSOLATION OF ISRAEL and THE REDEMPTION OF JERUSALEM both mean this).

We know Anna found joy in Jesus because SHE GAVE THANKS TO GOD and SPOKE ABOUT THE CHILD.

  1. Joseph & Mary were joyful at what they heard.

THE CHILD’S FATHER AND MOTHER MARVELED AT WHAT WAS SAID ABOUT HIM (v. 33).  I think the word MARVELED is perfectly appropriate here, because when we “marvel” at something, we don’t fully understand it, but still regard it as something great.  We welcome it even though we don’t have enough information to accurately gauge its importance.

Vs. 39-40 make it clear that they raised Jesus in their faith.  (Luke made a similar summary statement about the childhood of John the Baptist in 1:80.)  The point of these verses is two-fold:

– One, that Joseph & Mary continued to observe the law of Moses in all its details and that they raised Jesus to do the same.

– That Jesus was a human being; He grew as all human beings grow.  He was born a baby and grew up through all the stages of life that are common to our experience.

“The Year I Cancelled Christmas”

Author: Jon Weece                                Date Published: 12/4/2015

            Some years ago, Christmas fell on a Sunday: I challenged our church family to spend Christmas visiting people they wouldn’t normally visit to give gifts to people they normally wouldn’t give gifts to.

I cancelled Christmas.

Or at least that’s what I was accused of.

Instead of coming to church that Sunday I challenged them to be the church. Jesus came to us in person. So what better way to capture the incarnation than to go to people in person.

I didn’t feel like I was canceling Christmas. I felt like I was promoting Christmas.

Across town a 6-year-old girl named Rebecca baked brownies and stood at the entrance to the library at the University of Kentucky on Christmas morning and gave a free brownie to any college student who walked by during finals week.

“Why are you giving away free brownies to total strangers?” a Muslim student stopped and asked.

Rebecca is sassy. So she put her hand on her hip, and with a “no duh” kind of tone said, “Because Jesus wants me to. That’s why!”

Little did she know that this Muslim student had been wrestling with what he believed and had been questioning the tenants of his faith for over 2 years. Dumbfounded by her emphatic response he said, “Can I come to church with you?”

“Sure you can!” she blurted out without consulting her parents.

So here’s my favorite part–instead of bringing this PhD student into the big room with all the big people on Sunday, she took him into her children’s ministry environment where he sat on the floor and heard a lesson about Jesus’ love for Zacchaeus.

After months of sitting and listening he took a stand for Jesus and was baptized. His family told him they would kill him if they ever saw him.

As scary as that threat sounds, he’s safe.

He’s safe because he’s saved.

And all of it happened because a little girl partnered with Betty Crocker and the Holy Spirit.

“The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” (Galatians 5:6)

When we express the love of Jesus in simple ways, people express their need for him in beautiful ways.

<The entire article may be found at http://www.sermoncentral.com/pastors-preaching-articles/jon-weece-the-year-i-cancelled-christmas-2332.asp.>

The Shepherds Rejoiced

(Please read Luke 2:8-20.  The following remarks are based on the NIV.)

MESSAGE: God pointed the shepherds to their Savior and they rejoiced.  We should do the same.

A Domino’s Pizza delivery driver was left in tears when an Ohio church tipped her more than $1000 after she delivered a $5.99 pizza.  Natasha Boyer woke up Oct. 4 to find an eviction notice on her door. Then she headed off to her job as a pizza delivery driver for Domino’s, little knowing a “miracle” was about to come her way.

The 21-year-old single mother was on the receiving end of a random act of kindness performed by the congregants of Sycamore Creek Church in Pickerington, Ohio.  “Our church has been pushing congregants to do more acts of kindness, but this is the first time we did it together as a collective group,” pastor Steve Markle said.

When Boyer arrived at the church, the pastor called her up front and asked her the size of the biggest tip she’d ever received. Ten dollars, she replied.  Markle responded by giving her a $9 tip — followed by $1,046.

“I had no idea what was happening,” Boyer said. “They told me to wait 15 minutes because I was going to have to walk up on stage. I was in total shock.”

