Getting Out of the Rut

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Photo credit to 4-wheeling-in-western-australia.com

“Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”  Luke 3:4b

Imagine going out into the wilderness to hear this man dressed in camel’s hair, with a belt of animal skin around his hip, who ate locusts and wild honey.  Today, that would be really unusual, but even back in Jesus’ day, that was unusual.  Even the most basic Jew would have worn a tunic, this “simple, one-piece robe, usually belted at the waist, with a hole for the head and two holes for the arms.” (Msgr. Charles Pope)  Most people wore both an inner tunic and an outer tunic.   The inner tunic only, was not a very respectable thing to wear by itself.  It was like a loose T-shirt dress coming to the knees, made of linen, cotton, or soft wool. Over the inner tunic, an outer tunic was worn, that often had tassles on the corner called Tzittzit.  If you were feeling penitential, like John or a prophet or the people of Ninevah, you might have worn sackcloth or camel hair.  That means that this John the Baptist guy, preaching in the wilderness was quite a site in his camel hair paired with the message he was preaching.   Here was a man demonstrating great humility in all areas of his life, calling everyone to humble repentance.  Could John’s message be so important that he would choose to humble himself before God and the people to declare it?

What was John’s message?  He was preaching the need for “the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.” (verse 3)  John was preaching the need.  He was telling us all that without repentance, without turning from our sin, we can not be delivered from it, forgiven of it.  But it doesn’t just take repentance.  It takes the baptism of repentance.  I could repent on my own.  I could be sorry and turn myself around.  But that wouldn’t be the baptism of repentance. 

John’s baptism was a picture.  He dipped people in the waters of the Jordan River or where ever.  But in truth, the Jordan River can’t take away our sins.  So John was preaching something more powerful, but using a baptism that we could see to help prepare us for understanding how much we needed the baptism of the Holy Spirit through Jesus Christ to do the job for real, to do the job that we could not.

This baptiser was a voice in the wilderness crying out, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.  Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” (verse 4-6; Isaiah 40:3-5)  So, John’s “job” was to prepare people for Jesus.  His job was to make Jesus’ path straight.  What does that mean?

I don’t know exactly.  But it makes me stop and think.  Jesus didn’t need the earth leveled out to walk on it, so this is a word picture.  What is the picture that God is trying to paint for me?  How do you prepare the way for the Lord to enter?  Enter what?  Enter the earth?  Or enter a man’s heart and life and mind?  What if people need to be prepared to be able to look straight at Jesus and see him for who he really is and ourselves for who we really are?  That word for path is like a worn rut, you know, like where the cows go back and forth every day, or a lion paces back and forth in his zoo cage.  It makes a rut.

Then there’s that word “straight.”  It can also mean level.  And I’m thinking that’s it here.  Why?  Because we have ourselves in ruts in our lives.  A rut isn’t level; it’s a depression in the soil.  And then we come to the next word.  We hear valleys being filled, mountains and hills being leveled, winding roads straightened, and rough ways made smooth.  And when all this happens, boom, the salvation of God!

This is the call to repentance.  We are called out of our ruts.  We are called to get off our mountains and our high hills.  We are called to walk away from perversity and crookedness.  We are called to smooth out our rough and jagged edges.  But then again, we can’t do that on our own.  We need someone who can do this in our lives.  We need someone who has the power to make the path straight, to fill and level the valley, to bring down the mountains of pride, to overcome perversity and crookedness in our lives, to smooth out our rough and rocky edges, to make us able to know our God and His salvation.

Who warns us to flee from the wrath to come, to flee from the anger of God?  Who warns us to come to Him, to draw near to Jesus, to find refuge and forgiveness and power in Him?  Unless it’s God working in us, it’s not real.  The reality of God working in us and calling us unto Himself through His Son Jesus, works in us the fruit of real repentance.  I will know that I can’t do any of this on my own.  I will know that I need Him.  I will know that I am lost without Him and He is my only hope for life, now and forever. 

