Monday, December 31, 2012

The Stewardship of Gifts

1 Peter 4:10

30 December 2012

As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. (1 Peter 4:10)



At the end of each year you will see retrospectives on the events of the year, here are some of the top news stories of 2012.


1. Hurricane Sandy

2. Kate Middleton pictures released

3. Olympics 2012

4. Costa Concordia shipwreck

5. Presidential Debates

6. Stratosphere jump

7. Sandusky trial and Penn State scandal

8. Trayvon Martin shooting


There are so many other things that happened this year from the Olympics, to the election, to the far too many attacks on innocent people (Dark Knight Shooting, Sikh Temple Shooting, Newtown CT, just to name a few). How do you think the year went and did you attain any goals?


What is great about the end of year is the beginning of a new one. Though we may not have reached our goals we know that we have the ability to refocus for next year. 2013 can be claimed as the year we finally lose the weight, we finally run that marathon, or we finally get organized. The possibilities are endless and it is only up to us. What are some goals for the next year?


This morning we are going to focus on the potential of the new year by looking at the ability we have to serve God through the gifts that He has given us. This is primarily through the way in which we serve God and the church. Ask your class, even at the beginning, to ponder what ways they can serve better in the coming year.


God Helps us Serve through Gifts


We will briefly break down this passage to highlight how it is that God intends us to work for Him. The first thing we notice is, "As each has received a gift." This is a simple statement and a simple belief for all Christians. God has given us, by His Spirit, gifts. Now these gifts are not all the same for all of us, but are given to each according to God's will and purpose. 1 Corinthians 12:4-12 says it like this:


    4 There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. 6 And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all. 7 But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: 8 for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills.


Unity and Diversity in One Body

12 For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ.


We must come to understand that we all need each other, and gifts highlight that. There is a trend in many churches to let the paid staff take care of all the church business and the people merely show up. This is not how God intended the church to be. Pastors exist to edify, build up, believers so they can do God's work "to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ" (Ephesians 4:12).


We all have gifts and they are given so that we can serve. What are some of the gifts you have seen demonstrated here at church?


God Expects us to Serve with Gifts


The second thing to note from this passage is that the giving of gifts has a very special purpose. We have been given gifts to serve others. This is a clear statement that is mostly ignored by evangelical Christians. God expects us to utilize the gifts we have been given in such a way that others are served and that service is then directed to God. The Corinthian church was endowed with marvelous spiritual gifts, but far too often people there just fell in love with their own gifts and failed to serve others or even acknowledge the necessary gifts of others in the church.


Everyone chosen by Christ is given a spiritual gift, and is called to use it for the "profit of all" (v 7) in the church. There is a scene in C.S. Lewis' Prince Caspian where the character Lucy is chastised by Aslan for not being obedient. She queries what would have happened had she been obedient, to which he replied, "'To know what would have happened, child?' said Aslan. 'No. Nobody is ever told that.'" This is the truth of our past we often know we probably should have served others by utilizing the gifting God has given us and we live in a world of what ifs. This must not be so. God has blessings for us and this world that are beyond our imagination if only we would obey and serve.


Think about the times you have used your gifts to serve others and been blessed by it.


God's Grace is Magnified by Gifts


Romans 12

3 For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith. 4 For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, 5 so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. 6 Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; 7 or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; 8 he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.


We see in this passage that to serve others with our gifts is good stewardship of God's grace. The simple reality is that the level of our obedience should be measured according to the grace dispensed to us. That equation is incalculable. God has bestowed on us such rich grace and blessings that we must do whatever we can to glorify Him by paying it forward. That is what he intends for us to do.


You must see that this all comes back to the gospel and the will of God. He has not saved us merely because we were sinful and He had to. He saved us because He created us all with a purpose. That purpose is to live in fellowship with Him doing what He commands to complete His good purposes. Christ's death and resurrection are given for us so that we can give for others, though we hear this often we must see that it is especially true when we recognize that God has given particular gifts to individuals in order to give for others. The conversation with Lucy and Aslan does not end with a chastisement, but with an encouragement, "'But anyone can find out what will happen,' said Aslan." We too can see what God will do if we will only utilize the gifts He has given to us. This next year how can we each individual and the class as a whole can do their part at Hallmark to fulfill its ministry?

