He Preached Good News to the People

In 1954 he was called to pastor Friendly Will Missionary Baptist Church in Austin, Texas. Later, he was called to pastor Mount Corinth Baptist Church in Houston, Texas. It was there he developed a friendship with and was a confidant to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In 1961 he was called to pastor Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles, California. It was there while president that George H. W. Bush heard him preach.  But it was there that he heard an elderly woman called “1800.”

She was called “1800” because no one knew for sure how old she was. Although it was a Baptist church, 1800 would sit at the front of the sanctuary. At the moment a preacher, any preacher, would begin his sermon she would shout, “Get him up!” After a few minutes, if 1800 did not think there was enough of Christ in a sermon, she would again shout, “Get him up!” And if a preacher did not “Get him up,” he was in for a rather long and perhaps hard morning of preaching.

He Preached Good News to the People

It may be that Luke 3:15-20 is for preachers when it comes to preaching. And it is because of this one sentence: “So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people” (3:18).  But it also may be that Luke 3:15-20 is for those in the front of the sanctuary or in the back of the sanctuary or scattered throughout the sanctuary. And it is because of this one sentence: “So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people” (3:18). What is the point of preaching?

Notice the word exhortations. It can mean to warn or to help; to comfort or to encourage. Interestingly, this word is a verb. The noun form of this word is the same word to describe the Holy Spirit. “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26). And how does the Helper help? He teaches and he reminds all that Jesus has said. See that there is a certain content to the helping.

And this fits perfectly with Luke 3:18 and asking, what is the point of preaching? We might say that the point of preaching is to warn or to help or to comfort or to encourage, but Luke 3:18 does not allow us to say just that. It is because there is a certain content to the warning, the helping, the comforting, the encouraging. And what is that certain content? “So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people.” The certain content of the exhortations is good news. And so the point of preaching is for the one doing the preaching and for those in the front of the sanctuary or in the back of the sanctuary or scattered throughout the sanctuary. The point of preaching is good news whether it be a warning or a help or a comfort or an encouragement.

What is the Good News?

But the big question to ask is, what is good news? This is the third time that these two words have been used together so far in the Gospel of Luke.

In Luke 1:19, the angel Gabriel said to Zechariah (who just learned that he was going to be a father for the first time at an age when he should be a grandfather for the first time), “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news.” In Luke 2:10, to some shepherds out in some field an angel said, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people.” Then in Luke 3:18 there is this verse about the ministry of John the Baptist. “So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people.” But there is also Luke 4:43 and the ministry of Jesus Christ. “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well.” This means that in four consecutive chapters of Luke’s Gospel, Luke says something about good news. And I think the reason is that good news is the point of preaching.

But back to the big question. What is good news? Two angels at two separate times were sent with it. And two men at two separate times preached it. Another word for good news is gospel, So, essentially we are asking, what is the gospel?

It was mentioned last week that the Apostle Paul wrote to a local church in Rome that he was eager to preach the gospel to them (Romans 1:15). And then the Apostle Paul wrote to a local church in Corinth to remind them of the gospel. “…that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was he buried, that he was raised in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared” (1 Corinthians 15:1, 3-5). The small point is that it is good for us to be asking, what is the gospel?

I want to point out that Luke 3:18 describes the ministry of John the Baptist in reference to the previous verses. So, when we ask about the gospel we need to look at those previous verses. As we do, be reminded about something in the Gospel of Mark regarding the ministry of John the Baptist. Mark called it, “the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ” (1:1). There is a beginning to the good news.

The Beginning to the Good News

This beginning is everything we heard together in Luke 3:1-14. And this beginning is repentance. The good news is that there is repentance. Repentance is a turning, a turning toward God. It is a turning of the heart toward God which means the heart was turned away from God toward something else other than God. Something else had my heart! Repentance is a turning of the heart away from sin and turning the heart toward God. It is a turning away from a behavior God hates and turning toward a behavior God loves. It is a turning away from my own effort and my own strength and turning toward the strength of God. And what causes the turning? It is God; it is the riches of God’s kindness (Romans 2:4).

There is then a lifestyle, a distinctive lifestyle that is to accompany this repentance. It is a lifestyle that is gladly gives and gladly receives. It is a lifestyle that experiences daily contentment. It is a lifestyle that experiences contentment because of the experience of knowing God. “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

And so why call this the beginning? It is because it is only the beginning. There is more. And there is more because John preached more. There is more because there is Luke 3:15-17.

Is John the Christ?

John was preaching this good news to the people and these people were in expectation (3:15). The word expectation means to watch in view of. In view of what John just said, the people were watching, watching and waiting, watching and waiting for more. Why? It is because there has to be more. This is really interesting. Why would the people be expecting more? Listen to the rest of Luke 3:15. The people “were questioning in their hearts concerning John.” Is he the Christ? Again, why are they thinking like this?

Now the text does not say that John heard their questions. He obviously saw the people and their reactions. John being a man filled with the Holy Spirit answered, meaning he is answering their expectation; he is answering their question.

Now just note, that John does not give a simple and straightforward “no.” He is not the Christ, but he does not say he is not the Christ, the Messiah, God’s promised King. Instead he says that the first part of his answer to their expectation is that he baptized with water. It is as if John said, “Of course there is more! This is just the beginning. I only baptized you with water.” And then he tells them that there is more to come. “But he who is mightier than I is coming.” Literally, “the One comes mightier than I.”

And I love this; John says concerning the One, the coming One, “the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” John considered himself unworthy to untie the shoes of Jesus! Taking somebody’s sandals off and washing their feet was so low on the service ladder that you couldn’t get lower than having to do that job.

Then John gets to it. “He [the One coming who is mightier] will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” This is John’s answer to their expectation of more. Of course there is more! This is John’s answer about the Christ! John is not the Christ. John baptized with water. Anyone can baptize with water! John did something that was a visible and outward demonstration of an inner reality: the turning of the heart. John simply immersed a person with water. But there is more. The One coming, he is mightier, stronger, more powerful and therefore he can do what no mere man can do. Only he can baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. Only he can immerse a person with the Holy Spirit and fire. And what does that mean?

The Baptism with the Holy Spirit and Fire

Why were the people watching for more? The people were watching for more because they knew their Bible. The people were watching for more because they knew there was One coming. God promised that the Lord whom you seek [expect] will suddenly come to his temple. The people were watching for more because God promised that the messenger of the covenant, the covenant that promises a new heart, a revived heart, was coming (cf. Ezekiel 36:26). God promised that the Lord in whom you delight is coming. And the people were watching for more because God promised that first there would be a messenger that “will prepare the way before me” (Malachi 3:1). And who is John the Baptist? He is the one who will prepare the way before the Lord, the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

And the One coming, mightier than John, listen to what Malachi says about him. This is what God promised about him. “But who can endure [or who can comprehend or contain] the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and a fuller’s soap” (Malachi 3:2).

Luke 3:1-20 is a fulfillment of Malachi 3:1-4. And the baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire is like a fuller’s soap and a refiner’s fire. This baptism purifies and refines. When Isaiah prophesied Isaiah 7:14, he did so on the highway to the Washer’s [Fuller’s] field (cf. Isaiah 7:3). Now get this; a fuller was an individual who would take away the raw, filthy wool from sheep and purify it using a variety of techniques, including an extremely harsh soap that would ultimately help to make it clean. And get this; a refiner’s fire is a fire that refines, not a fire that destroys.  It is a fire that improves and removes impurities.  It is a fire that makes more accurate.  It is a fire that completes in detail for final taste.  It is a fire that is used for silver and gold.  And it is said that a refiner knows that his metal is pure and improved and more accurate when he can see his own image in the mirror-like-surface of the metal.

