January 30, 2019 The Words of the Prophets- Behold the Lamb of God-Zechariah 9:9-13, Matthew 21:1-11

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Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall speak peace to the nations; his rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.
As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit. Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double.
For I have bent Judah as my bow; I have made Ephraim its arrow. I will stir up your sons, O Zion, against your sons, O Greece, and wield you like a warrior’s sword. Zechariah 9:9-13 (ESV)

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Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying,

 “Say to the daughter of Zion,
‘Behold, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’”

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.  And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.” Matthew 21:1-11 (ESV)

When the church confesses the words of the Nicene Creed, we affirm that God the Holy Spirit has spoken through the prophets.  As a child I thought that a prophet must be some kind of microphone because it was the only theory that would fit into a five year old’s understanding. Logically, one who wants to be heard speaks through a microphone to amplify his or her voice, so God must have had some pretty powerful microphones to speak His Word down through the ages!

While the prophets were not microphones, their purpose was very similar- to amplify and spread around the Word of God. The prophets did not make up and broadcast their own words.  Like microphones, they simply amplified what God spoke through them.

Being a prophet was not generally a way to gain popularity or to enjoy long life. Jeremiah was left to die in a cistern.  John the Baptist was beheaded. False prophets were subject to the penalty of death, but even true prophets were sometimes doomed to die horrific deaths.  So if you claimed to speak for God, right or wrong, you weren’t going to have an easy life.

The prophets serve a very important purpose in the Bible and they still speak to us. They give us warnings that we could see fulfilled time and time again in the history of God’s people.  The prophets proclaim God’s Law and what happens when we think we know better than God. Time after time it has been proven that we simply can’t follow the Law.

The prophets tell us what we earn and deserve- namely God’s displeasure and wrath, but that is not the end of their messages. The prophets’ main job is to point us to Jesus. “Here is your King,” Zechariah proclaims, “humble and riding in on the colt of a donkey.” Zechariah did not see a Caesar or a Herod, wearing a golden crown, carried on a litter, surrounded by battalions of soldiers, but a man riding on a young donkey- the God-Man, one of us, approachable, vulnerable and human.  He is the God-Man whose only crown would be of thorns, the God-Man who would become the curse who would go from His triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Sunday to a brutal death by crucifixion on Friday.

Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!

Even though the prophets point us to Jesus, do we see Him? Do we truly understand that He comes to us to fulfill the words of the prophets that God spoke through so long ago?  Better yet, the testimony of the prophets underscores the history and the veracity of Jesus’ claims as to who He is.  We cannot simply acknowledge Jesus as a good moral teacher, but we must recognize Him as the fulfillment of the prophets, the very Son of God, God-with-us.

 

January 28, 2019 The Words of the Prophets, Life in Christ Alone- Zechariah 7:8-14, Romans 3:21-25

 

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And the word of the Lord came to Zechariah, saying, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another,  do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.”  But they refused to pay attention and turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears that they might not hear. They made their hearts diamond-hard lest they should hear the law and the words that the Lord of hosts had sent by his Spirit through the former prophets. Therefore great anger came from the Lord of hosts. “As I called, and they would not hear, so they called, and I would not hear,” says the Lord of hosts, “and I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations that they had not known. Thus the land they left was desolate, so that no one went to and fro, and the pleasant land was made desolate.” Zechariah 7:8-14 (ESV)

When God sent prophets to His people it was generally not to tell them what a great job they were doing. Prophets usually appeared with bad news and warnings of impending judgment and wrath.

Zechariah was no exception to the “harbinger of bad news” rule. The hope is always that by hearing the Word of God that people will do a 180 (i.e. repent, which means to turn from) and turn toward God and His way. Unfortunately, people didn’t always listen to the prophets or follow their instructions.

In and of ourselves we are not able to follow the Law. Our hearts are made of stone. We don’t naturally care for our neighbor.  Any psychologist will attest that human beings naturally have a self serving motive behind everything we do.  Left to our own devices we naturally make ourselves our own gods. Whether we refer to the doctrine of original sin or the total depravity of man, our fallen nature is proven true as Paul teaches in Romans 3:23 that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  As Martin Luther taught:

“I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in which Christian Church He forgives daily and richly all sins to me and all believers, and at the last day will raise up me and all the dead, and will give to me and to all believers in Christ everlasting life. This is most certainly true.” – From Martin Luther’s Small Catechism, on Sanctification, the Third Article of the Creed

Our prayer is that God would give us open hearts that hear His Word when it is preached, and that He would give us the gift of repentance, that we would not end up hard-hearted and unforgiving.

Thankfully, in Christ we have been given forgiveness and goodness that we have neither earned nor deserve. When God looks at us- by virtue of the faith we have been given, by His means of grace, He sees Jesus.

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. Romans 3:21-25 (ESV)

December 1, 2017- Faith Fulfilled, John the Baptist and Joy in the Morning- Luke 1:1-25, Psalm 30:5

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In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.  Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.

Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. Now at the time of the incense offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside.  Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him.  But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit.  He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Zechariah said to the angel, “How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.”  

 The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news.  But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.”

 Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah, and wondered at his delay in the sanctuary. When he did come out, he could not speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He kept motioning to them and remained unable to speak. When his time of service was ended, he went to his home.

After those days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she remained in seclusion. She said, “This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.” Luke 1:1-25 (NRSV)

Infertility is not just a modern issue. In Biblical times children (specifically sons) were viewed as gifts from God.  If a woman was not blessed with children those around her wondered what was wrong with her.  She was viewed as “defective,” and her husband was considered to be “cursed.” Zechariah and Elizabeth both wondered what they had done that was so wrong that God withheld children from them.  They had come to that place in life where they had probably accepted that they would never be parents.

Yet they still prayed, even when what they were seeing didn’t coincide with what they believed and hoped for.

Faith is not the absence of doubt, nor is it denying reality. Faith is trust in God that He has made a way, even if that way doesn’t fall in line with our expectations. God has the infinite ability to exceed our expectations and to answer our prayers in ways that we can’t envision.

For Zechariah (who had his doubt issues!) and Elizabeth the waiting and disappointment ended when God gave them the joy of a son in their advanced age, a son who God had very special plans for, who He chose to reserve for a couple who would cherish him and raise him in a home that honors God.

It seems a bit confusing that John the Baptist was a very austere man- set aside from the time of his conception to follow the Nazirite vow, (Numbers 6:1-21) a man who lived frugally, by himself, yet Jesus, his cousin who followed, enjoyed eating and drinking and celebrating.

John was a man who paved the way- a man who pled with us to get rid of all the things that aren’t necessary, to open our hearts and minds to receive God With Us. It is said he was the last of the Old Testament prophets and the first of the New Testament disciples.  He walked that long, lonely path of waiting and anticipating the “not yet.”

Many of us who walk similar paths of waiting and praying- those of us who are anticipating a breakthrough in our lives, whether it be an improvement in health, healing of relationships, financial worries, often have a hard time holding on to faith. We endure loss, suffering and pain of myriad kinds in this lifetime.  Whether we are aware of it or not, God does hear our prayers.  He does walk with us.  He does weep and mourn with us.  And He holds the promise of joy in the morning.

Our lives carry stories of tragedy redeemed. We live stories like the story of Ruth, who had lost everything and whose life looked hopeless, until she discovered Boaz, who married her and redeemed her. (Ruth 4)

Zechariah and Elizabeth had their joy in the morning. Infertility wasn’t the end of their story. Many of us are still in our lost and mourning and suffering part of the journey, wandering in the wilderness.  In this world we are waiting, anticipating, and almost consigning ourselves to the fact that the status quo will prevail.  God says differently. In the season of Advent we learn there is a Savior coming to us.  We can endure the waiting, the doubt, the suffering, because God With Us has promised healing, redemption and hope.  There will be joy in the morning.

For his anger is but for a moment; his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning. Psalm 30:5 (NRSV)

 

 

December 19, 2016- Do You Believe What God Said? Luke 1:11-24

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Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John.   He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born.  He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news.  And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.”

Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak. Luke 1:11-22 (NRSV)

Zechariah is one of the more interesting characters in the story of the Nativity.  He was a high priest in the temple, a man well educated in the Torah and in the Jewish faith.  He knew the story of Moses.  He knew the I AM God. He knew that all things are possible with God.

Yet when Gabriel (the same angel who later appeared to Mary to announce the impending birth of Jesus) came to him with the good news that he was to be the father of John the Baptist, Zechariah doubted that what Gabriel had come to say to him would happen.

Sometimes what we know in our heads is true doesn’t quite make it all the way to our hearts.  We all have those moments of, “I believe what God says is true, but…” The reality of the human condition is that doubt is part of faith.  God wants us to question our faith and to bring our questions to Him.  That’s the reason why God gave us intellect- so that we could seek, knock and ask, and grow closer to Him in our searching.

But Zechariah was a guy who because of both his education and his vocation, should have known that when God’s angel makes a special trip to tell you something that God is going to follow through with that announcement. It is interesting that God decided to literally shut Zechariah up until He made good upon granting him that gift of a son.  It was if God was saying in that action, “I have the final word.”

I have a plaque in my dining room that says, “Lord, keep Your arms around my shoulder,  and Your hand over my mouth.”  Part of the reason I like that short little prayer is because I tend to want to cut off the possibilities before I remember that God is the one in control, not me. In a crisis, I can only see what my narrow focus allows me to see, instead of the complete picture that God sees and of which God is the Author. Sometimes I want to say, “But, God…” or, “How can that happen?”  or, “Why,” without considering that it is the I AM God who is deciding things.

There are many promises God gives to His people throughout Scripture.  Some of those promises have been fulfilled, and some of them are not yet.

But God has the final word.  He hears our prayers, He answers them, and when He speaks, it will happen as He says.  No matter what I might have to say in disbelief or protest.