Markle had just finished giving a sermon about a financial miracle, not expecting to make one happen himself. “I called Domino’s ahead of time and asked them to pick a delivery driver that wouldn’t mind coming up on stage. That’s all I knew about her,” he told TODAY. “It was cool to see my sermon come to life.”

Boyer’s eyes filled with tears as she hugged Markle and thanked the congregation. Markle then said a prayer for her and everyone cheered.  Boyer now has enough money to pay her rent plus the late fee. “They saved me. They saved my son,” she said. “I’m forever grateful.”

<Retrieved from http://www.today.com/kindness/deliver-us-eviction-church-gives-pizza-deliverer-1-000-tip-t52161 on 11/27/15.>

I offer this story to you as an example of grace.  Grace is extravagant, seemingly random, frequently illogical.  It is free and undeserved.  When it comes from God it always redeems.

  1. A promise is made to the shepherds (8-14).

Verse eight tells us that the first recipients of the Good News were at work; they were KEEPING WATCH OVER THEIR FLOCKS.  WHY the birth of the Messiah was first announced to shepherds is something about which we can only speculate.  What is more clear is WHEN the announcement came to them.

LIVING OUT IN THE FIELDS implies a springtime scene, not a winter one.  In the winter, the sheep were penned up at night.  One commentator speculated that Jesus’ birth happened close to the Passover.  This appeals to me as it provides a second linkage between Jesus and the most important Jewish Holy Day.  In 1 Corinthians 5:7, Paul referred to Jesus as our PASSOVER LAMB, a reference to His sacrifice for our sins.  But He may be our PASSOVER LAMB in both His birth and His death.

The traditional December 25th date was established by the Church in the fourth century for reasons other than strict biblical scholarship.  Since then, scholars have literally argued for the birth of Christ occurring in each month of the year.

The second clue for timing is the phrase AT NIGHT.  These people observed four “watches” during the night.  Shepherds of many different flocks would cooperate in watching the sheep by taking different watches.  The significance of this clue is subtle:  The first Passover occurred at night and the Jews expected that their Messiah would arrive at night.  Even this detail has some significance, so wonderful is the Word!

In verse nine the promise of GREAT JOY is announced: AN ANGEL OF THE LORD APPEARED.  In the Greek, this language conveys a sudden, surprising appearance.  (Isn’t that how they always come?)  The phrase OF THE LORD is used to denote God’s actual presence OR it can denote something that is especially great.  OF THE LORD is always the BEST.  As Luke uses the word APPEARED, it means to stand by.  The angels do not appear overhead, but right among the shepherds.

THE GLORY OF THE LORD SHONE.  In the Bible, GLORY indicates the presence of God, His spiritual presence manifest in physical light.  This isn’t just a bright light, but an intense emotional and spiritual experience of God’s power and holiness; this is proved by the shepherd’s reaction.

THEY WERE TERRIFIED (a sensible reaction).  The experience of God’s holiness and power is so intense that smart people become aware of their own sin and shrink back in fear (i.e., Isaiah in Isaiah 6).  Think about it – how should you feel when you are suddenly in the presence of someone who knows you completely and can do anything to you?

Fortunately, there is no reason for their terror; the angels have appeared to bring a positive message, not condemnation.  In verse ten it is written: “I BRING YOU GOOD NEWS.”  The message breaks down into three parts.

“DO NOT BE AFRAID.”  This is often the first thing angels say when they appear.  It shows that the perfect love of God should cast out the fear we naturally feel (see 1 John 4:18).

“GOOD NEWS OF GREAT JOY.”  Notice the two qualifiers: GOOD news of GREAT joy.  The appearance of angels is extraordinary enough, but the occasion is not for them; the message is more important than the messengers and it is a VERY GOOD message.  Don’t let the three-letter word escape your notice; it is the focus of our Advent preparations.  JOY is what this season is all about.  We must share the shepherds’ JOY.

“FOR ALL THE PEOPLE.”  One of the understated themes of the Old Testament is that the nation of Israel was supposed to draw all people to God.  The original statement of God’s plan was that Israel should be a LIGHT TO THE GENTILES (see Isaiah 42:6) and that all the nations would be gathered for worship on Zion, the mountain of the LORD (see Isaiah 2:2).  Here’s an important part of the Good News: God has made salvation available to ALL PEOPLE in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  Nationality no longer matters.

