From the First Day Until Now

There was once a pre-school age boy named Jimmy who told his mom, “I will never, ever be a pastor.” He is now thirty-seven years old and a pastor.

One Sentence for One Year

It is New Year’s Eve. And it is not unlike any other New Year’s Eve. It is the last day of the year and the only day of the year to stay up really late, like maybe ten o’clock. But just about the only part of the end of the year that I really look forward to is the last Sunday of the year. Since 2012, we have set aside the last Sunday of the year to reflect in thanksgiving and wonder and in anticipation.

In 2012, I remember being content for the first time in a really long time until a Wednesday morning in July. I had been serving as an associate pastor at First Baptist Church of Strongsville. My main responsibility at that time was Christian education which included areas like Sunday School, children and youth ministries and even small groups. I remember that it was in the morning. Lisa and I were both getting ready for the day and subtly an email disrupted everything. It was simply a question. “What are your future plans for ministry?”

I was content for the first time in a really long time until that email with that question. As I look back on it, it was the beginning of something, a something that came together on Sunday, December 2, 2012. It was that Sunday when everything got better. It is strange because until that Wednesday in July I had no imagining that things could or needed to get better. But on that particular Sunday I could stand before Calvary Community Church and for the very first time say, “we.” It was the last sentence of the sermon from Luke 1. We hold fast to this: “For no word, sentence, or phrase that comes from the mouth of God will be impossible with Him.” I was your pastor.

Since 2012, we spend the last Sunday of the year in thanksgiving and wonder and in anticipation. And we do this by looking at the coming year through God’s Word. We call it our verse of the year or our verse for the year. This year is different though. This year our verse for the year is Philippians 1:3-5. If you notice, that is more than one verse. It is three verses. So, I guess we could say that we have three verses for the year. But I want us to notice that Philippians 1:3-5, the reason that we have three verses for the year, is actually just one sentence.

And so, what we have before us on this last Sunday of the year is one sentence for one year. I have been wondering, though, how throughout the coming year we might be reminded of this one sentence, the sentence for our year together. Starting January 7, it will be on the front cover of the worship guide. And starting today, we could be encouraged to memorize it, to put it to memory. And maybe then throughout the coming weeks we could spontaneously ask one another, “What is our one sentence for this year?”

So, how will we throughout 2018 be reminded of our verse for the year? It will be on the front cover of the worship guide. We will be, starting today, encouraged to put this one sentence – it is just one sentence – to memory. And starting today, each of us will be encouraged to take it upon ourselves to surprise one another in the coming weeks, and at any time in the coming weeks, with a question. “What is our one sentence for this year?”

But there is more.

From the First Day Until Now

Maybe my favorite part of this sentence comes in the last few words of verse five. “…from the first day until now.” It has been 1,855 days since the first day. It has been five years and four weeks since December 2, 2012. And do you know what continues to be true? I am your pastor. And being your pastor gets better and better and better. For what reason?

Paul writes something at the end of this letter that complements this one sentence for our year. Keep in mind that Paul writes this letter to “all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and the deacons” (Philippians 1:1b). Keep in mind that Paul writes to the local church in Philippi and makes a special note to include the overseers (elders and pastors) and the deacons.

But toward the end of this letter Paul writes, “Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved” (Philippians 4:1). Just listen to how Paul feels about these people! You are my joy. You are my crown. You are my beloved. And now verse three. “Yes, I ask you also, my true companion.” Just pause there. Notice the word true. This word, true, is only used four times in the New Testament. Paul writes of Timothy, “my true child” (1 Timothy 1:2). Paul also writes of Titus, “my true child” (Titus 1:4). It is a word of affection like when we say, “my true love.”

And most interesting is that Paul calls the Philippians, “my true companion.” This word companion (partner, yokefellow) is only ever used here in the New Testament. It is from a word that means to be joined together (cf. Matthew 19:6). It carries with it the idea to be joined together for one purpose.

I wanted us to see the ending of this letter that we not miss the affection that this man had for this church. And it does complement our one sentence for this year. The affection this man had for this church is in this one sentence.

R. C. Sproul made this observation about Philippians 1:3-5. “His love for this congregation was exemplified in his regular prayers for them.” I just find it so intriguing that out of all the letters Paul wrote, this is the only letter which at the beginning he singles out the elders and the deacons.

How might we be reminded of our one sentence for this year? I believe it is more for our pastor than anyone. It has been saying to me all week, after 1,855 days and in the thanksgiving and wonder that it gets better and better and better; and in the anticipation that it will continue to get better and better and better; do not lose your affection for them.

How might our pastor not lose his affection for you? It starts with his regular prayers for you.

Every Prayer of Mine for You All

Philippians 1:3-5 is made up of four parts. The first is Philippians 1:3. “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you.” The word remembrance is a personal remembrance, recalling and thinking about a particular aspect of a person. It is like thinking back or remembering the day when things got better, especially when you never thought about things getting better! And notice what Paul says what happens when you think over the last 1,855 days or from the first day until now – gratitude. Gratitude happens. So, it seems that the first step in a pastor not losing his affection for you is gratitude.

And when does he give thanks? This is Philippians 1:4, the second part of the sentence. “Always in every prayer of mine for you all.” There is gratitude in remembering and it is a gratitude in remembering always in every prayer of mine. Notice that it is every prayer of mine for you all.

How often then is our pastor to pray for us? It is always, or in other words, regularly. We are getting insight into what the regular prayers of our pastor for us looks like. There is gratitude. There is remembrance. A pastor is to remember; remember that first day and remember it until now. Remember the last 1,855 days. Tomorrow it will be to remember the last 1,856 days and in so doing, give thanks. Imagine, every prayer of mine for you all rooted in gratitude.

And a pastor, our pastor, is to pray regularly for us. What is he praying for us? The word prayer here is the word supplication (see Philippians 4:6). It is a felt-need. It is to pray so that we not be lacking. But what I love is that it is a heart-felt petition. Our pastor is to pray for us out of his affection for us. So, again, what is he praying for us?

He prays that there will be no divisions among us. There may be and can be disagreements; this is healthy. But what is not healthy is when disagreements turn into division. He prays too that there will be no regrets. And having no regrets is similar to division. May there be no point at any point when all is said and done, we are no longer speaking to each other. He is praying that there will be unity among us and that we would be striving for this unity. This unity is not that we are always in agreement. This unity is unity when it comes to what really matters; unity that we are in this together; unity to not celebrate lesser things. It is Psalm 86:11. “Teach me Your way, Yahweh, and I will live by Your truth. Give me an undivided mind to fear Your name.” It is united to be in awe of God. He is praying that we continually hunger for God’s truth. He is praying that we would see God’s glory and do all things for His glory. He is praying for revival; God’s revival. He is praying for growth. He is praying for God’s will to be done at Calvary Community Church as it is in heaven. Out of his affection for us our pastor prays like this for us.

Because of Your Partnership in the Gospel

Notice the third part of this one sentence. “…making my prayer with joy.” For a pastor to pray like this, just like this with gratitude in remembering all 1,855 days, is to be making prayer with joy. But it is the fourth part of the sentence that I really want to draw our attention. “Because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.”

You are my joy. You are my crown. You are my true companion. And why? Why does an email mean so much to me after five years? Why does December 2, 2012 mean so much to me after 1,855 days? It is because of our partnership in the gospel together.

