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Friday, December 20, 2019

Ancient Israel was Expecting the Savoir's Birth

Ancient Israel was Expecting the Savior’s Birth
Before Jesus was born, God spoke to the ancient Israelites through their prophets.   These Old Testament prophets promised that God would someday send a Savior or a Messiah to save them from their sins. We have many of these prophecies in the Old Testament of our Bible.  Because of these prophecies, the Israelites were waiting and expecting a Messiah or a Savior. But when the Savior finally did come to earth, many didn’t recognize Him!
 If Jesus had been born to a rich family, or if He had gone along with the religious leaders’ power games, they might have recognized Him.  Or if Jesus came in leading an army and fighting and freeing Israel from the cruel Roman rule, they might have recognized their Savior.  We will read just a few of these prophecies today from one of the prophets and see if we might have missed Jesus like many did back then.    
Let’s pretend that a camera had been invented that could not only take pictures of a person’s face and body but could also capture shots ahead of time of how the person would live his life and what was inside his soul and spirit.  I don’t think God used such a camera, but God did give Isaiah and the other prophets many detailed pictures or prophecies about the coming Messiah or Savior (Jesus) and what He would be like.  Today we only have time to go over some of Isaiah’s prophecies concerning the expected Savior.  But there are many more prophecies of His coming in Scripture.
 Amazingly, the prophet Isaiah’s pictures of Jesus were taken about 700 years before Jesus’ birth. They captured scenes showing what would happen to Jesus and even how these future events would affect us.  Through his “prophecy” camera Isaiah received the photos and left them in an album for all of us to see.  Let’s turn to Isaiah 42:13-15 and Isaiah 53:1-12 and view each shot.  
The first picture that Isaiah captured was of Jesus being praised and lifted up. But He was also called “My Servant”.  “See, My Servant will act wisely, he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.”  (Isaiah 52:13) We read in the New Testament, “Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name.”  (Phil.2:9)
The second picture of Jesus was of a broken and beat-up man, astonishing those who saw Him.  “Just as there were many who were appalled at Him, His appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and His form marred beyond human likeness” (Isaiah 52:14) 
The third print is of Jesus cleansing many in the world of sin. The practice of sprinkling with blood or water to cleanse was performed by priests as part of the Old Testament law.  “He will sprinkle many nations, and kings will shut their mouths because of Him. …”  (Isaiah 52:15)
The fourth photo of Jesus is of an unimpressive, overlooked, ordinary looking person.  Nothing special to draw us to Him.  If He came today, He wouldn’t drive the right car or have a degree from a better university.  He wouldn’t even dress to make the right impression.  “He grew up like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground.  He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him.  He was despised and rejected by people, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.  Like one from whom men hide their faces, He was despised, and we esteemed Him not.”  (Isaiah 53:1b-3)
In the fifth picture, Jesus is on the cross dying for our sins. “Surely, He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered Him stricken by God, smitten by Him, and afflicted.  But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed.  We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”  (Isaiah 53:4-6)  
The sixth photo will break your heart when you look at it.  Here Jesus is seen as a lamb being carried off to be killed.  And He went to his death voluntarily.  “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so He did not open His mouth.  By oppression and judgment, He was taken away.  And who can speak of His followers?  For He was cut off from the land of the living, for the transgression of my people he was stricken.” (Isaiah 53:7-8)  
The seventh picture in Isaiah shows Jesus dying with the criminals and being given a grave with the rich.  This picture also shows that Jesus had not done anything wrong.  “He was assigned a grave with the wicked and with the rich in His death, though He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth.”  (Isaiah 53:9) We know from Scripture that Jesus died on the cross between two criminals and that Joseph of Arimathea, a rich man, buried Jesus’ body in his own grave.
This photo shows that it was God’s will to allow Jesus to suffer and die.  But I think we are in this picture too.  Read along and see.  “Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush Him and cause Him to suffer.  And though the Lord makes His life a guilt offering, He will see his offspring and prolong His days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in His hand.”  (Isaiah 53:10) The offspring mentioned here are Jesus’ spiritual descendants, according to many Bible scholars.  And of course Jesus would rise from the dead and live forever.
And the last picture in Isaiah’s photo gallery shows Jesus as our Savior, victorious, and joyful that His perfect sacrifice has saved so many of us.  He is satisfied that His death gave us life and He is praying (making intercession) for us.   “After the suffering of His soul, He will see the light of life, and be satisfied by His knowledge my righteous Servant will justify many.  And He will bear their iniquities.  Therefore, I will give Him a portion among the great, and He will divide the spoils with the strong, because He poured out His life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors.  For He bore the sins of many and made intercession for the transgressors.” (Isaiah 53:11)
Jesus understood His mission and work as the fulfillment of these prophecies (pictures) in Isaiah.  Some Bible scholars have called Isaiah 53 the chapter that describes Jesus as the “Suffering Servant”.  Jesus was willing to pay the price for us and be our “suffering Servant”. The last verses of Isaiah 53 say that Jesus was pleased that all of His suffering has brought us eternal life.  Let’s live our lives in such a way that He will continue to be pleased.     


