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.

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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

He is the Horn of Salvation for Us

Why did Luke write Luke’s gospel? “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:1-4).

Things have been accomplished. These things have been delivered, handed over to be guarded as a treasure. And these things are talked about and taught. Luke writes Luke’s gospel about these things; that we may have certainty about these things. The word certainty means to not totter. It is like a tower of wood blocks or the game Jenga. Eighteen levels of three, side by side, one inch by three inch blocks. The aim is to carefully remove, stealthily even, one block at a time, from each level, to form new levels atop of the tower. And as the tower gets progressively taller, it becomes more and more unstable. It totters.

So, Luke writes Luke’s gospel so that we may not totter. But why? It is because things happen which may cause us to totter – things like the unexpected and the unknowns; things like cancer; things like the death of a child; a wayward spouse; things like persecution. And here is the big question: what is to help us not totter? These things.

And Luke, to begin, introduces us to a man who tottered. And it was these things – things accomplished, things guarded as a treasure, things talked about and taught – which helped him to not totter over.

Your Prayer Has Been Heard

Meet Zechariah. He was a priest. He was married. Her name was Elizabeth. She physically was not able to have children. And both Zechariah and Elizabeth were old. How old? Too old; that window of being able to bear children had been loudly shut and locked (Luke 1:5-7).

Then came the first, only, and last time in Zechariah’s priestly career that he would serve in the Temple. It was a big deal. All those who gathered to worship stood outside the Temple waiting, almost with bated breath as Zechariah entered the Temple on their behalf. He was there alone. Then came the unexpected. An angel of the Lord appeared to Zechariah. The angel was just standing there! “And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him” (Luke 1:12). Now I want us, together, to pay close attention to Luke 1:13. “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.”

This verse is really important to our text for this morning, Luke 1:68-79, Zechariah’s song. But this is where it all starts for Zechariah. Although he tottered, his song starts here. And in the things accomplished which help us to not totter, listen to the first thing the angel says to Zechariah. “Your prayer has been heard.” This word prayer means a personal and specific, heart-felt request. And grammatically this word prayer is singular. So, this is really about a certain prayer, something particular Zechariah prayed. And what possibly could he have prayed? “And your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son.” Like Isaac of the Old Testament, Zechariah had been praying that his wife, who had been physically unable to have children, would conceive. When and how long had he been praying this? For as long as that window, the possibility, was open. And it is very reasonable to assume that when that window had been shut and locked the praying stopped soon thereafter. The point is that it had been a long time since Zechariah had prayed this request. It makes sense, for it would have been laughable, like Sarah of the Old Testament, to think that a woman could conceive in her old age and her husband in his old age.

But this, too, is a treasure to be guarded: God remembers your prayer. He remembers your prayer from this morning. He remembers your prayer from last week. He remembers your prayer from last year. God remembers your prayer from ten years ago. God does not limit himself in hearing, answering and granting only the most recent prayers. God hears, God answers, God grants the old, personal and specific heart-felt requests.

And we want to mark down the last part of verse thirteen. “And you shall call his name John.” The angel has more to say (Luke 1:14-17). And what the angel has to say reflects Malachi 3:1 through 4:6. But in verse eighteen Zechariah tottered. “How shall I know this?” It is like he is saying, “I need proof, some visible proof that what you are saying is true.” Like verse thirteen, verses nineteen and twenty are really important to Zechariah’s song. This has been called a divine rebuke. “I am Gabriel.” Just notice that this is the first time that the angel reveals his name. Is that important? I think so and it is for one reason. Zechariah is a priest, meaning he knows his Bible. The last mention of the name Gabriel was in the book of Daniel and there too it was in response to someone’s prayer (Daniel 9:21). Zechariah knows this. And because of his unbelief Zechariah is silenced for nine months; perhaps also to the joy of his wife.

