Archive for the 'Devotional' Category

Adam is born through God’s life giving breath and suddenly the God of Love has a reflection of His own image. Now whatever the length and depth of that truth reveals, will always be partly a mystery but a truth nonetheless. Adam dwells in fellowship with the Father and in peace with God’s creation. God even creates a help meet for Adam to whom Adam can share his life and love while always remembering who it was who created Eve. But then Adam rebels.

Now all creation will see if God’s love extends beyond Adam’s sin, and if the love of God will elicit an offer of redeeming love, which from our perspective, is the deepest kind of love ever known. Is love expanded when it is offered to perfection or is it put to its strongest test when it is offered to rebellion with no guarantee of like kind return? Is the magnificence of love most transparent when it is offered completely without regard to the giver but with full regard to the receiver? And in a prophetic revelation of God’s redemptive love God clothes Adam and his wife with the bloody garments of animal skins, dripping with the impossible truth of God’s restorative love. It is the first looking glass into the coming glory of a future bloody scene, again offered to the undeserving.
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The Scriptures, New and Old Testament alike, are replete with admonitions, commandments, exhortations, directions, requirements, laws, and dictates from God to man that openly and unquestionably reveal than man has a responsibility before God. Now everyone believes a saved man is responsible to God, the question is does a lost man have a responsibility toward God or does his sinful condition render him totally dead and unable to be accountable at all? Is the sin of Adam the only act a sinner must answer for or are there acts of his own volition for which he is responsible toward God?

Let me focus on one particular letter from the Apostle Paul, a piece of doctrinal literature that many feel is the single most complete theological treatise in all the New Testament. It is the book of Romans which is a masterpiece of doctrinal revelation especially concerning the lostness of man and the gospel itself. Let us begin with the first chapter in which God gives us a tiny but illuminating glimpse into God’s interaction between Himself and lost man.

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Tomorrow again commemorates the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I am hold up in a hospital bed until next weekend at the earliest, but I want to exhort all my brothers and sisters to worship Jesus tomorrow as if this was your last day on this earth, teach with passion, preach with anointing, and generally give yourself wholly to Him who gave Himself wholly for us. There was a time when Sunday morning would have seen us just going to bed but now by His grace we worship Him.

It is in times of worship and praise that we should capture our hearts, put away all the battles and cares of this world, and let our voices and hearts rise as grateful incense before our Wonderful Redeemer. I will lift you all up to Him and ask that He “may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him”. I rejoice in His grace and goodness to me in the midst of “light affliction” and pray that God is pleased with our praise. May the Lamb that was slain receive the reward of His suffering!

“I am He that lives and was dead and, behold, I am alive for evermore.”

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God is sovereign. No words can fully encompass that infinite truth. The finite can never capture the infinite and the servant can never define His sovereign. Upon creation God did not set things in motion outside His jurisdiction and relegate Himself to a hapless bystander, no never, woven into every atom of creation is His divine sovereignty which is sometimes hidden and other times revealed but at all times active and intertwined in a unified reign that glorifies Him and His eternal sovereignty. This attribute of Almighty God is one upon which we must dwell and meditate because we are so prone to imagine ourselves as in control and are generating history by the power of our own wills, but that it a mirage of our own imagination.
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Terraces near BethlehemIn Part I of this series, we examined the need to view the entire Christmas story arc – which begins in Exodus (after the prologue in Genesis) and ends with John the Baptizer’s declaration of “Behold the Lamb of God”.

Today, I would like to take a quick journey in trying to determine when, during the year, Jesus’ birthday was likely to have fallen. [Hint: For those of you paying attention, it wasn't likely to be December 25.]

Remember, Remember, the 25th of December

There are a number of reasons Christmas is celebrated on December 25, many of which are syncretised from pagan Winter solstice celebrations, most likely those during the time of Constatine, which celebrated the birth of the “gods” Mithra, Ishtar and Julius Caesar. By celebrating the birth of Jesus on this date, many Christians sought to ‘de-paganize’ the celebrations and feasting of this day (or in some traditions, a week or more), and Roman authorities sought to blur the lines between Christianity and Mithraism, the two primary competing religions of the empire.