Sunday, December 15, 2019

God Gives the Gift of Hope

God Gives the Gift of Hope
The Book of Zechariah (chapters 1-6)
Zechariah was one of Gods’ prophets to the Jewish people and his ministry began in 520 B.C.   A prophet did not deliver his own message, but he was faithful to give only the message that God gave him. God used Zechariah and other prophets to bring hope to Israel - hope for their future.
 But these promises of hope in the future are for us too. Many of God’s promises that were given to Israel by the prophets will be fulfilled when Jesus comes again at the end of the age. These prophecies of warnings and hope and promises are all there in our Bibles.     
Today we will go over a few of God’s promises, given through Zechariah to God’s people long ago. The Jewish people had come back to their homeland after spending seventy years in Babylonian captivity.  Their city, Jerusalem, had been destroyed by the Babylonians along with the temple of the Lord. But now they had returned to their homeland ready to rebuild.
But it didn’t take long for problems to arise and discouragement to set in.  The people soon realized that the new temple they were building would never compare with the old one that had been destroyed.  God had blessed their forefathers with gold and riches so that they could build a grand temple.  But these returning Jewish exiles were poor and struggling.  Why wasn’t God there with more provisions for them to build?
 Have we ever been discouraged when others don’t give us the respect that we deserve?  Or when we don’t have the money to buy what we think we should have or the health to go where we want? Why isn’t God giving us more when others seem to have it all?
Another problem the Jewish people had in 520 B.C. was with the cruel and powerful Persian king who forbid them to rebuild God’s temple. (Ezra 4:5) The Israelites were afraid of this powerful nation and became depressed and quit building.  It was hard to keep the faith and build God’s temple when so many forces were against them.  
The Israelites quit building because they believed that if God had been with them everything would have gone smoothly!  Do we ever stop doing God’s work because we are persecuted, or things don’t go smoothly?  
It was into this mix that God gave a word of hope to His people through Zechariah. God comes to Zechariah by night and gives him eight visions!  These visions from God (Zechariah 1:8-6:7) brought hope for the discouraged Israelites, and they also bring hope for us!  Most of us want hope to show up right now.  We aren’t used to waiting.  But some of God’s hope and some of His promises will be completely fulfilled for us after we die and see Jesus.  Not now.
 These prophecies speak of the Hope (Jesus) at the end of the age.  Bible scholars believe that some of these prophecies have a double fulfillment.  Zechariahs’ prophecies were fulfilled back then for the Jewish people in 520 B.C.  They did rebuild their temple and God prospered them.  But Zechariahs’ prophecies also give us hope for a time when wickedness is removed and Christ, the Messiah will come again, and a new glorious temple will be built.        
Basically, the meaning in Zechariah’s eight visions from God is that God will save His people and bring judgment on the nations who are trying to harm them.  God promises His people that He will bless their rebuilding.  God will be a protective wall of fire around Jerusalem.  God will judge their enemies and send “The Servant, the Branch, to save”- Jesus Christ. (Zechariah 3:8:9)  
In Zechariah’s fifth vision - of the golden lamp stand and the olive tree, - the Lord promises that He will empower His people and give them His Holy Spirit. (Zechariah 4:6) (He also promises to give the Holy Spirit to each believer in Christ today)
Four of the eight visions foretell that in the end of the age God will remove sin from His followers and from the whole earth. The fourth vision shows Joshua, the high priest, standing before God in filthy garments.  His sin is removed from him and he is given clean rich robes to wear.
 The sixth vision shows that dishonesty will be cursed, the seventh that wickedness will be removed from the earth and the last vision tells that the spirits of heaven will execute judgment on the whole Earth because of sin.  (Zechariah 6:5,7)
 Sin will be taken away from the earth before God brings in His new day of victory and blessing!  This truth is an important part of Zechariahs’ visions. God’s people in 520 B.C. who were given this promise are in their graves and will receive these blessings at the same time that God’s people today will receive them.  – when Christ returns at the end of the age.  
The sixth vision of the flying scroll is particularly graphic!  It is a vivid picture showing how dishonesty is cursed by God.  “I see a flying scroll.  Its length is twenty cubits and its width ten cubits,” says Zechariah. Then God interpreted, “This is the curse that goes out over the face of the whole earth: ‘I will send out the curse,’ says the Lord of hosts: ‘It shall enter the house of the thief, and the house of the one who swears falsely by My name.  It shall remain in the midst of his house and consume it, with its timber and stones.’” Zechariah 5:2b, 3a, 4) According to Biblical scholars, a roll or scroll is employed in Scripture for a pronouncement of judgment.
After Zechariahs’ visions, God shows him that Joshua is being crowned, but then the language changes and the one being crowned is the Lord, and He is building the temple. Here is that double meaning again. – a promise for the present – for the Jews in 520 B.C., and a fuller promise for the end of the age.  
These Israelites from long ago were given hope by Zechariah’s visions. and they started building God’s temple again.  Now they knew that God was with them, even when their problems seemed so big. Do we sometimes make the same mistake they did?  Do we wonder where God is when our problems overwhelm us?  These Israelites questioned whether their efforts in building Gods’ new temple would ever be worth anything.  They compared their temple to the grand temple of their forefathers, and it didn’t measure up.
  Do we have those same problems?  Do we sometimes wonder if our lives really matter?  Do we fear that our efforts don’t compare with someone else’s?  When we have prayers that don’t seem to be answered in our time frame, do we think that God won’t answer them in His time frame? The comforting words that God gave His people through Zechariah long ago are for His people today also.
 God tells us not to be discouraged if our work seems small (or unimportant). (Zechariah 4:7-10) “For who has despised the day of small things?” (Verse 10) We give importance to the size of things, but God doesn’t see things that way. His ways are not our ways.
 Zechariahs’ prophecy also reminds us that what God has begun in us He will complete. And our prayers will be answered even if it isn’t in our time frame.  We are to depend on the Holy Spirit to accomplish the things that God has called us to do.  And we are called upon to remember that our work is important in building God’s Church.
 Gods’ message to Zephaniah is a double message.  The promises of victory are for Christians as we live our lives today. But these promises will be completely fulfilled for us at a later time also.  Only at the end of time when Jesus has come again and all sin is completely removed, will we have the total victory through Christ.  Let’s believe God’s Word and take these gifts of hope and blessing from God into our hearts, and take joy and encouragement from them always.    



