Christianity 201

December 5, 2020

When Communion Sunday Meets Advent

Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity.  “Now my soul is deeply troubled. Should I pray, ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But this is the very reason I came!
 – John 12: 25,27 NLT

As I type this, tomorrow is the second Sunday of Advent, but it’s also Communion Sunday among churches which observe the Lord’s Supper on the first Sunday of each month. So which is more important: Christmas or Easter?

The Billy Graham Association website notes:

Both are equally important, because both were an essential part of God’s plan. Without Christmas, there would be no Easter—and without Easter, Christmas wouldn’t matter.

It’s true. The birth of a baby in an inconsequential Jerusalem suburb would hardly be worth noting if were not for the events which followed. And the death of a self-proclaimed Messiah might not have earned a place in history were it not for the events which preceded it, which includes what turns out to be a somewhat miraculous birth.

As simple as that seems, I think it’s something that Christians need to own to a greater degree. I say that because in a search for the phrase, “There’s no Christmas with Easter and…” etc., all of the page one search results directed readers to a quotation by a former president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (aka Mormon) and some of its related websites. While the sentiment is true, I would like to have seen more mainstream Christian expressions of that truth on page one.

Or in these words, as we put it this time last year:

There’s no incarnation without atonement.
There’s no atonement without incarnation.

As I looked at that article again, I felt I should just continue where it led us a year ago:

…There are key scripture passages associated with this time of year that answer the questions as to how Christ came into the world. The incarnation is key to Christian belief, so we need to define that. There are verses that explain where Christ came into the world. There are verses that explain who was around when Christ came into the world. But we need to get past the “Linus” verses — the verses that Linus in the Peanuts television special quotes from memory to Charlie Brown — and think about why Christ came into the world.

NIV Hebrews 1:1 In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.

If you’re on social media, you know the phrase Direct Messaging. After years of speaking through the prophets, God decides it is time to send a DM, not only to his followers, but to all humankind.

John 6 gives us more details:

 37 All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. 38 For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. 40 For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”

Verses 33 and 38-39 are key: Jesus comes to give life, and to see the salvation (although the word isn’t used here) of His children on the last day

…The Apostle Peter talks about how angels longed to see the day when salvation would be offered in a new way:

1Peter1.3 …It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, 4 and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. 5 And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see.

8 You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy. 9 The reward for trusting him will be the salvation of your souls.

10 This salvation was something even the prophets wanted to know more about when they prophesied about this gracious salvation prepared for you. 11 They wondered what time or situation the Spirit of Christ within them was talking about when he told them in advance about Christ’s suffering and his great glory afterward.

12 They were told that their messages were not for themselves, but for you. And now this Good News has been announced to you by those who preached in the power of the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. It is all so wonderful that even the angels are eagerly watching these things happen.

As Jesus calls his first disciples, he ushers in this new way, an intersection of the heavenly realm and the earthly realm

Mark 1:15 The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

and urges his disciples this is the message they are to proclaim:

Matt.10.7 As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 8b … Freely you have received; freely give.

For churches where the Eucharist/Communion intersects with Advent/Christmas, the key is not to say, ‘How do I deal with this awkward placement of two very different parts of our church calendar?’ but rather to meet the convergence head on by noting that the gathering around The Lord’s Table begins with the gathering around the manger to look at the promised child; and the gathering around the baby in the manger is the beginning of the path to the gathering in the upper room where “on the night he was betrayed, he took bread and broke it and said ‘This is my body…'”

Both of which lead to a gathering around another table, a banquet table we’ve yet to experience.

 

December 25, 2019

A Devotional for those who Don’t Celebrate Christmas

“Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’” – Isaiah 7:14

Increasingly among people with whom I come in contact, are those who, while they are committed followers of Jesus, do not celebrate Christmas in any form. After a half hour of discussing many faith related topics, one such individual reminded me, “We don’t do Christmas.”

In many ways these people have my sympathies. Let’s face it:

  • We can be almost 100% sure the date is incorrect.
  • There is no denying that many aspects of Christmas (and Easter) have their roots in pagan festivals taking place at the same time(s).
  • The commercialization of Christmas is rampant; a celebration of materialism and greed more than Jesus; something which we should all grieve.

