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Friday, December 31, 2010

1/1/11- John 1:1-2The Beginner Begins Again

As we begin 2011, we will be looking at the Gosepl of John each day, with a daily written short thought, a commentary by Calvin and a little bit of media extra.

Introduction to John: The Gospel of John does not in itself give its date or its writer F.C. Bauer dated the Gospel of John as 175 AD. But then in 1934 the Rylands fragment of John was discovered in Egypt- and it dates to 125 AD. Most would date the gospel around 90 AD. The earliest testimony (Ireneaus d. ca 200 who claims he got the information from Polycarp who learned from the apostles). Universally in the early church (east and west) this gospel is called "The Gospel of John." 

 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning.

(Rylands fragment dated to 125 AD. John 18:31-33)

Thoughts: The Gospel of John indicates that God reveals Himself to us through Jesus.  He breaks the silence as "The Word."  He penetrates the darkness as "the light."  As we begin a new year with a new study, it is fitting to note that Jesus is the great Beginner.  In coming to earth, the Creator gives a second chance to His creatures.  The One who gave birth to the world comes to enable us to be born again.  The Beginner comes to give us a new beginning. 

Prayer: As I begin a new year and a new study Lord, begin a new work in me.  Make me a new creation.


John Calvin abridged: Here John speaks of the eternal speech of God that became flesh (1 Tim. 4:16). The design is to show that the restoration of human beings must be by the Son of God who had originally breathed life into every creature. So we do not withdraw from the only God when we worship Christ, and life is restored by the one who issued it in the first place. God was never without his eternal wisdom and speech and so the Father was never without His Son. Justly Augustine says that this “beginning” has no beginning. Here we have eternal generation. Here it is mentioned that the Son has a distinct personality from the Father in that he mentions that the Speech was always with God, if he did not have some distinction from the Father. When John says the “Speech was God” it eliminates all right to say that the Son did not have eternal essence.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

12/30/10 Looking Back Luke 9:61,62

61 Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.”
62 Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”



Thoughts: The end of the year is a great time to set priorities.  One of our priorities should be to keep our eye focused on where we are going.  My uncle used to have some farm land that he rented to a man with a plow and mule.  One time I got to try it out, and it is difficult to control if you do not have a reference point ahead of you.  At the end of the year, it can be easy to live in regret for our failures in the past- looking back too much; or think of past obligations as if they outweighed our obligation to our Creator/Redeemer; or to move ahead in the wrong direction with the wrong priorities- or no priorities.  The path of truth is narrow, but it is so important to stay on the right path to follow our Lord. 

John Calvin Abridged: This man wanted to finish arranging his business before he left to go with Christ. While he was professing Christ with his words, he was turning his back on Christ to do his business.  They are said to "look back" who are involved in the cares of this world. In doing this, they withdraw themselves from the right path plunging themselves from employments that disqualify them from following Christ.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

12/30/10 Matthew 2:10-12 Seeking, Giving, Adoring Magi

10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lx35_DRIZ8g ("We Three King" King's College, Cambridge)

(Adoration of the Magi- Boticelli 1470-1475)

Thoughts: God blessed the wise men for seeking Him, and sacrificing their time to worship and give to Him.  So God warns them in a dream to not go back to Herod, and they return home safely.  These wise men did not just give a king some gifts, but they bowed down in worship to a baby.  This is such a contrast to the people of Judea who were stirred about the news the wise men brought but did not lift a finger to try to find this king-baby.  The people of Judea had more reason to find the king for the baby would be of their own people, and prophesied from their own scriptures, and they would not have nearly as far to travel as the wise men.  Yet, even religious people can become secular and so satisfied with the status quo that they do not expect God to act at all.  Herod was not apathetic, but sought to kill the baby.  The wise men travelled far, long, asking for directions as they went.  All the while they expected to find that baby-king.  We should be seekers who ignore the secularism around us to find God breaking into life.

Prayer: Help me Lord, to be a giver and not a comfort-seeker.  Help me to have eyes to see and seek your hand at work.

John Calvin Abridged: When they found the baby they were no doubt in shock at how humble this king would be.  They are able to see the purpose of God for the baby in their mind's eye and are able to overlook the humble circumstances.  There is no reason to get caught up in the symbols of the gifts, or that each king would present the gift separeately.  We too should concecrate ourselves and all we have to His service.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

12/29/10 Matthew 2:7-10 A Politician's Promise for Worship

7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”  9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary...

(Herod's tomb- discovered 2007 by Ehud Netzer in Herodium, his fortress near Bethlehem. Nationalgeograpic.com)

Thoughts: Herod had worldly wisdom to serve his selfish purposes.  So he tried to find out when the baby was born (which should coordinate with the star).  Most scholars believe the wise men didn't come to the stable but to some kind of more permanent residency that Joseph had in Bethlehem.  Matthew 2:11 speaks of the wise men coming to a house and finding not an infant but a child.  Usually western creches try to mix the shepherds, the angels, the animals, and the wise men, but it compresses the time of the stories.  Herod did not want to publicly kill a potential king while foreign ambassadors were there- so Herod did not go with them.  Herod, of course did not want to worship the child, but to kill him- it was a political and expedient lie.  Politicians don't say one thing when they mean the opposite today, do they?   We need people who are full of integrity to lead us, not just those who get things accomplished. 

Prayer: Lord, be with our rulers.  Help them to speak the truth with integrity- to mean what they say and say what they mean.  Help us to worship you, Lord, in Spirit and in truth.

John Calvin abridged: The tyrant did not want to show his fear publicly lest it give courage to the people who already despised him-- so he called the magi to himself secretly. Herod seemed to be in a state of shock and inaction.  There was a miracle taking place here of rescuing the Son of God from the jaws of a lion.  Similarly, when the enemies of the Church would easily come up with a thousand schemes to injure or ruin her it escapes their minds.  Though Herod is afraid of arousing the anger of the people, he is not afraid of provoking God.  When the magi left, no one accompanies them.  This was truly a horrible act of laziness.  Perhaps they were afraid of Herod's cruelty.  But for the sake of salvation they should have been willing to undertake any risk.

