What Child Is This? (a Christmas devotion)

Why lies he in such mean estate
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christian fear, for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading

Nails, spears shall pierce him through
The cross be borne for me, for you
Hail, hail, the Word made flesh
The Babe, the Son of Mary

William Dix’s classic carol What Child Is This? beautifully captures the Gospel.

The first line asks the question about the identity of baby Jesus. Mary and Joseph, of course, knew because God has sent angels to tell them. After Jesus was born, shepherds in nearby fields knew, as God sent a whole choir of angels to tell them. The close of the first stanza captures this story from Luke’s Gospel, answering: “This, this is Christ the King, whom shepherds guard and angels sing.”

But it is, perhaps, the second stanza (quoted above) that gets to the heart of why Jesus came to earth.

Yes, at that moment, the eternal King was a humble child sleeping in a hay loft and surrounded by barn animals, but one day that child would grow. Then, about three decades later, the man that baby became would die for the sins of his people.

When Mary and Joseph presented the 8-day old Jesus at the temple, a man named Simeon approached and told Mary, “Indeed, this child is destined to cause the fall and rise of many in Israel and to be a sign that will be opposed–and a sword will pierce your own soul–that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:33-35, Christian Standard Bible).

At that time, Simeon’s words may have been mysterious to Mary or perhaps even difficult for her to hear, but they hinted at the great reality captured in Dix’s hymn: The day would come where Jesus would be pierced through to bear the cross. Yet, this would not be his defeat but his, and ours through faith, victory.

The baby, Jesus, was born to grow and die so that all others babies who would grow to trust in him could have the goodness of life eternal.

What Child is this? the song asks.

This is Christ, the King, the one who saves.

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Praying the Bible ~ Habakkuk 2:14

Praying through verses or passages of the Bible is a great way to help you pray according to the will and desires of God. Below is a passage of Scripture and a sample prayer. I would encourage you to pray that prayer, or, even better, read the passage and pray as God leads you.

Text: Habakkuk 2:14
For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord’s glory, as the water covers the sea.  (Christian Standard Bible)

Father, this time of year we think often about you sending your Son. That baby in the manger all those years ago was a hint of your glory breaking into the darkness of the world. What began in the manger, you spread through your church as we exalt Jesus. And the day is coming where Jesus will return and on that day, your glory will be known by all, filling the whole earth just like water in the sea. Father, we pray for that day to come quickly. We ask that your glory would chase away all darkness. But as we wait, help us remain faithful to show the glory of your love and grace to all around us. Amen.

Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming (a Christmas devotion)

Lo, how a Rose e’er blooming
From tender stem hath sprung!
Of Jesse’s linage coming
As men of old have sung.

It came, a flower bright
Amid the cold of winter
When half-gone was the night.

Lo’ How a Rose is a Fifteenth Century German hymn based upon the prophecy of Isaiah 11:1 that a branch would grow up from the stump of Jesse and bear fruit. That verse was a reminder to God’s people that even if they seemed defeated and the spiritual night seemed long, there would be victory. God had not left his people and never would.

The song captures this promise well.

Think of the lines: “It came, a flower bright, amid the cold of winter when half-gone was the night.” The winter in mind was not so much the winter months as the winter brought on by our sin.

Spring and summer are the seasons of life and growth. Winter is when things appear dead and cold. Winter is when the days grow shorter and darkness longer. Winter is when many people struggle with seasonal depression. Winter, then, is an illustration of the darkness of our sin.

Our rebellion against God makes the world seem cold and the darkness long. Sometimes, we wonder if the light and warmth will return. We long for the hope of life. It is in this setting, spiritually speaking, that Jesus came as a rose. The stem burst up through the snow and into the darkness and a flower opened.

The winter cold would not win. Life would be victorious.

Though Jesus has already come and has promised to come again, the world still often seems locked in a spiritual winter. No wonder, Jesus warned in Matthew 24, that the love of many would grow cold. Yet, that rose is there. The solstice has passed and the light is growing brighter.

Jesus is in the world today through his Spirit and his church to bring his light against the darkness. Thus, the third stanza of the song: “The Flow’r whose fragrance tender with sweetness fills the air, dispels with glorious splendor the darkness everywhere.”

The darkness will soon forever pass and spring and summer will be eternal. We have this hope and assurance because 2000 years ago in the cold of night, a “rose” bloomed and blooms forever.

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The Prejudiced Prophet Meets the Gracious God

This post is part of a devotional series based on our 2019 Bible Reading Calendar.

So the Lord said, “You cared about the plant, which you did not labor over and did not grow. It appeared in a night and perished in a night. But may I not care about the great city of Nineveh, which has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people…?” ~ Jonah 4:10-11

Jonah was a prophet of the Lord. Jonah was also prejudiced.

God told Jonah, a Jew, to travel to the Assyrian city of Nineveh and warn that judgment was soon to come upon their sins. It was a message that ultimately led to the repentance of the king and many of the people, sparing the city from judgment at that time. Hundreds of years later, Jesus even used their repentance to warn the religious leaders who were rejecting him, saying, “The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at Jonah’s preaching and look–something greater than Jonah is here” (Matthew 12:41).

Yet, Jonah did all he could to avoid taking the message to Nineveh. He boarded a ship sailing the opposite way, seeking to run from God, and then asked to be thrown into the sea when God struck the ship with a storm.