Seeking Some Silence

This is all really important to the song. This nine months of silence is a divine rebuke of Zechariah’s unbelief, but God always turns his rebukes into rewards for those who keep faith. What is to be done with nine months of silence? We are asking, what did Zechariah do with nine months of silence? The nine months ended with the birth of Zechariah’s son. But the silence for Zechariah was extended eight more days. On the eighth day the child was to be circumcised and apparently this was the day he would be named too (Luke 1:59). This was their firstborn son, their only son and apparently the custom was to name him after his father Zechariah. But Elizabeth said, no. “He shall be called John.” All were confused and notice Luke 1:62. “And they made signs to his father.” This has led some to wonder if Zechariah’s silence included not only the inability to speak, but the inability to hear. Could his silence have been total silence? But still, what did Zechariah do with nine month’s silence? Here he writes on a tablet agreeing with his wife. “His name is John.” The silence is then broken, and his mouth being loosed he spoke blessing God! But I think in those nine months of silence Zechariah thought about what the angel said. You shall call his name John. And I think Zechariah thought about what more the angel said. The angel was relying on and quoting Scripture, see Malachi 3 and Malachi 4. And I think Zechariah thought about the angel’s name. I think he then read the book of Daniel. And I think Zechariah pondered the unlimited ability of God as Gabriel would then direct Mary to do (Luke 1:37). And I think Zechariah prayed. It is all he could do. All Zechariah could do was read and do some deep thinking and pondering and pray. I think he confessed some things and repented and recounted the wonder of who God is.

We live in a time filled with noise. Some noise is obvious – the television; social media; the radio; politicians. And some noise are just our own minds and hearts and the things we think or worry about and desire. So it made me ask, how much of my day is filled with noise? And how much of my day is filled with silence? We are commanded to be silent. “Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth” (Psalm 46:10). Therefore, to keep from tottering seek some silence.

And Now Zechariah’s Song

Zechariah’s song, Luke 1:68-79, is because of the silence. And his song is really focused upon two things: things accomplished and the things which will be accomplished.

The things accomplished are in Luke 1:68-70. “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old.” I think Zechariah is for sure telling us what he did with those nine months of silence. He mentions the “holy prophets from of old.” He is talking about the Old Testament! And what does he say about the Old Testament?  Every verb in these verses are in the past tense – visited, redeemed, raised, spoke. And each verb are things God has done. God has visited. God has redeemed. God has raised. And it is as God spoke. The last part, as he spoke, just reminded me of Luke 1:37. No word that God has spoken will be impossible. The help in not tottering is the unlimited ability of God. And if you want to know the unlimited ability of God get to know your Bible.

How has God visited? How has God redeemed? How has God raised up a horn of salvation? It was in the house of his servant David. Zechariah is not talking about his son John. John the Baptist is not from the house of David. He was from the house of Aaron, the line of priests (cf. Luke 1:5). Zechariah is talking about someone else’s son. Zechariah is talking about the Messiah, the Christ. Zechariah is talking about the son growing in Mary’s womb. He is talking about Jesus. And when he says it is all as God spoke in the Old Testament, it is like he is saying that all that God spoke and has promised are as good as done! Zechariah’s song is that Christmas has arrived!

There are only two verses in which he talks about his own son. Listen to verse seventy-six. “And you, child…” I just realized that this is a father’s song to his son. He is holding his son in his hands singing that Christmas has arrived. John will be the one that prepares the way for Jesus and his ministry. And how will John do it?  John will “give the knowledge of salvation to his people.” Now just pause. Where can the knowledge, this intimate, experiential knowledge, where can this knowledge of salvation be found? “In the forgiveness of their sins,” the cosmic weight lifted from one’s shoulders (1:77). And where do I get the forgiveness of sins? Listen to Hebrews 9:26-28. “for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” And then listen to 1 John 1:9. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

He is the Horn of Salvation for Us

Christmas arriving means that God remembered his promise to Abraham. Christmas arriving means finally being able to serve God without fear and what does that mean? “In holiness and in righteousness before him all our days.” Christmas arriving means the sunrise has come, the light of the world is here! There is light for those who have been sitting in darkness, in depression, in despair. Christmas arriving means peace and not the peace that ends conflict, i.e. political peace, but peace that brings wholeness and completeness to the soul of a man and to the soul of a woman (Luke 1:73-78).

