November 29, 2019- The Good Shepherd, God With Us- Ezekiel 34:11-24

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“For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out.  As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country.  I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel.  I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God.  I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.

“As for you, my flock, thus says the Lord God: Behold, I judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and male goats.  Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, that you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture; and to drink of clear water, that you must muddy the rest of the water with your feet?  And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have muddied with your feet?

“Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: Behold, I, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you push with side and shoulder, and thrust at all the weak with your horns, till you have scattered them abroad,  I will rescue my flock; they shall no longer be a prey. And I will judge between sheep and sheep.  And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd.  And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. I am the Lord; I have spoken. Ezekiel 34:11-24 (ESV)

Ezekiel was a priest who was taken to Babylon in 597 BC as part of the Babylonian exile.  When he was in Babylon, he received a series of prophetic visions from God.  The first vision was of Ezekiel coming down in a chariot of fire to deliver God’s judgment to Israel and God commissioning Ezekiel to be His prophet.  The second was convicting the people of all the ways that Israel as a nation had violated God’s Law via idolatry and immoral living.  The third vision was that exile wasn’t the end of God’s people Israel.  At the end of Ezekiel’s prophecies we get the glorious image of dead, dry bones being spoken into life again.  (Ezekiel 37:1-14)

Here through the pen of Ezekiel, God speaks of a new nation that will come to be- the remnant of the faithful, God’s sheep, the new Israel.

More importantly Ezekiel points us to the Good Shepherd- God Himself, Who we know as Jesus, God in human flesh, the Son of David, will gather His sheep.

I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.

God is the One doing the acting.  He is the Shepherd.  He makes us His sheep.  He seeks out His sheep.  He brings back those who have wandered away.  He brings strength to the weak, and He will bring down the strong who have taken advantage of the weak.

Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, that you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture; and to drink of clear water, that you must muddy the rest of the water with your feet? And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have muddied with your feet?

Do we gladly learn and share God’s word, and the material gifts He so lavishly gives us? Or do we keep all of that to ourselves and fail to acknowledge the needs of those around us?  None of us do that perfectly. We sin daily and sin much.

Lord, please help us to share your good news and good pasture with others, that we would be generous and truthful and gracious in our dealings with our neighbors.

All of us are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.  Do we trust in Christ that He will transform our hearts and minds to His will?

As the church year comes to an end and we enter into the season of Advent, we can take comfort and confidence that the Son of David, the Good Shepherd, God With Us, Emmanuel, is gathering His sheep.

 

March 25, 2019- Nothing is Impossible With God- Luke 1:26-38, Isaiah 7:10-14

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In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!”  But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren.  For nothing will be impossible with God.”  And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. Luke 1:26-38 (ESV)

Nothing will be impossible with God. Mary had no way of knowing that she would be the virgin Isaiah foretold hundreds of years before the angel came to her with his “impossible” message.  Even as Isaiah prophesied bad times for the bad king Ahaz and the kingdom of Judah, God had a sign for Ahaz, whether Ahaz wanted it or not:

 Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz: “Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.”  But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.” And he said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. Isaiah 7:10-14 (ESV)

Ahaz didn’t live to see the sign. By the time Jesus was born there had not been a descendent of David ruling the Israelite people for hundreds of years.  Yet God’s promise was good.  His sign is real, whether we expected it, asked for it, or even knew we needed it.

How many people in the world today know they need Jesus? Ahaz didn’t think he had any need of a Savior. Ahaz didn’t want to ask God for a sign even when God told him to ask.  Ahaz thought that he was a power unto himself rather than subject to the rule and authority of God.

Mary believed the promise. She trusted God even though she didn’t understand. She trusted God even though what she was hearing from the angel wasn’t technically possible. Like Abraham, whose faith was counted to him as righteousness, Mary believed.

It is difficult to imagine what would have been going through Mary’s mind- to be visited by an angel of God and to be told that against all possibility that she would be the earthly mother of the Son of God.

There is a saying that Jesus came to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” Those of us who find their comfort and satisfaction in this life and in the acquisition of material things often don’t see their need for Jesus. We see our need for Him when we are hurting. We see our need for Him when we are helpless.  We hope in Him when all else seems hopeless.

Emmanuel-  God with us, comes to us clothed in humanity, given to save us from the penalty of our sins.  This is a wondrous sign and great news.

December 21, 2018- The Lion of Judah, a Refiner’s Fire, and God With Us- Malachi 3:1-5, John 1:1-18

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“Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.

 “Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts. Malachi 3:1-5 (ESV)

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In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.  He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him.  He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.  But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.  (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”)  For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. John 1:1-18 (ESV)

In C.S. Lewis’ wonderful story, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Susan and Lucy ask the Beavers if Aslan, the lion, the king, is “safe.”  Mr. Beaver replies to them:

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” – C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

One of the names of Jesus in the Bible is: The Lion of Judah. There is no such thing as a safe lion, just as there is no such thing as a safe God. Jesus is God, and God is omnipotent, meaning He holds all power in the universe.

The prophet Malachi tells us of a terrible day of reckoning, when the Messiah will come to earth as a refiner’s fire and a fuller’s soap. We learn from Scripture that the world as we know it is going to be completely destroyed and completely remade (2 Peter 3:1-13.) This grand scale of destruction and rebuilding that Jesus will preside over on the End of Days may seem incongruent with our vision of Jesus as a fragile baby born to a peasant girl and laid in a feed trough- but Jesus is not a “safe” lion. Evil will, and must be, rooted out and destroyed. He is, however, merciful, gracious and good.

The above passage of judgment from the prophet Malachi is disturbing. Because all humans are naturally dead in trespasses and sins, in and of ourselves, we cannot escape the fire. We are all guilty of everything that Malachi names off- sorcery, adultery, bearing false witness, oppressing others and not fearing God. We deserve to be consumed by the fire. We deserve the full punishment and wrath of God. If the message from God stopped with Malachi’s warning, there would be no hope for any of us.

The good news is that God’s message does not stop with Malachi’s warning. That day of judgment is indeed coming, but the price has already been paid for those who belong to Christ. He has sacrificed Himself and poured out His blood on the Cross so that we do not have to endure the eternal flame. He transforms us and walks with us so that we can make our way through this world of “not yet.” In Him we have the confidence that no matter what trials we encounter along the way that we are citizens of His kingdom that has no end.

Jesus, God Himself, came into the world not displaying His terrible and limitless power, but as the Light, as a helpless child, a teacher, a healer. Jesus came to us as one of us, not just to be a teacher and a healer but ultimately to take the punishment we deserve, and to sacrifice Himself so that our sins would be wiped away in His blood.

A “safe” lion would not have the power to defeat the darkness.

We are celebrating the Light coming into the world- not a “safe” Lion, but Almighty God, powerful and good. A Light no darkness can overcome. In Jesus, we see God in the flesh, God with us.

December 16, 2018 -John the Baptist, Repentance and O, Come Emmanuel!

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In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”  This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:

“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
    make straight paths for him.’” (Isaiah 40:3)

John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey.  People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan.  Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.

 

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.  And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

“I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.  His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” Matthew 3:1-12 (NIV)

Repent. It’s not a word we like to hear.  It means we need to change our outlook, our opinions, our view of others.  It’s a word that says we not only need to identify our sins, but to confess to God and others that we fall short.  We’re not doing things correctly- too much we have done should have been left undone, and so much left undone that we should have done.  The apostle Paul shows us in Romans 7 that as long as we live in the “not yet” world, we will struggle with the dilemma of being both God’s saints and sinners who sin.  We can’t just straighten up and “fly right,” but we trust that Jesus has done for us what we are not capable of doing for ourselves.

Repentance is more than “I’m sorry I got caught,” or even a mia culpa. It is a deep desire to turn from our sins, a gift of the Holy Spirit that promises that in our baptism our sins are drowned and washed away from us every day.

John the Baptist points out that Abraham’s children are the children of the promise- the children who God has raised up in Christ.  John the Baptist points us to Christ, the one who was far greater than him.

In this season of Advent, we not only celebrate Jesus coming to us as God-with-us, we also look to His return to this earth.  The end of days as we know them and the re-creation of heaven and earth can and will occur at any time, but there is no cause for those who belong to Christ to fear.  Since we who trust Jesus know that we are baptized, named and claimed for Him and that He has won the victory over death, Satan, evil and hell, we look forward to that day.  The day of the Lord is near.  Repent and turn to Him.  He provides us with all we need, now and in the world to come.  O, come, o come, Emmanuel.

December 11, 2018- The Majestic Name of the Lord- Psalm 8

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Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory
    in the heavens.

Through the praise of children and infants
    you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
    to silence the foe and the avenger.
When I consider your heavens,
    the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
    which you have set in place,
 what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
    human beings that you care for them?

You have made them a little lower than the angels
    and crowned them with glory and honor.
You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
    you put everything under their feet:
all flocks and herds,
    and the animals of the wild,
the birds in the sky,
    and the fish in the sea,
    all that swim the paths of the seas.

 Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth! – Psalm 8 (ESV)

Sometimes praising God is the furthest thing from our minds.  When we are in pain or stuck in sadness usually our first response is not to look up to God and know that He is there. Yet even when our lives seem dark, the Light of the world is never far from us.

It is good to praise our majestic God, God Who is above all the sadness and suffering of this world.

It is good to remember in this season that can be dark and depressing for some, that the Light of the world is with us.

The same God whose majesty is reflected in the heavens is the same God who chose to live among us, the same God who came to us as a humble child born to a peasant girl and laid in a manger.

The same God who is beyond time chose to endure a brutal death on a Roman cross to take the punishment for our sins and save us from eternal death.

The majesty of God is both beyond us, and intimately, always with us.

Take comfort this season.  The God of creation is always near.

 

 

December 22, 2017 – The Radiance of God’s Glory- Isaiah 7:14, Hebrews 1:1-3, Matthew 2:1-2

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Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. Isaiah 7:14 (NIV)

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways,  but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.  The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. Hebrews 1:1-3 (NIV)

The prophet Isaiah tells us much about Jesus over 700 years before Jesus lived as a man here on earth. Most importantly Isaiah tells us about Jesus as God-with-us, that He will be one of us (see also Isaiah 53:1-5.)  Don’t look for Jesus high atop an earthly throne or sitting in a board room looking down from an ivory tower. Look for Him among the regular people, getting involved, getting dirty- in the working class, in the poor.  Look for Jesus in the human story.

The writer of Hebrews acknowledges that the words of Isaiah and the other prophets are fulfilled in Jesus, the radiance of God’s glory.

Because of Jesus, the radiance of God’s glory is with us and reflected upon us. We wait for the Savior to arrive, knowing that He is already with us, and His glory is being reflected from us.  When people look at us, do they see Jesus’ image in us?

Can we look to the arrival of God-with-us with anticipation and joy? Do we seek Him, and seek to be like Him?

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” Matthew 2:1-2 (NIV)

 The saying, “wise men still seek Him” is true.

Are we still looking for His star, and are we still coming to worship Him?

December 6, 2017 Emmanuel, God With Us- Matthew 1:22-23, John 11, Isaiah 53:1-5

real Jesus

 

All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,”which means, “God is with us.” Matthew 1:22-23 (NRSV)

Today doing business from a distance is quite a normal concept. Most of us use the Internet to order items from all over the world, setting events in motion in different states or even on different continents that are not under our direct control.

Sometimes it’s easy to envision God as doing the same thing we do when we order things or pay our bills online, pulling strings from a distance, never having to get dirty or even (metaphorically speaking) having to get up off the couch.

God chose to “get dirty.” He did not have to enter the world of humanity with its suffering, pathos and drama (not to mention dirt and pain and bad smells) but He chose to enter our world, to become part of it, to embrace humanity by becoming fully human.

Jesus could have skipped the 33 years of having to smell the odors of dirty people and livestock, of having to put up with heat, cold, pain, filth and screaming brats and having to hand-hold and spoon-feed clueless disciples. He embraced the hard realities of being human- even that stuff we really don’t like such as physical illness, discomfort and grief.  He made friends.  He lived with and loved flesh and blood humans in a flesh and blood body just like ours.  When His friend Lazarus died, He wept. (John 11)

As Jesus followers we don’t always talk about the humanity of Jesus, or we get stuck on concepts such as the virgin birth, as if God Who created the universe and everything in it couldn’t manage an immaculate conception. If God had wanted to, He could have just dropped Jesus on the earth as a full grown man and sat Him on a throne with a flaming light saber, but in coming to us as an infant, born of a human woman, He became human, approachable, one of us.

More than that, God took the route of the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53:1-5) to save humanity from its own sin and death.  He could have simply remained detached, viewing the world and its flawed humans from afar, but His love was too great to leave His creatures- His friends, His beloved, to their own devices.

God With Us- Emmanuel, Jesus, is with us.