What is the gospel? We should be able to articulate the gospel and rehearse the gospel continually with one another. It is something that began in Genesis 3:15. It is something then that the army of heaven proclaimed on Christmas night. It is good news of a great joy. It is Jesus the Christ who is Lord. He put on flesh to get near us. And he died. He died for our sins according to the Scriptures. He was buried, and he rose again according to the Scriptures. And because of him and in him and through him we live now and forevermore. This is our partnership. And in that partnership, is together to enjoy God. And in that partnership, is together to enjoy one another. And in that partnership, is a mission to see more and more people be filled with this joy.

What will this partnership look like in 2018?

1. It will begin with a youth event this Friday at 7 p.m.

2. It will continue next Sunday morning as we pick up again with Genesis.

3. It will be our first members meeting of the year next Sunday evening at 5 p.m.

4. It will be our Fundamentals of the Faith study beginning Sunday, January 14 at 5 p.m. through April 22.

5. It will be expanding our elders and deacons. And having our elders and deacons loving this congregation exemplified by their regular prayers for us.

6. It will be meeting together to pray each Wednesday at 7 p.m. and each Sunday at 9:30 a.m.

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And We Have Seen His Glory

It was Christmas Eve and not unlike any other Christmas Eve. But as I think about it, it was Christmas Eve at 310 West Center Street. And it was late, but not too late. The artificial Christmas tree was visible through the front door. My Dad was sitting in his recliner. My Mom sat comfortably on the couch. And there I was with my sisters sitting on the floor. We were each pretty eager, for the first time all year, to go to bed. Then all suddenly got quiet. My Dad was about to read. He was about to read the good news of a great joy. “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).

Up until this year this has simply been a memory, a Christmas memory. But this year it is different. This year it has become the best Christmas memory. It is because this year I have been watching, really watching. I have been watching my Dad lose his eyesight. And this Christmas as he loses his eyesight I keep thinking about that man in that recliner reading the good news of a great joy. And as he loses his eyesight there is only one thing that really matters.

It is Christmas

It is Christmas Eve and not unlike any other Christmas Eve. And we are about to read. We are about to read just one sentence. “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). This too is good news of a great joy.

I have never noticed that this one sentence has three parts to it; three exciting parts. Each part is introduced by the word and – and the Word became flesh; and he dwelt among us; and we have seen his glory.

And is a conjunction and it is used to connect words in a sentence or sentences to other sentences. Or, as we see here, it is connecting the parts. Look at the third part of this sentence. “And we have seen his glory.” This part is about sight and is connected to the second part, “and dwelt among us.” The second part of this sentence is about nearness and is connected to the first part, “and the Word became flesh.”

This connecting word is connecting three parts, three exciting parts, to emphasize something. These three parts come together to emphasize the one thing that really matters. What is the one thing that really matters? It is Christmas. And why does that matter? It is about what Christmas means for me.

And the Word Became Flesh

Notice the first part of John 1:14, “And the Word became flesh.” If the third part is connected to the second part with the word and; if the second part is connected to the first part with the word and; if the first part begins with the word and; what is the first part being connected to?

We might think that since and connects words in sentences or sentences to other sentences, that perhaps this first part of John 1:14 is being connected to John 1:13. It could be possible and seems to make sense. Just listen to John 1:13. But to listen to John 1:13, we need to begin with John 1:12, because John 1:12-13 are actually one sentence. “But to all who did receive him.” Pause there and mark that word receive. We will come back to it at the end. “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” Then John 1:14. “And the Word became flesh.”

It is just interesting that John 1:12-13 talks about us becoming what we once were not. Prior to receiving Jesus Christ as our Savior, believing in him, you and I were not children of God. But upon receiving Jesus Christ as our Savior, believing in him, you I and became children of God. This word became is the same word used in John 1:14. “And the Word became flesh.” It simply means to become something it was not before.

In verse fourteen, John is simply telling us that there is a point in time that the Word became something it was not before. And what is that something? Flesh. There is a point in time that the Word became or put on flesh. This is commonly called the incarnation.

And John wants us to know that it is the Word that put on flesh. Why is that significant? Look further in verse fourteen. In the remainder of this sentence, John begins using the word Son. This is the first time that John uses the word Son and he will use it some sixty times in the rest of his Gospel. But who is the Son?

This is connected to the third part of verse fourteen. But we have to jump to it here quickly. “And we have seen his glory.” Whose glory? Remember each part is connected to the part previously. This is glory of one who dwelt among us and the one who dwelt among us is the Word. So, whose glory is this? It is the glory of the Word. But after the third part, and talking about his glory, John says that it is the glory of the Son. So, which is it? The glory of the Word or the glory of the Son? It is both. It is the glory of the Word and the glory of the Son because the Son is the Word.

This is really exciting and a really long point to make in a much bigger point. But it is significant. The Word became flesh which also means the Son became flesh. The Son became what he was not before; flesh. The Son did not become the Son. This is a point John is trying to make when he reveals that the Son is the Word. It is because of John 1:1-3.

In the beginning was the Word. What beginning? We could say any beginning; the beginning of today; the beginning of the week; the beginning of the month; the beginning of the year; the beginning of you. We could say any beginning, but will not because this is not what John is saying. He is deliberately bringing to mind the beginning. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” In that beginning was the Son. He was there. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God.” So, the Son was in the beginning and the Son was with God. When? In the beginning. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God, and the Word was God.” And the Son was God.

This a beautiful picture of the tri-unity of God. He is three persons, yet one God. And in the beginning and before there was a beginning there was this perfect relationship of God the Son and God the Father. And just to be clear John writes John 1:3. “All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.”

I love this verse. Still speaking about the Word, the Son, everything that is in the category of made, the Son made it. This is saying two things about the Son. First, anything that is called made or created, he made it. Second, the Son cannot then be called made or created.

This sets up the wonder of John 1:14. “And the Word became flesh!” In talking about the Son, he exists! He has always existed. He is with God the Father. He has always been with God the Father. He is not made. He is not created. He is eternal. He is God. He is God the Son and there is this point in human history that he put on flesh. It is Christmas. But why did he do it?

And Dwelt Among Us

Why did he do it? The full answer to that question is, read the rest of the Gospel of John. Read verses like John 6:51. “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

Why did he become flesh? It is the second exciting part of John 1:14. “…and dwelt among us.” I love the word dwelt. It literally means tabernacled. The word tabernacle brings to mind the Old Testament. It was a tent, a big, beautiful tent. It was a place of worship. It was a tent the Israelites would carry with them throughout the wilderness. It was a tent that housed the presence of God. And at Christmas, John writes that when the Word became flesh he tabernacled among us. I like John 1:14 read this way: “And the Word became flesh and moved into our neighborhood.”

Why did he do it? Philippians 2:7-8 describes this tabernacle or tent this way: “but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death.”

Why did he do it? This tabernacle, this tent, this moving into our neighborhood is all meant to emphasize proximity, nearness. The Word became flesh and drew near me. Will you meditate on that for a moment? This is Christmas.

Now ask, why did he do it?

And We Have Seen His Glory

This is the third part. He drew near so that we might see glory. Whose glory? It is the glory of the Son who is God. So, this is the glory of God. And if you want to see the glory of God, you cannot miss Jesus. Glory, what is that? I have heard it described as the radiant beauty of God or all his goodness. We have called glory the infinite worth and infinite beauty and infinite wonder of God. He put on flesh and drew near so that we might see his infinite worth and beauty and wonder. And John writes, “we have seen his glory.” How?

John is an eyewitness. He wrote that he saw with his eyes and heard with his ears and looked upon and touched with his hands God in the flesh. So, he saw his glory. He was an eyewitness. But there were some eyewitnesses like Judas and the Pharisees and the crowds who only wanted more food, who saw him, but did not see glory. Why? Remember John 1:12. “For those who did receive him…” This same word, receive, is used again here in John 1:16.