This is the work and ministry of Jesus the Christ. And it is for all those who come to him to believe in him and receive him alone as Savior and Christ and Lord (the wheat). And those who reject him and reject this are like chaff that will be burned up in an unquenchable fire.

So how does Jesus do this? How does he baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire? How does he purify and refine? It happens at the moment of salvation when we are placed into the body of Christ, the church (1 Corinthians 12:13), a one-time experience of every genuine believer. It happens at the moment of salvation when by the Holy Spirit we are born again (John 3:3-6). It happens at the moment of salvation when the Holy Spirit takes up residence in our hearts (John 14:16, 17, 26). It happens at the moment of salvation when we are sealed by the Holy Spirit, a guarantee of our eternal destiny (Ephesians 1:13-14; 4:30; Romans 8:16-17). And it happens every day in our walk in this life – the Holy Spirit intercedes, actually prays for us (Romans 8:26-27)! It happens every day as we read God’s Word and His Spirit opens our eyes to behold wondrous things (Psalm 119:18). And it happens when I say no to sin each day by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:13). And it happens because of the great love with Jesus Christ loves me (Ephesians 5:25-27).

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What Then Shall We Do?

The current population of the United States of America rose to 328,145,132 on Saturday, February 2, 2019 at 12:18 p.m. And it is estimated that on Sunday, February 3, 2019 at 6:30 p.m. thirty percent of the population (that is over 100,000,000 people) will be watching the New England Patriots take on the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII.

Compare this with anytime on any given Sunday anywhere in the United States in the last year. Less than seventeen percent of the population gathered with a local church on any given Sunday. Compare this with anytime on any given Sunday anywhere in the United States in the year to come. It is estimated that fifteen percent of the population will gather with a local church on any given Sunday.[1]

And, I think, the big question is, what then shall we do?

It Begins With a Rather Long Sentence

It begins with a rather long sentence in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar. And not just in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, but Pontius Pilate being governor. And not just in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar and Pontius Pilate being governor, but Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip being tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias being tetrarch of Abilene. And not just in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, but also during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas.

Luke begins with a rather long sentence in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar to emphasize a point. In that fifteenth year, Luke lists the names of seven historical figures, most are more recognizable than others. For instance, who is Lysanias? He is as real as Tiberius Caesar. And there is the point. In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor, Herod and Philip and Lysanias being tetrarchs; and during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, “the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness” (Luke 3:1-2).

Luke begins with a rather long sentence to emphasize that the word of God is real. And the word of God coming to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness was as real as Tiberius Caesar and as real as Pontius Pilate and as real as Herod and his brother and Lysanias. The word of God coming to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness was as real as Annas and Caiaphas. And nothing like this had happened in a really long time.

The language of this rather long sentence reflects the language of the Old Testament, particularly in the Old Testament books called the Prophets. “The word of the Lord that came to Hosea, the son of Beeri, in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel” (Hosea 1:1). The historical names are different, but it sounds almost identical to Luke 3:1-2! So, this leads me to say this: nothing like this had happened since the Old Testament prophets.

The last Old Testament prophet – God’s chosen preacher – was a man named Malachi. Nothing like this had happened since the days of Malachi. It had been some four hundred years since the days of Malachi!

So, what then shall we do?

What is Repentance?

Read Luke 3:3. “And John went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” What does that mean? Notice the word proclaiming. Another word for proclaiming would be the word preaching. So, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness and he then went about preaching. And the big idea of John’s preaching, the big idea of his message was repentance. And as John preached this message of repentance, people would get baptized, immersed into water. The baptism was a visible demonstration of an inner reality. The baptism did not do the repenting. The baptism was not the repentance or granted the repentance. The baptism was not even necessary for repentance. It was simply a visible demonstration of something that had happened.

But I think we need to ask, what is repentance? Notice that Luke not only says that John preached a baptism of repentance, but a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Again, the central idea or the big idea is repentance. How important is repentance? It is necessary for the forgiveness of sins. So, it seems that it is good to ask, what is repentance?

It is much more than a change of mind or a change of behavior. There is something that causes repentance. “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4). What causes repentance? God causes repentance. It is the riches of God’s kindness that causes repentance. And where do I see God? Where do I see his kindness?

Let’s keep thinking. What is repentance? I think that the Gospel of Luke is my favorite book of the Bible. I love how he thinks! Luke knew that we might be asking about repentance in Luke 3, so he gave us a definition in Luke 1. It was when Zechariah first learned that he was going to be a first time dad. And he was told this about his son: “And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared” (1:16-17). Notice the word turn, it is mentioned twice when it comes to the life and preaching of this man named John the son of Zechariah. He will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. Hearts will be turned. So, what is repentance? It is a turning. It is a turning toward God. It is a turning of the heart toward God which means the heart was turned away from God toward something else other than God. Something else had my heart!

It made me think of Matthew 6:21. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” So, when it comes to repentance, I am being confronted with my heart. Where is my heart at? What has my heart? And so, repentance is a turning of the heart away from sin and turning the heart toward God. It is a turning away from a behavior God hates and turning toward a behavior God loves. I read a pastor add this: it is a turning away from my own effort and my own strength and turning toward the strength of God. And what causes the turning? It is God; the riches of God’s kindness. And where do I see God? Where do I see his kindness?

All Flesh Shall See the Salvation of God

Luke then directs our attention to Isaiah. He says that all of this is exactly what the prophet Isaiah was talking about in Isaiah 40. And not only does Luke say this, but so does Matthew and so does Mark (Matthew 3:3; Mark 1:1-3). Interestingly, Mark calls this the beginning of the good news about Jesus. So, we can say this, this message of repentance is good news! But both Matthew and Mark only quote Isaiah 40:3. Luke, though, quotes Isaiah 40:3-5.

And the point of quoting Isaiah 40:3-5 is to show that repentance is much bigger than we think. Repentance removes every immovable obstacle. It levels mountains. It fills valleys. It smooths rough roads and takes the long and windy roads and makes them straight. For what purpose? See, there is a purpose to repentance. It is Isaiah 40:5 (or Luke 3:6). “And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

However, Isaiah 40:5 actually reads, “And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.” So, which is it? Glory or salvation? And why does Luke change glory to salvation? It is because it is both. Remember in Luke 2 when old man Simeon held Jesus in his arms? He said, “my eyes have seen your salvation” (2:30). And do you remember something John wrote, not John the Baptist, but the other John, when he saw Jesus? “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). So, to see salvation is to see God’s glory. And what does Jesus’ name mean? It means “Yawheh is salvation.” So, to see Jesus is to see God’s salvation. And to see Jesus is to see God’s glory. And how are we to see Jesus? It is repentance!

A repentant person is one who then can see the salvation of God. And all flesh can see the salvation of God when they see a repentant people.

What Then Shall We Do?

So, what then shall we do? This should make us tremble. Who did John preach this message to? Who was this message for? He initially calls them “brood of vipers,” or in other words, children of serpents, i.e. children of the devil (cf. John 8:43-44). And he tells them, this is really important, to bear fruits in keeping with repentance. Then he says this, “and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father’” (Luke 3:7-8).