But my favorite part of this song is Luke 1:69. “He has raised up a horn of salvation for us.” This horn is the deadly weapon of a wild ox (Psalm 92:9-10). This horn is a sign of strength and a means of victory (Micah 4:13; Psalm 132:14-18). This horn is a defense, a shield. This horn has the power to secure and to protect. This horn is a very specific horn. It is the horn of salvation. This is the only time it is used in the New Testament and it is only used twice, the horn of salvation, in the Old Testament (2 Samuel 22:3; Psalm 18:1-3). And both times the horn of salvation is God himself. The growing baby in the womb of Mary is the horn of salvation. Jesus is the horn of salvation. Jesus is my horn of salvation.

Can you picture it? It is that massive, muscle bulging ox with horns the width three times the size of its head. This is a Texas longhorn. Hear air forced from its lungs through its nostrils. Its head is lowered. Its right hoof digs and digs at the dirt. It’s about to charge in defense but also in offense. And the target is the cross. “Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8).

And when I begin to totter, I say, “I love you, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies” (Psalm 18:1-3).

This is Zechariah’s song. This is Christmas.

My Soul Magnifies the Lord

After nearly two hundred fifty years, it has only happened twice – a son following in his father’s footsteps as President of the United States. Rare. But even rarer is to know how the son felt about his father. Last Friday, when I was told he had minutes to live, I called him. The guy who answered the phone said, “I think he can hear you, but hasn’t said anything most of the day. I said, “Dad, I love you, and you’ve been a wonderful father.” And the last words he would ever say on earth were, “I love you, too.” To us, he was close to perfect. But, not totally perfect. His short game was lousy. He wasn’t exactly Fred Astaire on the dance floor. The man couldn’t stomach vegetables, especially broccoli. And by the way, he passed these genetic defects along to us. Finally, every day of his 73 years of marriage, Dad taught us all what it means to be a great husband. He married his sweetheart. He adored her. He laughed and cried with her. He was dedicated to her totally… [Dad] we’re going to miss you. Your decency, sincerity, and kind soul will stay with us forever. So, through our tears, let us see the blessings of knowing and loving you — a great and noble man, and the best father a son or daughter could have.

These are the good words, the eulogy, George W. Bush shared at his father’s funeral.

Mary’s Earnest Desire to See Elizabeth

Shortly after young teenage Mary heard the greatest news ever proclaimed (cf. Luke 1:26-38) she got up “and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth” (Luke 1:39-40). In Luke 2, after some shepherds hear the greatest news ever proclaimed on the greatest night, they too make haste – earnest desire – seeking to get to a particular somewhere to see a particular someone. And here, first, was young teenage Mary, maybe no older than fourteen years old, who with the same earnest desire sets out on a one hundred mile, three to four day journey to get to a particular somewhere to see a particular someone – it is Elizabeth. And other than being Mary’s relative, who was Elizabeth? She was old, too old. She was barren. And she was experiencing the God of the impossible. She was pregnant. And who was Mary? She was young. She was a virgin. And she, too, was experiencing the God of the impossible. She was pregnant.

And I love Luke 1:40. Mary does not come knocking on Elizabeth’s door, she just lets herself in with an eager, “Elizabeth! E-LIZ-A-BETH!” Now, question. Why did Mary make haste to get to Elizabeth? I think it has something to do with what Mary heard. In Luke 1:36, the angel Gabriel says to Mary, “And behold.” Last week, we were sure to point out that this word behold is a command and literally means to look. “And look Mary! Your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren.” We are not sure how close these two relatives were, but apparently this was breaking news to Mary. Elizabeth who was called barren, who was told by the best medical minds that she was incapable of bearing children was, in her old age, pregnant! And notice where Gabriel then points Mary to look. “For nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37). For no word that God has spoken will be impossible. This is really important; Gabriel urges Mary to look, to gaze upon what God has spoken and then ponder the unlimited ability of God. If God can do this, then… So, Mary with earnest desire sets out to get to Elizabeth.