Monday, December 27, 2010

12/27/10 Matthew 2:3-6 Politicians and Religion

3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: 6 “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”


(Herod the Great- wikimedia)

Thoughts: Herod the Great liked to have the appearance of being religious without really being faithful to God.  Herod was Arab on both sides but practiced Judaism to hold onto his power.  He sought to appease the religious people of his day.  One of the great things he did was re-build the second Temple- a huge religious undertaking for a very religious people.  Yet Herod tried very hard to secularize (they called it "Hellenize" back then) the people.  He introduced hippodromes, games, and shopping malls to the people, as well as seeking to educate people in Greek.  He sought to wow the people with the technology of Rome (especially roads, waterworks, and military).  Yet Herod's main goal was to hold onto power.  He killed his wife and son, as well as many rabbis, and the innocent children of Bethlehem.  He lived a decadent lifestyle that was condemned by many.  Machiavelli (the basic western policitcal scientist) said that religion was politcally usefel and rulers should appear pious even if they ignore the teaching of their faith.  Most politicians take that advice.  Three years ago the SC Legislature tried to put a monument to the Ten Commandments even while they introduced legislation to elminate the laws regarding keeping a Sabbath.  At a county council meeting a few days ago (12/23) in my area, council members said "Merry Christmas" a dozen times, while at the same time passing legislation to make the county more secular.  Christians should be very careful in cloaking politicians with endorsements without vetting them- less we endorse a Herod the Great who built the Temple but tried to kill the King of Kings!

Prayer: Help me to be a person of integrity, O Lord.  May those who rule over me seek and follow your will- not artificially, but with their whole heart. 

John Calvin abridged:  Herod was well acquainted with the predictions that a Jewish King would come.  Yet he is troubled because he did not put stock in the promises of God.  The people could have been roused with gladness at the thought of a new king, but likely were troubled becuase they had faced so many calamities that one more change would be hard for them. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jyPMDD8fGeA&feature=related (Sarah McLaughlin- "O Little Town of Bethlehem")

Sunday, December 26, 2010

12/27/10- Matthew 2:1-2 The Star They Followed

 1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

(Byzantine mosaic of the wise men 526 AD- depicting them as Persians)

Thoughts: What was the star the wise men followed?  There are several possibilities.  The Koreans and Chinese speak of a comet appearing with no tail about 4 BC.  There were two supernovas during 8-1 BC that could have been the star.  But most think comets and supernovas were bad omens instead of signs of a star.  It appears the best choice is an alignment of the sun, moon, Jupiter and Saturn were all aligned.  This would have been a sign that a great leader of the Jews was born, but also that this leader would die at an appointed time (thus bringing myrrh for his burial).  The amazing thing is that these wise men set out on a long journey of faith- believing that what they had seen in the stars was real and so outstanding that they should travel for a long time to seek this new King.   It is true- the wise still seek Him. 

Prayer: Open my eyes to see the heavens telling of your glory.  Give me a will to respond to you by seeking and finding you.

John Calvin abridged: Matthew does not say how Jesus was born. The evangelists wrote one and the same history but in different ways.  His majesty shines in the east, while  in Judea he was dishonored.  The Father stripped Him of all earthly splendor, yet still uses the star and wise men to point us to Him.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

12/26/10- White Christmas?

10 As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, 11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10,11)


Add caption

Thoughts:  Do snow and Christmas really go together?  For several years there was a theological trend to say that Christmas probably was in the spring not the winter.  The argument went something like- shepherds don't tend sheep outside in the winter.  But in sub-tropical climates they tend them all year long- and the Bedouins still do today in Israel.  Very early tradition had the Annunciation to Mary as March 25.  Hippolytus suggest in the mid 200s that we should celebrate Christmas on the 25th of December (9 months after 3/25).  This was 50 years before the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius declared 12/25 to be the day of the festival for Sol Invectus (Unconquerable Sun). 
    However, theologically snow and Christmas go together.  1) Snow is seen as a cleansing agent- "Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow."  Snow is the great equalizer- covering over everything- scarlet, purple, green, whatever all become white. Jesus covers over all our stained sins.  2) We become white like snow when we are forgiven (Ps. 51:7)- wash me and I will be whiter than snow.  Jesus came to forgive us.  3) Imagery of God's appearance uses snow- (Dan. 7:9; Mt 28:3; Rev. 1:14).  Christ is God become visible.  4) Snow is an image of the Word of God becoming incarnate (Isa. 55:10) Jesus is the Word become flesh (John 1:14).  So... I'm dreaming of a white Christmas!

Prayer: Lord, make my sins as white as snow.  Nourish me that I might bear fruit for you, Word Incarnate.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lt66XC8U1Ao&playnext=1&list=PL54F06776519B0FFC&index=31 (In the Bleak Midwinter)

P.S.- Our county just eliminated laws that kept people form working on Sunday (there was a hiatus til 1:30).  Tomorrow (12/26) is the first day for the elimination of these laws to take effect and there was a huge push to have everything open the day after Christmas.  But alas, the snow is supposed to stop when?  About 1:30 P.M. Sunday.

12/25/10 Galatians 4:4 Christmas- the Last Sabbath in America

When the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law. (Galatians 4:4)
There remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. (Hebrews 4:9)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BTknk-jxc2k&feature=related (Joy to the World arr. Whitney Houston)
(Below- "Worship of the Shepherds" by Angelo Bronzino d. 1572)



Thoughts: Christmas is finally here- a day of peace, hope and love- and rest.  Rest from shopping, rest from the rush.  It's all done. Rest- even from the cell phone going off all the time.  Most things are closed today.  So I invite you to stop and listen.  If you're not hightailing it from one grandma to another... listen.  Most stores are closed.  Most are with their family, or are missing being with family.  Walmart is even closed.  Military maneuvers are limited to the bare necessities.  The malls went from being packed, angry places with huge lines to... hush.  It used to be like this all over America every Sunday- once a week.  Now Christmas is the last Sabbath. When you listen to songs about Christmas you get it- Silent night (Stille Nacht)- all is calm; The Little Town of Bethlehem is... still; 

In the last twenty years, in the name of secularism we have eliminated our laws regarding the corporate Sabbath from our books.  This was the second major step of secularization after the eliminating of prayer from schools. Sunday in America is just like any other day- a busy day. Rascal Flats said, "Sunday was a day of rest- now it is one more day for progress."   It is not considered "the Lord's Day" (Rev. 1:10) but our day- to shop, or make money- or whatever.

Someone asked, "Can't we keep Christmas all year long?"  Keeping a Sabbath is a way to do just that.  Since we have eliminated Sabbath laws, what has happened?  Has our family situation improved?  Today the institution of marriage is in such shambles that for the first time in our history more are choosing to live together without getting married than choosing to marry.  We have become slaves to our work mostly because of rampant consumerism and debt (I owe, I owe so oft to work I go).  The Sabbath was given to help us remember we are not slaves to our work or to things (Dt. 5:15).  Our debt has skyrocketed, and the government seems to want to go to more debt to get us out of debt.  Many will be in a Christmas regret mode in about two weeks when the credit card bills come.  A study by Depaul & Ben Gurion Universities published 9/10 noted 3 changes in areas that eliminate the Sabbath laws: 1) church attendance decreases; 2) drug and alcohol abuse increase; 3) Unhappiness among women increases (17%).  A Sabbath is a way to restrain our lust for things and help us to focus on God, family, and merciful/helpful things. The shepherds left their sheep for a moment, perhaps our sheep will be okay in God's hands.  Keeping a Sabbath is a sign of faith and trust in God.