In Acts 13, the Apostle Paul said that John was addressing those who fear God (Acts 13:16, 26). John was preaching to people who were conscious of God’s Word and knew his promises. They were holding on to God’s promises. These were God’s people! It is no different than talking to a Christian, someone who goes to church. It is no different than talking to those seventeen percent who gather with a local church every Sunday.

God is saying to us, you seventeen percent, I am standing here with an axe to get rid of dead wood. I am looking for trees that are bearing fruit (Luke 3:9). The heart of John’s message is not just repentance, but that God’s people would bear fruits worthy of repentance. And what is that? It is a lifestyle, it is a distinctive lifestyle.

It is why the crowds cried out, “What then shall we do?” And why the tax collectors cried out, “What then shall we do?” And why the soldiers cried out, “What then shall we do?” All kinds of people cried out. And John narrowed the distinctive lifestyle, the fruits worthy of repentance as sacrificial giving and glad getting (being content with what you have). And it sounds just like what the writer of Hebrews said. “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). The heart turned toward God is content with what it has. And what do we have?

Job, righteous Job was a repentant man. The end of his story, it seems like his story was building up to when he would repent. And when he repented he said to God, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you” (Job 42:5). Consider the prophet Isaiah, perhaps one of the most righteous people in the Bible. In the beginning of his story, when he saw the Lord God high and lifted up, he repented. “Woe is me! I am undone! I am a man of unclean lips! For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5).

This is therefore how all flesh can then see the salvation of God. A repentant people, content with God.

[1] https://churchleaders.com/pastors/pastor-articles/139575-7-startling-facts-an-up-close-look-at-church-attendance-in-america.html/

I Must Be in My Father’s House

There are things which happen to make us totter. But there are things which are to keep us from tottering over. And Mary treasured up these things in her heart.

In Luke 2, there is a story only Luke tells. It is not found in the Gospel of Matthew or in the Gospel of Mark or in the Gospel of John. And the story begins like this: There were some shepherds out in some field keeping watch over their flocks by night. And behold, suddenly there appeared to them one angel with these words, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior [one who is mighty to rescue], who is Christ [the Messiah, God’s promised king] the Lord [the almighty God]. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And then every angel of heaven appeared singing these words, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased” (Luke 2:8-14).

So, the shepherds all agreed that now was the time to get to Bethlehem, the city of David, to see this thing which has happened. It was there that they found Mary and Joseph and a baby lying in a manger. When the shepherds looked at him lying in a manger they then shared the good news of great joy told to them out in that field. And Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart (2:15-19).

In Luke 2, there is another story only Luke tells. It is not found in the Gospel of Matthew or in the Gospel of Mark or in the Gospel of John.

His Parents Went to Jerusalem

And the story begins like this: His parents went to Jerusalem. His parents went to Jerusalem every year. And his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover (Luke 2:41). Why? In Exodus 12:24, God gave a command that the Passover be remembered forever. Several times in the Bible God emphasizes how important it is to him that the Passover not be forgotten (Exodus 23:14-17; Exodus 34:23; Deuteronomy 16:16). The Feast of the Passover is about remembering that God is mighty to rescue. He is mighty to rescue from every bondage; he is mighty to rescue from every oppression; he is mighty to rescue from all that which enslaves; he is mighty to rescue from all that which so easily entangles. He is mighty to rescue from sin.

But this is not the first time his parents went to Jerusalem. In Luke 2:22-40, when he was several weeks old, his parents went to Jerusalem and took him with them. It was to dedicate him, his entire life to the Lord. Why? In Exodus 13:1-2, God gave a command. “The Lord said to Moses, “Consecrate to me all the firstborn. Whatever is the first to open the womb among the people of Israel, both of man and of beast, is mine.”” Why? Listen to the very next verse. “Then Moses said to the people, “Remember this day in which you came out from Egypt, out of the house of slavery, for by a strong hand the Lord brought you out from this place. No leavened bread shall be eaten”” (13:3).

Do you see it?! Twice in Luke 2, his parents went to Jerusalem. Why? When he was just several weeks old, his parents took him to Jerusalem and to the temple to remember that God is mighty to rescue. And when he was twelve years old, his parents took him to Jerusalem and to the temple to remember that God is mighty to rescue. But why did they take him when he was twelve years old? Or, why is Luke telling us about when they took him when he was twelve years old? His parents went to Jerusalem every year for the Feast of the Passover. And certainly this was not the first time that Jesus went to Jerusalem for this feast. It is implied that you would have your son with you at this feast every year. “And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the Lord’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses’” (Exodus 12:26-27).

So, why not tell the story of when Jesus was five or seven or eleven years old at the Feast of the Passover? It is partly because at twelve years old in another year Jesus would become “a son of the commandment,” bar mitzvah, and be a full member of the religious community. And so on this trip Jesus would accompany Joseph to pick out and purchase the perfect and spotless sacrificial lamb. Jesus would accompany Joseph to the temple and watch as this lamb would be slaughtered on behalf of the family. Jesus then would accompany the lifeless, sacrificial lamb along with Joseph (maybe Jesus carried the lamb) back to the family’s tent to prepare the evening Passover meal. In 20 years, Jesus would be back in Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. And then as a man of sorrows. Then as one despised and rejected. Then as one from whom men hide their faces. Then as one pierced for our transgressions. Then as one crushed for our iniquities. Then as one who would bring us peace. Then he would be led like a lamb to the slaughter.

And Jesus Stayed Behind in Jerusalem

But as this story progresses, Luke quickly tells us that when the feast was over Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents along with their extended families and friends and acquaintances, all made their way back to Nazareth together. Each were in a hurry to leave ahead of the massive crowds, the holiday traffic. And so after about a day’s journey away from Jerusalem, his parents realized that Jesus was nowhere to be found. He was not with Joseph. He was not with his mother Mary. He was not with his cousins. He was not with Uncle Zechariah or Aunt Elizabeth. He was not in the front of the caravan or in the back of the caravan (2:43-44). Where was he?

Joseph and Mary were a day’s journey away when realizing that Jesus was left behind. And so they make their way back to Jerusalem, another whole day’s journey. It has now been two days that Jesus was left alone in the big city. His parents make it back to Jerusalem (this now the third time in Luke 2 his parents went to Jerusalem). They spend a day looking for Jesus. My guess is that they first looked in the last location in which they saw Jesus. He was not there. He was not at the playground. He was not in any of the stores. He was not in any of the restaurants (2:45-46). Where was he?

Three days of panic. Three days of worry. Three days of no sleep. Then it was realized there was one place no one thought to look. But why look there? Why would he be there? Joseph and Mary search the temple. Twelve year old Jesus is found…sitting among the teachers. Twelve year old Jesus is found sitting among the teachers, listening to them. Twelve year old Jesus is found sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Twelve year old Jesus is found sitting among the teachers, listening to them, asking them questions and himself being asked questions. And twelve year old Jesus is giving answers. These trained Bible teachers are asking for and listening to his answers (2:46-47). And what is it all about? What is the discussion and the questions and the answers all about? It is all about the glorious revelation of God.

And I know what some are thinking. Of course! Jesus, even at twelve years old, had the answers. Jesus has always had the answers! Jesus always has the answers! Jesus is the answer!  But there is more to it. The Bible tells us that when God put on flesh, conceived in a womb and grew for nine months there, he humbled himself by becoming one of us (Philippians 2:6-7). And yes, he was God. He has always been God and will always be God. And yes, being God Jesus is omnipotent (all powerful) and Jesus is omnipresent (everywhere at all times) and he is omniscient (all knowing). But when he became a man, he set aside his absolute right, as God, of their absolute use. He chose instead to experience every bit of what it means to be human. In this context, it means that he had to learn as we learn. He had to learn how to read and how to write. He had to learn math and the sciences. And so here he is at twelve years old, asking questions and growing in his understanding as a man.