What shall I do, then, Lord?  If you would hew down those who don’t bring forth good fruit, how can I be one who bears good fruit?  If I can’t set the path straight on my own, how can I at all?  Is it enough if I give one of my coats to someone in need?  Is it enough if I am honest in my affairs with others?  Is it enough if I refrain from violence, don’t accuse others falsely, and am content?  No, that is not enough, but those things are the fruits of repentance, the fruits of one who is being humbled and humbling oneself.  These are the fruits of one whose way is being prepared for the Lord.

John was not the Lord.  But he was helping people be prepared.  Jesus was coming.  Jesus would baptize us with the Holy Spirit and with fire.  Which we will be baptised with depends on if we let Him level our “playing ground” by humbling ourselves before him or if we refuse to let him.  We can choose to hold onto our mountains of pride, our valleys of self-pity, our crooked ways of perversion, our habitual ruts.  Or we can allow Jesus to lay them all out straight and flat so that they aren’t obstructions to our following His will any more, so that they are not obstructions to us knowing and following Him.

It’s my choice.  I can humble myself before the One who humbled Himself on my behalf and gave His life a ransom for mine.  He took the fiery punishment I should take so I wouldn’t have to.  Why wouldn’t I humble myself to His love and His power and His ways?  Why wouldn’t I submit to letting You, Lord, straighten me out and level me out so that You shine as the Highest of highests in my life?  Why would I refuse, and bear the fiery punishment instead?

The truth is that all flesh, all people, shall see the salvation of God.  “And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it.” (Isaiah 40:5)  It doesn’t matter who you are or who I am.  It doesn’t matter if you’ve allowed the Lord to humble you or if you have stood firm as the mountain against Him.  The truth is, God will reveal His glory; we shall both see it.  The only difference is that one of us will run to Him as our refuge, our God, our Father, our Saviour, because we are humbly covered by the blood of the Lamb, even as imperfect as we are.  But the other, will be cast away, cringing in terror and eternal loss.  Because as the Lord stands there before us both, purging the floor before him, fanning the wheat and the chaff, who will you be?  The wheat he collects, but the chaff, He will burn with unquenchable fire.

Lord, I want to be Your wheat.  I want to be humble and humbled.  I want to see You as You are and other things as they truly are.  I want my path made straight in You.  And I want to be faithful like John and help prepare others to find your path, because there aren’t many paths.  You have made one path for all.  May I follow that as I follow Your leading, and may I be an instrument to draw others to Your path of You as well.

What is the Father’s Business?

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“…Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?” Luke 2:49b

Remember the movie Home Alone?  I couldn’t imagine forgetting my child when it came to leaving on a flight.  But to be honest, I did lose track of time and forget to pick up my teenage daughter one day.  And another time, I thought my other teenage daughter was with her father on the van at church, so I left without her.  So as a parent, when I read about this day when Jesus was 12 years old and left behind at the temple, it really makes me stop and read and think.  How could this happen? 

We’re not just talking about a matter of a half hour or an hour or two.  Mary and Joseph, when they left with their caravan, supposed Jesus was in the company with them.  They traveled a whole day’s journey before they realised he was not in the company at all.  So they turned back to Jerusalem.  It took them three days to find him.  Imagine the feeling in the pit of their stomachs.

Why did it take three days?  They were only a days journey away when they turned back.  Where were they seeking him all that time?  You know, I never wondered before.  But now, his answer makes even more sense.

Where did they find Jesus?  In the temple, sitting in the middle of the masters and teachers, not only hearing them, but asking them questions.  When the scripture says that all who heard him were astonished at his level of understanding and his answers, it’s not just talking about the crowd.  It’s talking about these masters and teachers because they were the crowd there and they were the ones astonished at the understanding of scripture and God that this twelve-year old had.

