Approaching the Unapproachable

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“…a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” Luke 2:32
I don’t want to take these words lightly because these words are telling us there is hope for all people! Paul didn’t take these words lightly either. He reiterated, repeated, re-emphasized their truth. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation, to every one that believes; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” And he didn’t stop there, “For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.’” (Romans 1:16,17)
Simeon, that old prophet who met Jesus, Mary, and Joseph at the temple that day didn’t just come to the temple because it was what he did that day. He came by the Spirit into the temple that day. He came at that specific time and into that specific room where that specific function of dedication was performed, there he was, for that specific child, Jesus. He took him up in his arms, blessing God, because the Holy Spirit had not only answered his prayer to see the Messiah before he died, but that this Messiah, this Prince of Peace he was holding in his very arms, was the salvation of ALL people. This Prince of Peace, who was only a little baby right now and physically contained within his very arms, was also to be a light to the Gentiles, and the glory of Israel.
Since creation, God has been the provider of light. He alone is the rightful provider because “…God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.” (1 John 1:5) James knew the wonder of that truth as well. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.” (James 1:17,18)
God is the only One who can truly be a light for revelation to the Gentiles- to all the people who are non-Jews. This does not imply that Israel does not need His light, but only His glory. God’s light and glory are one. But one who is totally blind sees no light at all, and so was a Gentile, because a Gentile did not know God who is light itself, and the Father of lights. Israel knew that God was the light, but were not living in that truth, were not living in Him. To live in the Light is to live in His presence, in His glory. That is actually God’s goal for both of us, the Jew and the Gentile.
This light that was revealed to Simeon is so beyond our full comprehension. I mean, God is light. God. Did you hear that? God is light. Only God. But Simeon has said that this baby Jesus was a light for the Gentiles and glory for the people of Israel. How could he be that if that were not the light of God in Jesus? Is this what John was rejoicing in when he wrote of Jesus, “in him was life, and the life was the light of men”? (John 1:4) Or when he wrote, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it”? (John 1:5) Or when he wrote about John’s witness about Jesus, that Jesus was “the light. The true light, which gives light to everyone”? (John 1:8,9) And why? “That all might believe through him.” (John 1:7)
“Light” is both the essence and the personality of God. Darkness is what is not of God, that which is evil, that which is sin, that which is corruption. So think of everything that is not sin or corruption or evil. What do you come up with? Everything that God is, like the wonderful fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness/meekness, and self-control; like “goodness, honesty, purity, wisdom, and glory,” are all part of this essence of His light. And understand that God “dwells in unapproachable light” according to Paul in 1 Timothy 6:16. Then I’m worried, because if I need the light of God to live, how can I if He is unapproachable? How can You be my light if I can’t approach You, God?
The answer is Jesus, the Son of God and son of man. The answer is the baby in Simeon’s arm today. Who can explain this? I can’t. But God and Jesus are One. Jesus said it Himself. It’s recorded in John 10:30. Therefore, if Jesus and God are One, then Jesus is the Light just as God is the Light. But Jesus is also Emmanuel, God with us! Jesus is also our redemption! Jesus is also our Lamb of God, slain, for our forgiveness, so that we could see the light of God and not be destroyed! He protects us from the full power of the light of God by covering us with His blood, with His righteousness, both Jew and Gentile.
God needs no source of light because He is light. Jesus needs no source of light because He is that same light. But I need light and so do you. We need no other source of light but God Himself and the only way for Him to be our light, is through Jesus, His Son. (Revelation 22:5)

Imagine what it would be like that day for Simeon to hold this truth in his arms, to see this reality coming to life! Imagine what it would be like to hold, momentarily, the unapproachable within your arms and live! Imagine what it is like to have the Unapproachable One invite you to life in His presence and make a way for you to live, a way that You would not be destroyed because of even the most minor of sins.
Our Father of lights, the One who is light and created all the lights of the heavens, is also love. (1 John 4:16) That’s what makes this so awesome. God is love and God is light for us and not only for us, but just because that’s who He is. It’s not something that happened in Him or something He became, but it’s His essence. The special thing is that God reveals Himself to us in these wonderful ways. The unapproachable God chooses to make Himself approachable to us. Is that not the craziest thing you ever heard?!
The unapproachable God chooses to make Himself approachable to us. Think about this here. Simeon, some old man, who had been seeking God for so long, and seeking the truth in His word, was waiting for the the foretold Messiah to come. He didn’t just want Messiah for himself. I know he didn’t because he knew that the Messiah was for the good of the Gentiles and the Jews. He didn’t know how. He didn’t know who. But He trusted and waited expectantly.
And God, You rewarded that faith. You showed him the consolation of Israel. You revealed Yourself to him in Jesus, the Christ. I don’t think that he would have been in that spot at that hour in the temple that day, at that time that Mary and Joseph walked in, had You not told him by Your Spirit. This is no coincidence. You were allowing this one glimpse before he was to die. Maybe, the Spirit inside of him lept for joy at the sight of Jesus, like the babe in Elizabeth. I wonder if there were tears in his eyes as he saw and reached for this babe, this babe who was more than a babe. Who could imagine taking the Savior of the world, the Light of the world, into their own arms? Did it amaze the shepherds? Did it amaze Mary and Joseph or had they begun to take him for granted? Does it amaze me?
How do I react when You have opened my eyes to see Your salvation in Jesus Christ? Do I remember that He is for the salvation of all people, not just me? He revealed You to me, a lowly Gentile. He reveals You to the Jew. He brings us into Your glory, alive and well! Do I even marvel at this? And if I do marvel, for how long? Will my marveling wane? Why? Because the Light never wanes. “…[T]he people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.” (Matthew 4:16) When did that stop being awesome news to my soul?
Again, Jesus speaks to us, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12) “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:5-9) Oh, my soul, don’t be unteachable and unreachable. “But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’ Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” (Ephesians 5:13-17) Draw near to the Lord and He will draw near to you. He’ll even light the way.