That said however, in my personal life I find that with each passing year:

  • I am not celebrating the birth of the baby I came to know in Sunday School, but I am celebrating the notion of incarnation, the idea of God with us.
  • I am continuing to marvel at the grand story arc of scripture; a redemptive plan that was set in motion long before Adam took his first breath.
  • I am increasingly aware of God’s invitation to experience intimacy with him; that this is a God who can be known.

The story arc ends with God and mankind in absolute, unclouded, undistracted fellowship. Revelation 21:3

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.”

But eternal life with God starts now. John 1:14 states:

So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.

In the first part of that verse, Eugene Peterson famously renders it as

The Word became flesh and blood,
    and moved into the neighborhood.

Biblical commentators take this one step further and say, “God pitched his tent among us” as a shepherd would among the sheep in his care. Also, the comparison here between tent and the tabernacle of the Hebrew scriptures is not to be overlooked, and the appearance of tabernacle above in the verse from Revelation.

This is amazing! Marvelous! Beyond our scope or imagination!

While this is an Old Testament quotation, I believe it expresses God’s heart throughout time, Ezekiel 37:27:

I will make my home among them. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 

There are, I suppose many ways in which Jesus might have come among us, however he chooses to live, 100% completely, the reality of human experience beginning from birth; birth in an obscure place, at an obscure time, in less than ideal conditions (in so many ways.)

While you might not do Christmas, my prayer is that each day contains reminders of the reality of God with us.

God’s revelation to humankind in the incarnation is a cause for celebration, not on December 25th, but every day of the year.


– today’s scriptures are NLT


In case you missed it from Monday: There’s no incarnation without atonement.

December 23, 2019

There’s No Christmas Without Easter

Or, if you prefer,

There’s No Incarnation Without Atonement

This is a true saying, and everyone should believe it: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–and I was the worst of them all.

I Tim 1:15 (NLT)

I decided today to look at several things that were posted here during the first Christmas season of writing C201. I was under the impression my wife was doing a single song at the Christmas Eve service just days away. Then she informed me we were responsible for the whole service.

Hastily going through the files, we discovered that a short medley we’d done for 15 years prior. It was built around the worship chorus which perhaps was slightly more popular then than now, but still recognizable…

You came from heaven to earth to show the way
From the earth to the cross, my debt to pay
From the cross to the grave
From the grave to the sky
Lord I lift Your name on high.

The “Why” of Jesus birth is that Jesus was born to die. There is no particular cause to celebrate a Christmas unless there is an Easter.

Another song in the medley is the first verse of an old hymn,

One day when Heaven was filled with His glory
One day when sin was as dark as could be
Jesus came forth to be born of a virgin
Dwelt among men, my redeemer is He

Living He loved me
Dying He saved me
Buried He carried my sins far away
Rising He justified
Freely forever.
One day He’s coming, oh glorious day.

The medley ends with the third verse of And Can It Be…

He left His Father’s throne above
So free, so infinite His grace
Emptied Himself of all but love
And bled for Adam’s helpless race.

‘Tis mercy all, immense and free
For, O my God, it found out me.
Amazing love!
How can it be
That Thou, my God, should die for me.

There are key scripture passages associated with this time of year that answer the questions as to how Christ came into the world. The incarnation is key to Christian belief, so we need to define that. There are verses that explain where Christ came into the world. There are verses that explain who was around when Christ came into the world. But we need to get past what I call the “Linus” versus — the verses that Linus in the Peanuts television special quotes from memory to Charlie Brown — and think about why Christ came into the world.

NIV Hebrews 1:1 In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.

If you’re on Twitter, you know the phrase Direct Messaging. After years of speaking through the prophets, God decides it is time to send a DM, not only to his followers, but to all humankind.

John 6 gives us more details:

33 For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

34 “Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.”

35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 36 But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. 37 All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. 38 For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. 40 For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”

Verses 33 and 38-39 are key: Jesus comes to give life, and to see the salvation (although the word isn’t used here) of His children on the last day.

In addition to bread, the gospel of John is filled with other images. such as light:

John 3:46 I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.

The Apostle Peter talks about how angels longed to see the day when salvation would be offered in a new way:

1Peter1.3 …It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, 4 and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. 5 And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see.

8 You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy. 9 The reward for trusting him will be the salvation of your souls.

10 This salvation was something even the prophets wanted to know more about when they prophesied about this gracious salvation prepared for you. 11 They wondered what time or situation the Spirit of Christ within them was talking about when he told them in advance about Christ’s suffering and his great glory afterward.