Galatians 4:4 says. "When the time had fully come."  Jesus not only intersected our space, He also intersected our time. Christmas is a day of peace and rest because the Prince of Peace comes. Listen to the peace of Christmas today- but more importantly rejoice that the Prince of Peace has come!  This is truly Joy to the World!

Prayer: Thank you Lord, for a day to catch our breath, renew friendships with family and old friends.  Thank you that you give us rest and peace within.

John Calvin abridged:  We do not need to speculate why God did not send His Son sooner.  The Son who was sent, must have existed before He was sent.  He was made under a woman- that is, he assumed our nature.  The Son who could have claimed every kind of exemption from the Law became subject to it in order to free us from it.  This does not mean we may do whatever we please- for the law is the everlasting rule of a good and holy life.  Yet we are free from the rigor of the Law.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

12/24/10 Mt. 1:22-25 The Virgin Mary Had a Baby Boy

22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”(which means “God with us”). 24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4sZLYj-q60I&feature=iv&annotation_id=annotation_921304
(Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing- "Virgin Mary Had a Baby Boy" with nativity video)

(Gerard van Honthorst 1622)


Thoughts: Most who have problem with the virgin birth have problems with miracles.  It is out of the ordinary.  But as one person put it, "If God could create the universe, he could create an extra Y chromosome."  Matthew 1:16,18,20 and Luke 1:22-23,25,34,35 all point to the virgin birth.  Galatians 4:4 says "made of a woman" which may be an inference to it.  John speaks of Jesus "coming down from heaven" (6:38); "coming from the Father into the world (16:27,28) and being "sent by the Father" (5:36; 6:57; 10:36).  It was an unusual intersection of the divine with the human- yet Christ did not lose His humanity in the process (Heb. 2:15,17). 

Prayer: Lord you are extraordinary.  Your birth shows us that.  Do extraordinary things in our ordinary world once more.

John Calvin abridged: Isaiah tells of an Immanuel who delivers the city for King Ahaz (7:14).  So Jesus is the Immanuel who delivers us.  Paul speaks of God manifest in the flesh (1 Tim. 3:16).  We are at enmity and alienated from God apart from Christ (Eph. 2:15,17).  But God came to dwell among His people bodily in all his fullness (Col. 2:9). 

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

12/23/10 Matthew 1:20-21 Jesus the Savior Comes

20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

(Joseph's Dream by Rembrandt 1645)

Thoughts: Joseph had ordinary fear, but God has extraordinary plans for him.  The angel forecast that the baby would not be a girl, but a boy (no ultrasound in those days).  They were to call the baby Jesus- which means "The Lord saves."  The term "Savior" is not given to a general or ruler by the Jews- but this is reserved only for God.  Only God can forgive sins (Mark 2:7).  The prophecy is that Jesus will save his people from their sins.  Not save them from their political enemies; not save them from discomfort; but from slavery to their sins.  In order for Jesus to save us, we need to be a part of his people.  We do this by being adopted into his family by faith. 

Prayer: Lord, My Savior, save me from my sins.  May I be a part of your people by faith, hope, and love.

John Calvin Abridged: We see here how God helps His people in a timely fashion.  When He appears to have forgotten us, we are still under His eye.  When His help is delayed it is for our own advantage.  The Lord speaks to us in dreams (Nbrs. 12:6-8) but they differ from natural dreams in that they have a feeling of certainty about them.  God's dreams do not have to do with the cares or problems of life, but with the testimony of the Holy Spirit.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8TXxlKLCCMY ("A Strange Way To Save the World" by 4Him).

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

12/22/10 Matthew 1:18-19 The Dilemna of Faith and Joseph

18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

(Gaetano Gandolfi 1790)

Thoughts: Joseph's dilemna was a dilemna of faith.  Many of our big decisions in life are decisions of faith.  Joseph may have thought that his only decision was divorce (Dt 24:1) or allowing her to be stoned (Dt. 22:22).  It seemed like a lose-lose proposition.  But Joseph was told this was not a natural problem with a normal solution.  Joseph in respect for his fiancee wanted to divorce her quietly but faith had another solution.  God provided a way out for Joseph and Mary.  For those who seek to obey God, we are called to trust Him, and seek His will.

Prayer:  Lord, as Joseph sought your will, help me to seek your will and find it. 

John Calvin Abridged: Matthew does not relate the place and manner of Christ's birth, but how it was made known to Joseph.  "Before they came together" means before they lived in the same home together.  Joseph condemned the crime of unchastity while his gentleness kept him from going to the utmost rigor of the law.  Mary was "with child by the Holy Spirit" meaning she was restrained not by her own choice but by the Holy Spirit.  It is not absurd to think that God puts the faith of His people on trial.

Monday, December 20, 2010

12/21/10 John 1:4-13 Light on the Longest Night

4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. 6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. 9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

(Lunar Eclipse 2010)

Thoughts: This passage has much to say about light.  Today is the Longest Night and shortest day.  It is made even longer because the total eclipse of the full moon will take place this morning between 2:41- 3:52 EST.  It is only the second time that the total eclipse has occurred on the winter solstice in the last 2,000 years (the last being 12/21/1638).
Jesus is called "the true light that gives light to everyone" and he was "coming into the world."  Even in our darkest nights, our lowest valleys, our dark nights of the soul, Jesus can give light and hope.  Real hope cannot be overcome by darkness, but as the darkness and sadness encounters it, it gives way.  The illusion is that darkness snuffs out the light- but reality is that light illuminates the darkness- making it flee away.  So Christ gives hope in the despair of the longest nights of our lives.  But we must truly look to Him. 

Prayer: Lord, let your hope grow in me, out of me, and into others.

John Calvin abridged: All the godly are light in the Lord (Eph. 5:8).  John was careful that his light not obscure the glory of Christ.  The disciples were called light (Mt. 5:14) because they held forth the torch of the gospel.  But Jesus is the eternal source of light of all.  Augustine says a teacher in the only school in town may be called the teacher of all even if others do not attend the school.  But I (Calvin) prefer to believe that the rays of Christ's truth are spread over all- so that there is no one who is not somehow reached with some perception by the light of Christ.  But this is not the light of faith here, but the light of reason/nature.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

12/20/10 John 1:3-5 Jesus the Light in the Darkness

 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.



Thoughts: As God in the beginning created light and life, so the Son (who is the beginner as God) is able to give light and life today.  He offers eternal life to us, and he gives us hope and truth (light).  In our world, it seems that despite the problems we have, we are turning away from our Greatest Help instead of toward our greatest Help.  We are purposefully and quickly becoming more secular.  Even religious leaders are acting like they are doing God a favor by being critical of Christianity and laissez faire toward the emptiness, and shallowness of secularization.  Yet the darkness does not overcome the light.  Light is more powerful than darkness- and God wins in the end. 