From Pondering to Pain to Power

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“And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, ‘Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”  Luke 2:34,35

I can’t help reading these words of Luke and not thinking about his choice of words with her.  What words?  “But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)  And then, those words happen again a little later, “And he [the child Jesus] went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them.  And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart.”  (Luke 2:51) And why is that significant to me?  Because, Simeon, the prophet who has been waiting for God to reveal His Messiah, declares that this Jesus, this 40 day old baby is the One.  But it’s not just that.  It’s the way he talks about the sword piercing through Mary’s soul and that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.

Will Mary’s heart be pierced through because her son is crucified?  Or is it an even worse piercing?  For Mary, will it take the crucifiying of her son and his resurrection for her to fully understand that even though he was her son, He is not her son?  He is more.  He is God’s Son first and foremost.  And she must submit to Him just as she submits to God.  She needs Jesus more than He needs her.  Jesus is her salvation.  Is it a rude awakening when we realize our absolute need for You, Lord?  That I’m not the one who holds things together, but You are?  That even though I was chosen to bear You in my body, You didn’t just die for me, You died for all mankind? 

What of Mary’s heart on the day that she and the family came for Jesus.  And someone in the crowd announced they were there.  “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” He asked.  “And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, He said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers!  For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.’” (Matthew 12:48-50, Mark 3:33-35, Luke 8:19-21)    Now tell me that hearing that was not painful!

Imagine that you have birthed this child.  You’ve been told who He will be.  But you don’t totally understand how it will all play out.  Along the way, there are little glimpses of His glory, but most of the time, He’s just a kid, your kid.  At eight days old, he is circumcised just like all the other boys, and given his name, Jesus, as the angel had declared.  I bet things were uneventful up until his 40th day when they went, according to custom to dedicate Him to the Lord during the purification of Mary.  All the Jewish mothers went through the purification.  If they gave birth to a girl, there was a purification process, and another if they gave birth to a boy.  For the first born males, there was a special dedication where they were called “holy to the Lord.”  This was normal tradition.  But it wasn’t just normal tradition for Jesus.

For Jesus, this was the true fulfilment of what the “traditions” were set up to point to.  This was no longer symbolic.  Jesus was the first born Son of God.  He was truly holy to the Lord.  This was fulfilment of God’s will.  This was fulfilment of Scripture.  This was God bringing to light the Truth, no longer just pointing to the Truth by pictures and shadowy images.  This was the Daystar lighting up the Truth for us to see.

And the truth is that coming to the Truth hurts.  Why?  Because I have to be changed.  I have to let go of things I have always believed about me, about the world, about God, and take hold of the Truth instead.  I have to let go of things being mine or being my way.  I have to let go of control and hand it over to God.  I have to let go of my children and hand them over to God.  I have to stop hiding things inside and let them out and turn them over to God.  I have to stop putting things into my perspective and allow God to put them into His perspective for me.  I must be willing to lose what I thought was mine to gain what God has for me, like the truth in Jesus’ words when He tells us, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:39) 

Has this same sword ever pierced through my own soul?  Have you ever shown the real thoughts of my own heart?  Have I ever layed down all of who I thought I was, to let You make me all of who You created me to be in You?  Has the Truth ever hurt?  Or am I still to busy turning a blind eye?  Am I still just pondering in my heart?  Have I never let You give my heart understanding?  Have I never let You take the veil off my face, or remove the scales from my eyes?  I can’t change myself.  It will never happen.  But that’s ok, because You alone can change me.  So help me to lose my self so that I can find myself in You, empowered by You and alive in You.

Truth or Tradition

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“And he said to them, ‘You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!’”  Mark 7:9

Now, why am I meditating on the thoughts in the book of Luke and quoting something from Mark?  Can’t I be consistent?  I think I am.  Because, as I read today’s meditation in Luke 2 about the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, I’m so affected by the traditions that man has handed down about it, that I have to meditate really hard to forget them and read the story as it was written, as it really happened.  The truth is that traditions can draw us away from the truth if they are not founded in the truth itself.  All traditions are not Godly traditions.

So, what’s happening today in Scripture?  Caesar Augustus declares a census which means everyone has to go back to their hometown or place of lineage.  It seems crazy and unnecessary, but even this was falling in line with God’s plan and brought Mary and David and the prenatal Jesus right where they needed to be to fulfil prophesy.  Mary was carrying baby Jesus in her womb at this time.  According to scripture, they arrived in time, and actually, long enough to get settled in.  I know that because scripture says, “And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth.”  (Luke 2:6)  The KJV makes that even clearer, I think, saying, “And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.”

That’s not saying, as soon as she got there.  It’s not saying that she started to labor upon the donkey.  It’s not saying that there was a mad dash for a room the moment they got there.  There was time.  They had some time to settle in.  They had time to prepare.  So far, there has been nothing significant or out of the ordinary pointed out.

But it’s not over.  What about Luke 2:7?  What about the inn?  After all, “there was no place for them in the inn.”  So what’s my problem?  It’s just like the Christmas story we hear every year, isn’t it?  Yeah, it’s just like the Christmas story we hear every year, but it’s not the Christmas story the way it was.  “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.” (Luke 2:7)  The problem is that we have been relying for hundreds of years (mmm, actually it’s almost 2,000 years of relying on false info…) on someone’s fictional and embellished account instead of scripture and allowed it to become the tradition that we uphold.  But it’s not a harmful tradition, right?  Isn’t anything that leads us away from the truth harmful?