12 They were told that their messages were not for themselves, but for you. And now this Good News has been announced to you by those who preached in the power of the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. It is all so wonderful that even the angels are eagerly watching these things happen.

As Jesus calls his first disciples, he ushers in this new way, an intersection of the heavenly realm and the earthly realm

Mark 1:15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

and urges his disciples this is the message they are to proclaim:

Matt.10.7 As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 8b … Freely you have received; freely give.

Announcing the kingdom also is mentioned at the outset of Christ’s ministry, in his inaugural sermon:

16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

These verses should begin our thinking as to why Jesus came, but trying to encapsulate everything in a short article is impossible. So multifaceted was — and is — the ministry of Jesus Christ that our words cannot contain the whole of it.

It’s so much more than a baby’s birth, and as mentioned above, while summaries of the gospel are challenging, I want to close with Bruxy Cavey’s “Gospel in 30 words.”

Jesus is God with us, come to

• show us God’s love,
• save us from sin,
• set up God’s kingdom, and
• shut down religion,

so we can share in God’s life.


Note: We’ll continue this theme tomorrow with 15 reasons why Jesus came.

December 5, 2019

The Christmas Story: Just a Good Story?

by Clarke Dixon

The Christmas story is a good story. There is something about it that engages even people who would not call themselves Christian. Where Christianity gets a cold shoulder, baby Jesus seems to receive a warm embrace. The Christmas story is a good story for many reasons. It is a story of ordinary people experiencing the extraordinary. It is a story of the underprivileged experiencing an incredible privilege. There is nothing special about Mary or Joseph, either in their societal or religious standing. There is nothing special about the shepherds. The wise men don’t even belong, they are complete outsiders. Herod, rich, powerful, and privileged, threatens and kills, but the ordinary people battle through dire circumstances and participate in something truly remarkable. Everyone loves a good story where the underdogs come out on top. As for the divine, well the divine very clearly sides with the regular folk. You don’t need to be a Christian enjoy the Christmas story as a good story. But is the Christmas story just a good story and nothing more?

The way in which Luke begins to tell the story tells us something else about it:

Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed. Luke 1:1-4 (NRSV)

Luke sets out to write, not a story, but history. Notice how Luke begins; not with “a long, long time ago in a galaxy far away,” but with, “an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us.” That is, events that really happened in Luke’s time and place and which people who were there would still remember. There are eyewitnesses. The original readers of Luke’s Gospel could check his sources. These eyewitnesses were not people indoctrinated into a school of thought, but people who witnessed things with their own eyes. They were not philosophers, or religious people, but ordinary people who experienced something, and Someone extraordinary. Luke is not making things up, but writing them down. Those who know Greek well can tell that Luke is an educated man from these first verses, for his Greek, we are told, is very good. Luke is not some religious nut who has been duped, but an educated man who has “investigated everything carefully,” so that the reader can “be certain of the truth” (v.4 NLT). The Christmas story is not just a good story, it is also a true story. 

You can imagine a scenario where something is known to be true, but it is not good news. A doctor gives the correct diagnosis, for example. What she says is true, but it may not be good news. Is the Christmas story good news? The way Luke continues drops big hints about that.

The name “Herod” elicited a response in people in much the same way that the name “Trump” does today. However, where Trump elicits a polarized response, Herod’s name always brought fear. Herod’s name shows up early, verse 5 in fact. Fear continues to be a theme of the Christmas story, especially whenever an angel appears:

When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him.  But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Luke 1:12-13 (NRSV)

The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Luke 1:30 (NRSV)

Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. Luke 2:9-11 (NRSV)

Every time an angel shows up there is much fear, yet fear not, for behold, there is good news!

People are often reticent about becoming Christians because of fear. They fear that becoming a Christian would have a negative impact on their lives. Their sense of freedom might be impacted. They might have to become “religious.” They don’t like religious people and fear they might have to become like people they don’t like. Therefore if the Christmas story and all the stories of Jesus, including the Easter story, are true, that would be bad news. However, when you dig deeper you discover that the story of Jesus is good news indeed!

