Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Magnificent Grace


Terry Laughlin offers this -- Many Christian historians tell us that by the time of the birth of Christ, Nazareth had become an unimportant town. It was the home of Joseph and Mary (Luke 2:39) and Nazareth was where the angel announced to the virgin, Mary the birth of the Messiah (Luke 1:26-28). Nazareth is where Jesus grew to manhood (Luke 4:16) and where He began His public ministry in the synagogue (Matthew 13:54). Unfortunately, Nazareth around the time of the birth of Christ had established a rather poor reputation with regard to morals and religion. In fact, it had no reputation for religion. Nazareth, and the people living there, was despised by Romans and Jews and those living in her were considered a conquered people. Evidence of the citizen's spiritual condition in Nazareth is found in their treatment of Christ during His ministry. When He told them things they could not tolerate they drove Him out of town, they even tried to throw Him off the cliff (Luke 4:16-22). Jesus, having connections to Nazareth shows us symbolically that God is just as able and willing to send His message to a people that are not willing to receive the message as well as to a people searching for God. I guess that the message of Christ would work just the same for a lost world of people today, as well.  We live in a world that has no reputation for the things of God…and we have seen further evidence of this even this past week. But, the bottom line is -- no matter where you live and no matter what circumstance you find yourself in, the Lord can reach into your life and make you a valuable part of the building of the kingdom of God. If you find yourself in Nazareth, in a place of poor reputation in morals and religion, then let the Holy Spirit open your heart to the Christ of Christmas, and be strengthened to enjoy the favor of God in your life.

As I shared last week, Mary’s relative, Elizabeth, received news that she would be pregnant with the forerunner of the Christ, John the Baptist (Luke 1:36). Now, the angel Gabriel brings a second birth announcement (Luke 1:26ff)…this time to a young virgin named Mary who lives in Nazareth (v.28). The people of Judah feel contempt for the Jews in Galilee and claim that they are not “kosher” or “genuine” Jews, because of their contact with the Gentiles in the land. The “pure” Jews especially despise people from Nazareth, as indicated in the disciple Nathaniel’s statement, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:45-46) But, God in His grace, chooses a young lady from Nazareth in Galilee to be the mother of the promised Messiah. And who is this Mary? She is a Jew from the tribe of Judah, a descendant of David, a virgin, and one betrothed to a carpenter in Nazareth named Joseph. When it comes to Mary, people tend to go to one of two extremes – they either magnify her so much that Jesus practically takes second place, or they virtually ignore her and fail to give her the esteem she deserves. Elizabeth, filled with the Spirit, calls her, “the mother of my Lord” (1:43)…and this is certainly reason enough to honor her.

When we consider Gabriel’s message, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you” (v.28), we can understand why she is humbled and troubled. The fact that she is troubled reveals her humility and honesty before God; she never expects to see an angel and receive special favors from heaven…since she is not royalty, but an ordinary young woman. We have to admire the answer she gives to Gabriel, “I am the Lord’s servant, may it be to me as you have said” (1:38). And, in reality, the meaning is, “I am the Lord’s slave,” which is a difficult concept for us to grasp today. This is a fitting response to the grace of God, even though the social consequences of being a virgin who is with child appear to be dire. Gabriel proceeds to give her the Good News! She will become the mother of the promised Messiah whom she will name “Jesus,” or “Jehovah is Salvation” (Matthew 1:21). God becomes man…Jesus becomes flesh…He is both deity and human. He will be the Christ (King), receiver of David’s throne and the Savior of the World.

So, Mary knows what will happen, but she does not know how it will happen. Her question to the angel (v.34), “How can this be since I am a virgin?” comes as the result of her faith and stands in contrast to Zacharias’ initial expression of unbelief. She believes the promise, even if she does not understand. Gabriel explains that what will take place will be a miracle, the work of the Holy Spirit. Joseph will not be the father of the child, even though Jesus would legally be identified as the son of Joseph. Unfortunately, some would believe that Mary has been unfaithful to Joseph, and he would even question it himself. Mary would still have to bear the mental and emotional pain. Gabriel carefully points out that the baby will be “holy” and not share man’s sinful nature. As we know, Jesus as God become man has to be sinless in order to be the Savior.

Gabriel’s final encouragement to Mary is that nothing is impossible for God – He is able to accomplish His purposes. And is this not a grand message for us to hold close to our hearts, as well? Her response is to surrender to God as His willing servant. Elizabeth rejoices…the unborn John the Baptist rejoices, and finally Mary herself rejoices. Now, she lifts up her voice in a hymn of praise and sings out to the Lord, just as Zacharias did. The song is called “The Magnificat,” (vv.46-55) a Latin term meaning, “magnify,” as her desire is to magnify the Lord and not herself. It goes like this -- "My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me-- holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers." She stays with Elizabeth until John is born, and then she returns to Nazareth.

We recognize the marvelous faith response of a young woman to the magnificent grace of God shown to her, resulting in the greatest of all miracles – the virgin birth! Without this event, everything else that we believe and practice falls – the virgin birth of Jesus is central. Just as Mary chose to approach the wonderful news delivered by Gabriel with wonder and humility, we have the same opportunity. Let’s make the most of it! I think this is important for us. For many believers…perhaps, some of us…the extraordinary can so easily become ordinary if we do not renew ourselves day by day, in connecting to the message of Jesus Christ. We genuinely need to consider how important this day is and what the birth, life, death and Resurrection means to us. Don’t allow your faith or spirit to wane. Renew your commitment to Him as the New Year approaches. Seek to make a difference for yourself, your family, your church family and your community!

