Christianity 201

December 15, 2020

The Angel’s Announcement Was One in a Series of Prophecies

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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NIV.Luke.1.26b …God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

Because of an arrangement we worked out with HarperCollins Christian Publishing (HCCP), every once-in-awhile, the devotional that I see on my phone when first waking is one that comes under the terms of what we’re allowed to reprint here. This one is especially unique inasmuch as it’s from a Bible, not a book. The Jesus Bible is available in three different translations, and many different bindings.

Devotions Daily is part of Faith Gateway which is part of HCCP. While they are somewhat motivated by selling books, it also means I get to read excerpts from authors and titles I would not otherwise know about. To sign up for Devotions Daily, click this link. (But don’t leave C201, we love you, too!)

The Son of the Most High

When Gabriel announced to Mary that she would have a son, the angel invoked a promise that had echoed throughout the Old Testament. Her son would be called the Son of the Most High and would reign on the throne of His father, David. Those familiar with the Law and the Prophets, including Mary herself, would have quickly begun to connect the prophetic dots.

God had picked David, a young shepherd boy, from among an entire family of brothers and made him the ruler over Israel. God promised to make David’s name great. In addition, God promised that after David died, God would raise up one of his offspring to establish the throne of his kingdom forever (2 Samuel 7:8-16).

During his life, as David faced enemies and conspiracy, he sang songs of praise to God for protecting him as God’s anointed (Psalm 2:1-12) and for establishing his line for as long as the heavens endure (Psalm 89:19-29). David intoned a psalm of praise that contained a phrase that Jesus later quoted to confound his critics: “The Lord says to My lord…” (Psalm 110:1; Matthew 22:44). Another psalm affirmed that God, to His promise to David about the duration of his throne, had sworn an oath that could not be revoked (Psalm 132:11-12).

The prophet Isaiah continued to prophesy the fulfillment of God’s promise to David. He wrote that to his people a child would be born, a son would be given and the government would be on his shoulders (Isaiah 9:6-7). Isaiah also affirmed that a shoot would come up from the stump of Jesse, David’s father, and from its roots, a Branch (referring to Jesus) would bear fruit (Isaiah 11:1-15).

In time, God’s plan became clear: He would fulfill this promise through His Son, Jesus. When the angel appeared to Mary, God provided the ultimate update on God’s plan to keep His promise. The Baby in Mary’s womb, conceived by the Holy Spirit though Mary was a virgin, is God’s Son who would reign eternally (Luke 1:31-33). As a capstone to the astounding declarations, the angel reminded Mary that no word from God would every fail (Luke 1:37).

The intricate history of God’s initial promise realized so fully at Jesus’ first coming increases confidence that the rest of God’s promises will be fulfilled at Jesus’ second coming and after that, into eternity.


Excerpted with permission from The Jesus Bible, copyright Copyright © 2020 Zondervan. Used by permission.  Learn more at TheJesusBible.com .

Unfortunately the page at Zondervan.com is not properly displaying the various editions available. Try the website of the Christian supply site where you purchase quality Christian resources.


The Devotions Daily staff added this personal challenge:

Your Turn

Over and over and over again the prophesies about Messiah were fulfilled in Jesus’ life. No one could ever have accomplished that except the actual Messiah sent from God Himself! Because of that we can know that He is the One and trust that because what was said about Him was true, what was said about the future is true, too!


In keeping with today’s theme, here’s a virtual choir like you’ve never seen it done before singing “For Unto Us a Child is Born” from Handel’s Messiah. Each of the children in the Rexburg Children’s Choir stood against a green screen, and then their images were electronically pasted into this amazing experience.

 

December 3, 2020

It’s All a Mess, But There’s Hope!

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

What a messed-up Christmas this is likely to be! Even more people than usual will be dealing with loneliness. Family and church traditions will be messed-up including carol sings. And of course, COVID-19 is not expected to take a holiday for the holidays. Then there are those who will spend Christmas in the hospital. In fact, this is not just a messed-up Christmas, it is a messed-up year.