And why was Jonah so desperate to get away?

After God withheld the disaster on the city, Jonah cried out in complaint and anger, “Please, Lord, isn’t this what I thought while I was still in my own country? That’s why I fled toward Tarshish in the first place. I knew that you area  gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger, abounding in faithful love, and one who relents from sending disaster” (4:2) Jonah even followed this prayer with a request that the Lord would take his life.

You see, Jonah was a man of deep prejudice–racism against the culture and people of Nineveh. He didn’t want them to repent but rather to face the furious hand of the wrath of God.

Yet, God would have none of it.

Perhaps, God could have said to Jonah, “Fine, if you don’t want to go, I’ll send someone else,” but that’s not how God works.

God is gracious. He delights in saving from sin. It was his good pleasure to rescue a city from their wicked ways and it was his good pleasure to rescue a prejudiced prophet from his sinful heart.

God was teaching Jonah a lesson: All people are his creation, made in his image, and valuable in his sight, no matter where they were from, their class, their ethnicity, or whatever other specifics of their background. His lesson is a reminder to us as well, because we all battle personal prejudices in some way: If we don’t like someone because of who they are or where they’re from, then it’s us who need to change and we need to serve them by bringing them the love and grace of the God who is slow to anger and abounding in faithful love.

All Scripture quotations taken from the Christian Standard Bible.

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Praying the Bible ~ Revelation 7:9-10

Praying through verses or passages of the Bible is a great way to help you pray according to the will and desires of God. Below is a passage of Scripture and a sample prayer. I would encourage you to pray that prayer, or, even better, read the passage and pray as God leads you.

Text: Revelation 7:9-10
After this, I looked and there was a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, and people, and language, which no one could number, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes with palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”  (Christian Standard Bible)

Father, I thank you and praise you for your heart for the nations. Though in the Old Testament you chose a particular people for your purpose, you did not intend for them to be the totality of your people. The earth is yours and everything and everyone in it. You gave us the Messiah of the Jews to be Savior of the world. Father, may your Gospel spread to the nations with the power of your spirit. May our lives and our churches be tools in your hand to make your glory known. May we long to see your people from all time and all places gathered before you with one voice shouting praise to our King. Amen.

The Lamb who was slain

This post is part of a devotional series based on our 2019 Bible Reading Calendar.

I wept because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or even to look in it. Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep. Look, the Lion from the tribe of Judah, the root of David, has conquered so that he is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.” Then I saw one like a slaughtered lamb standing in the midst of the throne and the four living creature and among the elders. ~ Revelation 5:4-6

If you have ever seen a lamb, powerful and fierce are probably not words you would use to describe it. If you had seen a lamb that had been slain, the image would likely produce pity in you more than any other emotion.

Yet, this is the way John described Jesus is described in one of his visions.

These verses remind us that looks aren’t everything. When Jesus came into the world, other than to those who knew the story, he didn’t seem like anyone special. Born of a young woman about to be married to a lower-class husband. He grew up to be a carpenter by trade and a man that the prophet Isaiah said was no one special to look upon.

Yet, when Jesus began his ministry, he taught with authority, he healed the sick, and he raised the dead. This was no ordinary man but the God the Son himself, the creator and sustainer of the universe, robed in human flesh.

When Jesus went to the cross, he was bruised, beaten, and bloodied. He seemed weak, his body even succumbing to death, the same type of death the worst criminals would die. Yet, though in the moment he seemed defeated, three days later he rose from the grave in victory.

John saw Jesus as a slaughtered lamb, a helpless sacrifice, but one who was also very much alive and powerful. He looked like a slaughtered lamb, but this was the Lion from the tribe of Judah. A lamb seems week; a lion is one you tremble before.

This is the paradoxical way that God works. The all-powerful One doesn’t need human strength. The Holy One sacrificed himself for a bunch of sinful rebels to save us when he could have instead crushed us. Jesus won the victory over sin not with swords but with love and grace.

A lamb appears weak, but, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slaughtered to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing” (5:12).

So, let us find our strength not in the power of man but in the Lamb who was slain and let’s celebrate him.

All Scripture quotations taken from the Christian Standard Bible.

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Sunday 12.8.19 (Psalms of Ascent: Unity)

This Sunday, we’ll continue our look at the Psalms of Ascent with Psalm 133. We’ll see how on our life’s God-ward journey in Christ, God leads us to unity with other followers of Jesus. We hope to see you there!

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Sermon Notes
Unity ~ Psalm 133

The sermon in one sentence: Life in Jesus is an upward journey on which God leads us to unity in Christ.

  • We should pursue unity with other followers of Jesus because it’s good and life-enriching (133:1-3)
    • Unity is togetherness built on mutual purpose and benefit
    • Godly unity is founded on Jesus and his word
  • Ways to foster unity
    • Stay centered on Jesus and his word—helps us to remember it’s not “me vs. you” but “our life together in Christ”
    • Pray for others and especially pray for those you struggle with
    • Look to serve rather than to be served (Philippians 2)
    • Celebrate the diversity of the church family (1 Cor 12)

Songs for Worship
Let There Be Praise
I Love You With the Love of the Lord
God, the Father of Your People
Joy to the World
We Are Called to Be God’s People

Psalm 120-134 (Psalms of Ascent)

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