Why should I continue to believe what I know is not true, what I know does not line up with God’s word?  Here’s the truth, in middle eastern or Jewish culture at the time that inn wasn’t what we think of as an inn today.  We are looking at another culture and interpreting a foreign word or idea into our language (actually through two languages).  The word for inn here, in Greek, is kataluma.  And often it is referring to the guestchamber, not an inn or motel.  In Bethlehem, the houses were built with guest quarters on the second floor.  On the first floor, the regular quarters, there was a trough built into an area of the floor, because they would bring their animals in at night.  Oh, and it was normal to have built the house into the side of the hill so that a house could have had part of a “cave” incorporated into it.

Now, another part of Hebrew culture was that you would have been expected to stay with your family.  This is still a big part of middle eastern and asian culture.  It’s not a problem for multiple people to share a bed or sleep on a mat on the floor.  It’s common.  It’s expected.  It’s part of being family.  It’s part of the culture.

Oh, and a pregnant woman coming?  Not taken in?  You’re kidding me!  Not in that culture!  The culture would have seen to it that she was cared for, especially Joseph’s family.  There would be women helping.  There would have been a midwife. 

This wasn’t Nazareth, this was Bethlehem.  They didn’t have a stigma here.  They were just two people of many in the family who were returning for the census.  They were just family members.  For now, they were just two ordinary people as far as everyone else was concerned.  And that’s the point. 

Jesus entered this world like an ordinary baby.  He was born like anyone could have been born, who wasn’t someone special.  He was born like some of my grandbabies, at home with a midwife, or a midwife who got there right after because it was a normal or quick birth.  Or he was born like some are, in a taxi or someone else’s house.  He was born wherever his mom was, like we all are.  He could have been born in a barn or stable and it wouldn’t have mattered because the fact is, Emmanuel, God with us, the Lord of lords, and Prince of peace, was born in the humble manner that all babies are born.  A barn doesn’t make that more amazing.  It’s just as amazing when God enters earth from someone’s typical house filled with other typical people and maybe some typical animals.

So why is it so hard to let go of tradition and just focus on the fact that Jesus, the Son of God and son of man, was born to us and for us in the most ordinary of circumstances?  It’s not these circumstances that matter.  It’s the fact that He was born among us and for us to reconcile us to God.  The sinless one entered the world of sinful man.  If that was the most amazing and important thing to me, I wouldn’t care about the traditions, I would just run after the truth. 

What is the truth?  Jesus later said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man comes unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6)  I don’t see the word tradition in there anywhere.  I don’t come to the Father by any tradition.  That’s a lie.  I can only come to God the Father through faith and trust and surrender.  I can only come to the Father through Jesus, the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Stop to think about this.  Up to this point, no one has fully seen God, not even Moses.  He only got to see the back of God with God’s protection over him.  The high priest only got to be in His presence 1 day every year and he would only see the smoke that covered him so he wouldn’t die because of God’s glory.  And now, we have Jesus, the Son of God, Emmanuel, God with us, coming to ordinary man, an ordinary way, but protected under the hand of God.  That’s all we need, isn’t it? 

Why do I need to hold on to traditions that aren’t true, when I already have all I need?  I have Jesus who was born from a woman’s body just like you and me.  I have Jesus, the Son of God who humbled Himself, to be born like us, to grow as a child like us, to be equal with human beings.  There is nothing significant about his birth.  Luke says nothing yet of a star overhead.  There were no auras around Jesus or Mary.  It wasn’t His time to shine yet.  It was just His time to be. 

It was time for those people who God had spoken to, to meditate on His words and to wait to see how it would all come together.  So, far, Jesus’ birth was a mystery to almost everyone.  He was just another baby so far, except to Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, and maybe John (who was too young to understand it yet).  And maybe you don’t like thinking about that but God says that “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die…” (Ecclesiastes 3:1,2)  This is Jesus’ time to be born.  There is more coming, in it’s appropriate God-ordained time.

Be careful of tradition.  It could lead you away from trusting what is important, from living in the truth.  Jesus is more than a tradition; He is the way, the life, and the truth.  Really.  There is more to Him than a wonder baby born in a manger.  If that’s all He is to you, then you’ve missed the truth.  Jesus is God with us and when we come to know that, it changes our lives because, He wasn’t just born and then He didn’t just die.  He was born so that He could die to pay the price for our sin so that we could be reconciled to the Father through Him and live for Him.  He was born so that He could die, a sinless sacrifice- the only sinless sacrifice- and to rise again, alive forever. 

What will you believe?  I will trust in the Lord, and throw out any tradition that is not true.  Why?  Because God is truth and lies are of the devil.  I’m a child of God, so I will think like Him.  God, help us to love the truth so much that we will cast off every lie.

(If you would like to read some other details on the birth of Christ as tradition has set forth versus the truth of Middle Eastern Culture, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes by Kenneth E. Bailey is a wonderful source.  Here is a link to this topic http://www.sviewp.com/RCbook/Bailey-%20Christmas%20-%20Middle%20Eastern%20Eyes.pdf )

Human Like Me

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“…that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.”  Luke 1:74,75

I’ve talked about Mary and how she was blessed because she believed the words of God, not because she was the mother of Jesus.  I’ve talked about Elizabeth and how she was blessed as well and knew when others were blessed because she believed the words of God.  And we’ve also thought about Elizabeth’s husband, Zechariah, who had trouble believing the words of God.  But there is good news for Zechariah and those of us who are not so “quick” at trusting, at believing the words of God when they are so different from what we see and “know.”  God is at work in us still.  The question is, will I come to recognise and surrender to that work?