Keep in mind first, what John says about his glory in verse fourteen. His glory is “full of grace and truth.”

Now verse sixteen. “And from his fullness we have all received [cf. 1:12], grace upon grace.” In the Greek text, this verse does not begin with and, but with for or because. It is explaining how a person can see his glory, how a person who has received him and believed in him and received the right to become a child of God can see his glory. It is explaining how a person who having not seen him in his flesh can still see his glory.

It is for those who are losing their eyesight or just plain losing sight of what really matters. It is my prayer for my Dad as he goes blind. Oh, that he will still see the one thing that matters. And it is my prayer for me and us. The one thing that matters is to continue to see his glory. It is the one thing that matters. It is what Christmas means for me and you and all of us.

How can I see his glory? Notice that John says in verse sixteen that we have received grace upon or in place of another grace. In John 1:17, he tells us what these two graces are, what the grace is that replaced another grace and what grace was replaced. “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” Jesus said that Moses wrote about him (John 5:46). Moses was a witness to the coming Christ. The law, Genesis and Exodus and Leviticus and Numbers and Deuteronomy, are a witness, the written words of God. But Jesus is the Word. And with him we see reality (truth) and in that reality, is the heart of God (grace).

How then do we see his glory? 2 Corinthians 4:4 says that the “god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” In the gospel, the narrated words and works of Jesus Christ, we see glory! And in John 17:20, Jesus prayed, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word.”

What is their word? Their word includes things like the Gospel of John and Romans and Titus and Ephesians and Philemon. It is through these words that we can see his glory. He put on flesh and drew near that we might see his infinite wonder. There is found reality, it is more real than anything that is called real. And this is Christmas for us, that we might draw near to these words and behold him.

Are You Missing Christmas?

The northern Israeli town of Nazareth will be missing Christmas. It is not as if there will be no ribbons or tags. It is not as if there will be no packages, boxes or bags. All town holiday plans, including a Christmas festival have been halted. The mayor of Nazareth has canceled Christmas and for only one reason. President Donald J. Trump has taken away the joy of the holiday.

It is quite the contrast when on December 25, 1843 at the sound of nine o’clock in the morning, a man awoke to the realization that he had not missed it. He had not missed Christmas. And with too much delight he exclaimed, “I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a schoolboy. I am as giddy as a drunken man.  A merry Christmas to everybody! A happy New Year to all the world!”

I have missed Christmas. And it is always in the afternoon of January 1. It is on that day that everything goes back to normal. The local radio station returns to playing the hits of the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and today. Christmas baking is no more. The store has already replaced the Christmas candy with chocolate hearts. The Christmas tree will soon be boxed away or placed at the curb. And the home will soon feel bare. January 1 is when I miss Christmas. But not this year. This year it is different. It is December 17 and I am wondering, are you missing Christmas?

The Help of Every Detail

Luke 2 is a treasure. Mary the mother Jesus thought Luke 2 to be a treasure. She was one of the first people to ever hear Luke 2 and when she did, “Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). All these things refer to things beginning with verse eight. I love the word treasure; nearly every English translation includes it. It means to keep safe or to guard with close care. And the way this is written is that as she heard these things, things beginning with verse eight, she was treasuring each, each detail and each part and each thing in her heart. And hold on to this – she was guarding each detail and each part and each thing beginning with verse eight with close care.

But notice the word ponder. It could also be the word meditate. This is so interesting. Luke wrote the Gospel of Luke. Luke who wrote the Gospel of Luke also wrote the New Testament book called Acts. And here is what is so exciting: Luke is the only New Testament writer that uses this word translated as ponder or meditate. It literally means to come together. Here it is used to show that as Mary closely guarded these things in her heart, she pondered them. She brought each thing together and ruminated over them. She thought deeply about each thing. How so? Remember, Luke is the only New Testament writer who uses this particular word. And he uses it mainly in the book of Acts. There we see it used as meaning to meet up together. But it is when it is used in Acts 18:27 that is really helpful. “And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed.” It is the word helped. This is the same word as ponder or meditate in Luke 2:19. And in Acts 18:27 it is described as a great help. What is the point? These things, each detail and each part beginning with verse eight, Mary guarded with close care and pondered them. Why? Each thing was a great help to her.

Are you missing Christmas? Would you like some help?

A Known Name in the World

Mary treasured up all these things and these things begin with verse eight. We know this because of who has told Mary all these things. The things she has heard and the things she has treasured and things that are of great help are told to her by some shepherds. And these shepherds do not get mentioned until Luke 2:8.

But I have to share something I have never noticed. I have preached Luke 2 before and never saw this. I grew up listening to Luke 2 every Christmas Eve in our living room awaiting to go to bed in anticipation of Christmas morning. I never appreciated this. In order to get to Luke 2:8 you need to begin with Luke 2:1. This is just to say that the entire context of Luke 2:8-20 is Luke 2:1-20. And it is just really helpful. Notice how Luke 2 begins. “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.” Luke 2 begins with a known name in the world. The known name in the world is Caesar Augustus. And what does he do? He issues a decree that goes out into all the world that all the world should be registered. Why is this so important?

Listen carefully to Luke 2:4-5. “And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary his betrothed, who was with child.” Why is Joseph making his way to Bethlehem? It all has to do with that decree. And who is with him? Now notice verse six. “And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth.” And pay attention to verse seven. “And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” Why does any of this matter?

No Names in the Field

Listen to Luke 2:8. “And in the same region.” What region is that? It is the same region as the previous verses; Judea, the city of David, which is called Bethlehem. “And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.” Such a contrast to verse one; a known name in the world to no names in the field. The decree from verse one sent Joseph and Mary who was with child, along with anyone else who is from Bethlehem, to Bethlehem. If not for that decree, what reason would Joseph and Mary have for being in Bethlehem at this time? If not for that decree, Mary does not give birth in Bethlehem. If not for that decree, Mary does not wrap her firstborn son in swaddling cloths and lay him in a manger, a feeding box for animals. And if not for that decree, there is room in the inn. If not for that decree, this is just another ordinary night for some shepherds in the field.

Fear Not, For Behold

And it is somewhat interesting that we do not know how many shepherds were in this field on this night, nor we do we know their names. It is funny to me that in some religious traditions there is much made, too much made, of the wise men who came to see Jesus after his birth. Much is made about their number – three – and their specific names. Both being something that the Bible does not say. But no such concern is made about these shepherds. Why is that?

As these shepherds were out in the field an angel of the Lord appeared to them. The word appeared literally means to stand among. Out of nowhere an angel is standing among these shepherds and they are filled with fear and not just any fear, but great fear. And now listen to verse ten. “Fear not.” Just note this; this is a command. Keep listening. “Fear not, for behold.” Just note this; this too is a command. Two commands to these no name shepherds in the field. Do not be afraid and behold.

Pay attention to those two commands and especially the word behold. Behold is the reason to not be afraid and it simply means to look. These shepherds are commanded to look or see. And it is given in the sense to do this now. But here is the great part. This kind of looking is a looking that is to become knowing. Behold that you might know.

Listen to the rest of verse ten. What are these shepherds to see that might become knowing? “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people.” Pause there. Who is afraid, greatly afraid? The shepherds! And what are these shepherds to see that might become knowing? Good news of a great joy. Now just notice the rest of what the angel has to say about this good news of a great joy. I like how the New International translation words it. “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.” And who is this good news of a great joy for? It is for all the people. What people? This is too wonderful; beginning with what people? Write that question down and we will get back to it.