This is where Mary and Joseph find Jesus and they are astonished as well, but more that he was there instead of with them, than for what was transpiring.  So Mary says the motherly thing, “Son, why have you treated us like this?   Your father and I have been searching for you and distraught.”  What is Jesus’ answer?  “Why were you looking for me?  Didn’t you know that I must be about my Father’s business?” They didn’t understand this answer.  Most of the time, I don’t think we do either.

I suppose that Mary and Joseph could have saved themselves a lot of sorrow if only they had focussed on what Jesus’ driving source was, or rather Who it was.  If they knew that Jesus was so wrapped up in God’s will that He was his first thought and first interest, where would the likely place be that Jesus would be directed to spend his time?  Where the heart of God was most sought and valued, right where they eventually found him.

I don’t fault Mary and Joseph.  I think this was not under their control.  I think Jesus meant to do just this, not for the grief of his parents, but for a learning experience for all.  “And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem.  His parents did not know it.” (Luke 2:43)  This greek word hupomeno, in this case means to remain or tarry behind.  So Jesus chose, at this moment in time, not to go with his family, but to remain here, at the temple, busying himself with his Father’s business.

I wonder if this moment of Jesus remaining behind was in order to allow his “remaining” to influence his family, those around him, and us?  Hupomeno, for Jesus just meant to remain, but it also means “to remain under the test in a God-honoring manner, not seeking to escape it but eager to learn the lessons it was sent to teach.” (therecoveringlegalist.com)  At other times, the word is used for “holding ones’ ground” or “persevering in spite of difficulty.”  It’s often translated as “patience” and “endure.”

Now, I can’t take hupomeno and just make it mean whatever definition I want it to mean.  For Jesus, it here means “remained.”  But I can’t help thing that this was also a test for those around him, including his parents.  Did they just want to get the finding over with and escape this horrible moment, or would they remain in it and let God teach them what He wanted them to learn?

Scripture says that Mary and Joseph didn’t understand Jesus; they didn’t understand what he was saying to them, what he meant in being about his Father’s business.  But Jesus returned with them and submitted to them.  Hmm.  First, he was submitted under God.  Yet, he was also submitted under his parents.  And Mary didn’t just forget the lesson.  She didn’t understand yet, but she “treasured up all these things in her heart.”

I don’t think it was until after the resurrection that Mary put it totally all together.  I don’t think any of us can put it all together until we go beyond seeing Jesus as a child prodigy grown into a great teacher, but as the Son of God.  We can’t put it all together until we see Jesus as more than just a brother, a son, or a man, but as God and man.  We can’t put it all together until we see Jesus submit under the authority of God and man and physically receive the brutal punishment of the scorn and beatings and crucifixion at the hand of man to pay the price for our very own sins, none of which were his, for he was without sin.  We can’t put it all together until we see Jesus bearing the wrath of God for us as he died, descending into hell, taking back the keys to “Death and Hades” (Revelation 1:18) and setting the captives free.  We can’t put it all together until we see the absolutely necessary, eternal value of the blood of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ.  We can’t put it all together until we see the power of the Resurrection, the truth of God’s promises fulfilled.  And we can’t put it all together until we, like Jesus, Son of God and son of man, learn to remain in God’s will first and always.  And I can’t learn to submit to God’s will if I don’t know Him.  But the wonderful thing is that I can know God!  I can experience a real relationship with God through a relationship with Jesus!  Jesus came to reconcile me to God and to my fellow men.  Jesus set the perfect example so I could trust Him and remain in Him.  In Him, I have  everything I need to know and make doing my Father’s will a reality.  Jesus came so I could put it all together.

Do I want to increase in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man? (Luke 2:52)  Do I want to be reconciled?  Then I must give my all to God.  What is your all?  Entire consecration.  We must not be about our Father’s business sometimes, or even most of the time.  We must be about our Father’s business all the time.  Our Father’s business must become our business and our life.

