The Light of God’s Face in 2018

What do you need most in they year ahead? Psalm 80 gives an answer that might not have been on your list.

Pray for God to restore you. Recognize God as the Shepherd/Vine-dresser. The setting seems to be the time of the Assyrian capture of Samaria and the exile of the northern kingdom of Israel, the 10 tribes. The references to Joseph, Ephraim, and Manasseh (as well as Benjamin) point in that direction. Ask the Shepherd to hear you. The author of the Psalm, though located in the southern kingdom of Judah, recognizes the affliction of God’s people, the seeming incongruity of the Shepherd allowing his flock to be ravaged and destroyed. Despite the earlier tensions between the two kingdoms, Hezekiah extended an invitation to the northern brothers to join in the Passover, only to be largely rejected, 2 Chronicles 30:1, 10, 11. God is also the divine Vinedresser, vv. 8-11, 15. See also Genesis 49:22; Isaiah 5:1-7; and John 15:1-8 in the New Testament. God brought this little vine from Egypt, planted it, cared for it—and how it grew! God is involved in the life of his people, as the images of both shepherd and vinedresser indicated. Don’t fall into a practical deism or a view that treats God as helpless, even when (or especially when) things are difficult. Continue reading “The Light of God’s Face in 2018”

It’s Time!

A child waits for someone to tell him finally, “It’s time!” In a much deeper sense God’s people were waiting for the time he had set, as Paul tells you in Galatians 4:45

God sent his Son for you. In the fullness of time, God sent Christ. God reveals himself as the sovereign Lord of history, working out even the smallest details. The historical setting was ready for the incarnation. The Greek language was almost universal. Roman roads and peace made travel easier. Caesar Augustus sent out his decree at exactly the right time. You see God’s sovereignty in the Servant passages of Isaiah 40-48. As Isaiah prophesies and celebrates the ending of Israel’s (yet future) exile, he describes Cyrus, by name 100 years before his time, as God’s servant, Isaiah 45:1ff. But in a deeper sense, Israel is God’s servant, Isaiah 43:1; 44:1. Yet neither the people of Israel nor the king of Persia are fully qualified to be the Servant of the Lord. Thus Isaiah sings of a greater Servant, Isaiah 42:1-9 (see Matthew 12:18-29), and Isaiah 53. God does not make last minute adaptations and deal with things in the nick of time. Rather, all is in his control, all is part of his plan. Take comfort in God’s sovereign character as you face the challenges that will come in 2018, the challenges of difficult times which might shake your trust in God, the challenges of good times, which might make you complacent. Continue reading “It’s Time!”

The Lord’s Servant

Listening is important, for husbands and wives, for children, and for employees. Paul described the incarnation as the Son taking the form of a servant. Jesus had to listen to his Father. Listening was also something that his mother did. Luke 1:38 records her response as she listen’s Gabriel’s message.

Listen as a servant. Listen to God’s greeting. Mary listens to the angel’s message, and Luke wants you to listen in as well. Beware of assuming that because you are familiar with this story, because you have read and heard it often, there is nothing here for you to listen to. Gabriel brings good news again. The heavenly messenger is the same, but the setting is much more humble. Instead of the temple at Jerusalem, this is a home in the town of Nazareth, far to the north, far from the center of religious life and political power. Mary is highly favored. She is the recipient of God’s grace, in that sense full of grace. She is not full of grace in the sense of being a source of grace to others. Bengal describes her “not as the mother of grace but as the daughter of grace.” By faith she looked God, and specifically to her Son as her Savior, Luke 1:47. God’s greetings come to you as well. Gabriel’s greeting of Mary would lead to the message to the shepherds. Luke records the good news which is too great to confine to one person, or even to one nation.

At the heart of the angel’s message is, “The Lord is with you.” The Lord would be with Mary in a unique way. She was to be the mother of the Messiah. She would give birth to a Son whose name was to be Jesus. This child would be the Son of the Most High. The title reflects both his eternal deity and his Messianic sonship. Her Son, the Holy One, would be called the Son of God. He would fulfill God’s promises to the patriarchs and to David. The Lord would give him the throne of his ancestor, David, in fulfillment of the prophecies of Isaiah 11, etc. The hymn of Hannah echoes in Mary’s song, as do passages from the Psalms. Note the dual emphasis on peace and righteousness. Because of the peace that God has established, you are called to live in peace, to actively pursue peace. And as one who has experienced the righteousness of God as expressed in the person of his Son, God calls you to reflect righteousness in your dealings with those around you. With whom do you need to start? The Lord is also with you. Gabriel had already told Zechariah that the task of his son John was “to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” Luke 1:17. On the other side of this visit, the priest sang of John going before the Lord. Zechariah shares the perspective of the Old Testament. Deliverance involves God visiting his people. Luke, however, is preparing you to recognize that God has come to be with, not just Zechariah and Elizabeth, not just with Mary, but he has come to be with you. And this presence is not just a temporary theophanic revelation like those of the Old Testament. Rather, the Son of Mary will be Immanuel, God with us! Rest in, revel in, that presence of God in Christ.