And first, do not miss this great joy. Listen for it in Luke 2:11. “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” The great joy is a Savior, one who is mighty to rescue. The great joy is a Savior whose name is Christ, the Messiah, God’s promised King. The great joy is a Savior whose name is the Lord, he is God Almighty. Do not miss this great joy. Who initially is not to miss this joy? Who is the you in verse eleven?

Listen to Luke 2:12. “And this will be a sign for you.” This is about not missing this joy. Again, who initially is not to miss this joy? Who is the you in verse twelve? The word sign means a distinguishing mark and the distinguishing mark is a baby; a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths; a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths lying in a manger. And again, if not for that decree…

Pay attention to Luke 2:15. “When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.’” The word see is the same as behold in verse ten. Let us go that we might know…this thing that has happened. And as the shepherds go to know this thing that has happened, they find Joseph and Mary. And when they do, they relay the things beginning with verse eight. Look closely at verse eighteen. “And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.” But Mary treasured and pondered. Remember, Mary is guarding with close care each part, each detail, each thing she has heard which all begins with verse eight. Who was telling her these things? The shepherds! So, could it be that one of the details, one the parts, one of the things she guarded with close care was these shepherds?

I think the shepherds may be a big part of the big idea. The good news of a great joy for all the people began with shepherds. It was good news of a great joy for them. Unto you in verse eleven included these shepherds. The sign in verse twelve was given to these shepherds.

Why the Shepherds?

Somewhat of a big question of the text is, why the shepherds? Why are the shepherds so prominent here? Some have suggested it is because shepherds shepherd sheep. And these shepherds could have been shepherding sheep that would be used for Passover. The birth of Jesus is the birth of the ultimate Passover Lamb, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). Others have suggested it is because the birth of Jesus is the birth of the good Shepherd. So, news that is first given to shepherds is about the greatest Shepherd who loves his flock and will give his life for the flock. This also is a fulfillment of Micah 5. The one born in Bethlehem is the shepherd of Israel (Micah 5:4).

But I have another suggestion. The word shepherd means a feeder, a protector. It is the word we get for pastor. Pastors are shepherds who feed and protect a flock, a flock of people. How do they do that? Ephesians 4:11 explains that pastors do that with teaching. And notice these shepherds, these pastors, after spreading this good news of a great joy to people, went back to work (Luke 2:20). I like to think that part of Luke 2 and this news coming to shepherds first, is so that pastors will not miss Christmas.

Are You Missing Christmas?

And so, I come back to the question. Are you missing Christmas? And to not miss Christmas…

1. Do not be afraid. “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your care on Him, because He cares about you” (1 Peter 5:6-7).

2. What really drives out fear? Behold the good news of a great joy for it causes great joy.

3. And get back to work. After all these things, the shepherds went back to work “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them” (Luke 2:20).

And He Called His Name Jesus

The Old Testament consists of thirty-nine writings, more commonly known as books. The first book of the Old Testament is called Genesis and the last book of the Old Testament, number thirty-nine, is called Malachi. Genesis is rather big. It has fifty chapters. Malachi is rather small. It has just four chapters. The fourth chapter of Malachi is the smallest of these four chapters having just six verses. But that sixth verse has something really important at the end of it: a period.

What is so important about that period? This period brings the whole Old Testament to a close. There are no more Old Testament writings after this period. And there are no more Old Testament writings because there are no more prophets after this period. And even though this period brings the whole Old Testament to a close, it begins another period. This is not another grammatical period, but rather a time period – the time between the close of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament. The technical name for this is the intertestamental period. But it is also referred to as a time of silence. Why is it called a time of silence? After that period at the end of Malachi and until the New Testament begins, there are no more writings and there are no more writings because there are no more prophets. There are four hundred years between that period at the end of Malachi and the beginning of the New Testament.

And the question is, what breaks that silence?

An Angel Speaks

The answer: an angel speaks. An angel first speaks in Luke 1:12. “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.” An angel speaks a second time in Luke 1:30-31. “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.” An angel speaks for a fourth time in Luke 2:10-11 to some shepherds out in some field. It was Christmas night. “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

An angel speaks four times and each time is a part of breaking that four hundred years of silence that began with that period at the end of Malachi. And the question is, why does this, an angel speaking, break that silence? This is so exciting. I want us to listen to 1 Peter 1:12. This verse is the end of one long sentence. “It was revealed to them [this refers to the Old Testament prophets] that they were serving not themselves but you.” Pause there for a moment. How were these Old Testament prophets found to be serving us? By the way, this includes prophets like Malachi. “In the things that have now been announced to you.” This is great. So, Old Testament prophets, which includes prophets like Malachi, were found to be serving us in things! What things? Keep reading. “In the things that have now been announced to you through those who have preached the good news to you.” The things are found in the good news. Now make note of this; one of the four times that was used to break that silence started by that period at the end of Malachi was the good news of a great joy that will be for all the people.

Keep reading. “In the things that have now been announced to you through those who have preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things…” What things? “…things into which angels long to look.”  Mark the word look. Angels long to look into these things. What things? The things found in the good news. The word look means to stretch forward the head through a window or door. In the second century b.c., this is that intertestamental period or the time of silence, look was used of slaves who would bend over the edge of a flat roof to catch a glimpse of musicians playing their music in the courtyard. So, these things are like music to the eyes and ears of angels! These things are those four times of breaking the silence!

And in Matthew 1:18-25 an angel who longs to look into these things, speaks for the third time, again, breaking the silence.

The Birth of Jesus Christ Took Place

It all begins with Matthew 1:18. “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way.” First, notice the word “Now.” It is a word of transition; a transition right in the middle of Matthew 1. Why is that? What is it transitioning from? Notice how Matthew 1 begins. “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ.” This is the book or record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ. And the book is Matthew 1:2-17, a record or family tree of the ancestry of Jesus Christ. But what is really interesting is the word genealogy. It is the Greek word genesis. So, Matthew 1:1-17 is the historical record of the genesis or ancestry of Jesus Christ. Then in verse eighteen is this word of transition. “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way.” Mark that word birth. It is the Greek word genesis. Matthew 1 is the transition of one genesis to another genesis. The first genesis is the family tree, the historical record of Jesus Christ. The second genesis is how it all took place, how the birth of Jesus Christ took place.

And it took place in this way. Pay close attention to the way this is worded. The birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. In what way? There is no inn. There is no manger. There are no shepherds. There is no drummer boy. How did the birth of Jesus Christ take place?

Mary Had Been Betrothed to Joseph

The birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way: Mary had been betrothed to Joseph. This is really important, more important than I have ever seen before. The word betrothed is like being engaged to be married, but not really. I just want us to observe that this is the very first thing that Matthew mentions when it comes to how the birth of Christ took place. Mary was betrothed to Joseph. And to be betrothed was to be engaged, the difference being was that it was legally binding, as legally binding as being married. The marriage process began with this betrothal and was not completed, and this is so sweet, until the groom took his bride home. This is why Matthew includes the next few words. “When Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together.”

Mary Was Found to be With Child

The birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way: Mary was found to be with child. This too is really important, more important than I have ever seen before. Pay attention to how this is all worded in verse eighteen. Notice the word when and notice the word before. “When Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.” Mary was found to be with child. It had become obvious that she was pregnant. And the question is when? When did it become obvious she was pregnant? It was when she had been betrothed to Joseph, but before they came together. In other words, this was not Joseph’s child. It was not any man’s child. This is why Matthew includes “from the Holy Spirit.” Matthew will emphasize this again in verse twenty. “For that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.”