When I wake up, my first thought ought to be, Lord, I delight to do your will today; Your law is within my heart! (Psalm 40:8)  And what if my day does not go as I thought it would?  What if my day seems to be loss?  Then it is not my loss, but God’s loss, because I was His and all of the day was His.  I have lost nothing if I have given all to God, as Jesus did.  It is God’s to gain or God’s to lose.  But if I am delighting in my Father’s will, then I can continue to delight in Him, win or lose.

I cannot be the Son of God, for there is only One who is, was, and ever will be.  But because of Jesus, the Son of God, I have become a son/daughter of God in Him.  Do you know what the will of God was that Jesus was pursuing?  Do you know what His Father’s business was.  It wasn’t summed up in obeying the law.  That just naturally flows out of knowing God and revering Him.  That is a natural outflow of faith when one has a relationship with their heavenly Father through Christ Jesus.  Jesus’s business, the business of God, was “to seek and save the lost.” (Luke 19:1-10)  He came to reconcile us to God.

If It was the desire of God to reconcile us to Hm and that was the business that Jesus was delighting in, then shouldn’t I be delighting in that as well?  There is strength and power in what Jesus is teaching us today, as only a 12 year old.  “Behold, I and the children whom the Lord has given me are for signs and for wonders…” (Isaiah 8:18)  Jesus, and those who are His, are “a token; something by which another thing [God, in this case] is shown or represented.” (Noah Webster)  We are the “visible mark or representation” of God in Jesus.  But our representing God is not to show off who we are.  It is to share who He is so that others may come to delight in Him and in doing His business as well! 

Here is the heart of the matter, in Jesus’ own words, where He prays this for us.  “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.  As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.  And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.  I do not ask only for these only [this isn’t a prayer only for the disciples back then!] but also for those who will believe in me through their word [that’s us!], that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.  Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am , to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.  O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me.  I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”  (John 17:17-28)

When my heart wants that for others, I will have found myself being about the Father’s business.  When my whole purpose in life becomes to make Your name known to others, and my motivation is to continue to make You known, for the singular purpose of others sharing in the love that You have shared with me, then I have found and will be fulfilling my purpose in life.  Oh, that I had learned so early that being in the middle of Your will, God, was the most valuable ambition in life.  Oh, that I would really know that today and forever.  That even though, I have not always known that or lived as though I knew it when I started to see it, even today, I can live in this truth and it can be the actuallity of my life.  Forgive me for all the times I have not been about Your business.  I want to be as fully about Your business, as fully in You and as delighted in You as Jesus.  Do whatever You need to in my life to get me there and may I be as faithful on my end, to do everything on my part to devote myself, wholly, not holding any part back, in You.

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.

Finding Consolation

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“And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him.”  Luke 2:25

Why have I come back a second time to Simeon?  Well, I’m not really coming back to Simeon, but I’m coming back to the words that circle around Simeon and keep him aloft.  Those words about Simeon “waiting for the consolation of Israel” draw me. 

I think I am drawn by the same source of Simeon’s drawing.  From before the fall of man and woman, the consolation had been planned.  Sin was not a surprise to God.  He knows our hearts.  Jesus was no afterthought.  Jesus has always been the consolation of Israel, and the consolation of Israel, is the promised consolation for the world.

Why is Jesus the consolation to Israel first?  Why not just the consolation to the world?  Could it be because the world had abandoned their consolation?  Could it be that God called out a people for His own to refocus them so that they could help refocus the world on Him? 

Paul was pretty adamant about this consoling.  In Greek, it’s the word paraklesis, which means comfort, consolation, exhortation, intreaty.  But think of it this way.  When the Holy Spirit is referred to as the Comforter, the Greek word used is paraklete, one who comes along side.  How much more is that carried over into paraklesis, which is used of Jesus, not our comforter but our Comfort.  Listen to Paul’s exhortation or comforting words to us that we are to take to heart: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.  For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.  If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings we suffer.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-6)  We are comforted and can comfort others because the consolation of Israel, Jesus, is our comfort and has sent the Holy Spirit, the Comforter to us.