Blessed Are You Among Women

Listen to Luke 1:41. “And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb.” Remember, this is the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. And in this second trimester, this growing baby in Elizabeth’s womb is about twelve inches long, weighing maybe two pounds. He can suck his thumb and make facial expressions. And he can even respond to sounds. When Mary greeted Elizabeth, this twelve inch baby leaped, literally skipped, in his mother’s womb. And it was for joy. Why? There was a growing life, too, in the womb of this young teenage woman. His name is Jesus. He is God in the flesh and he will save his people from their sins.

And I want to point out verse forty-two. Elizabeth, filled with/controlled by the Holy Spirit exclaimed, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” Notice in the next verse what she calls the fruit of Mary’s womb. “…my Lord.” This word Lord is used some twenty-six times in the first two chapters of Luke alone and each time it is always in reference to God. Elizabeth called Jesus her Lord. But I want to highlight the word blessed. Elizabeth says this word twice. It is the word eulogeó, eulogy or good words. Good words will be said about you Mary! Good words will be said about the fruit of your womb! And Elizabeth keeps talking. In verse forty-five she then says, “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” Notice the word blessed. This is not same word as in verse forty-two. It is the same word Jesus uses in the Beatitudes of Matthew 5.

And it is the same word in Revelation 1:3. “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.” And it does mean happy. It is a word, a happiness, that comes from the benefits of knowing God. “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits” (Psalm 103:2).

Mary is blessed Mary! But why? She believed God’s Word. She believed that God was bringing his plan to completion. I just want us to put it together. No one word that God has spoken will be impossible. Mary believed God’s Word; that God was bringing his plan to completion.

My Soul Magnifies the Lord

Luke 1:46 begins, “And Mary said.” Mary is responding to or answering Elizabeth. She is answering all that Elizabeth just said, but especially the last thing Elizabeth said. You are blessed Mary because you believe that God is completing his plan. And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord.” And what does that mean? What does it mean to magnify the Lord?

The word that jumps out is magnify. It literally means to enlarge or lengthen. I immediately think of a magnifying glass which can either make small things big or can concentrate the light of the sun and ignite a fire. Microscopes can magnify that which is microscopic, cannot be seen with the human eye and brings it up close. Telescopes can magnify that which is massive and far away so that it is brought near. None of that helps me understand what it means, though, to magnify the Lord.

This is rather important. Consider Mary. She is pregnant. She is a virgin. Soon after, days maybe, hearing the greatest news ever proclaimed, she sets out one hundred miles away to be with her relative and she will be there for three months. There is much in this young teenage girl’s life for which to worry. Being pregnant, alone, is enough to worry. But what about her mom and dad? What about her reputation? What about her town? What will they say and think? What about Joseph, her husband to be? What will he do with what people will think and say? What will he say and think and do? And rather than worry, she sings. She worships. The wonderful Charles Spurgeon shared, “I like, sometimes, to leave off praying and singing, and to sit still, and just gaze upward till my inmost soul has seen my Lord; then I say, ‘He is inexpressively lovely; yea he is altogether lovely.”

It is important to note a few things. First, in these verses God is the only one she magnified. Second, listen to verse forty-seven. “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Mary calls God my Savior. Only those who are needy and in need of a Savior, call God their Savior. And third, this magnifying is the glad rejoicing of one who knew God intimately as her Savior.

But the big question remains. What does it mean to magnify the Lord? This really helped. It helped to think of those words like this: tell out, my soul, the greatness of God. Her thoughts in this moment got big. She will say in verse forty-nine, “he who is mighty has done great things for me.” But she is thinking bigger than herself, bigger than what all this means for her. She gets it. She gets the big picture, the grand plan.