Remember the very first observation given by Matthew. Mary was betrothed to Joseph. And when she had been betrothed to Joseph it was discovered that she was pregnant. What happened first? The betrothal or the pregnancy? Listen to Luke 1:26-27. “In the sixth month [this refers back to the previous verse] the angel Gabriel was 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.” Now pay attention to verse thirty-one. “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.” The betrothal happened first and then the pregnancy. And the point is that God did not choose a single, available young woman to conceive and bear and raise His Son. God chose a virgin woman to conceive and bear and raise His Son. But it was a virgin who was betrothed, meaning, God also chose a man.

And Her Man Joseph

This is why in verse nineteen, considering all that was just said in verse eighteen, it reads, “And her husband Joseph.” I love how this literally reads: And her man Joseph. How did the birth of Jesus Christ take place? The birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way: her man Joseph. God chose a man to raise His Son. His name was Joseph. What is there to know about Joseph, her man Joseph? He was a man, a just man, a righteous, upright, virtuous man. Joseph was a good man. And this good man discovered that Mary was pregnant. He discovered it because it was obvious. So, what possibly could he be thinking? Better yet, what possibly could he be feeling? Who really was this good man?

Listen to the rest of verse nineteen. He was “unwilling to put her to shame.” He would divorce Mary, quietly, he thought. But just let those words – “unwilling to put her to shame” – sink in and answer, who really was this good man? This was her man.

My Dad said that this is his favorite Christmas passage. It is because he admires Joseph so much. And my Dad admires Joseph so much because of the end of this passage. “He did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife” (1:24). Joseph, her man, took his woman home. This was the man God chose to raise His Son. In choosing a virgin woman betrothed to this man, God also chose a home. The birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way.

What Changed Joseph’s Mind?

What changed Joseph’s mind? When he found out that Mary was pregnant, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, he was going to divorce her although quietly. He was going to end this relationship. So, what changed his mind? He went to sleep. And when he went to sleep, he was thinking about all these things. And when he went to sleep thinking about all these things, “an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife.’” This is third of the four times that an angel speaks breaking the silence began by that period at the end of Malachi. And the angel breaks the news that Mary is indeed pregnant. And it is not Joseph’s child. It is not any man’s child. It is by the plan of God. It is by the design of God. It is of God. This is a divine conception.

And the great part is that when Joseph awakes, there is no wondering what had just happened. Instead, he runs to his woman and takes her home. He obeys with joy. Why?

And He Called His Name Jesus

The angel told Joseph that the child was a boy. And the angel told Joseph the boy’s name. Listen to it. “And you shall call his name Jesus.” The you is singular, meaning the you is Joseph. Joseph, you will call his name Jesus. And notice how the chapter ends. “And he called his name Jesus.” But what does Jesus mean? Look at Matthew 1:21. “For he will save his people from their sins.” What really changed Joseph’s mind? Jesus. How does Jesus make the difference?

And this is the greatest part. Listen to verse twenty-two. “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet.” What took place? What is all this that took place? The birth of Jesus Christ. This, Matthew 1:18-21, all took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet. The prophet is Isaiah and what Isaiah said was Isaiah 7:14. Listen to it. “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel.” What does Immanuel mean? God with us.

How does Matthew 1:18-21 fulfill Isaiah 7:14? Joseph was told he will call his name Jesus. Isaiah said that they will call his name Immanuel. Jesus means he will save his people from their sins. Immanuel means God with us. So, what is fulfilled? Who is the they in the quoting of Isaiah 7:14? It is the people who are saved from their sins.

And the big point is that the people whose sins Jesus forgives are the ones who will gladly call him God with us.[1] Imagine, these are part of the words that break the silence! It is to know Jesus. Jesus who forgives sins. And he forgives sins because he paid the full punishment for those sins forever at the cross. And the ones who not only know that their sins are forgiven, but know the one who forgives those sins, can gladly and joyfully and restfully say, “He is God with us!”

The last recorded words of Jesus in Matthew are Matthew 28:20. “Behold, I am with you always.” The question for everybody is, do I know the difference Jesus makes? And, how am I knowing the difference Jesus makes? (John 14:23; John 15:1-11; Isaiah 43:2).

[1] D. A. Carson, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, page 81.

And His Resting Place Shall Be Glory

The Friday after Thanksgiving has been about leftovers – stuffing leftovers; mashed potato leftovers; gravy leftovers; and turkey leftovers. But in order for my family to enjoy those leftovers one thing must be accomplished. We must find the perfect Sperry family Christmas tree. And to find the perfect Sperry family Christmas tree we travel to Fred’s Christmas Tree Farm. When at Fred’s, it must be a spruce. It can be a white spruce, a blue spruce or a Norway spruce. And to find that spruce, we walk and walk and walk. It is good exercise in preparation for those leftovers. It takes time to find the perfect Sperry family Christmas tree. Some trees are too tall or too short or too bare or too full, with a lot of sap. Then we find it. We always find it. The one tree that is just right.

Once we find the tree that is just right, we take our picture with it, we just always do. And then I cut it down. We drag it back to the car as a family. We watch Lisa tie the tree down to the roof of the car as a family. At home we decorate the tree as a family. We enjoy evenings relaxing in the light of that tree. And on Christmas there will be presents under that tree. But soon thereafter, it will rest bear at the end of the driveway on trash pick-up day.

The only reminder of our perfect family Christmas tree will be a stump back at Fred’s Christmas Tree farm.

The Stump of Jesse

This is the picture of Isaiah 11. But to begin Isaiah 11 and to get the picture of Isaiah 11, it does not begin with verse one, but with Isaiah 10:33-34. These verses read right into Isaiah 11:1. “Behold, the Lord God of hosts will lop the boughs with terrifying power; the great in height will be hewn down, and the lofty will be brought low. He will cut down the thickets of the forest with an axe, and Lebanon will fall by the Majestic One.” And immediately then Isaiah 11:1. “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.”

The picture is that of a Christmas tree farm! There are just rows and rows and rows of reminders of what once was – trees. There once were abundant, full-grown trees. Some were too tall or too short. Some were too bare or too full, with a lot of sap. And now all that remains are reminders – stumps.

Notice the word stump. This particular word is used only three times in the Old Testament. The first time this word occurs is in Job 14:8. Listen carefully for it beginning with verse seven. “For there is hope for a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that its shoots will not cease.” And just mark this down: there is hope for a tree. Now read verses eight and nine. “Though its root grow old in the earth, and its stump die in the soil, yet at the scent of water it will bud and put out branches like a young plant.” And just mark this down: there is hope for a tree when all that remains is a stump. What is that hope? It is hope from a stump.

And now get ready for the very next time the word stump occurs. It is Isaiah 11:1 (the third occurrence is Isaiah 40:24). “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.”

The Tree of Jesse

Notice the words “stump of Jesse.” What is a stump? It is a reminder of a tree. Therefore, the stump of Jesse is a reminder of the tree of Jesse. And what do trees have? Trees have branches. And we want to ask two questions. What is the tree of Jesse? And what are the branches of Jesse?

For this I want us to turn to the Gospel of Matthew. And just notice that the Gospel of Matthew opens with a tree, a family tree. Then notice that this family tree is divided into three sections. Then notice that this first section begins with a man named Abraham (Matthew 1:2). But what is really noteworthy is how the first section of this family tree concludes. It is Matthew 1:6. “and Jesse the father of David the king.”

This family tree continues with the remainder of verse six. “And David was the father of Solomon.” Who was Solomon? He was a king. Then the family tree continues with verse seven. “And Solomon the father of Rehoboam.” If you do not know who Rehoboam was, he was a king. “And Rehoboam the father of Abijah.” If you do not know who Abijah was, he was a king. “And Abijah the father of Asaph.” If you do not know who Asaph was, he was a king. Then the family tree continues. It continues with verse eight and verse nine and verse ten and verse eleven.