We can look for consolation or comfort anywhere we want, but there is nowhere else that it will or can be found except in Jesus.  Not even the Holy Spirit could be our Comforter if Jesus was not the Comfort.  If Jesus had not come to earth as one of us, bore our sins, paid the penalty upon the cross, died, and risen again victorious, what consolation could the Holy Spirit offer.  How could the Spirit cheer our hearts if we could not be reconciled unto God, if we had no intercessor who understood us, if no one had gone before us bearing worse than we could ever bear?  But Jesus purchased our consolation forever with His blood.

Rev. Charles Spurgeon thought about this question as well, this consolation of Israel.  He reminds us that the Holy Spirit, who convinces us about sin and teaches and corrects us, busies Himself most with comforting and confirming and renewing and lifting us up.  This is the age when we are encouraged by the presence of the Holy Spirit until that day when we are in the presence of Jesus, the Comfort Himself.  Spurgeon uses the figure, “the Holy Spirit is the Physician, but Christ is the medicine.  He heals the wound, but it is by the applying of the holy ointment of Christ’s name and grace.  He takes not of his own things, but of the things of Christ.  We are not consoled to-day by new revelations, but by the old revelation explained, enforced, and lit up with new splendour by the presence and power of the Holy Ghost the Comforter.”   The Spirit is the Comforter, Jesus is the Comfort.

From eternity past, Jesus has been our salvation.  (Ephesians 1:4)  Before we were ever born, before we were ever bound by sin, He had already planned for our redemption, for our comfort.  Think about it.  God anticipated our fall and yet He loves us.  God anticipated our fall and “provided in his eternal decree of predestinating love an effectual remedy for all our diseases, a certain deliverance from all our sorrows…” (Ibid) 

And as Spurgeon was thinking about these things, he got me to thinking with him about the way that Jesus appeared to His people in the Old Testament times and showed himself to the believers just as though he was “bone of their bone, and flesh of their flesh, in all their trials and their troubles.”  Think back.  Abraham was a pilgrim.  How did Jesus appear to him in Mamre?  As a pilgrim.  Jacob, at the brook, was a wrestler.  How did Jesus appear to him?  As a wrestler.  Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace?  He appeared as a fourth young man in the fire with them.  Why appear like us?  He could always just have sent an angel, an ambassador, but sometimes He chose to come Himself.  Why?  Because He always was Emmanuel, God with us.  Before time began and until forever, He has always been and will always be God with us.  He can’t be other than that because it’s who He is.  What a wonderful consolation!  What a wonderful comfort!

When you wake up early in the morning or can’t sleep in the middle of the night because of the troubles on your mind and soul, He is our consolation, our comfort.  Spurgeon continues to remind us “If Christ appeared to his servants in the olden time, and manifested himself to them as bone of their bone, and flesh of their flesh, in all their trials and their troubles, he will do no less to thee to-day; he will be with thee in passing through the fire; he will be thy rock, thy shield, and thy high tower; he will be thy song, thy banner, and thy crown of rejoicing. Fear not, he who visited the saints of old will surely not be long absent from his children to-day; his delights are still with his people, and still will he walk with us through this weary wilderness.”

Weary, troubled, tired, persecuted heart, be consoled, there is more comfort yet!  Jesus positions us with Himself in the heavenlies!  He makes us His ambassadors and gives us authority in Him to do God’s will!  “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  For by grace you have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:4-10)  Am I empty, searching for a purpose?  Read this over and over again and drill this into my mind.  Do I feel directionless or so filled with pain that I don’t know how to bear it?  Meditate on this.  God prepared me beforehand for this that I would have everything I need in Jesus to walk through this.  Do I get that?  What He prepared Jesus to walk through, He has given me everything to walk through life and death as well.  Oh, may I truly be consoled in that, not in word only, but in truth, in reality!

