Good news and 2020 don’t seem to go together. But Isaiah 40:9–11 gives you good news, not just for the people in Isaiah’s day, but for you as well.
Behold! Your God! Listen to the good news. Much of the first part of Isaiah had been warnings of coming judgment. He was to be a prophet to people whose ears, eyes, and hearts were closed. He spoke not only of the contemporary threat of Assyria, but also the future judgment to come from Babylon. Sin brings judgment. Israel would be exiled away from their land, away from the presence of the Lord. But starting with Isaiah 40 he looks beyond that, not only to the return from exile, but the full redemption and restoration that the suffering Servant would bring. You and I have the same problem as Israel. Our sins separate us from God and his presence, jus as Adam’s sin caused him to be driven out from the Garden of Eden. Our problem is not just that we may feel burdened and guilty—we are guilty. We are alienated from God. Isaiah 40:9 brings you good news. Listen to it! “Isaiah 40:1 prophesies that end-time Israel will be ‘comforted’ by God because ‘her iniquity has been removed,’ with the result that ‘like a shepherd. . . in his arm He will gather the lambs and carry them in His bosom’ and ‘will gently lead the nursing ewes’ (Isa. 40:11).” (G. K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, p. 549)
Have any Christmas cards arrived at your house with a picture of the holy family? Jesus talks about a holy family in Matthew 12:46–50, but it’s not limited to those pictured on the card.
Recognize the holy family. Give honor to Mary and to Joseph. It is wrong to worship Mary, but don’t overreact by failing to recognize just how important she is in God’s great plan. Gabriel calls her highly favored by God. She willingly assumed the role she was told she would have—being the mother of the Messiah. Luke tells us of her visit to Elizabeth, with whom she could share this marvelous news. But how many were there in her home town of Nazareth who would have believed her story? And Joseph was a godly man, confronted with news so strange that Matthew’s Gospel tells us that an angel had to explain to him that Mary had not been unfaithful. He assumed the role of the human, adoptive father of Jesus. He protected Mary and the Baby by taking them to Egypt when Herod sought to kill the Christ. The Baby is truly human as well as truly God. The hymn, “Away in a Manger,” doesn’t get it quite right when it says, “no crying he makes.” How else would the infant Jesus have let Mary know he was hungry?
Who is the most important person you have met? With whom would you like to take a selfie? The people to whom Jesus was speaking in Matthew 12:38–42 had no idea how important he was!
Repent! You have the sign of Jonah. Unbelief demands a sign. Given the Pharisees plotting to kill Jesus, the sincerity of the request is in doubt. They had just witnessed a number of miracles, but wanted something bigger, more spectacular. The prophet Jonah had been a sign. Instead of producing an additional sign upon their demand, Jesus points them back to the history of Jonah, and the remarkable sign in the early part of his prophetic visit to Nineveh. God’s revelation has already been given, and if it is rejected, no spectacular sign is going to make a difference. The Son of Man would spend three days in the heart of the earth. His situation would parallel that of Jonah, closely enough that his burial could be called the sign of Jonah, the prophet. The sign is cryptic enough that many would not understand, and likely even the disciples didn’t appreciate its meaning until they looked at it from a post-resurrection perspective. Jesus, however, would descend, not into a watery grave from which he would be rescued by a fish, but into death itself and burial. The power that raised him up after three days would be more powerful than that which moved the huge fish to spew up the undigested Jonah.
You’ve heard the jokes about 2020. But it has been a rough year for very many. Can we really give thanks? Listen to Psalm 75.
Thank God that his name is near. Thank God, even in adversity. A good deal of conflict lies in the background as you read this Psalm. Perhaps you struggle to find reasons for thanksgiving. But the reaction of the Psalmist is—to thank God. It begins with corporate thanksgiving, and at the end a grateful individual speaks for the people. The Holy Spirit included it in the Scriptures for you and me to use as well.
How often have you said something—and immediately wished there were a rewind button you could push and edit out what you just said? Listen to what Jesus says in Matthew 12:33–37.
Your words can condemn you. You have to give account for every careless word. God himself calls you to account. Jesus’ “But I tell you…” emphasizes the importance of what he says. The setting for evaluating your words is the day of judgment. God himself is the judge in that venue. You may consider your words unimportant. God’s evaluation differs. We think of words as idle or careless. Walk through a mall, and listen to people chatter or talk on their phones. You might be more concerned if you knew that all of your words were being recorded. God himself remembers what you say. You are God’s people, living in a culture that is deeply divided, a world in which accusations of lying are leveled by multiple sides. As God’s pople, guard against repeating something, just because it is directed against those with you you have strong disagreements. Make sure you are speaking the truth. Even in Christian circles you hear mocking language directed at fellow believers with whom the speaker disagrees. Evil words incur God’s judgment.
Evil words reveal an evil heart. The setting involves words spoken against the Messiah. The Pharisees were plotting how to kill Jesus, verse 14. They said that his miracle of healing the demoniac was done by the power of Beelzebub, verse 24. Evil words like these come from an evil heart. Jesus uses a variety of word pictures. These are bad trees with bad fruit. They are a brood of vipers. (Jesus reserves language like this for the persistently unrepentant, the hypocritical. He echoes the language of John the Baptist.) They are evil men bringing evil from within them. Words flow out of the heart. Yes, words can be crafted and even false, but especially unguarded words can be revealing. By nature all of us are totally depraved. That depravity not only mars our hearts, but it seeps out in the language that one uses.