This will not be the first messed-up Christmas. God’s people were in a big mess that very first Christmas. How did they end up there? God created humanity. Humans rebelled. God had a plan to reconcile humans to himself which included the calling of a special people, the Hebrew people known as Israel. God entered into a covenant with them, which if you are not sure what a covenant is, marriage is a covenant complete with covenant promises, known to us as vows. As is the case with marriage, there are consequences when one of the partners breaks the covenant. God’s people broke the covenant and as a consequence things did not go well, they went into exile. God promised restoration. Though an invading army had taken the people out of the promised land, He promised they would return. They did eventually return to the land, but it felt like God did not. First the Greeks invaded. Alexander the Great was not that great if you were Jewish. Then the Romans invaded. They were the ones in charge when Jesus was born. The Romans installed Herod the Great as the king, even though he had no right to the throne. Herod the Great was not that great either, if you were Jewish.

This was not how things were supposed to be. God had promised to bless Israel and to bless all peoples through Israel. But here were God’s people under the thumb of the Romans. The Romans were ever present, God seemed far away.

As often happens when people are in a mess, things get messy. When people are in messy situations, they tend to divide over how to deal with it. We see this in God’s people at the time of Jesus’ birth. Some were known as zealots. They were calling for everyone to rise up against the Romans and fight for freedom. Some were known as Pharisees. They were calling everyone to double down on being religious. Some, including those known as Sadducees, were calling people to accept the status quo. Then there were those like the Essenes, who had given up on everyone else and were trying to create their own, smaller, but better, community.

We see these four responses among people anytime things get messy. We see this today in nations, families, indeed any people group. I have seen it in churches:

  • “Pastor, we need to fight for what is right.”
  • “Pastor, we need ensure greater purity among our people.”
  • “Pastor, we need to just go along with the powers-that-be.”
  • “Pastor, I’m outta here.”

Perhaps you have heard these kinds of responses as well . . . or responded to messy situations in these kinds of ways.

With all the mess we are in and the mess we stir up in response, is there hope?

Isaiah predicted that the people would be in a mess following their exile. He had a message of hope for them, and for us:

Comfort, O comfort my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that she has served her term,
that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the LORD’s hand
double for all her sins.

Isaiah 40:1-2 (NRSV)

If it felt to God’s people in Jesus’ day like the exile never really ended, that the covenant with God was broken forever, that God had finally walked out of the relationship completely; take comfort, He did not. The people are no longer suffering the consequence of breaking the covenant. God is still in love with people. God still has a plan of blessing.

A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

Isaiah 40:3-5 (NRSV)

If it felt to God’s people like they came back from exile, but God remained far away, they were to take heart, for God was on the way. Isaiah used imagery here of preparing for the arrival of someone very important to the city, making sure the road is suitable for the king.

A voice says, “Cry out!”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All people are grass,
their constancy is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
when the breath of the LORD blows upon it;
surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades;
but the word of our God will stand forever.

Isaiah 40:6-8 (NRSV)

If it felt to God’s people like they would never get their act together, that their “constancy is like the flower of the field,” that they would never be that faithful people God deserves, they were to take comfort, for God’s promises still stand: “the word of our God will stand forever.” God is still on ‘plan A’ and God’s people are still part of ‘plan A’ even if they had trouble sticking to it.

Get you up to a high mountain,
O Zion, herald of good tidings;
lift up your voice with strength,
O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,
lift it up, do not fear;
say to the cities of Judah,
“Here is your God!”
See, the Lord GOD comes with might,
and his arm rules for him;
his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.
He will feed his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms,
and carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead the mother sheep.

Isaiah 40:9-11 (NRSV)

Though the Romans seemed to be in charge, though the people were divided, God was on the way. God is powerful, and can deal with every mess created by every enemy. God cares for his people like a shepherd cares for a flock.

The message of Isaiah 40 was clear. Despite the mess, God was on His way.

Enter Jesus.