The specifics begin in verse eleven: “A SAVIOR HAS BEEN BORN TO YOU.”

“IN THE TOWN OF DAVID.” (Bethlehem) Hundreds of years earlier, King David, as a boy, worked these very same fields as a shepherd.  The child would inherit his throne and so God is keeping His promises with perfect continuity by appearing to the Bethlehem shepherds.

“A SAVIOR HAS BEEN BORN TO YOU.”  All human beings stand in need of a Savior.  Sin is a universal problem with deadly consequences.  We cannot solve it on our own.  Jesus is the solution to our sin.  So the YOU here is obviously not just the shepherds.  The birth of the Savior is a joy to all of us.

“HE IS CHRIST THE LORD.”  CHRIST is the Gk version of the Hebrew word “Messiah.”  It means “Anointed One” and refers to God’s promise to send a Savior.  This is clear in the Old Testament.  To be “anointed” is to be set apart for God’s service.  The person or object was dedicated to God’s exclusive use by putting oil on them in a ceremony.  The shepherds would be familiar enough with the Bible of their time to know this.  They likely understood the significance of this GOOD NEWS.

In verse twelve the shepherds received specific instructions on how to recognize Him: “A SIGN.”  In the Bible, a SIGN is always an earthly reality that points to (symbolizes) a heavenly reality.  In this case, the SIGN is the unique aspects of this special child’s birth.  The word can also be used to refer to a miracle as miracles always serve as pointers to God.  Jesus’ birth to a virgin and many other aspects of this story point to all kinds of miraculous circumstances.

They were instructed to look for “A BABY WRAPPED IN CLOTHS AND LYING IN A MANGER.”  This is a self-contradictory description; an oxymoron.  How could both these things be true?  A baby WRAPPED IN CLOTHS is obviously wanted and well cared-for.   A baby left LYING IN A MANGER is evidently abandoned and unwanted.  It is a particularly odd choice of places to set the heir of David’s throne, who ought to be in a palace cradle.  Paul expanded on this amazing contrast in 2 Corinthians 8:9; FOR YOU KNOW THE GRACE OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, THAT THOUGH HE WAS RICH, YET FOR YOUR SAKES HE BECAME POOR, SO THAT YOU THROUGH HIS POVERTY MIGHT BECOME RICH.

They needed a SIGN this specific and unusual to avoid a case of mistaken identity.  Even in a village as small as Bethlehem, there might’ve been more than one baby that looked like a newborn to the shepherd’s eyes.  Would you trust the average man to tell the difference between one newborn baby and another?

In verses thirteen and fourteen a whole HOST of angels affirm this message.  A GREAT COMPANY OF THE HEAVENLY HOST.  Luke declares this fact in such understated language, it must be true.  A made-up story would be more descriptive and sensational.  The sole messenger is supported by an unnumbered throng of the angelic race.

The angelic host was PRAISING GOD.  GOOD NEWS should always result in praise to God.  Here the angels set a good example for us to follow.  One of the tasks God assigns to His angels is to deliver messages; the Greek word means “messenger.”  Another of their roles is to worship Him.  We see both of these functions in this passage.

Their hymn of praise? “GLORY TO GOD…PEACE TO MEN…FAVOR”  These two reasons they have for praising God have come into being because of the birth of the Christ Child.  As Jesus later said of Himself, glorifying God and bringing peace to men is why He came.  HIGHEST and ON EARTH are a contrast of places that describe the origin of this action and its recipients.

  1. The shepherds rejoiced when the promise was kept (15-20).

In verse fifteen the shepherds resolve; “LET’S GO TO BETHLEHEM.”  The angels returned to heaven, their message delivered and their worship offered.  The shepherds were given a SIGN, not a command.  Though it was certainly assumed in the SIGN they were given the shepherds were not commanded to go to Bethlehem; they decided on their own to go.

Though our English translations do not convey the emotion of the Greek words, you can still hear the eagerness in their voices as they discuss it and decide to go immediately to the village.  Their willingness to go is another indication of their faithfulness.

“WHICH THE LORD HAS TOLD US ABOUT.”  This shows the shepherds understood the angelic message.  By faith they accepted it and made immediate plans to act upon it.  We should all demonstrate this kind of trust in the word of God.

Making the trip, they found God’s word true (v. 16).  THEY HURRIED OFF is a detail that justifies our earlier interpretation of the shepherds’ eagerness.  Perhaps they had been particularly godly men who had been waiting eagerly for the arrival of the Messiah and now He’d come.

They FOUND MARY, JOSEPH AND THE BABY, WHO WAS LYING IN A MANGER, just as the angel had announced!  Seeing with their own eyes, they understood the reason for the child appearing at the same time cared-for and abandoned.

The joyous shepherds could not help themselves; they shared the reason for their joy with all who would listen (vs. 17-18 & 20).  WHEN THEY HAD SEEN HIM.  This is an important point.  The shepherds acted by faith and went to Bethlehem.  Then faith became sight – literally.   This is the way it’s supposed to work for all of us.  God never intended faith to be perpetually unseen.  It starts out that way, but it is supposed to become a personal experience after that.  How sad would it be if faith were only ever a theory.  Faith that is not confirmed in experience is a faith that is not yet realized.  This is the relationship between faith and works.  Doing godly works moves faith from spiritual to physical.  One of the godly works that confirms true faith is telling others about it and that happens in two contexts.

In vs. 17+18, we see the shepherds WITNESSING to the truth; telling others about their experience.  They SPREAD THE WORD = “gave exact information” (Greek).   Similarly, our witnessing needs to follow the “Joe Friday” method: “just the facts.”  the truth that we have to share is so wonderful it needs no embellishment.

Part of what this means is that we need to resist the temptation to attach our personal views and politics to the Gospel.  Don’t misuse the truth to propagate our stuff.  People know instinctively know the difference between the truth and a sales pitch.  We have nothing to sell, but the truth to give away joyously and generously!!

The reaction to the shepherd’s message was surprisingly positive: ALL WHO HEARD IT WERE AMAZED.  We’re so used to being lied to that the truth has an effect of causing amazement.  People want to hear the truth and most will respond positively when they hear it.  In the culture of that time, shepherds were near the bottom of the social ladder.  They were popularly believed to be habitual liars and thieves.  So it’s almost miraculous that they were believed enough for people to be AMAZED.  I think their witness must have been so powerful, they were so fully convinced, that their witness overwhelmed people’s prejudice and they earned a hearing.  No one is more persuasive than an eyewitness.

In verse 20, we see the shepherds WORSHIPING because of the truth.  They were GLORIFYING AND PRAISING GOD FOR ALL THE THINGS THEY HAD HEARD AND SEEN.  Do you suppose the shepherds went about singing the same song the angels had sung in praising God (v. 14)?  A reason for their exuberance is that things WERE JUST AS THEY HAD BEEN TOLD.

The context of their worship was not in the temple, but amidst their everyday lives: we read THE SHEPHERDS RETURNED.  They went home and back to work.  They worshiped God in the midst of their daily lives and among their regular community.  Similarly, we must take our joy into everyday life.  In our individual contexts of home, work, and community, we are to worship and witness just as the shepherds did.

Mary’s response is private and quiet in contrast to the shepherds’: she quietly considered their witness (v. 19).  Note the two things it says about her.

MARY TREASURED UP ALL THESE THINGS = “guarded.”  They became sacred memories to her.  Isn’t this something most parents do?  As we get older, we hold the best memories and let the others go.  But this is an absolutely unique situation, so Mary’s treasure-house included statements by Gabriel, her cousin Elizabeth, and now the testimony of the shepherds.  She put all these statements about Jesus together and considered their meaning.  No one on earth knew as much about the destiny of baby Jesus as Mary did.  She was justifiably awestruck by the role she was playing in the history of God and His people.

She PONDERED THEM IN HER HEART; they became points of prayer, meditation, and consideration.  In the original language, to “ponder” means to weigh, examine mentally, think about.

Is it fair to say that most of us live out our faith following Mary’s example than following the shepherds’?  We prefer to keep our faith a “private matter;” we treasure and ponder our faith, but we don’t get excited and we don’t carry it out into public.