Zechariah had to step back from things for a while.  I’m pretty sure he had to step back from his leadership positions.  I mean, I don’t read about it, so this is speculation, but if he couldn’t speak, if he was mute, that’s an “imperfection” and he wouldn’t have been able to carry out the priestly function, right?  If he was discipling others, would that have stopped while he was speechless?  Would they have resorted to writing everything?  Would there be too much to write to make that effective?

Is it wrong to think that Zechariah was “demoted” for a while?  After all, he didn’t believe the words of God.  He wanted proof that the words were true, that it would really happen.  As if giving birth to a prophet, the herald of Jesus, when your wife is beyond child-bearing age wouldn’t have been proof in itself, Zechariah wanted more.  What sign would suffice?  Fine.  Here’s a sign.  You won’t be able to speak until the day you come to acknowledge the truth of these words.  I mean, that’s basically it, isn’t it?

Do you ever wonder what was going through Zechariah’s head for those 9 or so months that he was mute?  “I’m a priest, how can I be a priest if I can’t talk?”  “What is everyone thinking about me?”  “Is this really happening?  What is God going to do through all of this?  Am I really going to have a son who will be a prophet?  Is Elizabeth really going to have a baby?  Am I really going to be a father?”  “What is the good of me being a priest if I can’t talk?”  “Wait a minute, what is the good of me being a priest if I don’t believe the words of God?  If I can’t believe, how can I lead others to believe?” 

I don’t really know what Zechariah thought.  I wasn’t in his head.  It’s not written.  I can only guess and not know the accuracy of my guessing.  But he is a human like me.  And I can pretty much figure that we probably think a lot alike when we’re not trusting in God’s words to us.  But I’m so glad that God was busy at work teaching Zechariah how to believe, how to think rightly in line with Him.  He didn’t give up on Zechariah; no, He honed in where Zechariah needed his eyes and heart to be opened.

And then came the day of decision when the people wanted Zechariah to follow tradition.  They wanted the boy to be named after his father, Zechariah.  Elizabeth was crazy to name him John.  Zechariah would do the appropriate thing.  And he did.  Zechariah wrote, “His name is John.”  What?!  Zechariah believed the words of God finally, more than he trusted in the traditions.  He believed. 

How do I know?  Listen again to the first words of the angel to Zechariah, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard (the priest in the holy of holies wasn’t praying for a baby, he was praying for the promised saviour!), and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.” (Luke 1:13)  It wasn’t just about Zechariah believing he was going to have a baby named John.  It was about Zechariah believing that God was fulfilling prophecy, bringing forth the Messiah, and that John would herald Him.  Remember these words, “…you shall call his name John.”

The moment comes.  “What will you name him?” the people ask.  “His name is John,” is Zechariah’s answer.  Why?  Because he has come to believe that God’s word is true.  He is believing.  And what comes of his believing?  The same thing Mary and Elizabeth received—joy and gladness to share with others.  Upon surrendering and believing, Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and what did he do in his prophesying?  He sang of the wonders of God to His people and the truth of His words.  He sang that by the word of God, His people are saved from their enemies.  He sang that by the word of God, we receive mercy by remembering and believing them.  He sang that by the word of God we are delivered from our enemies to serve God fearlessly, in holiness and righteousness.  He sang about how John would herald the Lord Jesus, preparing things for him by preparing people’s hearts for salvation and forgiveness.  He sang about the Most High, sharing His tender mercy with us by sending us the Sunrise to give light to those of us in darkness and life in the shadow of death, and guidance to peace in Him.  In other words, believing the words of God changed everything for Zechariah.

He went from being silent and having nothing he could say, to declaring the most wonderful news ever!  He went from being aware of the most wonderful news ever, to believing the most wonderful news ever!  He went from looking at a cloudy day, to seeing the most glorious day ever!  He went from knowing words in a book to seeing the life and reality of those words!  He finally knew what it was to join the ranks of the believers like Mary and Elizabeth.  He finally knew the joy of true believing. 

How am I handling the words of God?  Am I to the point of believing them?  Or am I just remembering them?  Am I just reading them and taking them in?  There is a difference.  May I know the difference.  I pray that Mary, Elizabeth, Zechariah, and Luke will help me to know that difference, and even more importantly, that I can know that I am one who believes in the fulfilment of every one of the words of God.

Blessed is the One Who Believes

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“…but his mother answered, ‘No; he shall be called John.’” Luke 1:60

Let’s not forget the God-inspired words of Elizabeth earlier in Luke 1:45, “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”  I think this really matters, because now we come to another part of this same story.  To rehash the earlier parts of the story: an angel comes to Zechariah as he is in the Holy of Holies.  Zechariah is told that he and his wife will conceive a son named John, even in their old age, and he will herald the messiah.  Zechariah wants a sign since they are beyond child bearing age.  In other words, he’s saying, “How can I believe this?”  Yeah, that’s doubting.  So, he’s struck with the inability to speak until the baby is born and named.  Well, maybe that’s not really it.  Maybe, it’s until he finally gets it and believes by naming the baby because he finally sees that this baby, John, of his and Elizabeth’s is the fulfilment of what was spoken to him from the Lord.