I thought that this was such a great insight to share: if Jesus sought out teachers, listened, asked questions, and gave answers about the things of God, how much more ought his people be seeking out teachers and listening and asking questions and giving answers about the things of God? It is a zeal to tackle the glorious revelation of God in the Bible and understand it. So, find a teacher who loves the whole counsel of God; listen to him/her; ask questions; keep asking questions until it begins to all fit together; and be asked questions and give your answers.

I Must Be in My Father’s House

But what were his parents feeling? Each, both Joseph and Mary were entrusted with raising and protecting God the Son. And they thought they failed. Is this the pain Simeon told Mary about? It is a thought that must have exploded in Mary’s mind. And so when they find him, it is no surprise that Mary says, “Son! Why would you do this to us? Why were you not with us? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in tremendous turmoil and pain [great distress]” (2:48).

Now listen closely to Jesus’ answer. “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” In the moment that Jesus was found asking questions and answering questions, he asks his parents a question. No; he did not intend to cause them pain. But I do think it is a small reminder of things to come, a greater hurt to come for Mary. No; Jesus was not disobedient or disrespectful. The Bible says that Jesus was and is absolutely sinless (cf. John 8:29; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15; Hebrews 7:26; 1 Peter 2:22; 1 John 3:5).

Instead, I think that this moment, this story was for his parents. Jesus in that question is revealing to them that he knows exactly who he is; he is God the Son. He knows the mission. And he absolutely values the company of His Father more than anything else. Initially, they do not understand what he is saying (2:50). And it makes us just ask, in twelve years did the words of the angels to them fade or become obscure in the busyness of life? In twelve years did the words of the shepherds to them fade or become obscure in the busyness of life? In twelve years did the words of old man Simeon and old woman Anna fade or become obscure in the busyness of life? Are there things fading or becoming obscure to me?

But notice what happened next. Jesus returns with his parents to Nazareth and he continued to be obedient to them (2:51). And he continued to grow and mature and be filled with wisdom. He grew in the knowledge of God’s grace and people liked him! But Mary took this particular moment when Jesus was twelve years old, although at the time she did not understand it, and “treasured up all these things in her heart” (2:51).

I think this story was for them. When asked, possibly by Luke, it was the one moment from Jesus’ childhood Mary shared. It was the one moment from Jesus’ childhood that God chose to be written down and heard and remembered forever. Mary did not understand it, but treasured it! Why?! It is because the big point is to understand more of God than I already know. The busyness of life can so easily overwhelm. In that busyness the things of God can grow strangely dim.

There are things which happen to make us totter. But there are things which are to keep us from tottering over. And that which is to keep us from tottering over is the every day pursuit to know and understand more of God than I already know.

Waiting for the Redemption of Jerusalem

Her story begins during Christmas break in 1945 with these words: that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death (Philippians 3:10).  Her story continues in 1953 when she left for Africa to serve as a medical missionary. And her story got better one night as she served in the maternity ward.

Helen had worked long and hard helping a mother in labor, but the mother died leaving a premature baby clinging to life and a two year old daughter helpless. Keeping the baby alive proved to be difficult since the hospital had no incubator. One assistant wrapped the baby in warm swaddling cloths while another searched for a rubber hot water bottle. As she filled it, due to the tropical climate, the rubber bottle burst. It was their last one.

At noon, Helen had her normal time of prayer with some of the orphanage children. As they talked about what they needed to pray about, Helen shared with the children about the struggling baby and the now lonely two year old girl. During the time of prayer, ten year old Ruth prayed that God would send a hot water bottle that afternoon (because tomorrow would be too late) and a dolly for the little girl so that she would know God loved her. Helen hesitated to say ‘Amen.’ She had been in Africa four years and had never received a package from home. And who would send a hot water bottle?

Later that afternoon, Helen was teaching in the nurses’ training school when a message came that a car was at the front door. When she reached the veranda, the car was gone…but a large package remained. Helen sent for the orphanage children. When they arrived, together with Helen they began opening the package. There were beautifully colored clothes, bandages for leprosy patients and even raisins! And then Helen, astonished, pulled out a brand new rubber hot water bottle! Tears came to her eyes but then ten year old Ruth said, “If God had sent the hot water bottle, there must be a dolly in there too.” Digging into the box, she pulled out a beautifully dressed doll. With wide shining eyes she begged to go and give the doll to the little girl so she would know Jesus loved her.

The package? It came from Helen’s former Sunday School class back home in England. It had been sent five months earlier, but was delayed in its arrival by God’s perfect timing.[1] This was Helen’s story.

This Is Anna’s Story

Things happen which make us totter. But there are things, things that have been accomplished, which are to keep us from tottering over. This is why Luke wrote Luke’s gospel. And this is why Luke tells her story.

She was a prophetess like Miriam the sister of Moses who “took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women went out after her with tambourines and dancing. And Miriam sang to them: Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea” (Exodus 15:20-21). Or like Deborah, a woman God raised up to save Israel out of the hand of those who plundered them (Judges 2:16; Judges 4).

She was a daughter, the daughter of a man named Phanuel. And who was Phanuel? We do not know. This is his only mention in the Bible. However, there is something fascinating about his name. It has its beginning and meaning in Genesis 32, the night that Jacob persistently wrestled with God until the breaking of day. And Jacob named the place “Peniel, saying, ‘For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered’” (Genesis 32:30).

Her name was Anna, the only Anna in the New Testament. Her name sounds like Hannah, the only Hannah in the Old Testament. And Hannah of the Old Testament, her story, can be put in these words: she was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly (1 Samuel 1:10). Hannah was a woman who prayed.

And this is Anna’s story. As Luke writes Luke’s gospel he first introduces us to those who were advanced in years. There was Zechariah. He was advanced in years. There was Elizabeth. She was advanced in years (Luke 1:7). There was Simeon. He was apparently advanced in years (Luke 2:25-32). And here was Anna. She was advanced in years. Why does Luke have us first meet so many old people? Zechariah and Elizabeth had prayed for what seemed to be a request for a child. It was because she was barren. And in praying and praying they soon both approached advanced in years, years beyond that of being able to conceive a child. And so, perhaps the praying for a child ceased. But God is not limited to hear, answer and grant only the most recent prayers. In his unlimited ability, God hears, answers and grants old prayers, too.

And Simeon, advanced in years, lived life knowing how you read the Bible matters. He read it gazing upon the glories of Christ and praying that God would fulfill his spoken word.

Anna married. After seven years of marriage, her husband died. Anna never remarried. She was a widow. Anna’s story continued and Anna’s story got better advanced in years.

Worship With Fasting and Prayer

Luke records a parable, a story Jesus told, called the parable of the persistent widow (Luke 18:1-8). And as with Anna’s story, Luke is the only gospel writer that records the parable of the persistent widow. Jesus told this parable for one reason: to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart (18:1). I think that this is the point of Anna’s story.