Here is a brief list of areas that we all can serve in:

  • Choir
  • Ambassadors
  • Children's Church Worker
  • Nursery Worker
  • VBS Volunteer
  • Mentors

Ephesians 4

11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; 14 that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, 15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.

Joy - The Messiah is Here

Luke 2:8-20

23 December 2012

8 Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. 10 Then the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger."


13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:


14 "Glory to God in the highest,

and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!" (or "toward men of goodwill")

15 So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, "Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us." 16 And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. 17 Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. 18 And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.



Christmas is almost here and we are coming to the final Sunday of Advent. This Sunday we will be highlighting the theme: Joy


My problem with most definitions of joy is it just sounds like a synonym for happy. To me joy is something more permanent, and less circumstantial than happy. Our joy comes from the unshakable love that God has shown to his redeemed. Joy is knowing what I have in Christ and what that meant to God. Joy is unaffected by a bad day at work, slow traffic or even an argument at home, because the scripture clearly teaches that nothing can separate us from the love of God. (Romans 8:38-39)


So Joy is an emotion and may feel similar to happiness, but it is also something much deeper than happiness. Discuss for a few moments the things that make us happy. Sometimes these are the greater things in life: God's love and provision, our spouses and children, etc. However, sometimes we are happy when the Cowboys win or when we are watching a comedy on TV. There is a great gulf between these two types of emotions. As we discuss Joy this morning we need to make sure that we are not equating the happiness that comes from temporary things with that which comes from long term and eternal things.


In fact, there are two words for happiness in the Greek language: eudaimonia and makarios. The first is simply defined as "to be happy or fortunate." The second is defined as, "blessed, fortunate, a privileged recipient of divine favor" (Bauer). Both of the terms are appropriate emotions and are similar in concept, but it is the second one that presents us with the deeper expression of happiness more related to joy.


We also must recognize that this type of Joy is also existent even in the midst of suffering. This is a more mature manifestation of Joy, but it nevertheless is true. It is found in instances where we can rejoice in sadness. For instance when we have to say goodbye to a loved one as they go to be with God we rejoice even though their departing grieves our souls. Joy still exists in this instance when happiness may not.


We must be clear about what joy truly is, in order for us to have the appropriate emotion of Joy this Christmas season. Our text this morning shows us the way in which Joy comes to us and goes out from us because of the Christ-child.


Joy Comes from God


When we think about true joy we must understand its origins. Just like love first comes to us and then from us to others so it is with Joy. It comes to us through the gospel message, through God's own desire for us, and then multiplies in this world. In this passage we see this through the declaration of the Angels, "And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, 'Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy.'" The joy that comes to all of us is always coming from God to us. In this passage it is a direct message from God's messengers (Angles) to his people. In our time it comes in a variety of ways, but always through revelation, both generally and specially.


This revelation comes through general means. That is, God has revealed himself through our world, and as such invites us to rejoice in Him for how he has created. The most obvious illustration of this is when one goes to the mountains. When you visit the mountains, especially the grand ones, you see the beauty of creation. There is all kinds of vegetation with its variegated colors; there are formations in the rocks, and rivers and water falls; there are all sorts of animals that are quite majestic (e.g. bears, elks, etc.). Often times when people visit the mountains they claim that they get closer to God. This is in part due to the revealing of God's person in the creation He has made. This is the truth of the psalmist when he states, "The heavens declare the glory of God" (Ps 19:1). All around us God has left His imprint upon us, and when we notice that imprint there is something in us that makes us joyful and thankful.