But where does Elizabeth fall into all this?  Zechariah can’t speak.  But we know he can write things down.  He must have told her the story.  I don’t think she responded like Zechariah.  I think that this was such good news to her, and she wanted it so much, that she started looking forward to it right then.  I think that she didn’t ask for a sign.  She just did what the Lord implied and let Him do the rest.  I think she could speak these words to Mary because she understood them herself, “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”  I think that she also was one who believed like that.  And that’s why she was sensitive to the spirit when Mary came.  That’s why she knew her baby wasn’t just kicking from gas pains.  That’s how she knew Mary was with the Son of God and her baby, John, who was called to be His herald, was already heralding Him.  That’s faith.  That’s the walk and life of faith.

Sometimes, it’s not the man who hears and believes God first.  Sometimes, the woman is more sensitive for whatever reason.  Zechariah was a priest, for goodness sake!  You would think if anyone would be sensitive to the Lord, it would be him!  But even those who ought to be the most sensitive, can have their own preconceived notions about God or life or the way things are done.  Elizabeth wasn’t as “practical” as her husband, was she?  Why could she remember the scriptures better than Zechariah, to know that this was easy for God?  I don’t know.  All I know, was that when Zechariah was not sensitive, his wife was.  She saw things more accurately spiritually than her husband , the priest.  And spiritual and physical are intertwined.

In that intertwining we see Elizabeth, ministering and being ministered to as she is with Mary.  We see her knowing things that only God has revealed.  We see joy that can’t be self-contained, but must be shared.  We see confidence, not a self-confidence, but a confidence in upholding the word of God, over and over again.  And we see God fulfilling His words in her, not only in John’s birth, but in the way that God drew near to her.

So the time comes for Elizabeth to give birth, for God’s word to come to fruition in the birth of this child in her womb.  And she gives birth to a son.  Traditionally, it’s expected for the first born son to be named after his father.  Everyone is expecting this bundle of extra special blessing to be named, Zechariah, after his father.  But, Elizabeth is the first to answer with an adamant, “No, he shall be called John.”  Why?  Because this was God’s baby first and He had already named Him and given Him a purpose.  Why would Elizabeth, who believed God, want to change that?

Well, sometimes people don’t understand when God does a work in our heart or lives.  They can’t see what He’s shown us.  So the people didn’t like her answer.  So they went to Zechariah.  Now, in all the time from the announcement of the angel until this day, Zechariah has not been able to speak.  Remember the proclamation of the angel upon him, “And, behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” (Luke 1:20)   Now, I’m a little confused why the people are making signs to Zecharias about what he wanted the baby to be called.  He wasn’t deaf, just mute.  Maybe, again, they were still busy making assumptions. 

But Zechariah was an integral part of the fulfilling of this prophecy.  What?  The angel had proclaimed, “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.  And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth…” (Luke 1:13-14)  Zechariah’s belief was part of the prophecy!  Maybe You knew it wouldn’t be a hard stretch for Elizabeth to believe, Lord.  You knew that Zechariah needed this to grow in his faith.  It wasn’t enough for Elizabeth, for his wife to believe.  Zechariah had to become a believer too.  God knew all along that Zechariah was the one who needed to believe that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to him from the Lord.  Zechariah needed to be the one to show he believed that this was God’s baby, formed for God’s purpose.  Zechariah needed to agree with God and be the one to name the child John according to God’s word and purposes.

Why would that bring joy and gladness and rejoicing?  Because, that’s what God brings when we surrender to Him and His will.  That’s when we can see Him, know Him, experience Him in our lives.  That’s when things start to make sense.  That’s when His spirit can speak to us and tell us things we would never see otherwise.

If you are like Elizabeth, keep trusting.  God’s fulfilment of what was spoken to us by the Lord, will never cease.  We can always “bank” on His word.  But if you are like Zechariah, be careful that your doubts, your preconceived notions, your “practicalness,” don’t keep you from trusting in the Lord.  Here’s the thing, God can be working in us before we actually have trusted in Him.  But until we place all our trust in Him, we won’t have any good news to share because we can’t.  We can’t share what we don’t even believe, can we?  Oh, we can go through the motions, just like Zechariah.  You could even be a priest.  But a priest who doesn’t really trust in the word of God for His every day, isn’t really a priest in God’s eyes, is he?  Thank goodness, that God was still at work in Zechariah’s life, so that he could have the joy of being a real priest one day, by knowing and experiencing the effect of real faith in God.  Have you come to that point?  If not, you are missing the blessing.  Don’t forget, blessed is the one who believes that there will be a fulfilment of what was spoken to us from the Lord.

“My Soul Magnifies the Lord…”

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Photo by Nong Vang on Unsplash

“My soul magnifies the Lord…” Luke 1:46

Spontaneous joy that just has to burst out—don’t you just love it?!  Have you ever felt those kind of moments?  But this isn’t like some little kid that is so happy and thankful because they just got the best gift ever from their parents, and are hopping around, smiling, bubbling over and leaping into their arms.  I’ve seen that before, like one day when one of my sisters thought she was getting the exact same Christmas present as the one she just saw her sister open.  And then when she found out it wasn’t, well, let’s just say that kind of joy was short-lived.

Mary’s response is different.  It comes from somewhere deeper.  It carries her for her whole life through good times, unsure times, confusing times, shadowy times, despairing times, unforeseen times, and overwhelmingly joyful times.  I think I should look at Mary’s response here and where it issues from.  Maybe then, I might have that kind of response flow out of a life living upon the right issues.

Let’s catch up.  Mary has been told by an angel of God that she will bear the Son of God.  How?  Not by means of a man, the normal way, but by the power of the Holy Spirit.  In the same way that the Holy Spirit hovered over the chaos of the waters to create the world, so He would create this only begotten Son of God in her for the salvation of the people He had created.  Mary was a chosen vessel for the gift of God that would reconcile us to Himself.