Sunday, December 8, 2019

The key to Gods Blessing

The Key to God’s Blessing
Psalm 133
Psalm 133 only has three short verses.  And Psalm 133 ends with this sentence.  “For there the Lord God has commanded the blessing of life forevermore.”  (Psalm 133:3b) We know that “Life forevermore” is a wonderful blessing from God. This verse seems to be saying that God will command this blessing “there”.  But where is “there”?   Let’s read the Psalm and see .  
The first verse of Psalm 133 reads: “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!”  (Psalm 133:1) God’s vision for us is unity in our world.  And we would like that too.  If everyone would just agree with us, then we might be able to have unity some of the time.
I have some days when I get in a bad mood and become irritated with anyone who happens to get in my way.  I find that my natural self, my “default”, is selfish and critical.  I want God’s unity with my friends and family and in my world, however, I often mess up the unity I want.
But when I take time to pray and look to Jesus, He changes my default or my selfishness and gives me His vision and His love for others.  If I don’t keep coming back to Jesus for help, I can quickly slip back into my selfish self. I love being a Christian because it is so good to be able to run to Jesus and receive His deep love for others and His truths and freedoms!  Instead of being stuck with my little critical and selfish ways of looking at my world.    
God is calling us to live in a certain way – to do our best to live in unity and peace with others if   possible.  But we can’t obey God and live in unity on our own without Christ.  His Spirit will give us humility and love for others and everything else we need to do our part to live in unity - if we are willing. Others can mess it up, but with Christ we can do our part.
 Christ is the Light of the world (John 8:12) and He will cover us with His light, making us little lights shinning through the darkness of our world. Think of all the many people along your life’s way who have been lights to you, encouraging you and making your life better.  We are meant to be there for one another. “Behold how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity.” (Psalm 13:1)
The second and third verses of Psalm 133 gives us two pictures of Godly unity. – or when God’s people are together as a loving family. The first picture of Godly unity is like “oil”.  Scripture says: “It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard.  On the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes! (Verse 2a)
 Aaron was a priest and his priestly duty was to come to God with prayers and sacrifices for the Jewish people.  And Scripture says that Jesus is our high priest who prays for us and gives Himself as our sacrifice to God.  Jesus prays for us and He prays for our unity with other brothers and sisters in Christ.  (John 17:20-26) He prays that we love and care for one another, and not tear each other apart. Godly unity on our part is like a sacred service to God: it is personally fulfilling. Also notice that this unity is flowing down from above “running down on the beard of Aaron” and “running down on the collar of his robes”. 
The second picture of Godly unity in verse 3a says that this unity is also like “dew”.  God’s people loving each other in unity as family is like refreshing “dew”.   This passage says: “It (Godly unity) is like the dew of Mount Hermon, which falls down from the mountains of Zion!”  (verse 3a) This Godly unity is like refreshing service to society, it is nationally fruitful.
 Notice that this unity or “dew” also is falling down from the mountains of God, a bit like the unity or “oil” that is running down on Priest Aaron’s beard. Do you catch the flow – “coming down upon” and “coming down from above.”  These blessings of peace, humility and love and unity are coming down from our heavenly Father for us, if we are open to receive them.
Psalm 133 closes with these words: “For there the Lord has commanded the blessing, life forevermore.”  (verse 3b) Perhaps this passage is saying that Godly unity unlocks God’s blessing.  “There” is when we are in unity with our fellow Christians. Scripture tells us that the very first Christians after Pentecost were united in everything they did together.  And Scripture also says that through Christ these early Christians performed many miracles and healings. Could it be that their love for one another and their unity as the body of Christ had something to do with the many who came to Christ through their preaching and the many who were healed through their prayers? Could this be the key to their blessings?
Experiences of unity here on earth are just a small taste of the complete spiritual unity we will enjoy in heaven forever.  God is calling us to do our best, with His help, to live in peace and love with our fellow brothers and sisters.  Do we need to do anything differently to obey this call?