Prayer: Jesus, you are my life and my light.  Help me to trust that your resurrection will overcome death; your truth will win out in the end; your light will shine in the darkness.

John Calvin abridged: Having affirmed that the Speech is the eternal God, he now affirms His deity by His works.  There are many who agree that God is the Master Builder, but then they don't appreciate that God has said far more about Himself than that, and they fly off into firivolous speculation.  In saying that "In him was life" the writer also attributes the preservation of life to Him.  Our understanding has been plunged into darkness, but the power of Christ still allows some light to shine upon us. 

Saturday, December 18, 2010

12/19/10 John 1:1,2 The Word as God but separate

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.



(Star Field Hubble Telescope)


Thoughts: This passage goes along with what Jesus said, “Before Abraham was- I am” (Jn. 8:58; cf. Ex. 3:14). He was in the beginning- He is eternal. He is the Word of God- that is, just as God speaks His word and that word comes into sure being- so God emanates from Himself (as the sun's light is part of the sun but emanates from it). Our words do not create- they are not as powerful, they are not as true. But the more powerful the king, the more powerful his word. God, as all powerful, is also all true and reliable. Jesus is the Word, and you can substitute his name for “Word.” Thus you get, “In the beginning was Jesus, and Jesus was with God and Jesus was God. He was with God in the beginning.” Thus the divinity of Jesus- yet separation from the Father is expressed.

Prayer: Thank you Jesus, for being with the Father, yet coming down to earth for us.



John Calvin abridged: Here John speaks of the eternal speech of God that became flesh (1 Tim. 4:16). The design is to show that the restoration of human beings must be by the Son of God who had originally breathed life into every creature. So we do not withdraw from the only God when we worship Christ, and life is restored by the one who issued it in the first place. God was never without his eternal wisdom and speech and so the Father was never without His Son. Justly Augustine says that this “beginning” has no beginning. Here we have eternal generation. Here it is mentioned that the Son has a distinct personality from the Father in that he mentions that the Speech was always with God, if he did not have some distinction from the Father. When John says the “Speech was God” it eliminates all right to say that the Son did not have eternal essence.

Friday, December 17, 2010

12/18/10 Luke 2:16-20 Praising God for Finding Him

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.


(Adoration of the Shepherds- El Greco)
Thoughts: The joy of Christmas is not to be kept to ourselves.  Years ago Campus Crusade for Christ had a world-wide campaign with the theme, "I Found It!"  This is kind of what the shepherds expressed- they had found him- the babe the angels talked about.  The shepherds glorified and praised God- they were deeply moved and changed by these events.  Who wouldn't be?  Alas, there are too many who experience God but later they forget their experience and turn away.  Then there are others who have a remarkable experience of God but keep that to themselves.  When God gives us hope or help, we should seek to praise God.
 
Prayer: Thank you God, for finding me.  May I express my joy at having found you as the shepherds did.


John Calvin Abridged: The shepherds could have been shocked that the King of kings would be in such a humble, poverty-stricken state.  But the glory of God and reverence for his word was so much their focus that their faith overcame Christ's humble state.  We should learn to focus on God and not on our circumstances.  That God would use such lowly men to publish the news humbles the pride of the flesh and tries the obedience of faith.  These men were kind of secondary angels delivering the message.  Mary's pondering tells us 1) that she remembered until it was time to recount it; and 2) to follow her example of thinking on the works of God that motivate our faith. 

Thursday, December 16, 2010

12/16/10 Luke 2:15 Come and Worship

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

(The Shepherds, William Hold)




Thoughts: When God does something in our lives, we should not just take it in, but respond.  The angels had given the shepherds a call to worship- "You will find the baby..."  So they looked for the baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger.  When the supernatural intersects with our lives, we are called to find Him- and worship Him.  Advent and Christmas are about this intersection- He has come- and we are called to worship. So many of the Christian songs are calls to worship- "with the angels let us sing- alleluia to our King"; "O Come all ye faithful...O come let us adore Him!"  "Come and worship, come and worship- worship Christ the newborn King!"  God calls to us to leave our sheep (our work), our fires (our comfort), our caves (our homes/family/friends), and go and give Him homage for our Savior has come.

Prayer:  God, give me ears and strength to head your call.  You are worthy of my worship. 

John Calvin abridged: The Lord made the shepherds witnesses to the coming of His Son, and they were obedient.  They were not expressly commanded to come to Bethlehem, but they were aware of God's plan so they hurried to see Christ.  So, if we know God has come- should not delay or make up excuse to not come to Him.  It is worth noting that the shepherds encouraged each other.  It is not enough that we are each attentive to our own duty, So they did not neglect the treasure given to them by the Lord (through the angel).  So we too should also seek to follow wherever God calls.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

12/15/10 Luke 2:13,14 Glory and Peace

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

(Annunciation to the Shepherds- Govaert Flinck 1639)

Thoughts: Two things happen when God comes to earth: 1) He is glorified, and 2) His people have peace. 
God is worthy of praise because He does not leave us alone, but comes to us.  He is glorified because His glory is reflected on earth when God squeezed himself down to accomodate Himself to us.  God is worthy to praise because he seeks to bridge the gap we are unable to bridge.  Jesus is also the Prince of Peace (Isa. 9:7) who brings peace to those who believe in Him.  It is implied here that He does not bring peace for those who do not beleive.  In fact, Jesus himself said he did not come bring peace to all earth (Mt. 10:34). Isaiah says there is no peace for the wicked (48:22; 57:21).  Yet, to those who are on his side, he brings the peace of victory, of forgiveness, of blessing, of hope, of strength, of His love.  God is with us- Immanuel- so we have peace with God, with others, and with ourselves.

Prayer: May you be glorified through me, O Lord.  May your peace flow into me and through me to the world.

John Calvin abridged:  An exhibition of divine splendor had already been made with one angel.  But now God adds even more with multpile angels. The Bible speaks of two or three witnesses as being sufficient, but here were multitudes of angels. If we cannot join with the company of angels of praising Christ for our salvation, what stubbornness we have!  "Glory to God" We are redeemed that we might testify to this highest praise.  It is not outward, earthly peace that the angels sing- but the inward peace that comes from knowing we are reconciled to God.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

12/15/10 Luke 2:8-12 The Shepherds; Angelic Appearance to the Shepherds

8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

(Shepherd's Field in Bethlehem- taken by the author 6/2010)




Thoughts: Shepherds are the bedouins.  They are the poor, usually uneducated folk that brave the elements to keep the sheep.  Most scholars point out that the shepherds in Bethlehem kept the flocks for the sacrifices in Jerusalem.  In Bethlehem there is the shepherd's field church where the appearance of the angels is celebrated.  God did not reveal himself to the rich people in the end, but to the poor folk out in the caves/fields with their sheep.  The Great Shepherd of the Sheep has come to protect, heal, and guide His people to the greener pastures of eternal life.  As the shepherds listened, we should hear His voice.