And who does God choose to bear the weight of carrying the Son of God in a world where most people will not understand?  A girl somewhere between the ages of 12-15.  He chose a girl.  But not just any girl.  He chose Mary. 

Six months earlier, he chose a woman beyond child bearing age who had been barren all this time.  This woman’s name was Elizabeth, the wife of Zecharias the priest.  He chose her, and her husband to bear a child as men bear children, in God’s time, for His purposes; to prepare the way of the Lord, the one who would come from Mary’s womb.  He chose a relative of Mary’s who lived far away, yet they were relatives.  One was old; one was young.  One was barren; one had never been with a man sexually.  One was admired; one would be cast out and shamed.  It was a much easier road for Elizabeth than it would be for Mary.

I’ve heard that one of the hardest things to bear, is going through the death of a child.  I have a feeling that Elizabeth never had to witness the death of John, that he was the one to walk through the sorrow of watching his parents die.  But Mary, she was pierced through the heart, wasn’t she?  And yet, we know that her heart lept for joy three days later when Jesus was risen from the dead, not as her son, but as King of kings, and Lord of lords.

But Mary isn’t there yet.  Right now, she’s a girl, expecting with the Son of God, with only the words of God to trust, in a world that, most of the time, was not lined up with God.  I’m assuming this is soon into Mary’s pregnancy that she travels to stay with Elizabeth.  Who would have had a problem with that request?  After all, Zecharias was a priest.  What better influence on her life?  And when she arrives, the Holy Spirit in the infant John within his mother’s womb leaps and kicks his mother’s abdomen in joy.  Why?  Well, the Holy Spirit must have let Elizabeth in on things too, because she rejoices that Mary is carrying the promised child within her womb!  Hey, there was no mail or other way she knew.  She knew what was happening within Mary, she knew that Mary had trusted the words of God, and she rejoiced because she was trusting the words of God.

Why Mary?  Why did your soul magnify the Lord?  What caused your soul to declare God’s greatness?  What caused your spirit to rejoice in God as your Saviour?

First, you realized that God noticed you and acknowledged you even though you were but a humble servant.  Maybe we don’t get that because we come from a part of the world where people don’t have servants anymore.  So, I guess I don’t totally get that either.  I mean, I could research slavery and reiterate what others say, but that’s not the same as living in that culture, is it?  So help me to grasp what Mary is saying here, Lord. 

Mary is a teenager.  She’s a woman.  She’s a Hebrew.  She’s a human.  And now she’s a pregnant teenager before her husband has “lain” with her.  How humble can you get?  On being a “child” have you ever heard the expression, “Children should be seen but not heard”?  So, children can be seen as a non-important entity.  And what of women?  They had very little rights back then.  And being a Jew?  In a Roman world?  Must I say more?  And being a young woman pregnant before the finish of your betrothal and not by your betrothed?!  Oh, and I forgot to add that she’s just a human, you know, compared to Almighty God.  Mary realizes her humble state and that she is God’s servant first and foremost.  What about me?

When I realize that I’m “a nobody” to most people and in terms of comparison to You, how do I handle that?  Do I try to make myself heard as a somebody?  Do I try to say, “Hey, notice me!  Notice me!”  Or do I respond like Mary, and say, “Wow!  God, You noticed me!  You, who don’t have to notice me, because Your greatness is so great, notice me!  And because You noticed me, others will see that You have noticed me!”  It’s all about God, not about Mary.  She’s just overwhelmed that God chose her, that He is using her.

Mary sees herself as lowly.  How low?  The word in Greek is tapeinosis.  Think of abject condition.  What does that mean?  Abject, according to Noah Webster means “to throw away; to cast out.”  As an adjective it means “Sunk to a low condition…Worthless, mean, despicable, low in estimation, without hope or regard.” And as a noun it means “A person in the lowest condition and despicable. Psalm 35.”  This is where Mary sees herself and yet…

God, who is mighty, has done great things for her.  She has read that His name is holy, but she is experiencing His holiness as well.  The mercy that she has read about for those who fear him in what ever generation they live, is being experienced in her life.  The strength that she has read about, where He has scattered the proud, brought down the mighty, and exalted the lowly; she is experiencing that for herself.  Where she has only read about the hungry being filled with good things, and the rich being sent away empty; now she is experiencing first hand.  Where she has read of Him helping his servant Israel and speaking to them; yes, she is experiencing even that for herself.

Do you realize that where Mary has come, to this day and moment of rejoicing and being overwhelmed in the Lord, that it is His word that has brought her here?  All through this magnificent rejoicing in the magnificence of God, she is sharing what she has learned from scripture.  Oh, it’s not quoting it, with book, chapter and verse.  It’s deeper.  She has been reading scripture, or maybe so listening to scripture and meditating on it in her mind over and over again so that it has become her life and prayer.  This word of God is what she has been trusting in and hoping in and praying for, the fulfilment of all His words.  And He sees her and acknowledges her faith in Him. 

Why will they call her blessed?  Because she bore Jesus?  No!  No!  No!  She is blessed because, just as Elizabeth said, “blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” (Luke 1:45)  She’s not blessed because Jesus nursed at her breasts.  Don’t elevate Mary, because then she’s no longer a blessing.  They tried to do that in Jesus’ day.  Hear the woman in the crowd cry, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!”  But what did Jesus say, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”  That’s why Mary was blessed.  Mary’s favor with God was in her humility and trust in Him. 