Mary is Filled With Scripture

Look and listen to Luke 1:47. What does it sound like? “Yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation” (Habakkuk 3:18). Look and listen to Luke 1:48. What does it sound like? “And she vowed a vow and said, ‘O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant’” (1 Samuel 1:11). Look and listen to Luke 1:49. What does it sound like? “Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.” The Lord has done great things for us; we are glad” (Psalm 126:2-3). Look and listen to Luke 1:50. What does it sound like? “Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations” (Deuteronomy 7:9). Look and listen to Luke 1:51. What does it sound like? “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble” (Daniel 4:37). Look and listen to Luke 1:52. What does it sound like? “he sets on high those who are lowly, and those who mourn are lifted to safety” (Job 5:11). Look and listen to Luke 1:53. What does it sound like? “For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things” (Psalm 107:9). Look and listen to Luke 1:54. What does it sound like? “He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God” (Psalm 98:3).

These verses, this telling out from the soul the greatness of God, are permeated with Old Testament phrases and language. But look and listen to Luke 1:55. This is what I mean by Mary considering herself and getting the big picture and her place in the big picture. This is all, including Luke 1:5-38, as God spoke to Abraham way back in Genesis. Mary knows, really knows the Bible, all the way back to Genesis. She is telling out that God is helping as he promised and this, forever. God helps as he promised forever.

So, What Does It Mean, to Magnify God?

Mary was filled with Scripture. This fourteen year old girl knew the great truths of God. So, what does it mean to magnify God? It means to know the great truths of God as revealed in the Bible. And the telling out of these great truths means that whatever I am going through is not isolated from what God is doing to accomplish his plan. And his plan is not merely the plan he has for my life. It is to see bigger than that, hence magnify. It is that my life, all of it, is in his plan. And he is bringing his plan to completion.

I have been praying that God would make me experience his presence (Psalm 27:9). God has commanded that we seek his presence. So, how do we do that? It is time. What am I doing with time?

What time am I spending, daily, in God’s Word?

And what am I doing with that time, daily, in God’s Word?

And what am I doing with God’s Word? Am I applying it to my life and how? Am I obeying it gladly?

Each night, before you close your eyes, rehearse in your mind what great truths of God you learned from his Word that day. And in the morning, once awake, rehearse once more what you learned yesterday.

It is these questions, these things that then lead the soul to tell out the greatness of God.

Mary, Did You Know?

The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear. And there are great songs to sing – O Holy Night; Hark! The Herald Angels Sing. And there are really good songs to sing – Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (especially when sung by Mel Tormé). And there are really awful songs to never sing – Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.

Why Luke Wrote Luke’s Gospel

This morning we will be in Luke 1:26-38. We are in Luke 1:26-38 today because it is the most wonderful time of the year; the celebration of the birth of the Savior. We are also in Luke 1:26-38 today because we will be spending the whole month of December in Luke’s Gospel. But we are also in Luke 1:26-38 today because this is where we began six years ago on this very day.

And as we begin today I want to first look at why Luke wrote Luke’s Gospel. R. Kent Hughes, he is one my favorites, shared an old word from a Puritan preacher named William Ames. “Next to the Scriptures, nothing makes a sermon more to pierce than when it comes out of the inward affection of the heart without any affectation [speech designed to impress].”[1]

Luke begins Luke’s Gospel (Luke 1:1-4) readily admitting that many before him had undertaken to do what he is doing – a put together narrative of all that had been accomplished. And all that had been accomplished is all about Jesus the Christ. And in addition to the many there were also those who were eyewitness of all that had been accomplished, ministers of the word who then delivered…I love this word delivered. It literally means to give from close beside; or to deliver over with a sense of close personal involvement. But it is with the intent that what is being delivered is to be kept, cared for, guarded as a treasure and used. And Luke says that this, the gospel, has been delivered to us! So then, why did Luke write Luke’s Gospel?

He researched and researched and researched some more, these accomplished things. And he spent a considerable amount of time researching these things. All because it seemed good to him; good to him to put together an orderly account for his friend Theophilus. Luke wrote Luke’s Gospel for his friend…out of the affection of his heart. Luke wanted his friend to have certainty of all the things he had been taught regarding Jesus. What is this certainty? As an historian, Luke helps us and Theophilus to have certainty about the gospel. As a theologian, Luke will touch us and Theophilus with God’s love and grace. As a physician, Luke will help us and Theophilus to love people. And as a musician, Luke will set our hearts and the heart of Theophilus to sing.[2]

The Greatest News Ever Is Proclaimed

And it begins in the first two chapters of Luke’s Gospel. In these first two chapters, there are two songs before Christmas day, one song on Christmas day and one song after Christmas day (which I think indicates that because of Christmas we are to keep on singing). But why is there so much singing as Luke begins Luke’s Gospel? And what is Christmas? I look forward every December to hearing Charlie Brown urgently ask, “Does anyone know what Christmas is all about?!” Why is there so much singing in these first two chapters? It is because of Luke 1:26-38. All the singing happens after these verses. All the singing happens after the greatest news ever is proclaimed.

And it happened in the sixth month (1:26). This will be important later in the passage, but it has much to do with the events of the previous verses. It was in the sixth month that the angel Gabriel was sent from God. Angels have names! And this particular angel, Gabriel, is only mentioned in two books of the Bible. He is mentioned in the book of Daniel. In Daniel, he is sent in response to Daniel’s prayer (cf. Daniel 9:20). And he is mentioned in the book of Luke. In Luke, he is sent in response to Zechariah’s prayer (cf. Luke 1:13). Zechariah was an old man, too old. And his wife Elizabeth was an old woman, too old. There is a reminder here of Isaac and Rebekah. Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife because she was barren (Genesis 25:21). And he prayed a long time for her, twenty years to be exact (Genesis 25:21; 26). Zechariah prayed to the Lord for his wife because she was barren, too. And he prayed a long time for her, too. And so it is interesting the affect that prayer, fervent prayer, had on the greatest news ever proclaimed.

And so Gabriel is sent from God…to a city…of Galilee…named Nazareth…to a virgin…betrothed to a man…whose name was Joseph…of the house of David…And the virgin’s name was Mary (1:26-27). What is the point of these two verses? It is the unexpected. Luke wants us to listen. The greatest news ever proclaimed happened in the unexpected. It happened in Nazareth, a nonplace, a nothing town in the middle of nowhere. It is not even mentioned in the Old Testament. But it had a reputation. “Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see’” (John 1:46).  And it happened in a nonplace to a woman. We hear her name – Mary. It is in Luke’s Gospel that we hear the names of women more than any other Gospel. But Mary was not just any woman. She was like most women in her town. Like most women, she was poor. Like most women, she was familiar with the Old Testament because of what she learned at the local synagogue and at home. Like most women, she would one day marry. Like most women, she would be a mom. Like most women, she would never travel far from home. Like most women, she would live the rest of her life in this nothing town in the middle of nowhere. The greatest news ever proclaimed happened here to a woman, a young woman who was most likely not any older than fourteen years old.

And twice in those two verses, Luke wants us to listen. Mary was a virgin.

The Lord is With You

And then Gabriel speaks. “Greetings!” Literally, rejoice! This word is found in Luke’s Gospel more than in any other book in the New Testament. It is almost as if Gabriel cannot contain his joy. He knew this moment would come six months ago, but not knowing when or where or to whom. Keep listening. “Greetings, O favored one.” Circle that word favored. In verse thirty Gabriel will say once more, “Mary, you have found favor with God.” This favor was found. It was not something Mary had earned. But it does say something about this young teenage woman. It says something about how tender her heart was to God. Listen to Isaiah 66:2. “But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.” This was a young teenage woman who was humble. This was a young teenage woman who was sensitive and serious about sin, her own sin. This was a young teenage girl who listened. She listened to the Bible as the very word of God. God’s word was not a light thing to her.

And note this; finding favor with God is the same thing that was said of Noah. Noah stood out in his wicked generation (Genesis 6:8). Please note that; it was during a time of great difficulty that Noah found favor with God. And listen some more. “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you.” Mark that phrase, that reality – the Lord is with you. This phrase always indicates help, the Lord is your help (Genesis 28:16; Joshua 1:9; Judges 6:12; John 14:16).

And the reason that Gabriel says this about favor and the Lord’s presence with her, is that she is troubled. She is troubled not at the presence of this mighty angel or that this mighty angel is speaking to her. She is trouble at this greeting. This angel is commanding her to rejoice! She is trying to figure out why!

Mary, Behold

Listen to verse thirty one. “And behold.” This is a command and it will come up a second time. Gabriel is telling Mary to look! Look and listen to this news I am about to give you. You will conceive in your womb, Mary. You will bear a son, Mary. And you will give him a name, Mary. Do you know what this sounds like? It sounds like Isaiah 7:14. I wonder how it sounded to Mary. You shall call him Jesus, Mary. The name Jesus means salvation. It is the equivalent of the Old Testament name Joshua – The Lord (Yahweh) saves or the Lord is salvation. In Matthew this name is defined further as “he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). Now see how great this is; listen to what Gabriel says next. Mary, look and listen. He will be great.

I read a pastor call this one of the greatest angelic understatements ever. Words fail to fill how great Jesus is. And I think it is because the Bible acts a window to display the view of how great he really is. He saves! He saves people from their sins! This month we are reading the last book of the Bible called the Revelation (that is seeing) of Jesus Christ. And the point of Revelation is to see how great Jesus is. See this in Revelation 7:10-11. There is this great multitude that no one could number from every tribe and nation and language with palm branches in their hands crying out with a loud voice to Jesus. “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” The angels of heaven hear this and say “AMEN!” And then someone asks who all these people are with the palm branches. In short, these are people who have gone through the greatest difficulty and the greatest trouble. And now listen to Revelation 7:15-17. “Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” These are people who with absolute certainty know the greatness of Jesus.

Mary, Did You Know?

Now listen to young teenage Mary. She asks in verse thirty-four, “How will this be?” Not, how can this be? It is like she is asking, “God, how will you do this?” What kind of teenager is this? She is asking because she is a virgin in the truest and purest sense. Grammatically, it is written with the sense that what was true is still true. She has never been with a man sexually. She is engaged to be married and is not planning on being with him until she can truly and officially call him her husband on her wedding night. And this greatest news ever proclaimed is not changing her plan or conviction. But she believes this news. It will happen and she seems to think that it will be sooner rather than later. Meaning, too, she is not already pregnant.

And Gabriel explains that this will be all of God. The Holy Spirit will come upon her and overshadow her just as God did with the Tabernacle in the Old Testament (Exodus 40:35). The very presence of God will be in her womb. This child is the God-Man. Jesus is 100% God and he is 100% man. He is God the Son. None is stronger than him. He is a king and no king has been or will be a king longer than him. He is the king forever. And he is holy, none is purer than him. And he is Jesus, none has been more needed than him. And he is great, none is more worthy of our admiration than him. This is Christmas.

Gabriel, Behold

Listen to verse thirty-six. Gabriel again tells Mary to behold, to look. Look at your relative Elizabeth, old Elizabeth, Mary. She is pregnant and in her sixth month. And he says this so that Mary will anchor the rest of her life in this inescapable fact: for nothing will be impossible with God. Or more literally, look and listen to the unlimited ability of God. No word that he has spoken will be impossible. He will surely do it.

Now watch this, it is too awesome. This young teenage woman from a nothing town in the middle of nowhere says to Gabriel, “Now you look.” Gabriel, you behold. Listen to what she says. “I am the servant of the Lord” (1:38). The word servant is a very strong word. The better word here is slave. A servant gives service to someone. A slave gives themselves to someone. She is saying, “Here I am!” (cf. Isaiah 6:8). She is giving her whole life to God. Here is my life! May it be, all of it, according to every word that I have just heard! And this young teenage woman considered herself blessed.

And so I have been praying that my young teenage girls will be this kind of young teenage girl. I have been praying that the little girl in the nursery this morning will be this kind of young teenage girl. HERE I AM! And I have been praying that I will be like Mary. Here I am! And considered blessed. And I have been praying that we would be like Mary together. Here we are!

[1] R. Kent Hughes, Luke: That You May Know the Truth

[2] Ibid.