Prayer: Lead me, O Lord, in your righteousness.  Make my way straight before you.  You alone make me dwell in safety.  You are my shepherd.  Let me hear your voice and follow you and your way. 

John Calvin abridged:  Not many witnesses saw these events- and most of these were at night.  God revealed Himself not to the wealthy but to the humble and those who were not valued by the world.  So we are not to have the Gospel depend on worldly splendor- but we hold these treasures in earthen vessels (2 Cor. 4:5; 1 Cor. 2:4,5). If we desire to follow the Lord, let us not be embarrassed to take as our instructors those who were seen as the garbage of the world. The angel told them to not be afraid, trying to keep them from being overwhelmed with awe.  Real joy is found not in the surface-mirth of the world, but in the deep joy that comes from knowing of the Father's care. If the stable gave no offense to the shepherds, and did not prevent them from coming to Christ for salvation in his humble state; so we should not be offended by the mean and humble state of the signs of God's love.

(Fresco inside Shepherd's Field Church)

12/14/10 Luke 2:4-7 Hopsitality and Christmas

4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

(Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem)

Thoughts: It is haunting- to think that there was no guest room available for them.  It is haunting to us that the Creator of all that we see- who made every space and room- was forced away- forced out into the cold.  Hospitality has always been a part of the Judeo-Christian message.  Abraham was hospitable to three stangers- and entertained angels unawares (Heb. 13:2).  Christ came that we might be welcomed into heaven and we did not welcome Him.  On a cold winter's day, let us seek to be hospitable to those we meet, and even go out of our way to bring someone in from the cold spiritually or physically.

Thoughts: Help me to remember those in need.  We remember you, who had no needs, became needy that we might respond to you, and you to us.

John Calvin Abridged: We see here not only the poverty of Joseph- but the tyranny of a government that would make a woman travel pregnant at an inconvenient time, not allowing any excuses.  Joseph was not devoid of feeling, but was forced to yield to the government and entrust his wife's care to God.  We also see what kind of beginning the Son of God had on this earth, and in what kind of cradle he was placed. His condition was such because he emptied himself (Phil. 2:7) for our sake.  When he was thrown into a stable and a manger, it was that heaven would be opened to us- not as a temporary lodging, but as an eternal home- where the angels welcome us to their eternal dwelling.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

12/13/10 Luke 2:1-4 The Mightiest Emperor and the King of Kings, Advent 3

1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.  4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.




Thoughts: The sovereignty of the King of Kings is shown in that He used a thought of an emperor a thousand miles away to bring about the prophecy that the messiah would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2).  Now this was not just any emperor, but perhaps the strongest emperor the world has ever known, and he was issuing this decree at his apex.  He had conquered Pompeii, Anthony & Cleopatra, and won the senate over.  But to those who say the birth of Christ is only a myth- Bethlehem is a real place- you may go there today.  You can look inside the church that contains the real cave.  How ironic that the mightiest emperor should declare where the truly greatest king should be born. 

Prayer: Lord of lords and King of Kings!  You are worthy of praise forever and ever. 

John Calvin abridged:  Luke relates that Jesus was born in Bethlehem not by human contrivance but by the leading of providence.  Mary and Joseph were ordered to their homes by Augustus and were led like blind persons to the place of Bethlehem by the hand of God.  So we see that the servants of God, even when they wander away from their plans, are still designed by the sovereignty of God. 

Saturday, December 11, 2010

12/12/10- Luke 1:76-80 Zechariah's Prophecy about John Advent 3

76 And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, 77 to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, 78 because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
79 to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”
80 And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the wilderness until he appeared publicly to Israel.
(Rooster at Daybreak Usanddeep.com)


Thoughts: John the Baptist was to be the rooster who crowed that the rising sun was coming (vs. 78).  John was to wake us up to the reality of the new day in which the kingdom comes.  It is a day that takes away the darkness, that lights our way so we may not stumble.  There are many walking in darkness today- who have left the ways of the light and are travelling down troubling pathways.  May God use us to call people to wake up to Him. 

John Calvin Abridged: Zechariah affirms that John will be the usher or herald of Christ.  Zechariah shares the essence of the Gospel which is the knowledge of salvation is forgiveness of sins.  We are by nature children of wrath (Eph. 2:3), and the only way to escape this condemnation and ruin is by God. Our righteousness is not found in any other place but in the forgiveness of sins.

Friday, December 10, 2010

12/11/10 Luke 1:67- 75 Zechariah Sings About Jesus

67 His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied:  68 “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them. 69 He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David 70 (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago), 71 salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us— 72 to show mercy to our ancestors and to remember his holy covenant, 73 the oath he swore to our father Abraham: 74 to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear 75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.



Thoughts: Zechariah the priest prophesied that the Messiah has come to bring relief from enemies and relief from fear.  Jesus' coming gave relief from the greatest of enemies- not Rome (the greatest of empires), but death.  Paul says it is our last enemy (1 Cor. 15:26), and it is an enemy every single one of God's people must face.  Death and its corollary judgment are our enemies from which Christ saves each one of us.

Prayer:  Lord, thank you for the offer of salvation.

John Calvin Abridged: Zechariah prophesied that God has visited/come to his people that He might redeem them.  It is said that Christ came as a redeemer for the holy and elect people of God- thus even the fathers of the Old Testament were redeemed by Christ's grace.  Zechariah was well aware that the principle battle was not against flesh and blood, but the real enemy is a spiritual one- Satan and his legions.  Though we are surrounded by enemies on every side, we have a sure and certain salvation.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

12/10/10 Luke 1:57-66 God is Gracious- The Naming of John- Advent

57 When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son. 58 Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy. 59 On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, 60 but his mother spoke up and said, “No! He is to be called John.” 61 They said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who has that name.” 62 Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child. 63 He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, “His name is John.” 64 Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue set free, and he began to speak, praising God. 65 All the neighbors were filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. 66 Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, “What then is this child going to be?” For the Lord’s hand was with him.

(Cyberbrethren 9-5-09)


Thoughts: The name "John" means "God is gracious."  That is an appropriate name for one who is shown mercy, and it was a common name of the time (eg. John Mark, John the son of Zebedee).  The Levitical priests were very traditional.  But Zechariah showed he finally believed the angel when he wrote, "His name is John."  Sometimes when we do not believe we wander away and suffer the consequences of our unbelief.  But the good news is that God offers us restoration, and puts a new song in our mouth.  Zechariah was not only able to speak, but he finally had a son!  If we come back to God in belief, He welcomes us gladly!
 