I want to live, not die!  I want to be well, not sick!  I want to be free, not slave!  But the truth is, unless I’m willing to die, I can’t find life.  Unless I admit my sickness, I cannot be cured.  Unless I submit, I cannot ever reign.  “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”  (Matthew 10:39)  The consolation is right here, two sides of the same coin.  To find your life in Jesus is to let your life go and grasp His.  To lose your life for His sake is to gain His.  The consolation, the comfort is that it is a win-win situation. 

In the heavenlies, though I was lower than the angels in my human form (Hebrews 2:7-9), in Jesus, in my renewed form, as His ambassador, I will judge angels one day! (1 Corinthians 6:3)  So while I go through suffering, trembling, doubt, fear, pain here, look beyond and remember the truth.  Be sure of this, “that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)  Are you surprised by the hard walk of life?  Why?  Your Jesus walked through it.  Should I walk through less?  And just as God had prepared Him to walk through it, so He has prepared me beforehand.

Before ever I knew I would become His, God already knew.  Before I was in my mother’s womb, God was already at work on my behalf!  Before day one of time as we know it, Your plan for me had begun.  None of this is a surprise.  The pain, the suffering, the heartache, is all part of the birth pangs.  Do I think I am the only one who groans with this pain, with this weight?  Who abhors the unrighteousness in the world and in my own heart?  Be consoled.  Jesus groaned.  And He had more right than me to groan.  You know, that word implies “to snort, as of horses.”  I’ve seen a horse upset.  I’ve seen their nose flare and the breath come out full of force and heat, while they stomp their hooves and need to be held back from action.  But Jesus holds Himself back from action until the appointed time.  Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers said of Jesus in John 11:33 that “He was indignant in the spirit, and caused Himself to shudder.”  Do I feel that way?  He gives me the same power to hold myself back, even if it causes my body to shudder as well.  Have I found consolation in that?

When I hear Jesus’ prayer for me to the Father, “I will that they also whom thou hast given me be with me where I am,” am I consoled?  I ought to be.  Am I so consoled that I am ready to fight the good fight no matter the cost, until the very end?  Does it console me that Jesus is fighting for me?  Does it console me that Jesus fought for me so that I could draw near to Him and actually meet Him as we fight the battle against His foes and mine together?  Does it console me that the victory is already His though the battles have not finished?

What consoles me in the midst of pain and suffering?  What consoled Job?  Could his cattle or his camels?  Could his wealth?  Could his children?  Could his servants?  Could his health?  Could his wife?  No.  All of them are a temporary shadow.  What could console Job in his abundance or in his suffering?  “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.  And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.  My heart faints within me!”  Oh, that You would be my consolation like that!  Oh, that my heart would faint within me at the thought of beholding You face to face!  Again, Spurgeon shares, “Brothers and sisters, when all things else depart, an unchanging Christ shall be your unchanging joy.”

The consolation in the power of Jesus!  Who can pull me up from the depths of my pain and sorrow, when I can’t even pull myself up?  Who else, but Jesus!  The Psalmist is not alone!  “He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings.  And he has put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the Lord.” (Psalm 40:2,3)

How long does this consolation last?  It is everlasting!  He reigns “forever and ever.” (Revelation 11:15) How close is this consolation?  He was there in the past with us before we knew Him.  He is here every now of every day.  He is here in the presence of every moment of the future.  “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1)  Remember, Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us.  Am I consoled by what that means for me?  Do I understand, really understand what it means when Paul consoles me with these words, “If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31)  Do I understand that He is not just here rooting for me like a Father in the bleachers at some sporting event?  “For” or “huper” in Greek, is the idea of being “over, above, beyond, causal, exceedingly above, on behalf,” that kind of thing.  If God is over me, if He is working on my behalf, who can withstand that?  Who can win against me if that is the truth?  Oh, how that should console me.

The truth of the matter is that Jesus came to be my consolation.  Do I need to be consoled by Him or am I fine with other consolations in my life?  Because if I am fine with consoling myself, Jesus can’t be my consolation, because He can’t lie.  Neither will He share His consolation with other consolations.  If You are not my consolation alone, Jesus, than I will have none of Your promises and comforts that You provide.  They will always evade me.  I may grasp my own consolations, but I will find that they are no consolation at all in the end, and leave me comfortless and comforter-less.