Sunday, December 1, 2019

God's Message for the anxious Workaholic

God’s Message for the Anxious Workaholic
Psalm 127
I can easily become an anxious person.  Too I often worry that my work will not be good enough. Or that something will go wrong. When I start to worry, remembering the words of Psalm 127 helps me and calms me down.  Reminds me to relax and trust in my heavenly Father.  I’m hoping that maybe this psalm can help you too. 
Psalm 127 is a short little Psalm – only five verses. But this Psalm reminds us that the key to success is not by our anxious frantic efforts but by abiding in Him. That without God, we can do nothing.
Let’s read Psalm 127 here:
  1. Unless the Lord builds the house (marriage, family) they who build it work in vain.  Unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.
  2. It is vain for you to rise up early and stay up late.  Eating the bread of anxious labor.   For God gives to His beloved even in his sleep. 
  3. Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord.  And the fruit of the womb is a reward.
  4. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth.
  5.  Blessed is the person who has her or his quiver full of them.  They shall not be ashamed but shall speak with their enemies in the gate.
This Psalm tells us that without God’s help, our endeavors are in vain.  When we build our house (marriage, family) we need to consult the divine Architect. (verse 1a) We need to pray and ask God for His blessing for our house (marriage, family) and our country.  If the citizens and leaders of a country make laws that break God’s laws and if they forget to seek God’s will and blessing, their country will eventually fail.   Psalm 127 says: “Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.” (verse 1b) 
Workaholics beware. Psalm 127 says that our work is in vain independent of God’s calling and direction. (verse 2a) We don’t have to do it all by ourselves, but God “gives gifts to His beloved even in her or his sleep.” (verse 2b) Let’s not miss out on the truth that we don’t have to do it all that God blesses us even at the most unlikely times.  
And Psalm 127 ends by telling us that our children are a gift from the Lord, designed to fill a purpose with joy.  Jesus said: “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”  (John 10:10)    
We sometimes think that the harder we work; the richer we become.  But without God, all our money and earthly riches will not satisfy us. Yet this Psalm shows that God’s gifts are given by our resting in His grace and doing our reasonable share of work.  The fourth commandment (Exodus 20:8) of the Ten Commandments commands God’s people to rest from their work on the sabbath day or the seventh day.  Do we take seriously God’s command to rest from our work – and to rest and trust in Him? 
Yes, Scripture says that God gives us work to do.  There are many passages in Scripture that speak against sloth or being lazy and not doing our share of work. But then we are told not to “Rise up early and stay up late and eat the bread of anxious labor.” (Psalm 127:2) God has placed limits on our work so there is room for rest, reflection and worship. We can find this moderation when we stop trying to run our own lives and trust God each day to guide and help us.
 What does it look like to abide in Jesus instead?  A passage about us abiding in Christ is found in John 15:1-8. Jesus is speaking these words: “Abide in Me, and I in you.  As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you bear fruit, unless you abide in Me.  I am the “Vine”, and you are the “branches”.  If you abide In Me, and I in you, you will bear much fruit: for without Me you can do nothing.”  (John 15:4-5)   This New Testament passage is saying the same thing that Psalm 127, our Old Testament passage said.  That without God being involved in our work and our lives, all that we do will amount to nothing. 
Our secular society tells us that we should run our own lives.  Be self-made men and women. Rugged individualists. But our secular world has it all backwards.  God speaks to us in Scripture and tells us that “We are not our own, we are bought with a price” (the price is the blood of Jesus) (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)  We are to live our lives for Him and His glory and not just for ourselves if we want His blessings and His abundant life.  Let’s come to Jesus.  Repent of the spirit of independence in our lives and give our lives to God.  Stop trying to run things on our own and ask Him for His guidance and blessing.  Do this every day! Live the good life.    



God's Message for the Anxious Workaholic