Thursday, October 30, 2014

Jesus Presented in the Temple

Jesus Presented in the Temple
22 When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), 24 and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.” 25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
30 For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31 which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.”

This is the second instance in which Jesus is presented according to the Law he came to fulfill. At eight days he was circumcised as was required in the covenant law with Abraham. They today at 40 days he is presented for purification as was in the law of Moses, as part of the Mosaic Law. Though Jesus was the pure and sinless Son of God, he submitted to the requirements of the Law as he was born of man. Later he will be baptized to fulfill all righteousness.

We see as well the faithfulness of Mary and Joseph to being the offering for the sacrifice. She had brought two doves, one for the burnt offering and one for the sin offering. Had they been of means they would have offered a lamb for the burnt offering, but instead they offer two doves. Perhaps this was a foreshadowing that Jesus would be the innocent lamb of God who is offered for the sins of the world. In either case again this is done in all righteousness and submission to The Lord. This reminds us that as Jesus submitted to the Law, so we must submit ourselves as well having been redeemed by His grace.

Finally, we see Simeon, who some say was the son of the great rabbi Hillel. Some say he went against the idea of a temporal Messiah in favor or a spiritual one who would provide more than just national freedom for Israel. He was waiting for the true consolation of Israel, which was the forgiveness of their sin. And when he saw Jesus he held him up in his arms. So joyous was he to see the Messiah he picked him up and praised God. What a blessing it must have been as he was led by the Holy Spirit to hold the Savior in his arms.

Simeon was so blessed he said, "Sovereign Lord as you have promised you may now dismiss your servant in peace." There is no mention that God took Simeon to be with him, but his eyes had beheld the living Lord and that was enough for him. And he knew this was the fulfillment of Israel's destiny and Jesus would be a light to the Gentiles. As they say, "he got it".

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Company of Angels

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” 16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. 21 On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.

Whereas an angel had revealed to Mary the special nature of the baby she would bring into the world, the passage today says a great company of heavenly host came down to celebrate his arrival. Of course, we know that all of heaven had waited for this moment for quite some time. And their refrain was "glory to God in the highest and peace to those on whom his favor rests." We see that Jesus' birth brought glory to God. We see that through Jesus, God would bring true peace to all those who received God's greatest gift to the world.

And then again today we see the shepherds not only receive this revelation from God, but they respond to it by going to Bethlehem and finding Mary and Joseph with the Baby Jesus just as the angel had said. They respond to it by glorifying and praising God for all they had seen and heard. Finally, they respond by telling to all who would listen about what had happened to them.

So here we see a pattern. Revelation and response. God reveals Himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit and we respond in prayer and praise and passing on the Good News to others who would listen. All heaven rejoices today as well, when one person responds to God's love in Jesus Christ. It is not our job to reveal Jesus to anyone, it is only our job to pass on what we have experienced through God revealing himself to us through the power of the Holy Spirit. Notice too that it says,"and on peace to all on whom his favor rests".

Are you sensing the peace of God through Christ? Do you realize like Mary that you are highly favored? Do you hurry off like the shepherds to see Baby Jesus lying in a manger? God is not far from anyone of us. He has made himself known, and delights in sharing with us the love and fellowship that exists in His triune name. God wants for you and I to not just know about His love, but to experience it and then share it with all who would listen.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Birth of Jesus

2 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And everyone went to their own town to register. 4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. 8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

The Romans issued a census to be able to count the number of people in the empire. It was both to know where the people were growing, also to know how much taxes to levy. Since King Herod had been disposed of, Quirinius issued the census as the Syrian governor. So while the worldly powers were trying to control how things were taken care of, god was being born in the form of a man. He would be counted as one more person in the Roman census, but we know that what he would do would effect literally billions of people who came after him.

Luke again ties into that Jesus' parents came in from Nazareth where Jesus grew up to the town of Bethlehem, which means daughter of bread. The promise to David was that there would be a king from his family line forever. And now the King of kings was going to be born in a manger, as there was no room for this future king at the local inn.

And when this baby was born the lowly shepherds were just doing what they do, watching their flocks at night when an angel appeared to them. And his message was that this King would bring good news of great joy for all people. They would find him wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.

A simple but amazing story. Who could have invented this story as a way for the Son of God the King of kings to come to us. My favorite part was that it was good news of great joy for all people. As we draw near to the season of thanksgiving and Christmas there will be lots of things coming in the guise of Good News of great joy for all people. But when God entered our world in such a humble way with this teenage girl, his fiancé and shepherds it demonstrated that it was Good News of great joy for all people.