Prayer: God, be gracious to me, and help me to believe in your grace. 
 
John Calvin Abridged: The narratives around John the Baptist's birth were distinguished by miracles which gave reason to expect that something great and remarkable would appear in the child himself in the future.  There is no magic in names, but parents should choose wisely to instruct and admonish their children.  Honor was given to the prophet-child by allowing his father to speak at his birth.  When John began his ministry, few remembered the miracles of his birth.  But this instructs us that we are too quick to remember trivial things, and slow to remember the acts of God in our lives.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

12/9/10 Luke 1:54-56 God Keeps His Promises

54 He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful 55 to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.” 56 Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home.

(Sandra Botticeli, Madonna del Magnificat 1480)


Thoughts: God has not only remembered the poor, remembered the humble, remembered the godly, but also remembered His people.  The people of Israel were to be a kingdom of priests (Ex. 19:6).  The true faith in the One God was to be conveyed through the naiton of Israel.  It is through Abraham, God had said, that all nations would be blessed (Gen. 12:1,2).  Mary is basically praising God for keeping his promises.  Christmas is about that.  God promised deliverance for us- a way ot of the trap of life, and He delivered.  When God says something he delivers. He doesn't jerk us around, changing his mind with every wind that blows.  So when God promises us heaven, we can count on it.  God promised to show his care to Israel and to all nations through Israel.  He shows He cares for us by keeping his promise as well.

Prayer: Thank you for your promises Lord.  They are true and reliable as you are. 

John Calvin abridged:  God fulfills the promises to the fathers. The nation was on the edge of ruined, but God showed the might of his mercy by remembering.  Mary shows that in the accomplishing of these promises, God has been true and faithful. 

12/8/10 Luke 1:50-53 Reverse of Fortunes

50 His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. 51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. 52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. 53 He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.

Mariotto Albertinelli (1503)

Thoughts: The mercy of God is not just for a time, but permanent. God is not just God of the past.  It is easy for us to forget the 350 year span between Malachi and Mary/Elizabeth.  While there was the miracle that is celebrated at Hanukkah, there was no deep prophecy written for centuries.  The promise for a messiah was centuries old and miracles were few and far between. But Mary is remembering God's mercy is for today for all who fear Him in every generation and time.  So today, many think God is God of the past but not the present or the future.  It takes faith like Mary's, Elizabeth's, Anna's, and Simeon's to be a remnant in a declining culture-believing that God remembers and is able to change things.  But this "remnant faith" changed the world. Elizabeth's husband's name, "Zechariah" means "God has remembered"- and He does!
     Here Mary celebrates that God not only remembers people of every generation, but also remembers the powerless and humble who put their faith in Him. This is a revolutionary statement.  God is not impressed or only concerned about the wealthy and powerful, but all people.  James (4:10) and 1 Peter (1 Pt 5:6) say, "Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord and He will lift you up."  Here, at the beginning of the Gospel, a specifically Christian virtue, humility, is elevated.  Jesus said the last shall be first, and so it was and is.  But it is not simply that God remembers the poor- but the His mercy is for the poor who put their trust in Him.  This is a great remembrance, and a great reversal of fortune.

Prayer: As Mary humbled herself, help me to humble myself in your presence.  Help me to trust in your ability to lift me up in my time of need. Have mercy on those who are humbled today, Lord- those without heat or shelter; those with little food or hope. 

John Calvin Abridged:  God's power to help is contrasted to those who will not or cannot help (Isa. 59:16).  God scatters the proud as He did at the Tower of Babel when they overreach in their covetousness.  Mary ascribes to God's power what the ungodly ascribe to Fortune.  Yet God does not toss us up and down without purpose as if we were balls being thrown in the air.  It is not that God simply delights in changes in power, but that there is a purpose in his elevating some to a position of recognition (Dan. 2:21; Ps. 107:39).  Those who are in a high position, need to remember the One who allows them to be there.  It is too easy for the great, power, and well-fed, to ascribe all their power to themselves and not to God.

Monday, December 6, 2010

12/7/10- Luke 1:46-49 Mindful of the Humble

46 And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me— holy is his name.




Thoughts: God is mindful of those who serve Him humbly.  This goes against what we think, and see. We are told that people are favored who blow their own horn, who speak up for themselves.  Mary's son would later say, "He who wants to be first must be last" (Mk. 9:35).  It is not the celebrities on television who will be remembered forever, but the ones who do God's work silently and faithfully.  We glorify God best not by being great for Him, but by being faithful to Him whether we are noticed or not. 

Prayer: Help me Lord, to glorify you in my faithfulness and steady love for you.  Forgive me when I also elevate those who do not humbly serve you. 

John Calvin abridged:  Hypocrites praise God with the mouth but not the heart- but Mary praises Him from her inmost soul.  Usually soul and spirit refer to the same inner heart, but when together spirit speaks of understanding, and soul of affection.  Mary disclaimed her own merit and claimed God's grace.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

12/6/10 Luke 1:39-45 Reaction to Mary

39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”
(NIV 2010)



Thoughts: This is part of the "Hail Mary" that the catholics repeat.  When Elizabeth hear Mary's voice the baby inside her (John the Baptist) apparently reacts showing first signs of life- it kicked- even lept.  This was a leap of life and of joy.  Doubtless Elizabeth and Zechariah were curious about their baby's health, but now they were reassured.  We do not need to stretch the passage's meaning, for the plain meaning is very powerful: Elizabeth prophesied that the baby inside Mary would be the Lord.  The ultimate blessing of motherhood/womanhood would be to be the mother of the messiah.  Mary should be honored by all especially being the mother of our Lord, and that she believed the promises given her (1:45).  But the real message focuses on the child- who would be blessed, and was the Lord in the flesh. We all need to stand in Mary's shoes of believing the promises of God. 

Prayer: Lord, help me to believe as Mary did.  Help me to be re-energized and quickened in your presence in worship.  May my heart leap for joy for you.

John Calvin abridged:  Mary went to see Elizabeth in part to strengthen her faith and to celebrate the grace of God which they had both received.  It is too much to say that the babe inside Elizabeth was moved by faith or piety.  It is enough to say that the babe was moved by the Holy Spirit.  Elizabeth was also filled with the Holy Spirit so that she could prophesy.  Elizabeth does not elevate Mary above Christ, but points out that the favor and blessing is from God.  The name "Lord" belongs to the Son of God.  Mary is declared blessed because she believed.  True human happiness lies in our believing the message of God.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

12/5/10 John 1:4,5 The light of all People

4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.