Throughout his writing Luke does not come across as saying something like; “sadly, having looked at the evidence, I have to tell you that this religion is true, so you had better commit to it, even though it will be drudgery.” Rather; “having looked at the evidence, all this stuff about Jesus is true, and is great news and brings great opportunity.” It begins with ordinary people and with mean and privileged people but ends in great blessing for the ordinary people. It begins with sinful people, their relationship with God broken and shattered, and ends with people reconciled to God by his love and grace. It begins with death being a certainty and ends with eternal life being an opportunity. It begins with people getting religion all wrong and ends with people living a new kind of life focused on Jesus. It is true, but that does not mean you need to fear becoming someone you don’t like. You become a better version of yourself as you become more like Christ. It is all good news! The Christmas story is not just a good story, and a true story, it is also good news. 

Many people dabble in spirituality; “there is something out there.” Luke has good news based on a true story; there is something out there, in fact, there is Someone out there, and that Someone out there became someone down here. It is a good story, a true story, and is great news!


Clarke Dixon appears here most Thursdays and is the pastor of a church in a town located about an hour east of Toronto, Canada. Click here for his WordPress blog or click here to listen to the message on which this article is based.

December 26, 2018

Did the Birth of Christ Commence a New Dispensation?

For today’s thoughts, we’re turning to two different articles at a site we’ve visited before, The Christian Courier. Click the individual titles to read each in full. Both articles are by Wayne Jackson.

What is the difference between Bible dispensations and the doctrine of dispensationalism?

What Is a Bible Dispensation?

The Greek word oikonomia is rendered “dispensation” several times in the New Testament (see 1 Cor. 9:17; Eph. 1:10; 3:2, 9; Col. 1:25).

Sometimes the word suggests the idea of managing a household and is rendered as “stewardship” (Lk. 16:2, 3, 4; 1 Cor. 9:17). On other occasions, the word implies a plan that has been arranged (Eph. 1:10; 3:9). The term may suggest appropriate training in divine instruction (1 Tim. 1:4).

In popular usage, the word dispensation often refers to a period of time. In Bible parlance, it frequently refers to the major epochs of time in which God has operated in implementing the plan of redemption.

The Patriarchal Dispensation

The Patriarchal Dispensation extended from the creation to the commencement of the Mosaic period, at which point God selected the Hebrews as a special people through whom he would send the Christ (Gen. 12:1ff; Dt. 7:6).

In the patriarchal age, God spoke to man through select prophets. Worship was administered by the fathers of each family (cf. Job 1).

The Mosaic Dispensation

The Mosaic Dispensation began at Sinai, when Jehovah gave the law of Moses to the Hebrews. By doing so, he separated them from the other nations of the world as his own special people. They would be a redemptive tool preliminary to the sending of his Son (Gal. 3:24-25; 4:4).

Only Israel was under this code. The balance of humanity remained under the patriarchal system. The Mosaic religion was terminated at the cross (Col. 2:14ff). It ended in a political sense with the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.

The Christian Dispensation

The Christian Dispensation began on the day of Pentecost and will be terminated at the return of Christ (Isa. 2:2-4; Dan. 2:44; Joel 2:28-30; 1 Cor. 15:24-26). At that point, the eternal order of all things will be set.

Note that the author asserts that The Christian Dispensation is beginning at Pentecost, not at Christ’s Birth.

at this point the article continues to address the issue in its title, concerning the doctrine of Dispensationalism. Since that’s not part of our discussion today, let’s look at the second article.

Are the Gospels a Part of the New Testament?

“The law and the prophets were until John …”

The New Testament is perfectly clear in its teaching that, commencing with the ministry of John the Immerser, a new era of instruction was being progressively implemented by divine authority. This time frame constituted a transitional period. During these days, certain instructions pertaining to the coming kingdom of Christ were taught by the Lord and his apostles. Of course, the formalities of the Mosaic regime were still in force technically, and would remain so until the Law was finally “nailed to the cross” (Col. 2:14; cf. Eph. 2:14-15).

For example, Jesus declared: “The law and the prophets were until John: from that time the gospel of the kingdom of God is preached, and every man enters violently into it” (Lk. 16:16)…

The New Birth: Old Testament or New Testament?

To contend that the teaching within the Gospel accounts is not applicable to those of the Christian age would reflect a manifest absurdity. Christ taught, for example, that men must satisfy the conditions of the “born again” operation in order to enter the kingdom (Jn. 3:3-5).

That this process had an after-Pentecost application is obvious from the following facts. The Lord’s kingdom did not arrive until Pentecost (Mk. 9:1; Acts 1:8; 2:4), and the saints of the post-Mosaic period throughout the Middle East had undergone this “birth” procedure in obtaining their salvation (cf. 1 Pet. 1:1-2).