What about you? Does this story of Good News of great joy, still bring great joy to you? Sometimes Christians as they get older lose the sense of wonder in what they believe. We reduce Christianity to a bunch of propositions to get out of hell and rules to keep if we want to stay out. Just for tonight let's make sure we remember what the story really is all about. Let's go with the shepherds and find out if it is really true!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Zechariah's Song

67 His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied:
68 “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
because he has come to his people and redeemed them.
69 He has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David
70 (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago),
71 salvation from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us—
72 to show mercy to our ancestors
and to remember his holy covenant,
73 the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
74 to rescue us from the hand of our enemies,
and to enable us to serve him without fear
75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
76 And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
77 to give his people the knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
78 because of the tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
79 to shine on those living in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.”
80 And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the wilderness until he appeared publicly to Israel.

In the last couple of posts we have heard Mary's song, as she gave praise to God for the son she bore. Today we see the father Zechariah giving praise. Zechariah starts by connecting the Old Testament covenants of Abraham and David to the coming king of kings, Jesus. Since Luke's gospel was written to both Jews and Gentiles, it will be important for Zechariah, who himself was of the priestly line appointed by King David, to show Jesus' Jewish roots and the fulfillment of those covenants.

We must remember that the Jewish people had not seen many prophecies in a long while, so this language of the fulfillment of the prophecies gave them a new glimmer of hope. While the people were waiting for a political deliverance, Zechariah shows that this horn of salvation will accomplish a lot more specifically:

1. Salvation from our enemies , which we will soon see are sin, death and the power of the devil. While Israel awaited physical redemption, John the Baptist was going to prepare them for a spiritual redemption.

2. To show mercy to our ancestors. This new covenant that God would make through Jesus, was completely done out of God's mercy. There was absolutely nothing the people had done to deserve it. The people had rejected The Lord by serving and worshipping created things rather than the God who had delivered them from bondage to slavery. But God had made a covenant with Abraham that he would be a blessing to many nations. And God promised that there would never fail to be a King through the line of David.

3. Finally, in rescuing us, he will enable us to serve without fear. When we serve God out of fear of retribution, it is an obligation. When we discover what God has done for us in Jesus, we begin to serve with a free heart unbound from guilt. Perfect love casts out all fear.

All of this God gave to Zechariah to prepare him for his son. And remember Zechariah had not originally believed he could have a son, and could not speak until John was born. Zechariah too experiences the same grace we experience as God used him in spite of his lack of faith.

So the question today is how can we serve God without fear, remembering God has shown us mercy too? As we trust in the new covenant God has made with us through Christ, we can be a part of the salvation God is bringing to people today. God is faithful even when we aren't. Spend some time thanking God for his mercy, and then remember as God used Zechariah in spite of his faults, he can use us too. Amen.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

No Ordinary Prophet!

57 When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son. 58 Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy. 59 On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, 60 but his mother spoke up and said, “No! He is to be called John.” 61 They said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who has that name.” 62 Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child. 63 He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, “His name is John.” 64 Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue set free, and he began to speak, praising God. 65 All the neighbors were filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. 66 Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, “What then is this child going to be?” For the Lord’s hand was with him.

Elizabeth and Zechariah receive what the angel had prophesied to them. Even in her old age, Elizabeth was to have a son. This was very important in those days, because a son carries on the family name. And then they did something counter cultural. They named him something other than the family name of Zechariah. This was in obedience to the command the angel gave them. It also was another sign that John would be different. He would grow up in the Nazerite tradition, where no wine would touch his lips. He would be filled with the Holy Spirit, and his mission would be to prepare the way of The Lord. This was the role of the prophet, yet the sense was he was no ordinary prophet.

Prophets turn the hearts of the people back to God. They were given to Israel when they have strayed from God's commands and began to worship idols. Sometimes they listened to the prophets and got back on track, and returned to a right relationship with The Lord. Sometimes they didn't listen and even physically abused them. Jeremiah, for instance, was beaten and put in stocks in prison. But God's Word cannot be chained. God's Word would be fulfilled whether they listened to the prophet or not.

The question is who are the prophets today! How are they calling us back to God's purposes? What types of things would they say to us? Where have we strayed from God's Word? May I suggest a couple of areas, which are only my opinion. I don't necessarily have a word from The Lord these.

1. We have lost touch with God's Word. I meet Christians all the time that don't have a basic grasp on the Old and New Testaments. The problem with this is that we begin to conform to the value system of the world versus the values we have in the bible. As we meditate, reflect and respond to God's Word the promise is the Holy Spirit will lead and guide us to the faithfulness required by God's Word.

2. The essence of God's Word is His calling us back to Him through Jesus' life, death and resurrection. This is the central purpose of all Scripture to make us wise unto salvation. If we make number one about rule keeping, we will have completely missed the point of it. The only way we can be changed begins with the gospel and an understanding of the radical nature of God's grace and unconditional love for us. Much of our preaching today is based on Law versus Gospel, so that people think being made right with God is by trying to be a better rule keeper.

3. So when we see immorality, greed, dissension, divorce among Christians that is little or no different than the world, "Houston we have a problem!"

Please hear this is not meant to be condemning. I struggle with this probably as much as you. But if there were prophets today I have a good feeling they might say something resembling the above. So what can we do about it? Well the message here hasn't changed in 2,000 years either. Repent and turn to Jesus for forgiveness. This is the way God's power has always been unleashed in the people of God. Amen.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Mary's Song

46 And Mary said:
“My soul glorifies the Lord
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
50 His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
55 to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.”
56 Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home.

As Mary is inspired to utter what is called the "Magnificat", we see some significant things about the nature of God. This song of Mary is sung within many liturgical churches, especially with the Roman Catholic and other traditional churches like the Lutheran and Episcopal. It is often used at nightly vespers services. This was one of the earliest Christian hymns in the church. One commentary said this about the Magnificat:

Mary's Magnificat, celebrated only in Luke's Gospel, is one of four hymns, distilled from a collection of early Jewish-Christian canticles, which complement the promise/fulfillment theme of Luke's infancy narrative. These songs are Mary's Magnificat; Zechariah's Benedictus (1:67-79); the angels' Gloria in Excelsis (2:13-14); and Simeon's Nunc Dimittis (2:28-32). In form and content, these four psalms are patterned on the "hymns of praise" in Israel's Psalter. In structure, these songs reflect the compositions of pre-Christian contemporary Jewish hymnology. (Magnificat, Catholic Encyclopedia)

Praise and worship has always been a part of the response to God's revelation to us. Worship always follows what God has done for us in Christ. Notice all the "he has done" in the passage. He has brought down, he has fulfilled, he has helped are a few of the examples. True worship flows upward in response to the downward descent of God the Father in God the Son in the power of the Holy Spirit. We read that there are angels in heaven who surround the throne of God with the Lamb in the center, and worship all day long singing, "holy, holy, holy"!

When we worship we are doing something we were created to do. We are going to worship something, the only question is what. That is why on Sunday we call it the "worship" service. We hear God's Word, receive the Sacrament and then respond in prayer and praise. We don't go to church, we go to worship. And we don't just worship on Sunday, but every day of our lives. When Mary received this incredible revelation of how God was going to use her, she could only respond in joyful and thankful worship.

How is your worship life? Have you spent time worshipping God in lieu of what He has done for you? You don't have to wait until Sunday. You can do it right now wherever you are. If you don't know where to start, just begin to list all the things you are thankful for. May our souls glorify The Lord and our Spirit rejoice in all He has done.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Mary Visits Elizabeth

39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”

Reflection: Yesterday we talked about stepping out in faith, as we hear God's voice and say as Mary said, "May it be to me as you have said, may your word be fulfilled in me!" And we see today that she got ready and hurried to her relative Elizabeth and greeted her. It is not certain whether she is an aunt or cousin, but for sure she is a relative of hers, most likely a cousin. We don't know if Mary has a mom, so there a couple of reasons why she might have went to see her relative.

1. She wanted to see if the prophecy the angel regarding her relative Elizabeth was true. The angel said she was six months pregnant, which squares up with the fact that the baby leapt in Elizabeth's womb when he heard Mary's greeting. Later in life, when the baby had grown up, he would proclaim, "repent for the kingdom of God has drawn near." From the beginning John the Baptist knew Jesus was special, and this also confirmed for Mary what she had heard from the angel.

2. Some suspect that since Mary's mother was not mentioned that she was afraid and alone, with really nowhere to turn. In those days to be pregnant before marriage would have stigmatized her as an immoral women with many negative ramifications. So some think part of it was an escape from all that pressure she would feel, and also the sense of being alone with all that has transpired. Also, we must remember this was no easy journey. 80 miles saddled up to a donkey was no easy road trip. This gives us even more appreciation for the faith of this young teenage girl.

Maybe the reason involves a little bit of both of these. Whatever the case, Mary's faith is rewarded and confirmed when she arrives at her relative's house, and Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit as she sees Mary. As we mentioned the Holy Spirit is a big theme in Luke, and we certainly see this in the first two chapters of Luke. Elizabeth is overjoyed and this puts together yet another piece in her journey, as she waited until an old age to give birth to a son.

What can we learn from this? First, as we listen to God's voice and act on it, this will often lead to an adventure of the faith-filled life. Without faith it is impossible to please God, and stepping out in faith can lead to abundant blessings in our lives. Notice Mary did not have all the answers but began the 80 mile journey to see if what the angel had told her was true.

Sometimes stepping out in faith is not quite as big as a decision as Mary had to make as a pregnant, young teenage girl. Sometimes it is a little prompting to do something God has called you to do. Maybe to reach out to someone, or a call to deeper level of service of Him. I have found that the more faithful we are in these small steps of faith, the more we are given. And, of course, we need to keep the Holy Scripture as our guide. God would never call us to do something which is not in alignment with His Word. Though he may call us to do something that is not exactly in alignment with what we has planned to do with our lives on our terms.

So a question for you today might be what might God say to you if he knew you were listening? As you continue to ground yourself in His Word and listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, you will be challenged to step out in faith just like Mary did. And may we also like Mary said yesterday be able to say, "May it be to me as you have said!"