Listen to the last sentence of Luke 2:37. “She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day.” Anna was persistent in worship it seems since the day her husband died. And do not miss it, she worshiped. How did she worship? Well, she went to the temple regularly, every day, which means that she did not worship alone. There were other people in the temple, in an area called the court of women. Again, how did she worship? She was persistent in worship and persistent in worshiping with others, but how? She worshiped with fasting and prayer. And the big question is, what does that mean?

I know what prayer is and I know what fasting is, but I have never seen fasting in the light of worship. The object of worship is God, me responding to his worth. And prayer is me talking with God. But what in light of worship is fasting?

This is a good way to think about fasting: a temporary renunciation of something that is in itself good, like food, in order to intensify our expression of need for something greater – namely, God and his work in our lives. But are we, in 2019, to fast? There is no command in the New Testament to Christians or to churches to fast. There are commands to pray (cf. Romans 12:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:17). And there are passages in the New Testament that do mention believers and churches praying (cf. Luke 2:37; Luke 5:33; Acts 13:33; Acts 14:23).

In the Old Testament there are commands to fast and there are people fasting. There are people fasting when grieved and in repentance (cf. Nehemiah 1:4-11). There are people fasting because of sin – “we have sinned” (cf. 1 Samuel 7:6). There are people fasting on the behalf of others (cf. 2 Samuel 12:16). There is fasting that God does not appreciate, that from the wrong motive (cf. Isaiah 58:3).

Why would a person fast? What is at the heart of fasting? Listen to Ezra 8:21. “Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from him a safe journey for ourselves, our children, and all our goods.” And listen to 2 Chronicles 20:3. “Then Jehoshaphat was afraid and set his face to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah.” It seems that there are times to fast. And at the heart of a fast is to humble ourselves before God, seeking something needed, but most importantly to seek him in what is needed. I love 2 Chronicles 20 and have been meditating upon it recently. When was there a fast in 2 Chronicles 20? It was when the king was afraid. He later says in verse twelve, “For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” So fasting can be for particular moments, moments when we are afraid, moments when we do not know what to do, but we fast with our eye set on him, seeking him.

And in reading Matthew 6:1-18, Jesus seems to think or expect that his followers will both pray and fast.

A fast is not a protest like a hunger strike. In the Bible it does exclude food. It is about taking a moment to exclude food because in this moment food will not and cannot meet the need. And I just so want to get to God with this need that I will not pull over and be delayed by Chick-fil-A. Food cannot help in this situation. Instead of just going without food, I am using this time, time needed to eat, to seek God’s face, his presence; to seek his help; to seek his favor that his will be done here and now as it is in heaven. I want to, this much, see God at work. This is worship with fasting.

Waiting for the Redemption of Jerusalem

Why was Anna worshiping with fasting and prayer? And why was she so persistent in it? Listen to verse thirty-eight. “And coming up at that very hour…” What very hour? It was the hour that Joseph and Mary brought the month old child named Jesus, he who is mighty to rescue, to the temple in obedience and faithfulness to God’s Word. It was the same hour that Simeon took this child into his advanced in years arms thanking God that he has now seen salvation! Anna heard it!

Why was she worshiping with fasting and prayer? She was seeking God to send the one who is mighty to rescue from sin. And so when she heard it, when she heard Simeon, she began to give thanks to God. The word thanks, it is so great, it is a word only used here in the New Testament. It means to reply or to acknowledge fully and confess in celebration. God did it. She saw God at work. And so she then began to speak of him to those who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. What possibly could she have been saying? Redemption, the rescue is here! He is here! And I wonder, did she ever fast again?

The Bible speaks of Christians and churches as those waiting; waiting for the blessed hope, the appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ; waiting for the mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ (Titus 2:13; Jude 1:7-23; 1 Thessalonians 1:10). Do I love Jesus so much that his coming would be the greatest thing I can imagine? Do I want the appearance of Jesus more than I want food, more than I want to finish my plans?

Is there anything, any need that no amount of food could satisfy? How about repentance? The repentance of a loved one? How about renewal of strength and vitality for the work at hand? How about the salvation of the lost? Is there anything for which I can say, “I do not know what to do! I am afraid!”?

Is there any reason that we should not be worshiping with fasting and prayer?

[1] Diana Lynn Severance, Her Story, page 393.

Why We Eat and Drink the Lord’s Supper

Things happen to make you totter. But there are things to keep you from tottering over. And this is why Luke wrote Luke’s gospel. The things which happen to make you totter can be anything, anything that brings you to your knees, lowers your face into your hands and squeezes out of your voice a why to God. The things which happen to make you totter can be anything, anything that brings you to stand on your two feet, lifts your face to the sky, raises clinched fists high and squeezes out of your voice a why to God. But there are things which are to keep you from tottering over, things described as “things accomplished” (Luke 1:1). These things accomplished are things God has accomplished and is accomplishing in and through the work and person of Jesus Christ. And this is why Luke wrote Luke’s gospel.

Something I keep holding, pondering, is that Luke wrote regarding all these things out of his heart, out of his affection for his friend most excellent Theophilus (Luke 1:3).

We have spent the Christmas season listening to the four songs of Christmas – Mary’s song; Zechariah’s song; the song of all the angels of heaven; and Simeon’s song. And it just so happens that those four songs are all found in Luke 1 and Luke 2. So we spent all of December in Luke 1 and Luke 2. And now we have a new month and a new year, and I am thinking, why stop? I think it will take just the next several months, maybe all of the months of 2019, but starting next week I would like us to pick up with Luke 2:36 that we might keep listening, week after week, to Luke’s gospel. And the reason is that there are things which happen to make us totter. But there are things which are to keep us from tottering over.

Why We Eat and Drink the Lord’s Supper

And so on this Sunday, the first Sunday of the year, but also the first Sunday of the month, in a few moments we will come to the Lord’s table together to eat and to drink the Lord’s Supper. And to prepare together to eat and to drink the Lord’s Supper we will listen to Luke 22:1-23. As we get ready to do this together, I want us to think about why we eat and drink the Lord’s Supper.

Immediately coming to mind may be something Jesus himself said about eating the bread and drinking the cup. It is something, too, that Luke recorded Jesus saying in Luke 22:19. “Do this in remembrance of me.” And so it is helpful to then ask, what is there to remember?

This command is something Paul emphasized twice when he taught about the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11:24-25. “And when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”” How important is this remembering? Listen to the connection Paul makes for us. This is the next immediate verse, 1 Corinthians 11:26. “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” So this remembering is remembering Jesus and this remembering proclaims the Lord’s death, the cross and the resurrection and all that Jesus accomplished at the cross and in his resurrection – and I love these next few words – until he comes.

We are to eat and drink the Lord’s Supper until he comes! He is coming and so we eat and drink the Lord’s Supper! A pastor commenting on these verses said that remembering is so that we proclaim and the proclaiming helps us to remember. And so this helps us understand why we eat and drink the Lord’s Supper. But I think there is more and there is more because the Lord’s Supper is so vitally important to the life of a local church.

And we keep in mind why Luke wrote Luke 22. It is the same reason he wrote Luke 1 and Luke 2 and Luke 23, all of Luke’s gospel. Luke wrote Luke 22 because there are things which happen to make us totter. But there are things which are to keep us from tottering over. And when Luke writes about the Lord’s Supper and we hear Jesus demand that we eat and drink the Lord’s Supper remembering him we ask, what is there to remember? We are to remember what Jesus did and what Jesus said. And what Jesus did and what Jesus said are things which are to keep us from tottering over. This is why eat and drink the Lord’s Supper.