The Gospel of Mark does not contain the Christmas story. But it does begin with the fact of Christmas:

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’ ”

Mark 1:1-3 (NRSV)

The Gospel writer goes on to tell us about John the Baptizer who prepares the way for Jesus. The message is clear. God is on His way, and through Jesus He is here. Merry Christmas!

The Gospels go on to connect Jesus with the Isaiah 40 passage, particularly the image of God coming as a shepherd:

As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. . . . And he said to them, “How many loaves have you? Go and see.” When they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” Then he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass.

Mark 6:34, 38-39 (NRSV)

When Jesus feeds the five thousand with just a few loaves and fish, the image of Jesus as shepherd is unmistakable. In fact when Jesus has the disciples make people sit down on the green grass we are even reminded of Psalm 23:

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;

Psalm 23:1,2a (NRSV)

Additionally, Jesus refers to himself as a shepherd in John 10:

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

John 10:11 (NRSV)

The hope filled message of Isaiah, chapter 40, of God coming to us, and being a shepherd among us, is fulfilled in Jesus. He promises to be present with us always:

And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

Matthew 28:20b (NRSV)

With the mess we are in, where is our hope today? Is it found in,

  • fighting, and using violence in words or actions, like the zealots?
  • doubling down on being religious like the Pharisees?
  • acquiescing to the status quo like the Sadducees?
  • separating ourselves from the others like the Essenes?

Our hope is in walking with Jesus. He is the shepherd who will lead us through the mess, feeding us, binding up our wounds, carrying us, dealing with the enemy, even the greatest of enemies:

The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

1 Corinthians 15:26 (NRSV)

When Jesus came into the world it was a very messed-up world. It was a messed-up Christmas. God’s people were in a mess and in trying to deal with it, they just made things messier yet. A baby was born on that first messed-up Christmas, and with him, hope was born.


Clarke Dixon is a Canadian pastor. The full reflection (sermon) can be seen as part of this “online worship expression(online service). Previous posts by Clarke can be found here, or at clarkedixon.wordpress.com.

December 6, 2018

Mary, Did You Know

Editor’s Note: During the next few days articles here will weave in and out of the Christmas theme.

by Clarke Dixon

How would you have responded to such surprising news? Or even the shock of an angel speaking to you in the first place? A baby will be on the way, a little baby, but a huge surprise! Even more surprising, a man will not be involved in conception! Keep in mind Mary was possibly somewhere between thirteen to fifteen years of age according to Bible scholars. How would you have responded to this news at that age? How would you have responded if you were her Mum or Dad? Perhaps there is a reason she “set out and went with haste” (Luke 1:39) to see Elizabeth. Perhaps she would understand. Who else could Mary turn to with such a big and crazy sounding surprise?

Did Mary even grasp grasp what was really going on? Did she really understand what the angel was saying to her?

The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. Luke 1:30-31

No mention of a virgin conception just yet, however the name “Jesus” would have set off bells for Mary. The name “Jesus” is the equivalent of the Hebrew name “Joshua” which means “God rescues.” Perhaps this child will be involved in a rescue somehow. Perhaps this child will be like Moses. Would Mary have grasped how much greater a rescue would happen through Jesus than the rescue of Israel through Moses? The angel continues:

He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, . . . Luke 1:32

Could Mary have known just how great Jesus would become? Would she have been able to guess the profound impact of Jesus? “He will be great” would turn out to be the understatement of the ages.

. . . and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Luke 1:32-33

This must have set Mary’s heart racing, although I’m sure it was beating fast enough by this point. God had been promising that someone would sit on the throne of David, the Messiah, the Christ to use the Greek term. Could it be that Mary has been chosen to give birth to the promised Messiah?! What a surprise!

But there is an even bigger surprise to come:

Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” Luke 1:34

“Joseph is on his way to marry you sooner than you thought” would be surprising but not unreasonable. But no, there is a much bigger surprise in store for Mary:

The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. Luke 1:34-35

This will be a virgin conception, in fact something better, a God-conception! This has never happened before! This child must be something, or rather, someOne special indeed. This is the idea behind “holy” which means “set apart, different.” Was Mary aware of just how holy her child would be?