But what if I once looked to You as my consolation and then slid back into my old consolations and comforts?  Am I lost to Your true consolation?  “‘Turn, O backsliding children,’ saith the Lord, ‘for I am married unto you…’ ” (Jeremiah 3:14)  Remember, Jesus does not believe in divorce!  He has never put you away.  Think of Hosea and Gomer.  Gomer did not deserve the love of Hosea, and yet she received it.  And do you think that was Hosea’s idea?!  No, that was God’s idea.  That was what You wanted me to understand about Your love.  Am I consoled to know that You love me like that, that You fight for me and don’t give up on me, that I am Yours, really Yours?  If I have fallen away, that should be all it takes to bring me to my knees, bawling and wrapping my arms around your knees in unexplainable gratitude and overwhelming love.

Does it console me to know that I have every right to come to Jesus?  Why?  Because he commands me to come.  “Come unto me, all you that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)  Did I read that right?  I don’t have to be good enough?  My right to come doesn’t lay within me?  I simply have the right to come because You call me to come to You?  Spurgeon likened it to receiving an invitation to appear before the queen at once.  You must go.  It doesn’t matter how you are dressed.  To not go, would be to receive punishment, to break the law.  So you go, just as you are. 

The right of a sinner to come to Christ does not lie in the sinner, nor in any feelings which the sinner may have had; it lies in the fact that Christ commands him to come.  And when you come to the gate of the castle, the officer says, “You are not dressed appropriately.  You can’t come in.”  But you show him the command.  He must let you pass.  At the next door, the usher sees you and says, “You are not dressed for court.”  You show him the command.  He must let you pass.  What would happen if, after passing, you started to think, “I shall not continue further because I am not dressed right, I don’t fit in, I won’t know how to act.”  Oh, to miss out on the consolation because of fear.  Jesus is better than the queen!  He has said, “Come unto me.”  He knows what You think.  He knows who You are and what You are like better than You do.  You do not come to Him because of Your merits.  You are coming to Him based on His merits!  Repent of thinking of Your own merits!  Be consoled and rejoice in His!  His merits make You more than acceptable.  His merits cover You and fill You with Himself!

I suppose there are some of us who don’t feel “heavy laden.”  Why come then?  Because all are commanded to come.  “And this is His commandment, that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as He gave us commandment.” (1 John 3:23)  And if I choose not to be consoled by Jesus?  What then?  “He that believeth on Him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:18) 

I want to be consoled more and more every day by all that Jesus is, by who He is, and what He has done for and in me, and what He is doing through me by God’s grace.  My prayer is to know Your consolation more deeply every day and that others would come to experience Your consolation.  I pray for others along with Reverend Spurgeon, “I would infinitely rather that the sweet love and grace of God would entice you now to trust Jesus Christ just as you are. He will not deceive you, sinner; he will not fail you. Trusting him, you shall build on a sure foundation, and find him who is the consolation of Israel and the joy of all his saints.”

The Divine in the Ordinary

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“And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.”  Luke 2:18

There is a lot of “ordinary” going on during the birth of Jesus.  Well, it’s ordinary, but not in its ordinary routine, mixed with extraordinary, but not in such a way that everyone gets to see the extraordinary.  If it’s true that Mary and Joseph stayed in the downstairs room with family, in the room where the animals were let in at night, in the room where there was a built in trough or manger in the floor, then I’d say the birthing had all its regular folk in attendance.  If they were already in their place in Bethlehem and not rushing in because Mary was about to burst on her donkey, then again, it was a “normal” birthing, just not in the guest-room upstairs.

No one in Bethlehem, except for Joseph and Mary knew that this baby was going to be Jesus, the Saviour of His people and all people.  So Mary gives birth like any other woman in that day would give birth.  No one in Bethlehem is thinking anything outside the ordinary in the extra hustle and bustle of “normal” census time life.  But there is more going on.