God, however, also reveals Himself to us through His Word, the Bible. When we read the Bible we have God specially coming to us. As we read this text about God specially visiting these shepherds we also can know that through the reading of the story we too are receiving the same message from God. It is as if He is saying to us, "Fear not," as much as the shepherds receive it. When we read the Word of God we receive God's Word for us. It should revive us and fill us with Joy because we are in the presence of God. There is no book like the Bible where we find "new" things every time we read it. This is because it is God revealing Himself to us and as such it fills us with Joy. Psalm 19:7 is an example of the way in which Scripture works, "The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple."


Both general and special revelation should fill us with Joy. Discuss with your class times that they were joyful because of noticing God's work in the world and their lives through Scripture or through creation.


Joy Comes through Different Sources


In this passage we also see that his Joy that comes from the Lord is often coming to us through different sources. Particularly here we see is coming through the shepherds. These men were not the elite of society, nor were they well off. There have been many allusions to modern day shepherds, but we can easily say that these were simple, blue collar men. Nothing to take too much notice of as far as the world thinks, but the chosen one's to whom God chose to proclaim the message of the birth of Jesus Christ.


It is quite appropriate for us to think about the seemingly odd choice of the ones chosen to first hear of then proclaim the coming of the Lord. Though we could provide many allusions to David and Christ being Shepherds and the role of a Shepherd in the church, we must not miss that "God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong" (1 Cor 1:27). Often times we place ourselves in the judgment seat and think that we have everything figured out. We decide what is appropriate or not in the world, but God has a way of turning that upside down on us. The gospel message has ever been that "If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all" (Mark 9:35). It is quite fitting for God to use Shepherds as heralds and fishermen as teachers. This fits with His plan of always showing that He is the one who wills and works all things, so that we should not boast.


In our lives we often marginalize certain people. Perhaps we do this through racism, or social class prejudices. We determine if someone is too poor or too rich for us to talk to and work with. Perhaps we do it through ageism wherein certain ages are inappropriate for certain tasks. At some point or another we all fail at this. What we must recognize is that the work of God, which brings unceasing Joy, is accomplished through odd means at times, through a diversity of sources. We must ever be cognizant of God's diverse work so that we do not miss the Joy that He is providing for His people.


Discuss with your class instances where they have seen God work through the most unusual persons to accomplish His work.


Joy Comes to Everyone


In this text we also see that the Joy of the Christmas message comes to everyone. Notice how this Joy comes, "that will be to all people" (Luke 2:10). The coming of Christ and the Joy that accompanies His coming is purposed for all. This means it has no limits to it. This might seem like a very simple point to make about Christmas, but it is one that we must not neglect. Think of it this way, when we are going about our world this time of year we can say, "Merry Christmas" to all that we come across. When we do so we mean that we are conveying the gospel message, "Merry Christmas, Christ has come to save us all. He has saved me and He can save you." This is an important part of the Joy of Christmas is that its scope is not intended just for Christians. It is for all people, it is what makes Christmas more joyous. Though we can have a great many sayings this "holiday season" (e.g. Happy Hanukkah, Happy Holidays), we can know when we say Merry Christmas it is for all people whether they want to believe it or not. In some sense we are saying, "God loves you, isn't that great." They may replay, "But I don't care that God loves me." And our response is, "Well He loves you anyway." This is the Joy of Christmas in that it is for all people. Remember Romans 5:8 ""while we were still sinners, Christ died for us", also means that before we knew what God was doing, the savior was born for us.


When we ponder what Christ has done for us we are reminded of the Joy of the Lord in our hearts. Though we have trying times, the thought that Jesus saves, or that we are friends and children of God through Him, should lighten our days. These thoughts should help us press through the trials God has given us. This is all because of the Joy that has come to all through Jesus Christ.


Discuss with your class how the Christmas story, or the gospel message, has brought Joy in times when they really needed it.