There is one verse in particular to point out. It is Matthew 1:9. “And Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz.” If you do not know who Ahaz was, he was a king. He was a king at the time of the writing of Isaiah 11.

The whole point is that Matthew 1:6-11 is the tree of Jesse. And the tree of Jesse had branches and each of those branches were kings. But then something happened. It is included in Matthew 1:11. It is called the deportation to Babylon. Let’s call this deportation to Babylon the cutting down of the tree. And when there is a cutting down of a tree what remains? A reminder; the only reminder is a stump.

But as of Isaiah 11, there was still a tree. But this tree will be cut down and what did Job 14:7-8 tell us? There is hope for a tree when all that remains is a stump. Listen again to Isaiah 11:1. “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.” Where is the hope? It is a branch.

What is this Branch?

The big question is, what is this branch? Keep in mind that the stump of Jesse was once the tree of Jesse. And the tree of Jesse had branches and the branches were kings. Jesse was the father of kings. What possibly then is the branch that comes from the stump of Jesse? A king.

It is interesting that this branch is a branch of the stump and not necessarily just another branch of the former tree. Meaning, this king is not just another king. He will be different. How will he be different? Listen again to Isaiah 11:1. “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.” How will this branch, this king be different? He will bear fruit. This is what Isaiah 11:2-10 is all about. It is all about a different king from Jesse who bears fruit. And the next big question is, what is the fruit?

And the Spirit of the Lord Shall Rest Upon Him

I want us to notice the very first few words of verse two. “And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him.” This identical wording is used again in Isaiah 61:1. “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has appointed me to bring good news to the poor, he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.” Why is this important? Jesus read these very words in a synagogue on the Sabbath day. When he was finished reading these words “the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.” Then Jesus said, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:18-21). Again, why is this important? Isaiah 61 is talking about the same person as Isaiah 11. It is the king from the stump. A different king from Jesse who bears fruit.

And notice who Isaiah 61:1 affects. It affects people. The poor are people. The brokenhearted are people. The captives are people. The bound are people. And Jesus said in his first coming that he fulfilled those words. The Spirit of the Lord God was upon him. And how did this affect people? He brought good news.

Now back to Isaiah 11:2. “And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.” Notice that verse two is given in pairs – wisdom and understanding; counsel and might; knowledge and the fear of the Lord. The last pair is the only pair that gets broken up in these ten verses.

It happens in the very next verse, Isaiah 11:3. “And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.” I really like this verse. I find it fascinating and it is because of the word delight. Delight here means to smell with pleasure. The fear of the Lord is not something to run and hide from, instead this king, Jesus, savors it, smells it with pleasure. But it is a lot simpler just to say that his delight is in the fear of the Lord, or his joy is the awe of God, or he trembles at the thought of displeasing God. Just a fascinating statement.

But again, the pair gets broken up. The second half of the pair is in Isaiah 11:9. “For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” Just interesting that it is the only pair that is broken up and in a sense bookends the passage.

His joy was not to displease God. This was Jesus’ first coming. “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). “Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). And Isaiah 11:9, this is more about Jesus’ second coming. The first half of Isaiah 11:9 is repeated in Isaiah 65:25. And the context there begins with Isaiah 65:17 which is about God creating new heavens and a new earth.

The point is that Isaiah 11:1-10 has in view both the first coming of Jesus and the second coming of Jesus with no time lapse. Why is that? Notice that the verses in between are the effects of this king. There is wording there that reflects Isaiah 61 (see 11:4, poor and meek). This king, his presence, his work, his purpose affects even nature (Isaiah 11:6-8). But most importantly this king affects people.

And His Resting Place Shall Be Glory

And this is how it ends. “In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.” This answers the question, what is his fruit? It is that his resting place shall be glory. His resting place shall be of infinite wonder and infinite beauty and infinite goodness and infinite worth. And this is all in view of his coming. His coming begins with his birth!

On Christmas night, some shepherds were out in some field watching their flocks. They did not know it was Christmas night, not until an angel of the Lord appeared and said, “And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.’” And what is the good news? “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” The birth of Jesus the Christ is good news of great joy for all people. It is also good news that causes great joy for all people. The good news is the branch from this stump. And he preached good news.

He died. He was crucified for our sins. He was buried. And he rose again. He is alive. Death and the grave could not contain him. He is a different kind of king. And he left, but he will return. He is coming again. While we wait for him there are people who have not seen him, but love him and believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory. Why is that? It is because the good news has been preached to them (1 Peter 1:8, 12). And by the way, these are poor, brokenhearted, captivated, bound people. See too Romans 15:12-13.

Why do we rejoice now? Because his rest is glory. The invitation to start this advent season is to you. Come to him. He is the branch from the stump of Jesse. He is the king, a different kind of king. He is the Messiah, the Savior, Christ the Lord.

When Faith Faces Death

It was a Sunday morning. I am almost certain it was a Sunday morning and I was eight years old. And I heard a noise that I had never heard before. Someone was crying, but I had never heard anyone cry quite like this. I heard my Mom crying and then I saw my Mom crying. She was distraught and heartbroken. She had received a phone call that her grandmother had died. Grandma Adams was eighty-eight years old. I can remember thinking, “I never want to see anything like this ever again.” But I did; I did see something just like this again. It was my wife. She cried just like this when her dad died. I had no idea what to say. The only thing that I could think to do was to hug her and hold her and let her weep.

And Sarah Died

Abraham’s wife Sarah had died. This is Genesis 23. And when Abraham’s wife Sarah had died, Abraham mourned for her and wept for her (Genesis 23:2). This is the strongest language used to describe a broken heart. The word mourn means to wail. It is an audible word, but it is also intense. The word describes a person pulling at their own hair and beating their chest. Of course, the word weep means to cry; it involves tears. When Abraham’s wife Sarah died, Abraham pulled at his hair, beat his chest, and he wept. Why did Abraham cry like this?

Remembering Sarah

Note carefully Genesis 23:1. “Sarah lived 127 years; these were the years of the life of Sarah.” The word-for-word translation of the Hebrew text reads, “And Sarah was a hundred years old and twenty years and seven years.” The emphasis of this introductory verse is that these were the years of the life of Sarah. The really intriguing part of it all is that Sarah is the only woman in the Bible that is given this kind of attention upon her death.

Listen to Isaiah 51:1-2. “Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, you who seek the Lord: look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug. Look to Abraham your father and Sarah who bore you…” You who pursue righteousness, you who seek the Lord, there is a really simple command which follows: look. Look simply means to stop and pause and take time to think and consider. Look to the rock from which you were hewn. Look to Abraham and do not only look and think and consider the life of Abraham. Look and think and consider the life of Sarah.

I love how the Bible considers the life of Sarah. Remember how Abraham described his wife as a woman beautiful in appearance (Genesis 12:11-12)? In 1 Peter 3:4-6, Sarah is remembered as a woman of imperishable beauty. It was that of a gentle and quiet spirit. Sarah is remembered as a woman of imperishable beauty, a beauty of submission. She was submissive to her husband. She was at hand for every pinnacle of Abraham’s life and also there for every one of his failures.[1] Lisa and I are in our eighteenth year of marriage. But this week, it was Tuesday evening, she said the most precious thing to me in our eighteen years. She said, “You do not know this, but I bear your anxieties.” Those words in that moment meant more to me than “I love you.” And it was a moment that I gained a greater understanding of imperishable beauty and submissiveness and what it means to be on hand for the pinnacles and the failures. I bear your anxieties.