So What Did Jesus Do?

Notice Luke 22:14. “And when the hour came.” I thought it really interesting how this whole chapter develops. Listen to Luke 22:1. “Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, which is called the Passover.” The chapter begins looking forward to the start of a feast, a feast that would last for days. It was a feast about remembering what God had done to rescue Israel out of slavery and bondage and oppression in Egypt. It was a feast about remembering that God heard their cries for salvation. Then listen to Luke 22:7. “Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed.” And so begins the high point of this celebration – eating a meal together. And listen again further to Luke 22:14. “And when the hour came, he [Jesus] reclined at table, and the apostles with him.”  Now get ready for verse fifteen. “And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” The sense in this verse is that Jesus was eager with so much eagerness to eat this meal with the disciples.

But I really want to focus on those first words of verse fourteen – “And when the hour came.” Why is Jesus so eager to eat this meal with these disciples before he suffered? I think this is it: This was the hour – a critical moment in salvation history when Jesus would reveal his heart. How so?

Highlight those words – “And when the hour came.” The Gospel of John calls this hour “his hour” (John 13:1). John 13 and John 14 and John 15 and John 16 and John 17 all take place in the same hour, the same critical moment as Luke 22:14-23. And in this hour or his hour, how did Jesus reveal his heart? Listen to John 13:1. “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” How did Jesus reveal his heart? He loved them to the end. Who did Jesus love to the end? And we need to ask this too – how did Jesus love to the end?

Listen to John 13:2. “During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him…” This is very similar language to Luke 22:3. Now listen to John 13:4-5. “[Jesus] rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” What did Jesus do? How did he reveal his heart? How did he love to the very end? He washed the feet of Judas Iscariot. He washed the feet of the one who would betray him. He washed the feet of the one he knew would betray him! Why did Jesus do that? He did it so that we would eat and drink the Lord’s Supper with the very same heart! And I think that this meal, too, reveals our hearts.

Listen to John 13:15. “For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.” Look at John 13:21, just to get a better glimpse of the heart of Jesus in view of the Lord’s Supper. “After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.”” And listen to this: Jesus was demonstrating a remarkable truth. On the eve of the cross, just a few hours before the nails would go into his body, Jesus’ soul was troubled, not for himself, but for another. And not just anyone, but for the one who was going to deliver him to death!

So, notice what Jesus does next. The disciples are really curious. Who is it? Who will betray you? And Jesus answered. ““It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.” So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot” (John 13:26). This action was “a rich, symbolic custom and a powerful appeal. It was a gesture of honor and friendship” (cf. Ruth 2:14). It was like Jesus was saying to Judas Iscariot, “Judas, here is my friendship. It’s not too late.”

Jesus loved an enemy, a sinner, an ungodly man. Judas, although he took the morsel, rejected the grace of Jesus and went to do what his heart was set on doing. After he leaves, Jesus gives this directive: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13:34). And so I am facing this question in why I eat and drink the Lord’s Supper – is there anyone whose feet I need to wash? Is this the extent to which I go to love others? It is all a part of this meal.

And What Did Jesus Say?

Listen to Luke 22:16. “For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” Notice that word fulfilled. Jesus will talk about the cup in the same manner. He will not drink of it until the kingdom of God comes. But I have never noticed, maybe never appreciated, Luke 22:16. Jesus will eat and drink this Supper, but not until this Supper is fulfilled in the kingdom of God. We eat and drink the Lord’s Supper looking forward to this Supper being fulfilled. But what is there to be fulfilled?

Listen to this song. It is Revelation 5:9-10. “And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”” I think this it, the fulfilling of this meal is a ransomed people, a rescued people from the slavery and bondage and oppression of all kinds of sin, people from every language and people and nation becoming this kingdom, a holy nation, a royal priesthood.

Looking to the fulfilling of this kingdom sets our hearts then to love people from every tribe and language and people and nation. It sets our hearts to spread the name of Jesus Christ and his work and who he is, the fragrance of who he is everywhere we go. And how do we do that? We proclaim the good news, the gospel and live it! And I would say living the gospel is even extended to loving people like Judas.

I mentioned several weeks ago from 1 Corinthians 11, that how we value one another shows how we value the Lord’s Supper. And I hope you and I see together how deep this really goes.

Why we eat and drink the Lord’s Supper matters to the vitality of Calvary Community Church.

For My Eyes Have Seen Your Salvation

There were 525,600 minutes in 2018. And there will be 525,600 minutes in 2019. Of those minutes approximately 175,200 minutes will be used to sleep (that is 8 hours or 480 minutes a night). And approximately 124,800 minutes will be used to work (that is 8 hours or 480 minutes a day in a five day work week).

It takes approximately 3 minutes to read one chapter of the Bible. It takes approximately four chapters a day to read through the Bible in one year. It then takes approximately 12 minutes a day to read through the Bible in one year. It takes approximately 4,380 minutes to read through the Bible.

We must sleep. Sleep takes up 33% of the year. We must work. Work takes up 25% of the year. We must read. Reading the Bible takes up .83% of the year.

How We Read The Bible Matters

In 2019, something might happen. In 2019, as a church we will read the Bible. I am as excited to say those words as I was to write them out. We will read the Bible using a slightly modified version of what is called the M’Cheyne Bible reading plan named after the Scottish pastor Robert Murray M’Cheyne. His plan is widely used and is even included in some Bibles. It may be included in the Bible you are reading. This plan takes a reader through the Old Testament in one year and the New Testament and the Psalms twice in one year. This modified plan takes us through the Old Testament in two years (Genesis through 2 Chronicles in 2019 and Ezra through Malachi in 2020) and the New Testament and the Psalms once in 2019 and again in 2020. Regardless, the point is that daily Bible reading mattered in 2018. We read one chapter of the New Testament five days a week in 2018. And daily Bible reading will matter in 2019. We will read one chapter of the Old Testament and one chapter of the New Testament seven days a week in 2019. Then again in 2020.

And what renews me on this last Sunday of 2018 is to cast before us that we will do this together. The whole reading plan for the year is on the foyer table. And reading two chapters a day, just reading, takes maybe 6 to 9 minutes of a day which is much less than .83% of the year. It is actually .625% of the year. But it is the how that matters. I know we will do this most of the time on our own. Robert Murray M’Cheyne was considered a most effective pastor. He was considered most effective partly because he would spend twenty to thirty hours a week visiting the members of his church. Now, he was not married and did not have any children. But regardless, his heart was bent toward the people God entrusted to him. He pastored only one church and he only pastored for six years. He died when he was 29 years old.

But his intent with this reading plan was that half the plan would be read as a family and half read in one’s own quiet time. So he was encouraging both family or corporate worship and private worship. Oh, that our pastor would have this intent! And oh, what could happen in 2019 if we did this?

Our elders under the direction of the Holy Spirit are convinced that the vision for 2019 is the Word of God – the reading of it; the study of it; the obeying it; the preaching of it – and prayer and the Lord’s Supper. The joy of the Lord’s Supper is proclaiming the Lord’s death until he comes. And so as the old year gets ready to meet the new year we are beginning with this endeavor that we might read the Bible together and then meet Wednesday to pray and then join together on the first Sunday of the new year proclaiming the Lord’s death until he comes, a proclaiming that is looking for and waiting for the return of Jesus Christ.

And my hope is that each one of us grabs this vision for 2019 and leaves here with the reading plan and seeks out a good pen or pencil to mark up our Bibles or a composition notebook to write out our thoughts and questions and eagerness as we read the Bible daily together. What might we experience in our homes and as a church in doing this?