Joy Leads to Praise


Finally, we see that the coming of Joy to us through the coming of Jesus to us is responded with the praise of His creation to Him. In this short text we see quite a few responses. First, we see the response of the Angels, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!" (Luke 2:14). Though these heavenly beings are somewhat of an enigma to us, we realize that they too are creations of God and are subservient to Him. Furthermore, they are not partakers of the sin nature in need of salvation, but understand the great love of God given to humanity through Jesus Christ and can do nothing but praise God. Second, we see the response of the Shepherds. "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.' And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger" (Luke 2:15-16). Notice that the shepherds quickly conferred with one another this miraculous heralding and then, with haste, made straight away to find the baby. Then they went our from there to praise God everywhere they went for they knew the Messiah had arrived. Finally, we see Mary's response. This woman had been through so much already, but she still marveled at what was happening through her, "But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart" (Luke 2:19). Mary took notice of her surroundings and the events unfolding within her life to remember the greatness of God's love for her and for humanity through Jesus Christ.


These are the response of the Joy of Christmas. The Joy comes to us and then we can do nothing but sing praises, tell all we come across the gospel, and remember the goodness of God in our lives. These are the practices of Joy for the Christian. They are simple: praise God, tell others, remember. Discuss with your class how they have used the Christmas message to praise, tell, or simply remember, and then how it led to Joy in their lives.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Peace - Eternal Peace

Isaiah 9:1-7

9 December 2012

Point of Emphasis:    Christ is the only way for peace

6 For unto us a Child is born,

Unto us a Son is given;

And the government will be upon His shoulder.

And His name will be called

Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.


7 Of the increase of His government and peace

There will be no end,

Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,

To order it and establish it with judgment and justice

From that time forward, even forever.

The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.

(Isaiah 9:6-7)


This second Sunday of advent we will be looking at the concept of peace especially from the prophet Isaiah's words in chapter nine verses six and seven. For our purpose I will define peace as "freedom from conflict".


Throughout the OT prophesies of Messiah we have the promise and expectation that Messiah would be a source of peace. When the Eastern Magi or "wise men" came to Jerusalem (Jeru-Salem means teaching peace), they asked where this Hebrew King was to be born; Herod consulted with the priests and rabbi's and they told him Bethlehem quoting Micah 5:2 "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to Me, The One to be Ruler in Israel". That passage ends with verse 5 that says "And this One shall be peace".


Likewise in Luke 2 when the angel appears to the shepherds and is joined by the "heavenly host" they sing "Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!", or as some translations say it "peace, toward men of goodwill". <Read Isaiah 9:6-7>


Sin is the Source of All Turmoil


One of the great things about the gospel message, and especially the Christmas message, is that it is something that God foretold hundreds of years before Christ ever came to earth. As you read through the Old Testament prophets you come across these passages that clearly articulate the story of Jesus and the salvation that he brings. At Easter we often read Isaiah 53 and 54 which speaks of the manner of Christ's death, but at Christmas we often look at Isaiah 9 since it is the text that speaks of the coming of a child. It truly is exciting to see the manifest work of God in the world when we understand his great plan to save us through Jesus.


However, another aspect that one comes across in reading the Old Testament is the reality that we are sinners. We have transgressed the law and God's judgment is coming upon all who are in conflict with Him. Isaiah chapter eight verse 22 says, "And they will look to the earth, but behold, distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish. And they will be thrust into darkness". This verse, and many like it, are evidences of the judgment of God that has been, is, and will be poured out on all the nations and the earth for the iniquity that exists in them. Ultimately this is sin.


The source of sin, as we are quite aware, goes back to Adam and Eve. These two were walking in a pure relationship with God in the Garden of Eden, but chose to disobey God and allowed sin to enter the world. This sin then permeated every element of their lives. No more could they eat of any fruit, especially the fruit of eternal life. No more could they find food without toil and sweat. No more could they innocently look at each other, but God created them clothing. As soon as they had children (in whom they thought there salvation might come) they saw sin grow and one murders the other and they lose them both. As we read through Genesis we see sin increase until God judges humanity with the flood, even the righteous Noah is found wanting after the flood. God provides a sacrificial system, but it ultimately cannot provide the solution to the problem of sin. On and on the story goes how sin has corrupted everything. This sin allows for wars and for turmoil with individuals and within them. It is the absence of peace.


