Out of Egypt (an advent devotion)

So Joseph got up, took the child and his mother during the night, and escaped to Egypt. He stayed there until Herod’s death, so that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled: Out of Egypt I called my Son. ~ Matthew 2:14-15 (CSB), quoting Hosea 11:1

The book of Exodus details how God rescued his people, Israel, from their slavery and started them on the journey to the Promised Land. God had told Abraham that he would give a strip of land in the Middle East to his descendants, but first they would spend 400 years in a foreign country because God wasn’t yet ready to bring judgment against sin on the other peoples of the land (Genesis 15).

Israel’s time in Egypt started well, with Joseph (Israel/Jacob’s second youngest son) ascending to prominence and rescuing his family from famine. But Exodus begins by telling us that with the passing of time a new Pharaoh over Egypt arose who didn’t remember Joseph and enslaved and imposed harsh conditions upon the Israelites to keep them from becoming too large a people to control.

In response, once the 400 years were passed, God raised up Moses to deliver Israel and show judgment against Egypt. Through an array of miraculous displays of power, God crushed the Egyptian armies and safely led the people away.

Reflecting back on this, the prophet Hosea recorded God’s words, “Out of Egypt I called my Son.”

Several hundred years later, Matthew would apply these words not simply to his fellow Jews, but specifically to one Israelite—the child born to Mary to save the world. Jesus came to lead a new Exodus. Instead of calling a nation out of physical enslavement, he would call and enable his people to come out of their spiritual enslavement. He would defeat sin and death to pave the way. And he would lay the path for us to enter into the Promised Land of eternal joy—the new heavens and new earth to come at Jesus’ return.

Jesus could do this as the new and better Moses and the new and better Israel. Where both the leader and the people failed in various ways in the Old Testament and strayed from God, Jesus would never fail. And though he was a child, his life story took him into Egypt only to then come forth and deliver his people. Out of Egypt I have called my Son.

The Exodus, then, also serves as a reminder of the advent of Jesus and the hope that we have through him.

The Serpent Crusher (an advent devotion)

So the Lord God said to the serpent, “…I will put hostility between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring. He will strike your head and you will strike his heel.” ~ Genesis 3:14-15 (CSB)

As we enter into the Christmas season, we will take a look at a few of the Old Testament prophecies about the advent, or coming of Christ. At many times and in many ways, the Old Testament foretold the birth of Jesus into the world to rescue his people from our sins and show us how to live lives of love. These began in Genesis 3.

After Satan had successfully tempted Adam and Eve into disobeying God and eating from the one tree out of many that God had said to avoid, God pronounced words of judgment upon the participants. In his words denouncing Satan, who appeared as a serpent, we also see a flash of hope for humanity. The woman, Eve, would have a child. The serpent would injure the child, striking at his heel, but the child would crush the serpent, striking at his head.

As with many prophecies in the Bible, this looked beyond the immediate time frame. It would not be Able or Cain or Seth or any of the other sons born directly to Eve who would deal the fatal blow to Satan. Instead, it would be a child born thousands of years later to a young woman who, on the surface, appeared insignificant. It would be a young woman named Mary from a tiny community who would give birth to the world’s Savior-King.

Then, as Jesus grew, Satan would strike at him in many ways from temptations to sufferings on the cross. Yet, by being the perfect man who could take his people’s sins as the perfect sacrifice, and then by kicking down the door of the grave that would not hold him, Jesus struck back at Satan.

In Revelation, the last book of the Bible, we see Jesus return again to forever condemn Satan to the fires of hell, and he does so with the power of his words. The heel was struck, but the head is crushed. Now we celebrate the salvation that came through our Lord.

What Child Is This? (an advent meditation)

What Child is this
Who, laid to rest
On Mary’s lap, is sleeping?
Whom angels greet
With anthems sweet
While shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ, the King
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing
Haste, haste to bring Him laud
The Babe, the Son of Mary!

The Christmas song What Child Is This? asks as question that the world has pondered since the birth of Jesus. Who is this child-turn-man that claims to be Lord and Savior of the world?

Jesus once asked his first disciples what others said about him. They answered: “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” Then Jesus asked, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, speaking for the group: “You are the Christ [Savior-King], the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:13-16).

In his book Mere Christianity, CS Lewis said that when a person looks at the claims of Jesus in Scripture, one must conclude he is either Lord, liar, or a lunatic. Some may go a step further and say that the Jesus of the Bible does not exist; but if we start with the historical existence of Jesus as detailed in Scripture, then only those three options remained.