Again, how we read the Bible matters and it is two-fold. This plan came from a pastor who thought the Bible “the sweetest nourishment to my soul.” And he encouraged that the Bible be read in two ways: with sight and with prayer. You may read your Bible, and pray over it till you die; you may wait on the preached Word every Sabbath-day, . . . [But] if you are not brought to cleave to him, to look to him, to believe in him, to cry out with inward adoration: “My Lord, and my God”—“How great is his goodness! How great is his beauty!”—then the outward observance of the ordinances is all in vain to you… We are often for preaching to awaken others; but we should be more upon praying for it. Prayer is more powerful than preaching. It is prayer that gives preaching all its power… Why, the very hands of Moses would have fallen down, had they not been held up by his faithful people. Come, then, ye wrestlers with God—ye that climb Jacob’s ladder—ye that wrestle Jacob’s wrestling—strive you with God, that he may fulfill his word.[1] So we will read in 2019 to see the glories of Jesus Christ and we will read praying that God will fulfill his word.

The Fourth Song of Christmas

This is exactly what the fourth song of Christmas is all about – Luke 2:22-35. The fourth song of Christmas is about seeing the glories of Jesus Christ and praying that God will fulfill his word. And I want us to see how the Bible matters to Luke 2:22-35.

First, notice all the references to the Law. “And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons”” (Luke 2:22-24). And then there is one more reference to the Law in Luke 2:27. “And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law.” This is all referencing the first five books of the Bible – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.

Then notice where this is all to take place. This is taking place forty days after Christmas, after the birth of Jesus Christ and Joseph and Mary are taking this month old infant to the temple (2:27). The temple is something that his its roots in the Law but is built and is prominent throughout books of the Old Testament beginning with 2 Samuel all the way through the last book of the Old Testament called Malachi. Interestingly, in Malachi we are told to look forward. “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts” (3:1).

And then notice this man named Simeon. Notice what Simeon calls himself in Luke 2:29. “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace.” At this time the Bible is the Old Testament. And at this time those called the Lord’s servant were men like Moses and David and Elijah (cf. Joshua 14:7; Psalm 89:3; 2 Kings 9:36).

And then notice Simeon. I want us to really notice him in Luke 2:25, but also Luke 2:26 and Luke 2:27. All three verses contain references to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit was upon him; the Holy Spirit revealed to him; the Holy Spirit led him. But really take note of verse twenty-five. “And the Holy Spirit was upon him.” This is language that is unique to the Old Testament. The Holy Spirit would come upon an individual in the Old Testament for a very important task like interpreting dreams (Genesis 41:38) or building the Tabernacle (Exodus 31:3); for a particular purpose. It is like Samson (Judges 14:6). The Holy Spirit came upon him as he led Israel and would fill him with supernatural strength. The whole idea, and it applies here, is that the Holy Spirit came upon Simeon for a special purpose. He was specially empowered for a special purpose.

I wondered most of the week, what the special purpose was and it was very simply, but very wonderfully to behold Jesus the Christ.

The Consolation of Israel

Keep your attention on Simeon and keep your attention on Luke 2:25. Simeon was a righteous man, a good man. Simeon was a devout man or a cautious man meaning he held the things of God with a special care. And he was waiting for the consolation of Israel. What is the consolation of Israel? Again, the Bible really matters to Luke 2:22-35.

Another word for consolation would be comfort, but also encouragement or help or joy, but especially comfort. And the book of Isaiah has much to say about this comfort. “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God” (Isaiah 40:1). And in this comfort there is a voice crying, “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. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken” (Isaiah 40:3-5). Interestingly Isaiah 40:3 is also something spoken of John the Baptist (cf. Luke 1:17).

So here is Simeon waiting for the consolation of Israel. The consolation, the comfort is a person – the Messiah. He is waiting for the coming of the Messiah, Christ the Lord. And I think he has been praying. Isaiah 40:5 said, “the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” So I think Simeon knew Isaiah 40 and had been praying that God would fulfill what God spoke. And the incredible thing is that God took this man who we know little about, he was just a man who found God and his word the sweetest nourishment to his soul and he told him, “You will not die until you see the Messiah come” (2:26).

For My Eyes Have Seen Your Salvation

I marvel at Luke 2:22-35 because it seems like the whole Old Testament converges here. Joseph and Mary take baby Jesus to the temple according to what God said in the Old Testament. Here is this old man knowing his Bible, the Old Testament and was nourished by it, praying that God will fulfill his word. And he is looking and waiting. And it happens. When Simeon sees this child, and there must have been so many people in this temple court, but he noticed this child. How? Well, it was in the leading of the Holy Spirit, but also knowing God’s Word Simeon knew who he was looking for. And he took the child and exclaimed, “I can now die in peace for my eyes have seen Your salvation! Thank you Lord for fulfilling your word!”

And notice that this is where it all changes. The Old Testament converges here and Simeon although he will die begins to point us all forward. This child will be a light for revelation to the Gentiles – that is us – and he will be a light for the glory of Israel. This child is the glory of Israel; he who saves people from their sins is the glory of Israel; the glory of Israel is Jesus. And he tells Joseph and Mary that no one will be able to avoid this child. This child, Jesus will be a stumbling block to some or the most glorious person to others. Regardless, no one can avoid Jesus. What will you do with Jesus? He reveals the thoughts of the heart. Our response to him and of him reveals the heart.

Then Simeon speaks to Mary and says that this child will be opposed which will pierce her soul. He is talking about the cross. Simeon is pointing us all to the cross.

Come to the cross. Jesus, who he is, reveals to us who we really are and we either oppose him or embrace him for the liberty he brings because regardless of who we really are he makes us new through his cleansing blood and the forgiveness of sins. The knowledge of salvation is in the forgiveness of sins (cf. Luke 1:77). And then what do we do next? We wait and look for his returning (cf. Titus 2:13). And we read his word praying that God will fulfill what he has spoken. And when he returns, and until then there will be many claiming to be Christ, we will know what to look for and who to look for because we know our Bibles.

Read the Bible together in 2019.

[1] https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/he-kissed-the-rose-and-felt-the-thorn-living-and-dying-in-the-morning-of-life

Glory to God, Peace to You and Me

In 2018, as a church we have been reading through the New Testament. It began with the first book of the New Testament. And it is ending with the last book of the New Testament.

In this last book, there are things to see, but there are also things to hear. There are the sounds of rumbling and peals of thunder (cf. Revelation 4:5). There is a voice that sounds like thunder (cf. Revelation 6:1). There is another voice that sounds like a roaring lion (cf. Revelation 10:3). And still yet another voice that sounds like the playing of harps (cf. Revelation 14:2)! But then there are the sound of voices, a multitude of voices like that of the roar of many waters and the sound of mighty peals of thunder (cf. Revelation 19:6). These are the sounds of heaven. Heaven is filled with sound!

And so, when we read that “suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying” (Luke 2:13), what did that sound like? I think it sounded like heaven, all of heaven.