Hence, the “new birth” procedure taught by Christ in the “Gospels” had a post-Gospels application.

“Tell it to the church”

Then consider the following admonition from the Son of God.

“And if your brother sins against you, go, show him his fault between you and him alone: if he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he hears you not, take with you one or two more, that at the mouth of two witnesses or three every word may be established. And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church: and if he refuses to hear the church also, let him be unto you as the Gentile and the publican (emphasis added).”

Here is a context that can have no application until the day of Pentecost and the establishment of the church. This fact alone destroys the baseless assertion that nothing in the Gospel narratives is applicable after the advent of the Christian age (unless repeated in Acts through Revelation)…

Again note the terms “progressive” and “transitional.” With the birth of Christ, something new is stirring, but it has yet to be revealed until Jesus begins his earthly ministry, and it comes to fruition at Pentecost, the birth of the Church.

 

 

November 23, 2014

Awaiting the Coming of Messiah

A little bit of explanation is necessary for today’s devotional. Today I rediscovered the blog Another Red Letter Day by Benjamin Nelson. Normally the connection I am looking for in seeking material here at C201 is a high value placed on scripture, and ARLD does that with each blog post. (And we might break our six month rule and revisit the website again very soon.) But I decided instead to go with one that actually contained no scripture at all but is based on the story of Simeon, the temple prophet who was awaiting the coming of the Messiah.

For those of you who want your daily scripture reading direct, click here to read the story at BibleGateway of Simeon (and Anna, who also awaited the coming of the Anointed One) from Luke 2: 25-38. This is a great preparation as we head into the season of Advent, to understand the expectancy of Christ’s coming.

To read this at source (with a beautiful graphic image) click the title below and then take a minute to look around the rest of the site.

Simeon

My father always said I should have been born a Levite. Even as a young boy I loved the days we spent in the temple. I grew up just outside the holy city, and so on Sabbath we would all go to the temple to gather for prayers and the reading of the scrolls.

Though I am of the tribe of Judah, my name is Simeon. All my life my teachers and rabbis said I was well named. My name means ‘harkening.’ They would call me ‘the little listener.’ When I was a boy, every Sabbath day there was a Levite who would tell us, the children, stories of our history. Sometimes it seemed the scrolls were nothing but a roll book, name after name – he begat him begat her. But many days he read us stories of the great deliverers of Israel.

We learned that the Lord Almighty had chosen us, the Jews, above all nations, When we would cry out to Him, He would rescue us. He used men and women from all kinds of backgrounds to liberate us from our enemies. I loved those days, those stories, of faith filled heroes like Gideon and Samson, Deborah and Ester, Joshua and Elijah.

These stories would stir up a hope deep in my being to see the Lord’s hand of deliverance once again. In those days it was the Philistines, or the Babylonians, or the Assyrians. Today Rome occupies the holy city, and all of our lands.

Some say the Lord has abandon us, that we are a God forsaken nation because of our repeated rebellions. But they forget the promise God made to our people. He would send Messiah. The scrolls speak of One who would be born not far from here, in Bethlehem, born of the root of Jesse, the tribe of Judah, the son of David. He would be a deliverer. He would set us free once and for all from the hand of our oppressors. He would reign on the throne of David. The kingdom He would  established in Israel would have no end.

O how I longed to see this Messiah.

When I was a boy I didn’t understand the need. My parents protected us from indignities and persecutions we suffered as an occupied people. As I became a man, and began to raise my own family, I felt the oppression first hand. They let us worship after a fashion, but they demanded our money, tribute to their Caesers. They required us to give our children into their service, to do their menial tasks, all the heavy lifting. It’s hardly any different than what our forefathers suffered in Egypt.

I said I was a good listener. Sometimes I would hear things – hear things in my spirit. It’s hard to explain what I mean. In the scrolls we read of seers, those who had visions, even those who encountered angels. But I hear the voice of the Lord. At first I would tell everyone what I had heard, but they started looking at me like I needed special help. So I stopped sharing what I was hearing.

Early on I wasn’t sure if it was the voice of the Lord, but the things I heard always could be found in the scrolls. I would write out what I had heard and read it to the rabbi.  He would go and open the scrolls and show me a prophecy that said the same thing – that confirmed what I had heard.

About twenty years ago now, I think I was in my sixtieth year, I heard something that has thrilled my soul for these two decades. The Holy Spirit of the Almighty told me I would see this Messiah with my own eyes before I tasted death.

This I never shared with anyone. It’s one thing to compare what you hear in your meditations to the scrolls, but this was so personal. But I knew what I had heard. There was no question in my mind. Because I had tested this voice so many times, I knew the voice of my Lord.

It has been twenty years, and there have been days when I thought I missed it, and days when I thought I was crazy. But somewhere inside, I knew that I knew I would see this Long Expected One, the Lord’s Anointed.

It was eight days ago that I heard once again.

“The time is near.”

I began to fast and pray. I would head to the temple every day and worship before the Lord.

Today when I awoke, the Spirit of the Lord came upon me, that’s the only way I can describe it. It was not like in the past when I ‘heard’ things. This was the presence of Holiness. I knew this must be the day, so I dressed and headed to the temple. I didn’t break my fast.

As I stood in the temple and ministered to the Lord, a couple came in with an infant. I could see they were here to dedicate Him to the Lord. As they stepped into the court where I was worshiping, my spirit leapt for joy. This child, this infant was the One, the Promised Messiah.

As they approached, I went to them and fell to my knees before this One born King of the Jews. The young mother handed the child to me, and I wept for joy.

I cried out:

God, you can now release your servant;
release me in peace as you promised.

With my own eyes I’ve seen your salvation;
it’s now out in the open for everyone to see:

A God-revealing light to the non-Jewish nations,
and of glory for your people Israel.

As I looked into the eyes of my Lord the Spirit of the Lord rose up in me and I began to speak what I was hearing.

This child marks both the failure and
the recovery of many in Israel,

A figure misunderstood and contradicted—
the pain of a sword-thrust through you—

But the rejection will force honesty,
as God reveals who they really are.

My heart can barely contain the joy and peace I feel. I have been old but today all things are new. Though our oppression has not changed, today I am free. Though my joints ache and my eyes aren’t what they used to be, I am leaping for joy and I have seen the Lord’s Salvation.

I am ready to go to the bosom of Abraham today, where I can tell my story to those who have gone before.

The day of deliverance is here.

Blessed be the name of the Lord.


For further reading, click to read the same treatment of the story of Anna.

I know we’ve posted this song before, but I wanted to share it again with you:

December 22, 2010

The “Why” of the Incarnation

A few days ago I was under the impression my wife was doing a single song at the Christmas Eve service coming up on Friday.    Then a few days ago, she informed me we were responsible for the whole service.

Going through some files today, we discovered that a short medley I proposed was something we’d done for Christmas in 2005.   It was built around the worship chorus which perhaps was slightly more popular then than now, but still recognizable…

You came from heaven to earth to show the way
From the earth to the cross, my debt to pay
From the cross to the grave
From the grave to the sky
Lord I lift Your name on high.

The “Why” of Jesus birth is that Jesus was born to die.   There is no particular cause to celebrate a Christmas unless there is an Easter.

Another song in the medley is the first verse of an old hymn,

One day when Heaven was filled with His glory
One day when sin was as dark as could be
Jesus came forth to be born of a virgin
Dwelt among men, my redeemer is He

Living He loved me
Dying He saved me
Buried He carried my sins far away
Rising He justified
Freely forever.
One day He’s coming, oh glorious day.

The medley ends with the third verse of And Can It Be…

He left His Father’s throne above
So free, so infinite His grace
Emptied Himself of all but love
And bled for Adam’s helpless race.

‘Tis mercy all, immense and free
For, O my God, it found out me.
Amazing love!
How can it be
That Thou, my God, should die for me.

This blog post is the reverse of this one a few days ago, which talked about Joy to the World actually being 25% about Christmas and 75% about Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection. There are many verses in other hymns that we don’t think of at Christmas which begin with the birth of Christ, but move us quickly into the “why” of Jesus’ birth.

This is a true saying, and everyone should believe it: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–and I was the worst of them all.

I Tim 1:15 (NLT)

December 17, 2010

Key to Understanding Incarnation: Christ’s Humility

Our Friday feature comes to us from Joshua Hawkins who serves in intercession ministry with International House of Prayer in Kansas City, where it appeared under the title, The Humility of God in the Incarnation.

Perhaps the humility of God in the incarnation is one of the most considered aspects of Advent and Christmas. How could One surrounded by perfection and beauty descend to the lowest place and be born in a filthy animal feeding trough? How could one so highly exalted stoop so low to be the Servant of all?

To rightly understand His humility in becoming a human, we must be informed biblically on where He dwelt and how He was worshiped before He took on flesh. Only with this backdrop are we rightly prepared to experience the potency of His emotions and desires that flooded His heart and caused Him to constrain Himself to the poverty of a human frame forever.

Before creation, the Son was dwelling together with the Father, daily His delight (Proverbs 8:30). He was perpetually adored by all the host of Heaven from the moment of their creation, never ceasing to be recognized for who He was and never ceasing to receive worship. He was the preeminent One, beautiful beyond comparison, so excellent in all His ways. He was one with Yahweh, the LORD. There was no one like Him in all of creation.

In the Incarnation, Jesus descended to the earth from His throne at the height of the heavens, and chose to be born through a young frightened maiden in an obscure town in Israel. Of course the act of the eternal Son of God being born demonstrates spectacular humility. The apostle Paul says that He “made Himself of no reputation” (Philippians 2:7). That Jesus would actually choose to be born instead of simply appearing on the scene in glory is astounding, and speaks of His burning heart of love for fallen humanity. Later on in His life, Jesus spoke of His humility in emptying Himself of reputation and giving everything for love:

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field…Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”
(Matthew 13:44-46 NKJV)

Though His humility can be considered in every moment of His life, few things exemplify the humility of Jesus in the Incarnation more than the circumstances surrounding His birth. We know the story well (and perhaps too well that the weight of what happened does not bear down upon us as it should). Mary and Joseph had not yet been married, but were betrothed to each other. Mary went to visit her older relative Elizabeth who was miraculously with child in her old age. After returning to Nazareth months later, she was showing signs of her pregnancy. Can you imagine what Joseph must have been feeling when she saw Mary’s belly? Soon, the news would fill the entire town – Mary had returned and was pregnant. Who was the father of Mary’s child? Was she unfaithful to Joseph during her stay outside of Nazareth? The rumors about her would most certainly be the talk of the town.

Jewish law typically required one to divorce an unfaithful wife, and that any woman found in indecency could be given a certificate of divorce (Deut. 24:1). The penalty was worse for a betrothed virgin – if she was found unfaithful, she would be stoned by the men of her city (Deut. 20:20-21). Joseph had considered the implications of “going public” and not accepting the child in Mary’s womb as his own, but because he was “righteous” (Matthew 1:19) he decided to “put her away quietly”.

The scriptures are silent on the social context in Nazareth before Jesus’ birth, but we can only imagine what it must have been like for the young betrothed couple, bearing the stigma from their friends and loved. Undoubtedly Mary’s reputation in Nazareth was tarnished as she lived under reproach and carried the Creator and Ruler of all in her young womb. It wasn’t until six months later that the couple departed for Bethlehem and Mary delivered her firstborn Son in the abode of sheep, horses, donkeys, and goats. By man’s standards, her first pregnancy was memorable but for all the wrong reasons. Remembering that angel told her she was “highly favored”, what must Mary have been thinking? Through the birth of Jesus, it’s clear that our modern Christian definition of “favor” and “blessing” is completely different from the Lord’s.

The circumstances leading up to our Lord’s birth are scandalous, and the trials did not stop after He was born. Herod had been informed of the sign of a King born in Bethlehem. Fearing political conquest by another King, Herod put to death all of the children in Bethlehem who were two years old and under. Not only did Jesus escape death by the power-hungry sword of Herod and have men seeking after His life from a young age, but He grew up bearing the stigma of a child conceived out of wedlock.

The remarkable aspect of His humility is revealed through these early moments of His life when we realize that Jesus, the Holy One, actually chose these circumstances to be born and raised in. It was not fate, mere chance, or bad luck that hindered the Creator of all from a more “normal” birth. Jesus could have come into the world in a king’s palace under perfect conditions, and He still would have been unspeakably humble to do so when considering who He was and where He came from. But He went lower still.

If every moment of the life of Jesus is revelatory concerning the heart of God, what does this say to us about His humility?

Pondering the life of Jesus as a minutes-old baby to a two-year old toddler has got to be one of the most enthralling things for one to do! Not only does it thrill our hearts with God’s personality, but it beckons us into His likeness. May the Lord grant you grace to behold Him in His humility today and the rest of this Advent and Christmas season.

Joshua Hawkins