There is very little doubt that December 25 is not the actual date of Jesus’ birth, but a date chosen for numerous other reasons, lost to antiquity.

Of Shepherds and Fields

One of the first indications of the time of year of Jesus’ birth comes to us from the Gospel of Luke:

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.

What, you might ask, from this would give us any clue, whatsoever?

In the land of Israel, there are two types of land – wilderness and farmland – which have a fairly distinct border between them. In the Hebrew Scriptures, it is described as a “land flowing with milk and honey”. Milk is the product of sheep , tended by shepherds. Sheep are tended and maintained in the wilderness areas of Israel. Honey, on the other hand, is a word which describes not only bees’ honey, but also the product of mashing fruits, such as figs and dates, which are stored in sealed jars. [A recent excavation near Masada found jars of this 'honey' prepared during the time of Herod the Great, still in edible condition.] Honey is one of the key products, along with grain, of farmers.
The word used by Luke to describe where the shepherds were – in the fields – specifically refers to the fields of the farmers, and not the wilderness area (which he describes via a different word elsewhere). Only two times during the year would sheep be allowed to be in these fields – after the spring harvest after the poor had gleaned the corners (around the time of the Feast of Shavuot (Pentecost)) and after the fall harvest after the poor had gleaned the corners (around the time of the Feast of Sukkot (Tabernacles)). During any other time of the year, shepherds would have been attacked and likely killed for allowing their sheep into the unharvested fields.

Doing the Math

The second method we can use to try to approximate a birth date for Jesus is via gestational math from scriptural clues. From Luke 1:

In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah;

[...]

When his time of service was completed, he returned home. After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant

From historical Jewish records, we can place the time of service for the division of Abijah in the late spring of the year, ending in early June. So, if we assume that soon after this (as the Greek text seems to indicate) Elizabeth became pregnant, she would have known this in early July.

Luke continues:

In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

[...]

At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!”

So, we have Mary visiting Elizabeth in what is likely to be early January (Elizabeth’s sixth month), and John leaping in the womb in response to the fetal Jesus in Mary. With this in mind, Jesus’ birth should be approximately nine months later, in early-to-mid September, which is the same time as the Feast of Sukkot – one of the two times of the year in which sheep can be tended by shepherds in the fields.

Linguistic Clues

Next, in beginning of the gospel of John, the most deliberately symbolic of the gospel writers, we are given some linguistic clues as to the time of Christ’s coming.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.

John makes clear that Jesus is the Word, and that he “made his dwelling” among us. However, John’s wording here is peculiar in it choice of words. This can also be translated: “The Word became flesh and tented (or tabernacled) among us”. This word for tent is the same word as is used in the name of the Feast of Sukkot – the Feast of Tabernacles.

Narrative/Poetic Clues

Finally, if we examine the Jewish feasts, and their symbolic significance, we can see a pattern emerge (for those associated with Easter, you can read more in my Holy Week Series from earlier this year):

Holiday Hebrew Meaning Jesus’ Event
Sukkot Celebrating God dwelling among men (originated in the Exodus, where God dwelt among the suka – tents – of his people) Jesus is Born
Passover Celebrating God’s grace; His judgement ‘passing over’ His people, so that they could be redeemed from slavery; The blood of a lamb is shed as a sacrifice for each family to protect the firstborn of each household. Jesus is Crucified
Unleavened Bread All of God’s people praying for Him to give them life (bread) out of the earth. Jesus is in the Tomb
Firstfruits Praising God for granting the first fruits of the barley harvest. These first fruits are the promise that God will grant the remainder of the harvest. Jesus is Resurrected (see I Cor 15)
Shavuot (Pentecost) Celebration of the completion of the spring harvest; God’s giving of the Law to guide His people (3,000 were killed for worshipping the golden calf) The Holy Spirit is given as a guide to God’s people (3,000 were saved that day)

(Note: I’m not including Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which may be associated with eschatalogical events or (in the case of Rosh Hashanah), with past events linked to partial-preterist eschatology.)

So What?

I have nothing against celebrating God’s gift to man, in Jesus, via the giving of gifts to each other on December 25. I sometimes wonder, though, why Christians fight so hard to prevent the secular world from replacing a religious celebration of a day with a secular celebration of a day on which Christians replaced the original pagan celebration of a day with a religious one (didja follow that?).

It is nice that we give each other gifts on December 25 and celebrate God living amongst us as a Father who gives good gifts. It is kind of weird though to celebrate this as Jesus’ birthday, in which we say ‘Happy Birthday’ and then go into the other room and give each other gifts, instead of him…

Perhaps it’s just time that we celebrate Sukkot as a time when the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us…

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Behold the Lamb of GodThis is the first part in what (I hope) will be a many-part series over the next 2.5 months which strives to place Christ’s birth within its context, demonstrating how powerful his story is – especially when viewed in the cultural context in which God placed it.

Living in America, particularly, we often get a very ’sanitized’ version of the Christmas story, which primarily deals with the Christmas story from Luke. Where we ‘miss out’, just from this fundamental standpoint, is that the story begins long before Jesus arrives on the scene to an unwed teenage girl in Bethlehem.

Fundamentally, the story begins in Genesis 1:1, with the creation of the world and the birth of the Hebrew nation in Abraham and his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

If Genesis is the prologue, Chapter One begins with the story of Moses. It is the type to the archetype in Jesus’ story – it is God redeeming a people who can do nothing to save themselves. In Moses, it is also the story of a people’s journey in struggling to follow God and the gods of this world, which leads to dispair and failure.

When you bring in the entire story arch from Exodus through Malachi – following the Children of Israel through their dispair, captivity and return to Israel, you have set the stage such that, when you read the Nunc Dimittis, the Song of Simeon, blessing the child Messiah, and the declaration of John the Baptizer “Behold the Lamb of God”, tears should be streaming down your face from the epic weight of the story and the triumph of the coming of the Messiah.

It is in this moment that their story becomes our story, that their hope becomes our hope. Without the backstory, the story of Jesus’ birth is absent the overarching conflict of the world, and it sets up an individualized story of salvation, rather than the salvation of the world.

As musical works go, I hold few out-and-out ‘favorites’ (and 90+% of those belong to Rich Mullins). However, someone whose musical influence and style is similar to Rich’s, Andrew Peterson, has a work which I put at the top of my ‘love it and recommend it’ lists, which fits into this discussion.

Peterson tells the Christmas story from Moses to John the Baptist’s proclamation of Jesus as the Lamb of God through song, in music that is not traditional Christmas fare (aside from two brief instrumentals), and is good listening year-round. This entire work, Behold the Lamb of God: The True Tall Tale of the Coming of Christ, tracks the rescue and plight of God’s people in the Hebrew Scriptures, bridges it to the Christian Testament through Matthew’s Begats (the only song I’d wager you’ll hear from Matthew 1), and then pulls it together with the blessed arrival of the Messiah.*

In other words, he covers the whole story of the coming of Jesus, avoiding the modern “Christmas” trappings and the myopic view that Christmas is covered in the first chapters of Luke and Matthew.
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*For those of you who are interested, Peterson goes on tour each year with Derek Webb and other down-to-earth Christian singers between Thanksgiving and Christmas to perform Behold the Lamb of God. It is amazing to see and hear, if you can get there. If not, it was released on DVD last year.

Here is a link to the documentary filmed last year for the Behold DVD release.
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You can listen to Behold the Lamb of God here, order it here and find out about the tour (November 27 – December 16 this year) here.

Link: Fishing the Abyss

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Reckless worship. When a sinner realizes, even in an understandable morsel, who he was and who he is now in Christ, what hindrances could there be to his open worship to the Redeemer? Just a shallow understanding of God’s grace and love toward us should bring forth unbridled expressions of worship that completely overwhelm any feelings of discomfort in a public forum. Why should we care if those who know not our Savior think us peculiar and overly demonstrative in our worship? And why do we hold back our worship during the day while we give the honor to the things of this world? What an honor to be allowed to praise Jesus, our Master.

There should be times where His presence so overwhelms us that we just bow in holy silence without sometimes even meditating on anything specific, His presence is enough. There are times when we cannot control our emotions and we must weep openly because of our gratefulness to the Savior for our own redeemed condition purchased upon His own sacrifice. There are times when we should dance, so taken by joy that we cannot remain still. A dance that doesn’t resemble the version the world uses like mating calls, but a sanctified whirling and jumping that demonstratively reveals what we are experiencing inside our hearts at that moment. There should even be times when we are brought to our knees, even in the midst of a gathering in which no one else feels led to manifest the same position. In those times our hearts are broken before God and with Holiness being revealed to us, like Isaiah, we are undone with our own uncleanness and simply in a sacred awe before the Risen Christ. Read more…

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Habakkuk was a prophet anointed of YHWY Himself and God used him as a watchman in the Southern Kingdom sometimes called Judah (Hab.2:1). Now these watchmen were prophets anointed to speak to God’s people in warning about their sin and spiritual lethargy. In the first chapter Habakkuk speaking of internal conditions in Judah points to a time after the reign of King Josiah and probably during the reign of King Jehoiakim and especially during the early years of his reign, the conditions seem to fit. He was a godless king who led the nation (church) down the path to destruction — II Kings 23:34 – 24:5; Jeremiah 22:18.

Now as anointed as Habakkuk was, he could not figure out why God wouldn’t intervene in what was happening. And just what was happening? The Chaldeans, the Babylonians, in a period of approximately 20 years were sweeping over Judah in successive waves of violence and ultimately destroyed the country and took its inhabitants away into captivity in 586 BC. And in the midst of these violent waves of destruction Habakkuk cries out to God and asks Him why He is not doing anything to intervene and protect the Southern Kingdom and God replies that even if He were to inform Habakkuk about what He is doing Habakkuk probably wouldn’t believe Him anyway. But the Lord tells Habakkuk that it is God Himself who is raising up the Chaldeans to come and attack Judah and eventually they will be carried away into Babylon.
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In Part I of this article, we examined what, according to the Hebrew Scriptures, the people of Israel were “chosen” for:

1. They were to be blessed in order that they would pass that blessing on to the world.
2. They are to live in such a way that the world may know that Yahweh is God, the one and only true God, of the world.

When we reconnect with the people of Israel in the gospel accounts, 400 years have passed, during which time they have demonstrated that their ‘addiction’ to worshipping other gods has finally been cured. Without this change of heart, it would be impossible to claim Yahweh as the One and only God.
Where their struggle laid was with the fulfillment of their ‘chosenness’ – being freed from the bondage of their sin and the continual need for sacrificial atonement, and understanding how to live in the ‘kingdom of God’ – the orthopraxy of ‘being a blessing’ and ‘living in such a way that the world may know that Yahweh is God’.

Jesus’ Mission

When Simeon blesses the 8-day-old Jesus in Luke 2:30-32, he uses a turn of phrase that sometimes we miss in the English translation:

For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.

Taken literally, Simeon says that Jesus will be a light to bring light to the Gentiles, which hearkens back to the language of God to Abraham, who would be blessed to be a blessing to the world. In John’s gospel account, his opening statements describe Jesus in similar fashion:

The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.

This language is not accidental. If he was to be the Messiah, then his purpose would have to be the purpose of his people.

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Normally, I don’t link to specific sermons I listen to online, but I’m going to make an exception today. The verse we quote in our masthead, Matthew 23:23, and it is at the center of the Mars Hill Bible Church sermon this past week. You can listen to it below for the next 12 weeks…

Grace and peace,

Chris

 
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