Sarah is remembered as a woman of imperishable beauty, a beauty of doing good. Sarah is remembered as a woman of imperishable beauty, a beauty that does not fear anything that is frightening. Sarah is remembered as a woman of imperishable beauty, a beauty of a holy woman who hopes in God. Hebrews 11:11 further remembered Sarah as a woman who lived by faith. What does it mean to live by faith? “She considered him faithful who had promised.” Therefore, Sarah is remembered as a woman of imperishable beauty, a beauty that considers God faithful.

It is a beauty that the Bible calls very precious in God’s sight (1 Peter 3:4). This was Abraham’s wife. And so, why did Abraham cry like this? Could it be that he is simply remembering his beautiful wife?

Keep considering Genesis 23:1. And be sure to note carefully Genesis 23:1.  Be sure to note carefully that Sarah is the only woman in the Bible that is given this emphasis: Sarah lived 127 years; these were the years of Sarah’s life. Sarah died when she was 127 years old. We do not know how many years of marriage Abraham and Sarah celebrated. It must had been nearly a hundred years, maybe even more. But we do know something more important than their wedding anniversary. We know when their journey began.

Genesis 12 was sixty-two years ago. Abraham was seventy-five years old. Sarah was ten years younger than Abraham, which means in Genesis 12 she was sixty-five years old. Genesis 12 is when their journey began. It was when God called out to Abraham to leave his father’s house to a land that God would show him. So, Abraham went not knowing where he was going, and his wife went with him. Genesis 12 was the beginning of their journey of faith together. It was more important than their wedding anniversary.

I was recently talking with a couple that has been married for a little more than thirty years. The wife said that it has been the last seven though which have been the sweetest. I asked why that was, why she felt that way. She said, “It is because these last seven years are the years we have grown in our walk with God together.” Why was Abraham crying like this? Could it be simply that he was remembering his beautiful wife and perhaps how the last sixty-two years had been the sweetest? One of the last words ever recorded of Sarah is: God has prepared laughter for me. And maybe it was the last thirty-seven that had been the sweetest of all.

And Abraham Rose Up

Sarah lived. Sarah died. Abraham mourned and wept and then he rose up (23:3). He rose up seeking to now bury his wife. Notice quickly verse two. “And Sarah died at Kiriath-arba (that is Hebron) in the land of Canaan.” Note this verse and we will come back to it.  But the point is that Sarah died in the land of Canaan, a part of the land that is inhabited by the Hittites or probably more accurately the sons of Heth or Hethites. And in this land Abraham is a sojourner and a foreigner. Specifically, Abraham legally, in the eyes of the land, had no ownership rights. He owned no land. And he sought a place to bury his deceased wife.

This is the majority of the rest of the chapter. Abraham bartered with the inhabitants of the land for a burial spot. These inhabitants were more than happy to accommodate Abraham’s need, but it seems that they did not understand what Abraham was seeking. It seems that the inhabitants of the land were more than happy and more than willing to loan a burial spot to Abraham. In their minds, there was no reason to withhold a gravesite to this man whom they admired and respected (Genesis 23:4-6).

But Abraham sought to purchase a grave, a cave. He sought to purchase a cave in the sight of the inhabitants of the land so that there would be no confusion. Abraham a sojourner and a foreigner owns this burial spot. And he had the spot in mind – the cave of Machpelah, owned by a man called Ephron (23:7-9). And Abraham was willing to pay full price.

This man called Ephron seems to be present when Abraham announced his desire for this cave. And it seems that Ephron as kindly and as compassionate as can be, took full advantage of this opportunity. He was willing to sell, but not just the cave. He was willing to sell the field with the cave that was in it, including all the trees of the field too. And he was willing to sell for four hundred shekels of silver (ten pounds of silver). Of which Ephron said, “What is that between friends?” (23:15).

This was all done in the presence of witnesses. I want us to notice verse seventeen and verse twenty. This cave in this field with all the trees was “made over” or deeded to Abraham as his legal possession. For the first time in sixty-two years, Abraham owned a piece of land. And where did he own this piece of land? Listen to verse nineteen. “After this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah east of Mamre (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan.”

When Faith Faces Death

Abraham buried his wife Sarah in the land of Canaan and in a particular place in the land of Canaan – Hebron. Go back to verse one. Where did Sarah die? “And Sarah died at Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan.” Why did she die in the land of Canaan at Hebron?

Kiriath-arba means “the city of four” and there are many educated guesses as to why it is called Kiriath-arba. But Moses takes the time to let the reader know that this is also known as Hebron in the land of Canaan. The last mention of Hebron was the first mention of Hebron – Genesis 13:18. After living at Hebron for some time, Abraham moved. We do not know exactly why he moved, but he moved and his wife with him. He moved sometime after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. He looked at the destruction of those cities and moved toward the territory of the Negeb and sojourned in Gerar. There he lived and there he told a lie. There his and Sarah’s son Isaac was born. There Isaac had his first birthday party. From there Hagar and Abraham’s son Ishmael were sent packing. There Abraham dug a well for himself. There that same well was taken from him. There that same well was returned to him as legally his well. From there Abraham would offer Isaac as a sacrifice on one of the mountains of Moriah, knowing that God would provide. And from there Abraham, Sarah and Isaac would live at a place not called Hebron, but called Beersheba.

But at some point, and for some reason, Sarah died not in a place called Beersheba, but in Hebron. These two places are separated by about thirty miles. Why did this family end up back at Hebron? Why did they apparently move again?

Last week we completely ignored Genesis 21:15-18. It was something God said to Abraham following the offering of Isaac. God reiterated the promise to Abraham that began in Genesis 12 and was stated again in Genesis 15 and again in Genesis 18. It was about Abraham’s offspring, his descendants. Abraham would one day have so many descendants that they would number the sand of the seashore. Where would Abraham have these descendants? In the land of Canaan. Abraham heard this promise from God one last time and eventually moved back to Hebron. It was here that Abraham would bury his wife. It was in the heart of the land of promise.

The Bible states that by faith Sarah died not receiving the promises. She did not see all of these promised descendants. She died not seeing the fulfillment of even possessing the land of the promise. She died owning nothing. So, what was the point of buying that cave? Why was Abraham so adamant that he have that cave? It is called what to do when your faith faces death. You consider God faithful who promised. Abraham buried his wife in the promises of God. When Job in faith faced suffering and the possibility of death, he too considered God faithful who promised. Job said, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God” (19:25-26). And it is all because of Christ Jesus, “who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:10).

When faith faces death, consider God faithful who promised.

The biggest question for me in this passage though was, where was Isaac? His mom died. Where was he? I do not think he was absent. I just think he is not mentioned. And it struck me for one reason: Isaac was 37 years old when his mom died. I am 37 years old. This is not to say that I think my Mom will die anytime soon. But I just tend think that Isaac at 37 years old was watching his mom and dad as their faith faced death. And this 37-year-old, me, needed this week to watch how faith faces death and really for just one reason, and it is not only when facing death, but when you are facing whether or not to carry on. Consider God faithful who promised.

[1] R. Kent Hughes, Genesis: Beginning and Blessing, page 307.

The Lord Will Provide

When I was in high school, sociology and psychology were required classes. A student was required to take only one of those classes junior year or senior year. I took both. I took sociology my junior year and psychology my senior year. And I enjoyed it. I enjoyed those classes because I enjoyed the teacher, Mr. Gibeaut. He taught using no notes. He told the best stories. And he rarely gave homework, if ever. But he gave tests. There was nothing special about his tests. Each test was a typical test – short answer; true/false; matching; fill in the blank and multiple choice. But question number ten on every test demanded special attention. It was always multiple choice. And it was always the same answer – C. Once graded, tests would be returned and Mr. Gibeaut would take class time to review each and every question, especially question number ten.  There would come a short pause accompanied by a slight smile. Then Mr. Gibeaut would say, “And ten…is C. Ten is C! Just like the state, Tennessee.”