The thing is, this passage does not condemn either approach.  Instead, it offers both Mary and the shepherds as examples for us to follow.  I want to say that we should be both at various times and as various opportunities present themselves.  We should have private and public expressions of faith.

A janitor who heard a baby crying in an empty New York City church was astonished to find a real newborn baby in the church’s Nativity scene with its umbilical cord still attached.  Jose Moran said that he found the baby after returning from his lunch break on Monday, only about an hour after the manger was set up in the Holy Child Jesus Church in Queens.

Police say the baby boy, who was found wrapped in a blanket, was brought to a hospital and found to be in good health. “At least whoever abandoned him brought him to a safe place and didn’t leave him to die,” Moran says. “I hope he finds the right home. He’s a miracle baby.” Police are trying to track down the newborn’s mother.

New York has a “safe haven” law allowing people to drop off unwanted newborns at places like churches, hospitals, and fire stations, but the mother could still face charges because the law requires authorities to be immediately informed of the baby’s whereabouts. One of the church’s parishioners has already offered to adopt the boy. “God works in mysterious ways,” Father Christopher Heanue said. The infant was “a kind of gift to the church in a poetic way, so we’d love to see it stay in the community,” he says. <Retrieved from http://www.newser.com/story/216601/real-newborn-found-in-church-nativityscene.html?utm_source=8at8&utm_medium=email&utm_content=1696368&utm_campaign=20151125 on 11/27/15.>

That’s an amazing story too, another example of grace. This baby’s mother gave her child the gift of life and a chance to be saved.  The law charges her with a criminal act, but God is gracious enough to redeem any action, turning even tragic events into praiseworthy times.

Grace is the thing we must cherish like Mary and proclaim like the shepherds.  There are plenty of legalists in the world, but too few gracious people.  Grace brings joy. What better time of year to be extravagantly joyous than this season of Advent, leading up to Christmas?  Let me challenge you to follow the examples of Mary AND the shepherds.

 

“He is not Here”

(Please read Matthew 28:1-10.)

MESSAGE: Joy is one of our greatest resources of faith.  Our joy comes from the Resurrection.

CONTEXT: The previous section (27:62-66) introduces the Jewish clergy’s conspiracy to make sure there would be no deceit about the resurrection of Jesus.  They asked the Roman governor to set a watch to keep Jesus’ disciples away from the tomb.  This tells us two things: One, they were aware of Jesus’ promise to rise from the dead.  This is important: they knew His teaching to this extent and yet still rejected Him!  Two, they were so paranoid they anticipated a situation in which Jesus’ disciples would fake a resurrection.

The following section (MTW 28:11-15) is the conclusion of the conspiracy; the guards were bribed to create a false report, the Jewish clergy circulated the false report as a rumor, and the lie persisted to the days in which Matthew wrote his Gospel.

Matthew’s resurrection account is sandwiched in between these conspiracy notes.  So Matthew’s purpose is to expose falsehood of the Jewish conspiracy with the truth.

COMMENT:

  1. The evidence of the Resurrection.

One neglected bit of evidence contrary to the Jewish clergy’s “conspiracy theory” is Matthew’s evidence that there was no plot among the disciples to fake the Resurrection.  We see this in all the details that show the disciples were not initially interested in the tomb.

– While travel was forbidden on the Sabbath, the Sabbath officially ended at sundown.  If anyone wanted to get t/t tomb at the earliest possible moment, they’d have been there Saturday night.  Yet none of the disciples approached the tomb until Sunday.  In fact, if you were up to skullduggery, doing it Saturday night under the cover of darkness would make MORE SENSE.

– If anyone HAD tried to steal Jesus’ body, they would’ve run afoul of the soldiers guarding the tomb.

– Only the women approached the tomb.  If they’d planned to steal Jesus’ body, it would have been done by a group of men with enough physical strength to roll back the heavy stone that closed off the tomb.

– Matthew tells us that the women went to LOOK AT THE TOMB.  This is likely based on the traditional practice of the Jews to return to the tomb of a loved one for three straight days after death to make sure that they were truly dead.  (Apparently lots of human cultures have fears of being buried alive.)