She wasn’t better than anyone else.  Scripture says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)  Even Isaiah said, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned- every one- to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him [Jesus] the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6)  All includes Mary.  And she knew that.  That’s why it was wonderful to her that God would use her, this girl who didn’t deserve it.  Let me reiterate the point that Mary is making in her “magnificat” and the point that Jesus reiterates as well.  Listen again, “While he [Jesus] was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him.  But he replied to the man who told him, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’  And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers!  For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.’” (Matthew 12:45-50)

Read Mary’s words for yourself.  She knew.  The only reason that she was chosen to bear Jesus, is the same reason that any one can be blessed in Jesus and know God.  Elizabeth wasn’t fooled.  She knew, a person is blessed by God to know Him and know His mercy by believing that He will fulfil His words and living in them.  Jesus tried to redirect us to get it.  Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!  Blessed doesn’t mean elevated in specialness.  Blessed means one with God, involved in His plans with Him, used and loved by Him, united with Him.  Mary wasn’t blessed because she had Jesus, she was blessed because she knew and trusted God even before she had Jesus.  And when she had Jesus, she was still as humbled trying to figure it all out just like the rest of us.  She was still in that humble process of trusting in God’s word as she “treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19, 51)

Here’s something I heard in a seminar yesterday, from someone who used to be addicted to drugs and alcohol.  God set him free.  For a year or two, after crying out to God to be free, he was, and he pursued God and went to church, and was discipled, and searched God’s word.  When some friends told him he needed to get saved he said, “What are you talking about?  God’s already working in me.  Don’t you see what He’s already done.   I must be saved already.  How could God be working in me if I wasn’t saved?”

Think about it.  Have you ever thought about that?  I’ve thought about it before, and I’m like Mary, saying, “Oh, God, I am so grateful that You have been working in me since I was a child so that I can come to know You.  You’re mercy is so great to me and I don’t deserve it.  Even at times when I was kicking against You, You were still working.  Oh, the greatness of Your love for me even though I don’t deserve it!”

Now, keep thinking about that.  Because that’s where Mary was.  That’s where the disciples were.  That’s where Nicodemus was and Paul were even though we haven’t had them enter the picture yet.  We’re all addicted to ourselves and our own way like Isaiah said.  Only God, has already been at work.  Jesus told us He was.  “But Jesus answered them, ‘My Father is working until now, and I am working.’” (John 5:17) 

Here’s the truth.  God will work in us, but God’s working in us does not mean that we are His.  God is always working.  He is preparing us.  For what?  For His Son.  Listen carefully, “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.’” (John 14:6)  Here’s the test, are you like Mary?  Do you believe the words of God?  Do believe that in order for the work of God to be finished in You, in order to become a child of God, that You need to believe that Jesus is the only way, truth, and life that brings us into union with the God who is always at work?  Mary came to believe that.  I think Nicodemus came to believe that.  The disciples came to believe that.  Paul came to believe that.  The addict came to believe that.  And it’s why I’m writing this today, because when I was 15 years old, I trusted in these words of God and I trusted in His Son, Jesus, the Christ, and nothing else.

And to think that a nobody like me, a human who has so many times defied the ways of God, could be so loved and so blessed by His Son to be in union with my Creator and that my Creator would value me so that He would invest His Holy Spirit in me to shape me more and more like Him every day.  How could we not sing out daily the magnificence of God through Christ!  May You allow God to work in Your life, but even more so, may You surrender Your life to His greatest work, Jesus Christ, the Saviour of your soul and the only One who can unite You to the Father as His very own child.

The Only Thing That Can Hold Me Back is What I Believe

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“And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb.  And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and…”  Luke 1:41 (and a tiny bit of 42 as a teaser.)

Part 3

Wisdom isn’t the only thing the Holy Spirit brings to us.  Of course, if the main part of that wisdom wasn’t the ability to know God and understand and love and desire His ways, that would be very empty and pointless wisdom.  But the knowledge of God through our faith in Jesus Christ, is the reality of the wisdom from the Holy Spirit. 

The Holy Spirit is a gift of God, placed within us upon our believing in, or rather placing our trust in the completed work of Jesus on the cross.  It’s not just some intellectual decision.  The intellectual grasps the truth of our needed redemption and our whole person surrenders to our need for Jesus as our Lord and Saviour.  I surrender my life and my intellect and my being to Him.  In so doing, God adds Himself to my life, intellect, and being by the person of the Holy Spirit. 

When I was a 5 year old, I wanted so badly to walk with Jesus.  If I could have gone back in time to His day, I would have.  If I could have gotten God to let Him be born again in my day, I would have.  I just wanted to walk with Him and know Him and be with Him that much.  I still do.  But that’s not how it happens.  But Jesus and God had already made a way for us to walk with Him, and it was even more intimate than how the disciples walked with Jesus upon the earth.  The Helper, the Holy Spirit, is that better way.

Let’s listen to Jesus’ own words about why the Holy Spirit is better for us than walking with Him.  “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you.  But if I go, I will send him to you.  And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment:  concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.  I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.  When the Spirit of truth [Holy Spirit] comes, he will guide you into all truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.  He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.  All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:7-15)

In the Old Testament, and even while Jesus walked upon the earth, the Holy Spirit was only given to select individuals.  He could be given and He could be taken away.  Why?  Could it be that in the past, the Holy Spirit was given as a “taste” of what was to come in Christ?  How could the Old Testament believers be filled with what they couldn’t fully understand yet?  They knew the Messiah was coming and they were trusting in that promise.  But they didn’t understand it yet?  How can you expect to be filled with what You have no understanding of?  So for most people, it wasn’t the right timing yet.  God gave them the pictures in the “rituals and festivals” to help them understand.  After all, how can we understand what we can’t see yet? We still live by faith in what God shows us and He gave glimpses of the power and purpose and working of the Holy Spirit.  But His dispensation or time had not become full yet.  After Christ had fulfilled His purpose, after His sacrifice and resurrection, the time was here, the time was ripe and full for the Holy Spirit.