We should note here that the people of God were expecting God to return, and for God to send them a messiah. They were expecting it to be much like God coming to rescue Israel from Egypt, using Moses. They were not expecting God Himself to be the Messiah. This, however, is what the God-conception was pointing to. This was a huge surprise for everyone! While Isaiah 7:14 seems to prophesy a virgin birth, Biblical scholars point out that the original Hebrew often simply means “young woman” and that no one was really expecting a virgin birth to occur based on this prophecy, certainly not Mary.

Did Mary really “get it”? Would Mary have been aware that “Son of the Most High” meant much more than that her baby would have a special relationship with God? That the “Son of God” she was to carry was actually “God the Son”? Keeping in mind the age and education of Mary, would she have been thinking “this must be what future theologians will call the incarnation”? Not likely.

You have likely heard the song “Mary, Did You Know?” written by Mark Lowry. Here is the final stanza:

Mary, did you know
That your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary, did you know
That your baby boy will one day rule the nations?
Did you know
That your baby boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb?
This sleeping child you’re holding
Is the Great I Am

Oh Mary did you know?

Did Mary really know Who her son really was? Did she get it? Do we? Do we get the big surprise God has for us?

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8

The Bible uses the same language here for the disciples receiving the Holy Spirit, as it does for Mary conceiving Jesus. Mary had the awesome privilege of carrying God the Son. We have the awesome privilege of carrying God the Holy Spirit:

Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? 1 Cor 3:16

Mary had the surprising privilege of being the mother of the Son of God. We have a surprise privilege too, of becoming the children of God:

And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” Galatians 4:6

Do we really know? Do we really know the amazing wonderful and surprising privilege that is ours in Christ?

How did Mary respond to God’s little BIG surprise?

Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her. Luke 1:38

Mary submitted and committed to the surprise from God. We can too.

This last verse has often been used to preach on obedience, which leads us to think of rules of course. But the focus here is on the promise of God. Mary’s obedience was to say “yes” to the promises of God. Are we obedient like Mary? Have you and are you saying “yes” to God’s promises? When we say “Here I am, the servant of the Lord, let it be with me according to your word” what we are submitting to is:

  • the promise of forgiveness and reconciliation with God.
  • the promise of the Holy Spirit coming upon us birthing something new in is!
  • the promise of God’s presence.
  • the promise that we will be God’s witnesses.
  • the promise of eternal life.

How would you have responded to the surprising news if you were in Mary’s shoes? How do you respond to the surprising news in your own?



Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. All scripture references are NRSV.

Check out Clarke’s blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon. Portions of today’s devotional were pre-recorded! Listen to the original 23 minute sermon.

May 29, 2018

The Chastisement of Our Peace

Sometimes a reader will leave a comment at very old post here, and it will remind me that the article might be worth sharing again. This one is from January, 2011…


He was wounded for our transgressions.

Those words, from the KJV of Isaiah 53:5 are probably among the scripture verses most known by heart.

By his stripes we are healed.

If you grew up Pentecostal or Charismatic, there is no escaping teaching on that part of the verse; no escaping the connect-the-dots between the scourging Christ suffered and the healing that is available to us today, in the 21st century.

But what about the third of the four clauses in that verse? Here’s the whole verse in the new NIV:

But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.

Isaiah, in this Messianic prophecy is saying that Christ’s suffering has brought us forgiveness for our transgressions and iniquities as well as (if you’re not dispensationalist) healing of mind and body.

But there it is, in the second-to-last, a reference to peace.

I mention all this because of a post I did this morning at Thinking Out Loud, where a U.S. pastor had his congregation complete an index card indicating the trials they were facing and the burdens they were carrying. If Isaiah 53 applies, then it must apply to the point of bringing peace to the very doubts, anxieties, fears, angers, jealousies, anger, pride, insecurities, addictions, pain, disappointments, attitudes… and everything else that people mentioned on those little 3-by-5 cards.