Christ is the Source of Peace on Earth


What we know of the gospel message is that Christ is the one who conquers sin for those who believe in him. This is the reason for his coming. Our text this morning highlights that in particular. The gloom that was promised in chapter 8 is now thwarted in chapter 9, "There will be no gloom." The reason for this is the working pleasure of God in the nation of Israel, and beyond. This really is the story of redemption and it is first highlighted by the geographical region of Galilee. "In the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations" (9:1). Previously this land was held in contempt, but because it will be the home of Jesus there is redemption in it. Just by the presence of Christ in this land glory is brought to it. This is also true of the nation of Israel. In verse 2 we see, "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;" The redemption to the nation of Israel is coming it is something in which they can hope. The darkness that was the judgment because of sin is giving way to light because of the one who can actually bring light. Because of this redeeming action through Jesus, the nation can have joy. "You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy;" (9:3).


The redemption of God is coming with glory and with joy, but it is only coming as such because it comes through a child. Verse 6 states, "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given;" This verse may remind you of Handel's Messiah (from which the "Hallelujah Chorus" comes) in the piece on this verse. It is a musical arrangement that depicts the joy that is in this verse: a child is coming, a son is given. But this is not just any child or son, it is a special one. The remainder of our text speaks of what this child will do for the world.


This child will be one in whom the government of the world will be placed. this means that all the corruption of the world that seems to keep peace from happening will rest upon Jesus who is now in a position, because the world's government rests upon him, to make way for peace. In fact this is what he is called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. These titles are not mere descriptors and pleasantries to attribute to Jesus. These titles describe his action for the world and for those who are saved in him.


We could spend weeks just breaking down what these titles reveal, but quickly let me note that they point to the way in which he intercedes for us as God. As a counselor he is the one, through his Spirit, helping us live the life we have. As God he is the one able to reign over us and make a claim upon our lives, as a Father he cares for us. As Prince of Peace he is the one, the only one, who is able to provide peace in this world.


As the only one able to provide peace, we should not expect peace in Jesus when we are moving away from Him. As I drive toward Austin I lose my DFW radio stations just before Waco. We cannot expect to have peace in our life if we are not willing to be where Jesus is. The glories of this verse and the joys of living in the light he provides, which pushes out the darkness of gloom (cp. John 1:5), are out of reach when we are away from their source in Jesus Christ.


For Christians drifting away from Jesus will increase the sense of conflict in our lives. For the lost, turning to Jesus will give them a peace they have never known as they are reconciled to God.


Christ is the Source of Eternal Peace


Finally, in this passage we see that the coming Jesus, even in the giving of a child, provides not just worldly peace, but eternal peace. In verse seven it states, "Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end . . . From that time forward, even forever" (9:7). I like how the NLT has part of this verse His government and its peace will never end. This is what Jesus has provided for his people: a peace that is everlasting.


I think this verse is paraphrased by Gabriel when he appears to Mary in Luke 1:31-33 "And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end."


This peace is the peace that we ultimately will have one day when we see him face to face. Revelation 21:4 speaks of this type of peace, "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away." This is the peace that the baby Jesus Christ has brought to us. This is the ultimate peace that he brings. When the text states that the increase of his government has no end it is speaking of the time when he will reign for all eternity. This is what Revelation 22:5 speak of, "And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever." The light that came into the world to push out the darkness is the same light that will light us for all eternity. This is a light that is capable of providing great things: redemption, salvation, deliverance from sin, but it is also a light that exists to perpetually provide peace.



Did Daniel Correctly Predict the time of Jesus?

Daniel 9:25-26

25 "Know therefore and understand,

That from the going forth of the command

To restore and build Jerusalem

Until Messiah the Prince,

There shall be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks;

The street shall be built again, and the wall,

Even in troublesome times.


26 "And after the sixty-two weeks

Messiah shall be cut off, but not for Himself;

And the people of the prince who is to come

Shall destroy the city and the sanctuary.