God Tested Abraham

Genesis 22 is a test. There is no short answer; no true/false; no matching; no fill in the blank; no multiple choice. There is no question number ten. It is not a driving test; hearing test; sight test; pregnancy test; sobriety test. It is not an aptitude test or compatibility test or durability test. It is not even a taste test. What is this test?

Listen to Genesis 22:1. “After these things God tested Abraham.” Notice the word tested. This is the only time this word occurs in Genesis. This is going to seem really obvious, but who is being tested? Abraham. So, this is the only time this word occurs in Genesis and the individual to be tested is Abraham.

Keep that in mind and notice the first few words that introduce the chapter. “After these things God tested Abraham.” So, this is the only time the word tested occurs in Genesis and the individual to be tested is Abraham. But he is only tested after these things. What things? The word after is a key word. After these things God tested Abraham. So, to know what after is referring to, it is probably best to know what is before. What happened before God tested Abraham?

Notice that the word things is plural. So, the better question is what things happened before God tested Abraham? Before Genesis 22 is Genesis 21. Things happened in Genesis 21, three things. First, Isaac was born. Second, Abraham sent Hagar away with Ishmael, Abraham’s son, into the wilderness. They got lost in the wilderness.

After these things God tested Abraham. Why is Abraham being tested now? Why is Abraham being tested after those things? The Hebrew text literally begins this way: And it came to pass after these things… The New International translation picks up on this and begins verse one “Some time later…” There it is; it is not just after these things, which surely includes Genesis 21, but there was some time that past after these things. How much time? Isaac is in Genesis 21. He was born in Genesis 21 and had a birthday party in Genesis 21 when he was about two or three years old. Isaac is also in Genesis 22.

In Genesis 22:12, Isaac is a called a boy. In Genesis 21:18, Ishmael is also called a boy. In Hebrew it is a different word than for child (21:8). The short definition for boy is man. In Genesis 21, Ishmael is about fifteen or sixteen years old. How old then could Isaac be in Genesis 22? The point is that Genesis 22 is some time later after these things. How much time later? It is about fifteen to sixteen years later.

Charles Spurgeon had this insight. There was a course of education to prepare him for this great testing time, and the Lord knows how to educate us up to such a point that we can endure, in years to come, what we could not endure today – just as today he may make us stand firm under a burden, which ten years ago, would have crushed us into the dust.

Three things happened in Genesis 21. Third, Abraham made a new friend and got a little help from his friend securing a well of water. This third thing that happened was described as humdrum. In other words, boring. This third thing was about a boring, humdrum, mundane day. Some fifteen years after this particular day, God tested Abraham. Why does that matter? We mentioned last week that our lives are made up of days. The average life expectance today is 78.7 years or 28,725 days. How many of those days will be boring or mundane? A lot. The last thing that happened before Genesis 22 was a mundane day. God was at work in that mundane day. Do not miss the splendor of God in mundane things on mundane days. The point is that it may be the course of education to prepare you for a great testing time.

And think on this: Abraham was over a hundred years old. After these things, after all this time, God tested an old man, a really old man. And for what reason? What is being tested?

Please Take Your Son

It begins with Genesis 22:2. “Take your son…” The word take is a command. Actually, there are three commands in verse two. Take; go; offer. But the first command begins softly. Some translations include the word now. Take now your son. The word now literally means please – please take your son. It begins softly and then increases in intensity. Please take your son, your only son, whom you love, the son of your affection, and go.

God commands Abraham to take Isaac and go to the land of Moriah. Moriah is only used one other time in the Old Testament – 2 Chronicles 3:1. There it is called Mount Moriah in Jerusalem and it is the place where King Solomon would build the temple, the house of the Lord. God commands Abraham to go to the land of Moriah and notice where exactly in the land of Moriah. “On one of the mountains of which I will show you.”

And then it gets hard. It gets hard to read. How hard must it have been to hear? “Offer him there as a burnt offering.” Isaac was to die as a sacrifice…by the hands of his own father. So, what is being tested?

When Will It Be Over?

So Abraham got up early the next morning, prepared his donkey, cut the needed wooded, took two of his servants with him and his son Isaac (22:3). The big point though that I want to make is in verse four. “On the third day…” Abraham traveled and traveled and traveled for three days thinking about his son who was to be offered as a sacrifice by his own hand. Again, what is being tested?

Ask Dad, He Knows. Those words are a part of an advertisement in the Christmas movie It’s a Wonderful Life. So, I asked my Dad. I asked him about testing. Testing usually always involves something difficult or hard. And my Dad shared that the big issue about testing is not how hard or difficult it may be, or how big or how dark the testing may be, but how long, the duration. How long will this test last? It was three days, three long arduous days. And for three days there was just one question. When will it be over? “On the third day Abraham lifted his eyes and saw the place from afar.” It was about to be over.

Isaac Breaks the Silence

For most of this trip there was silence. There was silence until Abraham saw the place. Listen to Genesis 22:5. “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” Pause here for a moment and ask, what is being tested? Then there was silence again. Abraham took the wood and placed it on his son. Isaac had to carry the wood for the offering. Abraham grabbed the knife and the fire. Listen to how verse six ends. “So they went both of them together.” Father and son. And there was silence.

And then Isaac broke the silence. “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Listen to verse eight. “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” What is being tested? For now, highlight the word provide. Then read again, “So they went both of them together.” Father and son. And there was silence.

God Breaks the Silence

Father and son come to the place of sacrifice; a mountain of Moriah. Abraham builds the altar, arranges the wood and bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar. Father and son. And there was silence. No one said a word, not even Isaac. It makes you wonder, why did Isaac not say a word? Remember the last thing he heard his father say? “God will provide for himself the lamb.” What is being tested? Abraham reached out his hand – he must have looked at his hand – and took the knife – he must have looked at the knife in his hand – to slaughter his son – he must have looked at his son – and God broke the silence. “Abraham! Abraham! Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me” (22:12). Now pay careful attention to Genesis 22:13. “And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.” Highlight the word looked.

The Lord Will Provide

And pay even closer attention to Genesis 22:14. “So Abraham called the name of that place, ‘The Lord will provide’; as it is said to this day, ‘On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.’ The word provide is the same word for provide in verse eight. It is also the same word for looked too. It means to see. But it gets better. It is the same word for saw in verse four. And it gets even better. It means not just to see, but to see to it. Abraham first saw and then said, “God will see to it” (Genesis 22:4, 8). Then Abraham looked and said, “God saw to it!” (Genesis 22:13, 14).

What was being tested? Abraham was known for his faith. I think Job 23:10 is helpful. “But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold.” What was being tested? His faith. And for what purpose? To purify it, that it may come out as gold, even more precious than gold. And what did it? God will see to it.

We get the word providence from the word provide. And providence is all about that God will see to it. God will sustain. God will take care of it. And when he does, there is just one thing to say, “God saw to it!”

It is the one thing to grab tightly to as if your life depends on it in any hardship, any difficulty, any storm. God will see to it. Do you know how you can know that God will see to it? It is because he already has. God has already saw to it.

This land called Moriah is the same place where a cross of wood would be laid on the back of Jesus. It is the same place Jesus would be nailed to that cross of wood. It is the same place he would be silent. It is the same place he would break the silence with “It is finished.” It is the same place that the lamb of God would take away the sins of the world. And it is the same place that after three days the grave could no longer contain him.