Jesus claimed to forgive sins (Matthew 9:1-8); accepted Peter’s claim to be the Messiah/Christ, Son-of-God King (Matthew 16:13-19); claimed to preexist Abraham and at the same time took for himself the name of God (John 8:56-58).

With what he claimed, Jesus was no mere good teacher or religious prophet. He either lied about himself, had delusions about himself, or was the Lord he claimed to be. The Christian faith is built on the latter, as the song affirms: This, this is Christ the King!

So, this Christmas, who do you say that Jesus is? May you celebrate, worship, and follow him as your Savior-King!

O Little Town of Bethlehem (an advent meditation)

O little town of Bethlehem
How still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight

The song O Little Town of Bethlehem speaks to the great thing that came out of seeming insignificance. This is the very thing that happened with the birth of Jesus. When God sent his Son into the world to be our Savior-King, he chose insignificance.

Yes, for Jesus to be a descendant of David, he had to be born to one of David’s relatives. We get this in both his birth mother, Mary (the genealogy in Luke), and through his adoptive father, Joseph (the genealogy in Matthew). But, to be a descendant of David didn’t guarantee prosperity or notoriety. Mary was a young virgin, likely from a poor family. Joseph was a common tradesman, probably young in his craft and not well off.

When a census was declared, the couple, with Mary nine-months pregnant, headed back to their ancestral city. Bethlehem had the notoriety of being the town of King David’s birth, but not much else.

The census flooded the small town with travelers. Joseph and Mary were too late to find a room at the local inn, and didn’t seem to know anyone in town to stay with. So, they ended up with cattle where God the Son was born into the world. If not for a chorus of angels sent to display God’s glory to a group of shepherds, the birth would have largely gone unnoticed.

Everything seemed so insignificant. Yet through this, God fulfilled a promise given by the prophet Micah centuries before: “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days” (Micah 5:2).

God has a way of working through what the world deems as insignificant. Jesus was called the carpenter’s son. The twelve, most were poorly educated fishermen. David was a shepherd boy, the youngest of his warrior brothers. Yet in the small things, God did great things.

So, Christmas reminds us that smallness and insignificance is no hindrance to the work of God. As Paul reminded the church at Corinth:

For consider your calling, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth…. God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. (1 Corinthians 1:26, 28-29)

So, let’s not boast in our strength, wisdom, and might this Christmas season. Instead, let us celebrate the God who does great and mighty things through what seems insignificant.

O Holy Night (an advent meditation)

O Holy Night is a Christmas hymn with which many are familiar (at least with John Sullivan Dwight’s English translation). Not only is the song beautiful in speaking about the greatness of our Savior and the good news of his work in the world, it also speaks about the gospel’s social implications.

Written in a day where slavery was still common among nations of western culture, the song says of such ill:

Truly he taught us to love one another
His law is love and his gospel is peace
Chains shall he break for the slave is our brother
And in his name all oppression shall cease

The Bible often speaks about God’s justice in the face of oppression. On the spiritual level, sin has enslaved and ensnared each one of us. Thus, God sent his Son into the world to provide freedom from spiritual tyranny. Jesus redeems that which our rebellion against God’s goodness seeks to destroy and ruin, a gift of grace by faith in Jesus.

But this is not the end of the matter. When we experience spiritual freedom in Christ, we are led to bring the good news of such freedom to the world around us. And we are led to break the bonds of physical oppression as much as we can.

Jesus, born into the world as a baby 2000 years ago, was a declaration of war upon sin and its effects. Though the root of sin is spiritual, its effects have a far ranging physical reach. Physical oppression results where spiritual oppression is left unchecked. When Jesus returns, bringing God’s full judgment against sin and God’s full salvation for those who have followed Jesus, physical oppression and spiritual oppression will be no more.

The job of the church, then, has always been two-fold: work for the release of people under both types of tyranny.

Social justice has always been a call for God’s people. We are to fight for the sake of the least of these because God’s law is love and his gospel is peace. The problems come when we neglect one side of our call for the other. A church that emphasizes only the solution to the spiritual problem offers truth without the physical manifestations of love meant to go with it. A church that emphasizes only the solution to physical problems offers acts of love but without the truth that can free the soul.