The end of it shall be with a flood,

And till the end of the war desolations are determined.


Most of us are familiar with the prophecy known as the 70 weeks of Daniel. These were written during the captivity if Israel, and speak of the coming of Messiah and are divided into 3 parts, the first seven weeks related to the return of Israel, then 62 weeks preceding the appearance of "Messiah the Prince" and a final week normally associated with the second coming or "Day of the Lord".


First Daniel and other prophecies identify each week as a period of seven years. Next he gives us a marker in verse 25 to start the clock when the command goes out to "restore and build Jerusalem". Now there are recorded 4 different decrees or commands for the restoration of Jerusalem. The first two by Darius and Cyrus only concerned rebuilding the temple. The third by Artaxerxes, recorded in Ezra chapter 7 is the one most would connect to Daniels prophecy. The two verses that make this connection are 13 and 25.


13 I issue a decree that all those of the people of Israel and the priests and Levites in my realm, who volunteer to go up to Jerusalem, may go with you.

Verse 13 establishes are right of return for Jews from the captivity, and the word for "restore" in Daniel 25 also means "return" so King Artaxerxes decree passes the first point.

25 And you, Ezra, according to your God-given wisdom, set magistrates and judges who may judge all the people who are in the region beyond the River, all such as know the laws of your God; and teach those who do not know them.

Verse 25 establishes the Law of the Lord as the legal authority in Jerusalem, and authorizes Judges and magistrates to enforce the law. In Daniel 25 the word for "build" also means "establish", so King Artaxerxes order to establish independent government authority in Jerusalem satisfies the second point of Daniels marker to start the clock on the 70 week prophecy.


Ezra marks the time of this decree as the 7th year of King Artaxerxes which scholars tell us was in 457 BC. From 457 BC we count forward seven weeks or 49 years to complete the rebuilding of Jerusalem, then 62 weeks or 434 years before "Messiah the Prince". So we can count forward 49 + 434 = 483 years from 457 BC and that would bring us to around 26-27 AD. I always say around for these ancient dates because there is no consistent calendar and scholars have to piece together all these different civil calendars most of which start in different months so I cannot pinpoint a date with certainty.


So linking Daniel 9 to Ezra 7 predicts the time of "Messiah the Prince" at somewhere around 26 AD, and this would be when Jesus is about 30 years old. That phrase Messiah means "anointed" and corresponds to our word Christ. In the OT kings and priests were anointed to mark their being chosen by God before they can serve. The first 3 gospels record the baptism of Jesus and Luke 3 tells us it occurred when Jesus was aged 30. As Jesus was baptized Luke 3:
22 says "And the Holy Spirit descended in bodily form like a dove upon Him, and a voice came from heaven which said, 'You are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased."'.

Throughout scripture anointing oil is the analog for the Spirit of God, so the Spirit descending and the voice of God calling represents the anointing of Jesus to serve as Messiah the Prince.


Last December I walked you though the clues that puts the time of Christ birth to around 4 BC, here we have that time confirmed by the prophecy of Daniel. Verse 26 of Daniel 9 says that after those 62 weeks of the prophecy that Messiah would be cutoff. This helps us understand why Jesus did not begin his ministry, teaching, and miracles before age 30 as His time had not yet come. In John 2 at the "wedding in Cana of Galilee", Jesus tells his mother "My hour has not yet come".

Galatians 4:4-5

But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Hope - God With Us

Matthew 1:18-25

2 December 2012

Point of Emphasis:    God with us is our hope in life

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. 19 Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. 20 But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins."


22 So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: 23 "Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel," which is translated, "God with us."


24 Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, 25 and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name Jesus. (Matthew 1:18-25)



There is no doubt that it is Christmas time. You have heard the songs, seen all the signs, even put up your own decorations. It is the Christmas season, or as the traditional church calendar called it: Advent. Advent is derived from the Latin word for "coming".