(Sun meets earth at the Sea of Galilee, picture taken by Ben Sloan 6/8/2010)
Thoughts: This has some overtones to Isaiah 9- "The people walking in darkness have seen a great light...for unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given..." Jesus is the flashlight shining in the movie theater, pointing to a way out.  Jesus is the light at the end of the tunnel.  Jesus is the light that helps us see our mistakes, but also helps us see our way over the things that would make us fall.  He is the light that gives vitamin D for healthy bones, and photosynthesis for healthy and growing plants.  Without him, we would wither- and many do.  Despite the darkness trying really hard to stop the light, it cannot.  So in our day, the light wins- it pierces the darkness, and the darkness- though opposed, must yield to it.  We would do well to yield to Christ and follow Him who brings life and light.

Prayer: Be my life and light today, O Lord.  Help me to have hope in your light.  Let me remember that you came to give us hope and life.

John Calvin abridged: John has been saying the Speech of God was at creation and creating.  Now He says that God sustains life.  God's continual speech is inspiration and vigor to the world so that without it, we would decay (Acts 17:28).  The "light" spoken of here as given by the Speech is the light of understanding that separates us from brute beasts.  Amidst the thick darkness, the light of understanding still shines.

Friday, December 3, 2010

12/4/10 Luke 1:34-38 Marys Faith Compared to Zechariah's Doubt

34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from.”

38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.



(Greek Church of Annunciation- ancient well in Nazareth where legend says the angel spoke to Mary)

Thoughts: Mary gives us the great example of questioning in faith- She asks "How will this be" but at the same time she is willing to submit to God's will.  In contrast is Zachariah who questions in the Temple thinking in doubt.  Our answer to God should be may it be to me as you have said.  Zechariah believed only in the usual.  Mary believed nothing was impossible.  Too many Christians today believe only in the usual.  In dark times, we need to grow in faith, believing in the power of God- with Him nothing is impossible.  Without that belief we are no different than the mute Zechariah, compared to the praising Mary. 
Prayer: Give me grace, O Lord, to believe in you. Help, Lord, my unbelief.
 
John Calvin abridged: Mary, a little like Zechariah wonders how the angel's words could happen when she had not known a man.  However, she does not ask in such a way that God's power is lowered to the level of her senses.  The question arises from admiration rather than distrust.  The virgin was not given an answer to the specific manner- which was not necessary.  Rather she was asked to trust the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit.  Christ is to be born in an extraordinary way to show he was holy and not just a part of the ordinary rank of humans.  "Son of God" is a title referring to Christ's divine essence.  He is of the holy seed, meaning that he did not contract normal human impurities from sin.  Yet he was truly human to vanquish death and evil from us who are human. 

12/3/10 Luke 1:29- 33 A Royal Prediction (Advent)

29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”


(Annunciation, Henry Tanner)


Thoughts: This passage is full of royal overtones. Particularly it speaks of entering the presence of the King of Kings who appoints princes.  Exodus 33:20 says that no one can fully see God's face and live- perhaps this added to Mary's natural fear.  Maybe you remember the story of Esther in which the queen was only allowed in the presence of the king by invitation, or if he extended the scepter toward her.  Otherwise to be in his presence meant death.  Mary is granted favor with the King of kings in much the same way that Esther was granted favor in the presence of the King of Persia who extended a scepter to her so that she would not be killed (Esther 4:11; 5:12).  The angel tells her to not be afraid for God would bless her with a son.  The angel tells him what He is to be called, and that he would be a Prince- but not just any prince: rather a prince who will rule forever- inheriting the throne of David.  It is interesting that two things were dying out during the time of Christ: 1) the Davidic line and throne (the Hasmonean line was all but dead), and 2) the sacrifices in the temple- stopped within a generation of Jesus' death.  God was interested in continuing the work of the king (governing), and of the priest (sacrificing).  This took a major act that started with the angel's coming to Mary. The king was coming- and coming through Mary.  Because this king/priest came through Mary we can approach the throne of grace with confidence (Heb. 4:16). In a time in which the Federal Bank spends 3 trillion dollars without any government approval, in which huge debates about morality are going on, and so many are oblivious to the presence of God- it is important to enter the presence of the King of Kings through prayer!

Prayer: Lord, may I find your favor.  May those who come after me praise your name forever and ever.

John Calvin abridged: The angel had not been sent to her for trivial purposes.  We too should not be careless observers of the works of God; and our consideration should be regulated by fear and reverence.  A person receives favor not when they seek it, but when it is freely given.  The angel adapts his words to Isaiah's prophecty (7:14).  The word "conceive" sets aside any idea that Christ was only a ghost or phantom.  Here Jesus is given a name "Jesus" meaning salvation, and titles Jesus, the anointed one, Son of God. Christ's throne was erected among the people of Israel that He might be given the entire world.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

12/2/10 Luke 1:26-28 The Favor of God

26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”


("The Anunciation" Edward Burne-Jones 1879)

Thoughts: The favor of God is the blessing of God which is the presence of God.  The greatest blessing for the Christian is not money, not fame, not the praise of others, not clothes, but the deep presence of God.  Mary experienced that presence in a way no one else has.  The presence of God overshadowed her.  She was simply a young virgin.  She was not famous.  Probably not well educated.  She did not have much.  But she had everything, and is the most famous woman ever.  She truly was highly favored.  We should seek that same favor of God- His presence- in our lives.

Prayer:  May I grow in your favor and an awareness of your presence, Lord. 

John Calvin abridged: The angel begins with an ascription to God's grace.  God had prepared her heart by grace with his goodness, so that His grace is enlarged.  Blessing is a proof of Divine kindness.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

12/1/10 Luke 1:18- 25 The Silence of Unbelief

18 Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” 19 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. 20 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.” 21 Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. 22 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. 23 When his time of service was completed, he returned home. 24 After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. 25 “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.”

(Anunciation to Zechariah- Domenico Ghirlandaio 1490 Florence)


Thoughts: Christmas means God has spoken through the silence- the Word has become flesh.  In contrast, there is a deep silence of unbelief.  Unbelief means no angel is there to speak.  Unbelief means our words and actions are meaningless in the longrun- heading toward a silent grave.  Unbelief means the universe is a lonely, silent place. Unbelief means that even if God has spoken, we have turned our ears to the off position.  But to believe means we have something to say.  How sad for Zechariah who should have believed but did not.  How sad that he had something to say but could not speak.  Christians today are called to believe that God can answer our prayers.  We are called to speak about what we have seen and heard to the world outside for God has allowed us to experience Him and has given us voices to speak.

Prayer:  Thank you that you did not leave us in our silence, but you have spoken. Help me to believe and speak of you to others.

John Calvin abridged: Zechariah had prayed that he might obtain offspring, and now that it is promised he distrusts, as if he had forgotten his own prayers and faith.  Zechariah looks for an excuse for his unbelief in his old age.  Abraham was old as well, but he believed (Rom. 4:19).  Mary asked, "How can this be" when the angel appeared to her.  But God sees the heart and the rebuke to Zechariah is not judged just on his words but on his heart.