Christmas reminds us to keep both in balance. God so loved the world that he sent Jesus to save sinners and to bring justice and goodness to the daily operations of the world. Truly he taught us to love one another…

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel (advent meditation)

In this series leading up to Christmas 2016, we’ll take a look at some of the Christmas songs from our Baptist Hymnal and see the reasons we celebrate the birth of Jesus.

O come, Thou Dayspring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine Advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadow put to flight
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel!

The second line of the classic hymn, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, was inspired from Luke 1:78-19. There, Zechariah the priest had been given a promise of his own son (who would be John the Baptist), yet he doubted this promise could be true in his and his wife’s old age. Due to this doubt, Zechariah was made mute until John was born.

Shortly after, “Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied” (1:66). His prophecy exalted God and spoke of the role that John would have as a forerunner to Jesus, the Savior-King. Zechariah said,

“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sin in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (1:76-79).

John, then, would point to the coming One who was greater. He would speak of Jesus, in whom people would find forgiveness of sin. This coming forgiveness is pictured as the break of light (dayspring in the song) over the horizon, shining down upon a dark land.

What a beautiful picture to imagine as light chases away the darkness! Thus the coming of Emmanuel, God with us. Sin has ensnared our souls and corrupted the world. Our rebellion against God has justly deserved his wrath, seen first in physical death and second in spiritual.

We often think: There must be more to life! We long for death to not be the end. Yet death stands there, an inescapable enemy that darkens our lives, either taking the young too soon or the old after the body has spent so much time suffering and breaking down. Our sin traps us in a dark land; death casts its shadow over each of us.

Yet, the light has dawned. Jesus came to give hope to the hopeless, to bring those who lived in darkness into his marvelous light. Jesus was born into this world to die on a cross, the sacrifice for our sins in our place, and to then kick down the door of the grave.

Even if we die, Jesus said in John 11, so long as we are trusting in him, we shall live. Jesus is the resurrection and the life. He rescues us from our sin and rebellion, and he gives us new life now and forevermore.

And so the song calls us to cheer. The gloomy clouds are gone. The dark shadow of death is put to flight. Rejoice! Rejoice!—is this not the proper response along with humble thankfulness to God through Jesus? The Savior-King has come. Let us rejoice and bask in his light!

What Child Is This? (an advent meditation)

Christmas in our culture seems a mix of the sacred and the secular. As much as some people lament the idea of a “holiday tree” being sold in stores they frequent, let’s not forget that Santa Claus, songs that have nothing to do with Jesus’ birth, and Christmas movies about family get togethers and little else have been around for decades if not centuries.

No Christian should get uptight when the world fails to see the meaning of Christmas. Instead, our love and our grace, and our return of the greeting Happy Holidays with a Thank you should help others see the greater reality. Quite simply, we as followers of Jesus are to be the heralds of Christ, not the store greeters or the items they sale.

Part of our task is to help people understand that our answer to one particular question is eternally important. In the 1800s, William Dix penned the words to a song with this question in the title: What Child Is This? How we answer this question, frankly, determines: do we belong to God and stand as recipients of salvation, or do we belong to our sin and stand as recipients of condemnation?

Jesus asked the question at hand to his early followers in his own way: “Who do the people say that the Son of Man is?” His followers replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets” (Matthew 16:13-14). And so the world says about Jesus today: He is a good example, or a prophet, or a myth, or a story to control people so they behave a certain way.

But then Jesus turned the question around on his followers: “But who do you say that I am?” Peter, in a moment of spiritual brilliance granted him by God, replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (16:15-16). Jesus, they realized, was the long expected Savior-King who would judge the enemies of God and set the world right. Jesus went on to say that with this truth he would build his church, his people (16:18).

And then he charged his followers to be the ones to take this message to the nations that others might follow him and become his disciple as well (28:18-20).

Dix’s song asks the same question, gives the same answer, and provides the same charge.

What Child is this, who, laid to rest
On Mary’s lap, is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?

This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing;
Haste, haste to bring Him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary!

So bring Him incense, gold, and myrrh,
Come, peasant, king, to own Him;
The King of kings salvation brings,
Let loving hearts enthrone him.

This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing;
Haste, haste to bring Him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary!

So it is in these words: Who is Jesus?—he is the Savior, the King, and the One worthy of all praise. He is the one whom heavenly choirs praise and exalt. And he is the one that we who have enthroned him within our hearts are to call out to others, “Haste, haste to bring him laud,” or “Hurry, hurry, come and join to worship him!”

What child is this? He is Christ our Savior-King.

(advent) What Child is This