Things are unfolding a little differently out in the field with the shepherds.  So, while Jesus is being born, or after Jesus was born, God sends angels out to the field to herald the shepherds.  Now shepherds are pretty much low on the totem pole of Jewish society in that day.  Yet, God chooses to send the angels to tell the good news about this “insignificant, unknown” baby who has been born.  Why?  Because if God didn’t tell anyone, no one would know who this baby was.  It’s still the same today; if God doesn’t make Jesus known to us, we never really see Him or get to know Him.

But why shepherds?  I don’t know; I’m not God.  Could it be because this baby, Jesus, was born to be the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world?  Who knows more about lambs, and their spotlessness required for the sacrifices, than the shepherds who care for them?  From a different angle, I remember the words of Jesus to the disciples, “I am the good shepherd, the good shepherd gives his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11)  Why not introduce Jesus to shepherds?  Why not introduce Him to people who would one day understand how He was the Lamb of God and, on the other hand, understand the sacrifice of a shepherd? 

But the truth is, this was just a teaser to get everyone thinking.  Well, actually, it only started getting some people thinking.  And thinking is the way we get to believing.  But that thinking has to be enlightened by God and then surrendered to God.  These events would go down in history, recorded for others to be amazed by, as even we are reading in awe today.

So, an angel of the Lord came to the shepherds and the “glory of the Lord shone round about 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 that will be for all the people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.  And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!’ 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.  And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child.  And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.  But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.  And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen ,as it had been told them.” (Luke 2:9-20)

In all reality, the birth of Jesus, was not a normal event.  It’s inexplainable and extraordinary that God, through Jesus, would leave heaven, and submit Himself to life as man.  To even submit to being God and man together for a while?  Come on now, why?  Why would any god do that?  Why would any god submit Himself to suffering upon a cross?  Because He’s not just any god.  He is God who created us and loves us and is glorified by our reconciliation with and to Him.  But it’s so easy to miss the glory in Jesus coming to earth in an ordinary birth.  We need help to be amazed.  That’s sad, but true.

God chooses to let the shepherds in on this part of His plan.  Now angels, and the glory of the Lord- that’s wonderful, right?  And all of a sudden, this ordinary birth, that really wasn’t ordinary at all, begins to be highlighted before the shepherds and the people of Bethlehem and even Mary again.  This ordinary baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger all of a sudden starts getting visitors boasting of an angelic message about this baby. 

Oh, I’m sure baby Jesus wasn’t hard to find.  All they had to do was ask the townspeople for moms that just gave birth.  And there they were, with Jesus laying in the manger.  And now, for the first time since His birth, “all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.”  Even Mary!  Yes, even Mary who had already heard and spoken with an angel once!  Even Mary, who was miraculously bearing this child!  Because it’s a lot to ponder when so much “ordinary” is mixed with divine.

I want to make a proposal.  It takes the divine to get us thinking, but if the ordinary part of me can’t surrender to the divine in the ordinary, I’m just as lost as I was before.  What if Mary remained pondering and treasuring for the rest of her life, but never committing to Jesus when it finally all made sense after His resurrection?  What if these shepherds ran around glorifying and praising God for this moment with angels all their lives but never committed to the risen Saviour later?  What if we were always waiting for that sign, but when it came, never committed to Him?

Miracles are great.  They remind us of the divinity and power of God.  But they are just attention getters.  The reality is the stuff of normal life.  I was just thinking, why do You perform miracles, Lord?  It’s because we are all so dull thinking and stubborn.  Since the fall, we’ve lost the ability to relish Your divinity in the ordinary parts of our life.  We want You to be God but not God of our lives.  Well, I want You to be God of all of me.  I want to notice You in the most insignificant places of my life.  I want to see You in the most insignificant and normal people and places and events.  I don’t need a miracle.  You already are.  And You are all I need for every moment, no matter what. 

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.