11/30/10 Luke 1:11-17 Praying Expectantly

11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13 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. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 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. 16 He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 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 and the angel Gabriel at the altar of incense)

Thoughts: Zechariah was a religious person who was walking by sight rather than by faith.  There's a little Zechariah in all of us.  Zechariah was not expecting the presence of God- or anything supernatural- even in the courtyard of the priests in the very Temple of the Lord.  A lot of us come to church not expecting God to break into our lives.  We pray not expecting God to do anything about it.  The great thing about Zechariah was that he was faithful in his prayers even when his prayers didn't seem to be answered for a son.  But God didn't just answer his prayers for a son- he gave him the one Jesus called "the greatest one born of a woman."  We need to pray expectantly- which is hard when God doesn't seem to answer our prayers.  I think about those praying for a relative who has strayed away- a prodigal- and they don't seem to come back.  Or I think of those praying for someone with a chronic disease.  It is hard to pray expectantly- believing God can do "more than we can ask or imagine" (Eph. 3:20).  Yet, the Lord teaches us faith through prayer.


Prayer: Lord, teach me to pray faithfully and expectantly.  Keep me believing in your power and ability to answer my prayers though it may seem impossible.

John Calvin abridged: By an extraordinary purpose of God, it was appointed that John be born in an unnatural way similar to Isaac in the Old Testament. John is a mortal man born of earthly parents in a supernatural way- almost as if he fell from heaven.  God does not try to terrify his servants, yet it is advantageous and even necessary that they be struck with awe in order to give God the glory due his name (Ps. 29:2).  The presence of God leads people to reverence and humbles the pride of the flesh.  When God is absent we indulge in pride and self-flattery.  It is the godly who shake and tremble at the presence of God (here only a spark of the light- an angel).  It is the ungodly and insensible who hear the voice of God without alarm.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

11/29/10 Luke 1:8-10 Chosen by Lot

8 Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, 9 he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.

(Zechariah's tomb- based on a first century inscription and confirmed by inscriptions in the fourth and sixth century)


Thoughts: Of the 20,000 priests of his day, broken into 24 divisions, one priest was chosen to burn incense in the morning and evening before the sacrifice.  It was possible that a priest would not be chosen during his lifetime.  Proverbs 16:33 says, "The lot is cast into the lap but its every decision is from the Lord."  The priests believed in the sovereignty of God in their appointments. One prominent view in the Old and New Testaments is that there are no room for accidents, but all things work under God's purposes.  Zechariah's choosing was the first part of the miraculous birth of John the Baptist who was a forerunner by a few months of his cousin Jesus.  John had to precede Christ to prepare the way for Him.  We should live our lives with trust in God's purpose being worked out in our lives as well.

Prayer: Sovereign Lord, help me to grow in trust in you.

John Calvin abridged: Exodus 30:7,8 prescribes that incense be offered twice a day (morning and evening) and David arranged the families to take turns 1 Chron. 24:3 .  Zechariah entered the Holy of Holies in the Temple as a priest Mediator for the people, and many people were interceding for him.  The Holy of Holies symbolized the very presence of God. As long as people live on earth they need a Mediator between God and them.  The purpose of having incense was to remind the people that the sweet savor of the sacrifice does not ascend to heaven except through the office of  a Mediator. More about how this applies to us is found in Hebrews.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

11/26/10 Luke 1:5-7 The Fruit of Faithfulness (1st Advent)

5 In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. 6 Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. 7 But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.


(Zechariah- by Michelangelo)
Thoughts: There were 24 divisions of priests and about 20,000 priests in Judea.  Each division served about two weeks a year. A priest was supposed to get married, and have children.  It was a sign of God's blessing to have children. But Zechariah and Elizabeth, though righteous, were unable to conceive.  In our day many Christians try to do things right but feel that they are fruitless.  This whole story of the birth of John, the one Jesus called "greatest born of women", is a story of God's bearing fruit when people thought they should give up on trusting God.  Zechariah and Elizabeth are examples of faithfulness in a faithless age.

Prayer: Help me, O Lord, to listen to you and follow in your way faithfully.

John Calvin abridged: Luke begins speaking of John the Baptist just like a person who would speak of daylight starts with the dawn.  Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous before men and God.  To be righteous before God requires a sincere heart and a pure conscience to God.  But secondly it requires that we listen to God's commands and not make up our own rules of righteousness.  Here John the Baptist is shown to be a mortal man born of ordinary parents but in a supernatural way (like Isaac).

11/27/10- Luke 23:44-49 Jesus' Last Breath

44 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, 45 for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last. 47 The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, “Surely this was a righteous man.” 48 When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away. 49 But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.


(Jesus' Descent from the cross- Rembrandt)


Thoughts: One scientist estimated that the last breath of Jesus (or anyone) probably released  0.5 x 6 x 10 to the 23rd molecules. Just the 10 to the 23rd is a ridiculously large number—10 with 22 zeros after it. A trillion trillion molecules. Enough of these molecules were released and scattered into the atmosphere that it is mathematically probable that we are breathing at least one of these molecules right now that came from Jesus' last breath (cf. http://www.stpaulsfay.org/id413.html).  The affect of Jesus' last breath, however, is not just that we breathe it now.  The greatest affect of Jesus death is that he died as a sacrifice in our place.  The significance of it was seen in darkness at noon (like an eclipse) and the curtain dividing the presence of God from the unclean in the Holy of Holies was torn in two.  Even a hardened Roman centurion knew this was not an ordinary death.  Being aware of the significance of Christ's death is important in Jesus' own words who described it as a "ransom for many" (Mk. 10:45); as a sacrifice (Jn. 10:15,18)' and as a means to escape eternal death (Jn. 3:16).  His was not just an ordinary life.  His teachings were not ordinary teachings.  His death also was not an ordinary one. 
 
Prayer:  Lord you are a part of who I am.  I give myself to you today because you have given yourself to me.

John Calvin Abridged: Although in the death of Christ the glory of the Godhead was concealed and as Paul said was "emptied" (Phil. 2:7).   Yet even in the crucifixion some hints are given of Christ's future glory.  The obscuration of the sun, the earthquake, the splitting of rocks and the rending of the veil occurred as if heaven and earth were rendering homage to their creator.  Darkness aroused them to consider their rejection of Christ and the astonishing design of God in Christ's death.  I do not think the darkness covered the whole earth, but because it covered Judea it pointed the whole world to this miraculous event. The last cry of Christ shows us the intensity of his sorrow and that he, being separated from the Father, was bearing our judgment and wrath.  That Christ commends his spirit to the Father shows his faith is still entact.  When the centurion, who was an irreligious man, commented that he was righteous, he affirmed his previous claims of being the Son of God.  While the disciples fled, the women were there as witnesses to all these things.