We no longer live by an external set of rules to exhibit faith in God.  When we place our trust in Him, He seals us as His own by the Holy Spirit and enables us by the same spirit that He places in us.  He doesn’t just walk with us, compelling us from the outside.  He walks in us, transforming us from the inside out.  We are not just conformed, but transformed.  He moves us, speaks to us, compels us, holds us back, gives us understanding. 

Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit for a moment and shared truths that the Spirit shared from God Himself.  But we as believers, are sealed and filled with the Holy Spirit forever.  So what can I expect?

I can expect the Spirit to give me the words of God to speak in the midst of trials, or whenever and wherever needed. (Mark 13:11)  John Knox portrayed the Holy Spirit as “the power and entity that holds all things together since the creation of the world.” (A. J. Swoboda) I can expect the Holy Spirit to allow “the power of the Most High” to overshadow me.  I don’t have to be a Mary birthing Jesus; I just have to be a believer letting God have His way through His Holy Spirit by the blood of Jesus Christ. 

That overshadowed thing when Mary became the mother of Jesus by no help of Joseph (Luke 1:35), is the same word used when the Holy Spirit hovered over the waters, the emptiness and darkness that existed, the chaos.  He hovers over the chaos and divinely sorts out the chaos to bring it to order.  That’s what we still need.  In the Old Testament, the Spirit overshadowed the people of God, overshadowed the temple, and even overshadowed Peter, James, and John on the mountain with Jesus.  God’s overshadowing is the means of our understanding as He brings the chaos in our minds and the life around us into His ordered perspective.  Now, the Holy Spirit is invested within us to influence us to understand the chaos around us in the light of what God is doing.

Sometimes, the Holy Spirit allows us to understand so that we might teach, or helps us to put together the chaos around us to understand it in light of the scriptures, like Zechariah when he prophesied.  (Luke 1:67)  That’s also how Simeon new that the baby in Mary’s arm was Jesus, the Messiah.  (Luke 2:26)  In the midst of the chaos of life, He identifies what is His.  Remember when the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove and the voice from heaven said, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”? (Luke 3:22)  How would the people know, unless the Holy Spirit identified Jesus for them?  We are actually identified by Him (Ephesians 1:13) and are sealed by Him. The Holy Spirit is the sign that we belong to God.

He leads us (Luke 4:1); He reveals God’s truths, spiritual truths to us (Luke 10:21); He works forgiveness in us (Luke 12:10); teaches us what to say (Luke 12:10); identifies Jesus for us (John 1:33); brings His words to our remembrance (John 14:26); gives us power from God to be His witnesses (Acts 1:8); helps us to see the fulfilment of scripture (Acts 1:16); enables us through the spiritual gifts (Acts 2:4); leads us to pray and fills us with boldness in speaking the Word (Acts 4:31); makes us witnesses and helps us obey beyond believing (Acts 5:32); walks hand in hand with the increasing of our faith (Acts 6:5); reveals the glory of God to us (Acts 7:55); allows us to share Himself with others (Acts 8:17); gives peace, builds us up, teaches us to walk in the fear of the Lord and the comfort of Himself (Acts 9:31); calls us and sets us apart for God’s purposes (Acts 13:2); sends us (Acts 13:4); fills us with joy (Acts 13:52); sometimes forbids us or holds us back from a thing (Acts 16:6); tells me of things to come (Acts 20:23); makes us our “brother’s keepers,” so to speak (Acts 20:28); pours God’s love into our hearts (Romans 5:5); bears witness with our conscience (Romans 9:1); brings righteousness, peace and joy (Romans 14:17); fills us with joy and peace in believing, so we can abound in hope (Romans 15:13); makes the offering of our lives acceptable and sanctified (Romans 15:16);  makes our body a holy temple of God (1 Corinthians 6:19); declares Jesus as Lord (1 Cor. 12:3); brings us into fellowship with God and Jesus (2 Cor. 13:14);  makes known the mystery of Christ (Ephesians 3:5); allows us to share the gospel in word, power, and with full conviction (1Thessalonians 1:5);  helps us guard what God has entrusted within us (2 Timothy 1;14); washes us through regeneration and renewal (Titus 3:5); bears witness in us by signs and wonders and gifts of the Holy Spirit (Hebrews 2:4); enables us to hear God’s voice (Hebrews 3:7);  helps us preach the good news (1 Peter 1:12); is the voice of prophecy and the spoken word of God (2 Peter 1:21); and guides us to be built up in the Lord, to pray, and keep ourselves in the love of God. (Jude 1:20,21)

Elizabeth isn’t the only one who can be filled with the Holy Spirit and…This is available to everyone who believes.  It’s not who we are that sets us apart; it’s Who we believe in.  Jesus said, “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” (John 7:38)  That’s what this  “and…” is talking about.  That’s what we’ve been reading about in the Holy Spirit.  Do we want these rivers of living water?  Then we need to follow Elizabeth and Mary’s example and believe.  Then we need to let God throw our world upside down so it can be made right side up in Him.  If you aren’t sure if it’s worth it, go back and read the chapters and books these references came from in the Word of God.  I’m sold.  I believe it’s worth it.  I want to live and die with rivers of living water flowing from me.  The only thing that can hold me back is what I believe.  I want to believe every word of God and live in it so that His Word is what flows with life from me