Advent is a time of waiting; a celebration of the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is celebrated the four Sundays prior to the day of Christmas and has been used in a variety of ways in different church traditions, but all of these varieties are set with the single purpose of proclaiming, celebrating, and honoring the coming of Jesus. For the next few weeks we too will be celebrating the coming of Jesus and celebrating advent through the four themes of Hope, Peace, Love, and Joy. All of these lead up to our Christmas Eve service where we highlight Christ.


Hope is a word that we use more often than we think. Typically it comes like, "I hope we make it to the playoffs" or "I hope they got all of the cancer." Both of these terms are appropriate uses of hope, which is defined as "a feeling of desire for something and confidence in the possibility of its fulfillment." (World English Dictionary). However, the usage of this term in relation to Christ falls into a different category. The hope that we have in Christ not only has consequences that are far more lasting but also has the ability to provide peace and encouragement worldly hope cannot.


This morning we begin this advent season by looking at one of the classic Christmas texts and discussing the hope the coming Christ brought to us. Read this text and discuss with your class how God with Us brings and provides hope.


God with Us Casts out Fear


Central to this passage is the position in the text of the fulfillment of the prophecy that the virgin shall conceive and have a son. This is a text from Isaiah 7:14, a text that embodies what hope is. In Isaiah we find the prophecy given, at first, to a people in peril needing to know the Lord will provide. The virgin conception is a sign from God that he is about to do his miraculous work. Most think of the virgin birth as the main miracle, but it is really the sign signaling God's deliverance. It ends with a word "Immanuel" and then Matthew provides a translation for it: "God with Us". The Hebrew phrase "call his name" also means to proclaim or make known. So the verse teaches that the birth of a son to a virgin will "make known" that God is once again with man. This is remarkable since there had been no revelation from God for 400 years.


In the text we see that an implication of God being with us in Jesus Christ is that he casts out all fear. Notice what the angel said to Joseph in this text: " ' Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife,'" the remainder of the passage tells of what will occur in Mary, but we must first notice the call to not be afraid. This is not a major force of this text, but it is an example of the implications of what "God with us" means.


I would imagine fear, anger, embarrassment, and despair were all on the emotional pallet of Joseph when the angel appeared to him. Here was an upright young man who has just found out his wife is pregnant and he knows he is not the father. This must have been difficult for him. He is told to not fear. Because God is sovereign in every circumstance we must not fear, but hope, since God is with us in all things. The believer must learn to hope in the work of God in their life believing with Jeremiah, "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope." (Jer 29:11).


God with Us Saves us from Sins


The second thing to notice from this passage is the main reason for the coming of Jesus Christ: Salvation. In the angel's description to Joseph he says that the child will come "for he will save his people from their sins." Jesus or Iesous is the Greek transliteration of the Hebrew name Yehoshua or Joshua literally meaning "Yahweh saves".


This highlights the necessity of the sacrifice that saves mankind to be a man. Jesus has to be one of us to pay the price for us. However, because man is impotent because of sin, only God had the power to be able to offer the appropriate sacrifice for mankind. The atoning work of the cross needed to be from one who was both human and divine. This occurs in Jesus Christ, the God-Man. Jesus is fully God and fully man, and to be such he had to come to man in the form of a baby straight from heaven. God with us means that God can now act for us. Christmas must always come before Easter, the manger before the cross.


God with Us is Our Only Hope


Finally, we must see that "God with us" is the only way for us to have any sense of real hope in this life. Whatever struggles we may experience are real problems. They affect each of us individually in ways that are difficult to cope with at times. These difficult times can dominate our life, they make us fearful, bitter, depressed, distracted, and confused (as it did Joseph). When we are focused on these struggles we epitomize the opposite of what hope is, we become hopeless. We live where we can't "see the light at the end of the tunnel," wondering "when will this end?" For some of us this is our reality, our life situation, like Joseph. A seemingly impossible situation is before us, but we must not fear, we must hope.