– The other Gospel writers tell us that the women brought spices to anoint the body of Jesus.  There would be no need for these supplies if they were enacting a grave robbery OR expecting Jesus to be raised from the dead.  They expected to find a corpse in the tomb, and had planned to deal with it there, not take it away.

A second bit of evidence is the EARTHQUAKE. Before they could make arrangements to have the stone rolled back, the women experienced a VIOLENT EARTHQUAKE.  But the purpose of the EARTHQUAKE is not to roll the stone back; the text clearly says that the angel did that.  The purpose is to announce the angel’s arrival and the fact that something important has happened. Notice that the tomb is already empty when the stone is rolled away.  This was not done to let Jesus OUT, it was rolled away to let His disciples IN!

The third piece of evidence offered in Matthew’s Gospel is the ANGEL.  Matthew’s description of the angel’s appearance offers us insight into the Resurrection.  Most Bible descriptions of angels are understated.  Matthew and Luke’s description are more supernatural.

– HIS APPEARANCE WAS LIKE LIGHTNING. In Matthew 24:27, LIGHTNING is used to illustrate the suddenness of Jesus’ Second Coming.  Two aspects: the dazzling light of the glory of God and the suddenness of His appearing.

– HIS CLOTHES WERE WHITE AS SNOW.  This expression was also used to describe Jesus at the Transfiguration (see Matthew 17:2).  In Revelation 7:9, the great multitude of Jesus’ followers stand around God’s throne similarly dressed. It symbolizes the purity of the wearer.

– The appearance of the angel was so striking that THE GUARDS WERE SO AFRAID OF HIM THEY SHOOK AND BECAME LIKE DEAD MEN.  This explains how the tomb was open without the soldiers being guilty of dereliction of duty.

We can also gain insight from the angel’s testimony.

– “I KNOW THAT YOU ARE LOOKING FOR JESUS, WHO WAS CRUCIFIED.”  Jesus appears to all who truly seek Him.

– “HE IS NOT HERE; HE HAS RISEN, JUST AS HE SAID” (see Matthew 16:21; 17, 23; 20:18-19 for instances where this promise was made).  Though the disciples did not understand or believe them at the time, Jesus kept His promises.

– “COME AND SEE THE PLACE WHERE HE LAY.”  The angel made them an invitation to use their physical senses.

– “THEN GO AND QUICKLY TELL HIS DISCIPLES…”  QUICKLY is for the sake of the other disciples who were still sick with grief.

– “NOW I HAVE TOLD YOU.”  From then on, they were responsible to obey or not.

The fourth and most significant piece of evidence for the resurrection is when Jesus appeared to them.

– SO THE WOMEN HURRIED AWAY FROM THE TOMB…AND RAN TO TELL HIS DISCIPLES. Their feet were propelled by excitement and a desire to obey.

– SUDDENLY JESUS MET THEM.  The word SUDDENLY carries a lot of force in the Greek; in English, it might be, “WHAM! There He was!”  The most important evidence for the Resurrection is all the people Jesus met after He rose from the dead.

– “GREETINGS,” HE SAID.  This typical greeting feels out of place in this atypical situation.

  1. The women’s response to the Resurrection.

We learn first that they were AFRAID, YET FULL OF JOY.  That exact reaction is the most logical one when a person truly encounters God.  It sounds and feels like an odd mix, but it can be particularly energizing.

Second, they responded with obedience.  The angel told them to “GO QUICKLY” so they RAN.  This is a full, literal, and simple obedience.  Obedience in time is part of a full obedience.  To obey fully is to obey immediately.  They were sensitive to how well received this news would be and they were understandably eager to tell Jesus’ BROTHERS (a gracious term!).

Third, worship.  This word combines two Greek words; “to kiss” & “to bow.” It is a word picture of the posture and the attitude of worship; deference given to an authority figure.  It was customary in that culture, to show respect for someone important to kneel before them and kiss the hem of their robe.  While it sounds strange to us that the women CLASPED THE FEET of Jesus, this was the most appropriate behavior in the situation.  They expressed complete submission to Jesus.