First, let’s do some translation hopping:

  • He took the punishment, and that made us whole (Message)
  • The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him (NASB)
  • the chastisement [needful to obtain] peace and well-being for us was upon Him (Amplified)
  • He was beaten so we could be whole. (NLT)
  • The punishment which gives us the peace has fallen on him (tr. of French – Louis Segond)

Clearly, the intent of this verse is that our peace is part of the finished work of Christ on the cross.

The New International Bible Commentary says:

Peace and healing view sin in terms of the estrangement from God and the marring of sinners themselves that it causes.

The ESV Study Bible notes on this verse concur:

His sufferings went to the root of all human vice.

Lack of peace as sin? Worry and anxiety as sin? That’s what both of these commentators seem to say.

The Wycliffe Bible Commentary makes clear however that the peace that is brought is a general well-being, not simply addressing the consequences of sin.

But in the Evangelical Bible Commentary, something else is suggested, that the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 is bringing a peace that represents the restoration between God and man.

Many of the other commentaries and study Bibles I own do not directly address this phrase. A broader study of the chapter reveals a Messiah suffering for all of the burdens we bear, such as the ones listed above in the pastor’s survey. (“Oh, what peace we often forfeit; oh, what needless pain we bear…”)

I’d be interested if any of you can find any blog posts or online articles where this particular phrase is addressed apart from the wider consideration of the verse as a whole.

At this point, let’s conclude by saying that the finished work of Christ on the cross is sufficient for all manner of needs we face; all types of burdens we carry.

January 27, 2011

The Chastisement Of Our Peace


He was wounded for our transgressions.

Those words, from the KJV of Isaiah 53:5 are probably among the scripture verses most known by heart.

By his stripes we are healed.

If you grew up Pentecostal or Charismatic, there is no escaping teaching on that part of the verse; no escaping the connect-the-dots between the scourging Christ suffered and the healing that is available to us today, in the 21st century.

But what about the third of the four clauses in that verse?  Here’s the whole verse in the new NIV:

But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.

Isaiah, in this Messianic prophecy is saying that Christ’s suffering has brought us forgiveness for our transgressions and iniquities as well as (if you’re not dispensationalist) healing of mind and body.

But there it is, in the second-to-last, a reference to peace.

I mention all this because of a post I did this morning at Thinking Out Loud, where a U.S. pastor had his congregation complete an index card indicating the trials they were facing and the burdens they were carrying.  If Isaiah 53 applies, then it must apply to the point of bringing peace to the very doubts, anxieties, fears, angers, jealousies, anger, pride, insecurities, addictions, pain, disappointments, attitudes… and everything else that people mentioned on those little 3-by-5 cards.

First, let’s do some translation hopping:

  • He took the punishment, and that made us whole (Message)
  • The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him (NASB)
  • the chastisement [needful to obtain] peace and well-being for us was upon Him (Amplified)
  • He was beaten so we could be whole.  (NLT)
  • The punishment which gives us the peace has fallen on him (tr. of French – Louis Segond)

Clearly, the intent of this verse is that our peace is part of the finished work of Christ on the cross.

The New International Bible Commentary says:

Peace and healing view sin in terms of the estrangement from God and the marring of sinners themselves that it causes.

The ESV Study Bible notes on this verse concur:

His sufferings went to the root of all human vice.

Lack of peace as sin?  Worry and anxiety as sin?  That’s what both of these commentators seem to say.

The Wycliffe Bible Commentary makes clear however that the peace that is brought is a general well-being, not simply addressing the consequences of sin.

But in the Evangelical Bible Commentary, something else is suggested, that the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 is bringing a peace that represents the restoration between God and man.

Many of the other commentaries and study Bibles I own do not directly address this phrase.  A broader study of the chapter reveals a Messiah suffering for all of the burdens we bear, such as the ones listed above in the pastor’s survey.  (“Oh, what peace we often forfeit; oh, what needless pain we bear…”)

I’d be interested if any of you can find any blog posts or online articles where this particular phrase is addressed apart from the wider consideration of the verse as a whole.

At this point, let’s conclude by saying that the finished work of Christ on the cross is sufficient for all manner of needs we face; all types of burdens we carry.