Compare your struggles them to reality that Christ has borne all our sins, carried our sorrows, that He has canceled all our debts, and allowed us to be adopted us as God's children. In reflection of these things (and many more) we can understand the true hope of Christmas, that God is with Us.


As we live our lives this Christmas let us live it in the anticipation of the manger that holds the hope of the world. As 1 Corinthians 13:12 says, "For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.


Why December 25th?

Since the gospels do not offer many clues that would point to late December as the time of Jesus birth, many have asked how December 25th was chosen to celebrate the birth of Christ?

Critics of Christmas often point to pagan celebrations centered on the winter solstice as the source of December 25th as a Christian holiday, but there are no writings from secular or early Christian sources that would suggest this origin, it is merely speculation from those with little regard for the history of Christmas. This myth is so prevalent, some Christians even avoid the Christmas celebration for fear of participating in pagan rituals, but this need not be so.

The true source of the December 25 date grew from Jewish Rabbinical tradition as recorded in the Talmud as early as the 2nd century A.D. Malachi 4 predicts that Messiah's appearance would be announced by Elijah the prophet. So the annual Seder feast marking the Passover includes opening the door to check for the appearance of God's prophet to proclaim the coming of the Messiah.

Since the crucifixion of Jesus was at the time of Passover, some early church fathers thought it plausible that the Annunciation of Jesus coming by God's messenger Gabriel could serve the same purpose. So they calculated date of the Passover the year that Jesus died and came up with March 25 for the date his death. So they reasoned that the annunciation of Gabriel and the conception of Mary would be on the same date, during the time of Passover. To this day the Roman church celebrates a feast of the Annunciation on March 25. Counting forward 9 months from March 25th, they arrived at December 25th as a date to celebrate the birth of Messiah. Understand that the early church following Jewish tradition was fond of feasts and special times of worship and used those rituals to teach the theology of the church before the age of widespread literacy and ownership of bibles. So around the 3rd and 4th century you find the first celebrations of Christmas recorded as a special mass that taught the nativity of Christ.

Now although this idea of a Passover annunciation is speculative it has a certain logic and symmetry that is appealing to some people, but they are not hard conclusions that you can reach based upon scripture, and should never be expressed with certainty. But what if the Talmud is right and the annunciation really was connected to the Prophecy of Malachi and did occur at Passover? Well in a way I think there is some truth to that idea.

Malachi 4:
4 "Remember the Law of Moses, My servant, Which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel, With the statutes and judgments. 5 Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD. 6 And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, Lest I come and strike the earth with a curse."

Now for us who know the New Testament we would connect that passage to Revelation where many believe one of the two witnesses of the Apocalypse will be a resurrected Elijah announcing the 2nd coming of Jesus and judgment day, but is there also a connection to the first coming, the incarnation of the Christ?

Malachi 4:6 should sound familiar because a part of it was quoted by the Angel Gabriel, not when he spoke to Mary but rather when he spoke to Zacharias regarding John in Luke 1: 16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, 'to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,' and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

The Angel was announcing the one who would have the spirit and power of Elijah the prophet, to prepare the way for the Lord, and this prophet was John the Baptist. But in announcing John, the angel was also announcing the coming of the Lord, and this announcement very well could have been in the Hebrew Month of Nisan during Passover and that would likely be late March, meaning that the child born 9 months after the Passover annunciation was John not Jesus, and Jesus was born 6 months later in the summer time around May or June. Summer is a time where shepherds would have been living out in the fields grazing sheep in the pastures around Bethlehem. So Malachi 4:4 ties the annunciation of Messiah to Passover (remembering the Exodus) and Malachi 4:6 ties it to the conception of John the Baptist and the spirit of Elijah the prophet.

Other support:

Isaiah 40:3 One crying in the wilderness to prepare the way for Messiah

Luke 1:11 Angel appears to a hopeless priest, and announces the prophet preceding the Christ.

Malachi 3-4 links the messenger to the messiah to the Passover.

Matthew 3:1-3 quotes Isaiah 40:3

Matthew 11:7-14 Quotes Malachi 3:1