Respond with trusting service. Mary responded with obedient faith. She did ask “how,” v. 34. Her question reflects her situation. She was engaged to Joseph, but they had not lived together. How was she to become the mother of this wonderful Son? The question reflects wonderment. It contrasts with Zechariah’s (formally similar) skepticism. The difference is reflected in Gabriel’s reply. He simply refers to the Holy Spirit coming upon her and the divine character of her Son. For Mary that is enough. The Lord did give Mary a sign. Her cousin Elizabeth, far too old to be a mother, was six months pregnant. That miracle foreshadowed the greater miracle that would take place in her life. As we read in the next chapter, Mary wondered, and hid these things in her heart. “According to this narrative, Mary was possessed of a simple and meditative—we do not say dull or rustic—soul. She meets the strange salutation of the angel with fear and with a perplexed question; but when mysteries beyond all human experience are promised her, says simply, ‘Behold the handmaiden of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.’ . . . Mary was not a modern superman, but a Jewish maiden of the first century, nurtured in the promises of God—the recipient, indeed, of a wonderful experience, but despite that experience still possessed of some capacity for wonder in her devout and meditative soul.” (J. Gresham Machen, The Virgin Birth of Christ, p. 132, arguing that Luke’s narrative is genuine and original, opposing views that claim the birth narrative is non-historical). Mary responds, “I am the Lord’s servant.” As disruptive as this would be in her life, as threatening as aspects of it might appear, this was God’s Word–and she would submit. That submission would blossom into a song. Even more, it introduces a life of obedient faith.

Why does Luke include this true story in his Gospel? Trust Mary’s Child and serve him. Mary’s situation is obviously unique. What happened to her would happen to no other person in the history of the universe. She only is the mother of the Messiah. “It must have bewildered and confused her [Mary], but it also became an unspeakable joy to her that God wished to make use of her in order to give the world the Redeemer. God should do with her life as was His good pleasure. She would be His servant in everything. If only His name was sanctified and glorified! For that she would give herself completely.” (S.G. De Graaf, Promise and Deliverance, Vol. III., p. 316). Luke’s focus is not on Mary, but rather, through her, on her Son. He is concerned, not just with Mary’s reaction to coming of the Christ, but with yours as well. While Mary is unique, part of her response is exactly what God expects of you–trust. God calls you to believe his Word, that this child is no ordinary baby, but is indeed the Holy One, the Son of God. He calls you to believe, not only that the Son of God was born of Mary, but also that the same Son is the King of kings and Lord of lords, who, one day, will return in glory. His becoming a servant gives dignity and worth to your calling. He calls you to submit, in faith, trusting yourself, body and soul, in life and in death, to him. He commands you to live in a way that brings honor and glory to him. In short, God is calling you to be his servant. Mold your life to his glory and honor. Paul’s discussion in Philippians 2 of Christ’s humiliation is set in the context of modeling the attitude or mind of Christ.

Because Christ the Lord became servant for your sake, he calls you to be a servant. You could have no greater privilege, no greater responsibility. Listen to the good news of his birth and live as one who serves him.

A New Name

When someone mentions the incarnation and birth of Christ our minds go to a little baby in Bethlehem. A sharp, double-edges sword seems out of place. But that Baby, now the exalted Lord, identifies himself to the church in Pergamum (Revelation 2:11-17) as having that sword.

The One with the sword knows you. Jesus is the true bearer of the sword. Pergamum was a city loyal to Rome. It had a temple dedicated to the divine Augustus and the goddess Roma, another dedicated to Asklepiosn the god of healing, who held a staff entwined with a serpent, and had a large altar to Zeus on the highest point of the city. Any one of those points would have been reason for Jesus to speak of the city as the place where Satan’s throne was located. The city was loyal to Rome, and Roman authority was maintained by her legions with their sharp swords. Paul could speak of the authority of the Roman rulers as the power of the sword. In contrast to the authority of Rome, Jesus identifies himself, with imagery repeated from the first chapter, as having a sharp, double-edged sword coming out of his mouth. Rome might have power to take life, but the authority over eternal life and death belongs to Jesus. He was once an infant in Bethlehem, but having been raised from the dead and exalted to the right hand of the Father, he is the victorious sword-bearer. Continue reading “A New Name”