Blessings, Don

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Christmas Prophecies


I love this -- In his book, "Science Speaks", Peter Stoner applies the modern science of probability to just eight prophecies regarding Christ. He says, "the chance that any man might have...fulfilled all eight prophecies is one in 10 to the 17th. That would be 1 in 100,000,000,000,000,000" (one hundred quadrillion). Stoner suggests that "we take 10 to the 17th silver dollars and lay them on the face of Texas. They will cover all of the state two feet deep. Now, mark one of these silver dollars and stir the whole mass thoroughly...blindfold a man and tell him he can travel as far as he wishes, but he must pick up that one marked silver dollar. What chance would he have of getting the right one?" Stoner concludes, "Just the same chance that the prophets would have had of writing those eight prophecies and having them all come true in one man."

Blessings, Don

Friday, December 6, 2013

Don't Call Me Late for Dinner


In John 6, a great crowd of people has been following Jesus for several days, listening to His teaching and observing His miracles. He has tried to get away to rest, but the needs of the crowd have pressed in on Him...it is late in the day and they are hungry. Because of His compassion, Jesus ministers to them. The problem, of course, is how to meet the needs of such a great crowd of people...5000 men, as we know it, and likely women and children as well. The disciples take the easy, faithless way out, saying – Jesus, just send them away, let’s be rid of them. Still, Jesus knows that these people will faint along the way if someone does not feed them, as it is now becoming evening and it is not a time to travel...too dangerous.

Philip’s response to Jesus statement in v.5 "Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?" is a reasonable response to what seems to be an unrealistic expectation -- "go and buy food for them.” Philip must be a math major, for He counts the cost and decides that they would need the equivalent of 200 days wages…and even this would not provide bread enough to satisfy the hunger of all of those present. Too often, we think that if we can just throw enough money at a problem, that it will somehow resolve it, but this is not the case. Yet, Philip passes Jesus’ test...that it is not about money. Andrew has a solution, but he is not quite certain how it is going to work out. He has found a boy with a small lunch...two small fish and five barley loaves. Once again, we see that Andrew is bringing someone to Jesus. (See also...Peter, Greeks -- see John 1:40-42, 12:20-22).

The final solution comes from the Lord, and it is the true solution as amazing as it might be. He takes the boy’s lunch, blesses it, breaks it and hands it out to His disciples and they proceed to distribute it to the whole crowd. It must have been great to see the food just multiply as it continued to go out to the people. We must understand that although the disciples are distributing, the miracle takes place from the Father and through the hands of the Savior. Not only do the people eat until they are filled, but the disciples salvage twelve baskets full of left over fragments -- nothing goes to waste.

There are some key, practical lessons here. Whenever there is a need, we can give all that we have to Jesus…and let Him do the rest. Begin with what you have, but be sure you give it all to Him. This young lad certainly had an experience to go home and tell his folks about...”you will never believe what happened today.” The young man is to be commended for sharing his lunch with Jesus. It is improbable that his mother would have had any clue that she would be a blessing for 5000+ people when she sent him off with his lunch that day. The gift of the little lunch meant a lot to Jesus…and the blessings would reach out to many people. The people respond to this in a forthright way…they rightfully declare that what has happened is a miracle and decide that Jesus should be their new king! The people see Jesus as the answer to their physical needs, but He is like a giant pantry to them...and they are thinking, “Hey we can come and get food from Jesus anytime!” But, we are reminded by Jesus that the glory goes to God, and it is His purpose to get them focused on the spiritual purpose of the event that has just taken place.

There can be no doubt that bread is a basic ration for humans, at least in our culture. When we talk about what people need on their most fundamental level, it is bread and drink...water or juice. So, it is no secret that Jesus will refer to Himself as the Bread of life…that His message is the most basic and important of spiritual rations. It is also reflected in our Lord’s Supper that we share together...when Jesus says, “This is (representative) of my body, broken for you,” what is He speaking about? Bread.

In a time where we have so many things in abundance, it can be a temptation to take the blessings of God for granted. It is easier at this time of year, but I think that the challenge for us is to be thankful for who we are, for what we have and what we are able to do together on a regular basis. In humility, we need to respond to the Father, as Jesus responded to the Father, by just simply giving thanks. Like the young man, we also need to look for opportunities to give and to serve. Little did he know what great effect would be had from one simple act of giving. It is a wonderful ministry to be able to feed people...and we are thankful and blessed to be able to do this with our Meals-on-Wheels ministry called The Dinner Dash.

More importantly, we must trust Jesus for our spiritual sustenance. As we feed our bodies, physically, in order to sustain us, it is just as critical for us to eat spiritually in order to sustain our souls. Some Christians try to live on starvation rations, spiritually, and wonder why they do not have the spiritual energy to live an abundant spiritual existence, combat sin and stay out of the world system. This is not what the Lord intended for us. Rather, He has every desire for us to live life abundantly in and for Him (John 10:10).

Blessings, Don