And She Laid Him in a Manger

And it all starts with an announcement. “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered” (Luke 2:1). This announcement, a decree, went out to all the world. This decree then sent all the world to their hometowns. This decree sent Joseph who was living in Nazareth to his hometown of Bethlehem. This decree also sent anyone else living anywhere else to their hometown of Bethlehem. In other words, it was not just Joseph heading to Bethlehem. This decree sent Joseph to Bethlehem to be registered with Mary. This decree sent Joseph ninety miles to Bethlehem to be registered with Mary. And Mary was pregnant. Did they walk all ninety miles? Or did Joseph walk and Mary rode an animal? It does not matter because they hit every bump and felt every bit of uneven, rocky ground. But the big idea is that this decree got Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem.

And while they were there the time came for Mary to give birth. And what happened? Listen to Luke 2:7. “And she gave birth to her firstborn son.” I want us to listen closely. This decree meant that Jesus would be born in a little town called Bethlehem.

But here is the incredible part; this decree was actually doing the will of God. Take that in for a moment. Caesar Augustus thought himself to be a god. It is the point of the word Augustus. It was a word reserved exclusively for the gods meaning holy or revered. Notice in Luke 1 the words, “in those days.” In those days, at the time of this decree and at the time of Jesus’ birth, Caesars were celebrated as saviors. Caesar’s birthday was celebrated, September 23, every year as the first day of the New Year. There was even an inscription in a town in Turkey (Halicarnassus) calling Caesar Augustus, “savior of the whole world.”

This is who God used to do God’s will. It should remind us of something the angel Gabriel said to Mary. He told her to behold this undeniable reality, “Nothing will be impossible with God.” There is no word that God has spoken that God will not accomplish. Behold the unlimited ability of God. And in this case, behold a decree that sent Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem. And why is that so important? Because God said, “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days” (Micah 5:2). This Caesar was used by God to fulfill Micah 5:2.

And so, Mary “wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger.” This just happened, Micah 5:2 just happened, and Mary laid Jesus in a manger, a stinking feed trough. Why did she do it? Listen to the rest of Luke 2:7. “Because there was no room for them in the inn.”

Of course there was no room in the inn! This and the manger and the decree were all a part of the plan! Is it not something that this, the no vacancy, is the last thing Luke tells us? Leading up to this birth, there is just a lack of drama. There is no frantic search for a room in a variety of inns. There is no heartless innkeeper. This, as Luke tells it, sounds so far like a silent night. There are no tears. There are no cries. There is no worry. There is just Mary wrapping this baby in swaddling cloths and she laid him in a manger. I think Luke really wants us to see that manger. This is how low God came to draw near to us. And I think it is so I never get over how low the Most High God came to save me.[1] It is all a part of God’s plan and that plan included those shepherds, too.

Why the Shepherds?

There they were, these shepherds out in the field keeping a close watch of their flocks, and it was night. So far it was a silent night until an angel of the Lord appeared. And there he was, this one nameless angel, standing among them!

And as he stands among them, the glory of the Lord shone around them, all around them brighter than the sun (cf. Acts 26:13). And like Zechariah and like Mary before them, these shepherds were afraid! And like Zechariah and like Mary before them, the angel says, “Fear not.” What is the reason to not fear?

For Zechariah it was because his prayer had been heard. For Mary it was because she had found favor with God. But for these shepherd it was because “I bring you good news of a great joy.” Literally, I bring you the gospel which is to make you jump for joy. And it is a good news of a great joy for all people, all people including who? This good news was first brought to who? These shepherds. Why the shepherds?

There are many good possibilities. But I think the reason that shepherds heard this good news first, is simply because they were shepherds. And at this time in this society life did not get much lower than being a shepherd. Shepherds stunk. Shepherds smelled like sheep. Shepherds were dirty. Shepherds had a terrible reputation. Shepherds did not have a voice. Shepherds were disregarded. Shepherds were friendless perhaps even family-less. Shepherds were considered losers. And shepherds were given the good news first. And I think it is to demonstrate that God came so low that he might draw near to us at our lowest. It reminded me of Psalm 34:18. “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.”

And there is more to the good news for these shepherds. . “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior.” Pause for a minute and consider what these men are hearing. For us and to us is a Savior, one who is mighty to rescue. And who is this Savior? He is Christ, the anointed one, God’s promised King. For to us is a king, the promised King (and it just so happens that he will be a good shepherd, a shepherd king). And this King is none other than the Lord, the Almighty God. For to us is the Almighty God, to us! He, this one, has come near to us!

And there is still even more. “And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in a swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” There is that manger again. Do not lose sight of the manger. Do not lose sight, the awe of how low the Most High God has come for you.

Glory to God, Peace to You and Me

This is this angel’s message. But then comes Luke 2:13. “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying…” How many? A multitude and a multitude is more than fifty, more than one hundred fifty, more than one thousand five hundred. A multitude is beyond count. Someone suggested that this multitude was all of heaven “because this was the most amazing event that had ever happened in the entire universe.”

This multitude does two things. This multitude praised God and spoke or sang. Luke 2:14 is a Christmas song. The word praise here is interesting. It is from a word meaning story, to tell a story. And this word then means a praise that fits the story. It is as if this multitude wants to shout out all that has been said and had to happen for Christmas to arrive. They told the story! There is Genesis 3:15 and Genesis 22 and Isaiah 7 and Isaiah 9 and Micah 5 and Luke 1 and Luke 2:1-7. These angels together told the whole story because they love the whole story (cf. 1 Peter 1:10-12). It is the story of salvation.

And then they sang together. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” Then the angels returned together to heaven. But this is what Christmas means in one sentence.

Christmas means God’s glory and it means peace to you and to me. And the two are inseparable. God’s glory and my peace are inseparable.

In Isaiah 6, Isaiah has this vision of God. It was in the year that King Uzziah died. And God wanted Isaiah to know that although the king was not on the throne, God was still on the throne. Kings come and go, but God remains forever. And Isaiah sees the Lord high upon his throne. The train of his robe, his majesty and royalty and honor fill the temple. And Isaiah hears the sound of heaven. He hears angels saying one to another, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty! The whole earth is full of his glory!” How is the whole earth full of his glory? God’s handiwork – the stars, the moon, his creation – tell of his glory. But I do not think this is what is in view in Isaiah 6. Glory is such a profound, immense word. What is it?

When Moses asked to see God’s glory, God said, “I will show you my goodness” (cf. Exodus 33:18-19). And when John wrote John’s gospel, he said the he and others saw God’s glory in the person of Jesus the Christ. He said it was full of grace and truth, steadfast love and faithfulness. It seems then that God’s glory is all that he truly and wonderfully and beautifully is! And so how is the whole earth full of his glory? How is God’s glory on display above all other glory? Peace. It has to do with peace to you and me.

And so, how can I know this peace? It is a peace that can guard my heart and my mind, a peace that surpasses all understanding, a peace that settles the soul (Philippians 4:6-7). Listen to the angels’ song. Who can have this peace? It is only those who please God. And so to know this peace, I have to know what it means to please God. There is so much to say, but I just want us to ponder this: “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). Without faith, without believing God it is impossible to please him. And now watch this, keep pondering Hebrews 11:6. And listen to this: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (Romans 15:13). This peace is found in believing!

Hours before Jesus went to the cross he shared, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27). Then listen closely to this: “For he himself is our peace” (Ephesians 2:14). And this one born in a stable and laid in a stinking manger would then go to a cross to make this peace (Colossians 1:19-20).

And so when all of heaven could no longer contain it and knowing the rest of the story, they cried out together, “Glory to the God in the highest and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” And how then are glory and peace inseparable? God’s purpose is not to give you peace separate from himself. His purpose is to give you peace by being the most glorious person in your life.

[1] from D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones