Sunday, December 18, 2011

“I am the LORD and I do not Change”

Wednesday, December 14 - Malachi 3:1-6 (NLT)

 1  “Look! I am sending my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. Then the Lord you are seeking will suddenly come to his Temple. The messenger of the covenant, whom you look for so eagerly, is surely coming,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.
 2 “But who will be able to endure it when he comes? Who will be able to stand and face him when he appears? For he will be like a blazing fire that refines metal, or like a strong soap that bleaches clothes. 3 He will sit like a refiner of silver, burning away the dross. He will purify the Levites, refining them like gold and silver, so that they may once again offer acceptable sacrifices to the Lord. 4 Then once more the Lord will accept the offerings brought to him by the people of Judah and Jerusalem, as he did in the past.
 5 “At that time I will put you on trial. I am eager to witness against all sorcerers and adulterers and liars. I will speak against those who cheat employees of their wages, who oppress widows and orphans, or who deprive the foreigners living among you of justice, for these people do not fear me,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.
 6 “I am the Lord, and I do not change. That is why you descendants of Jacob are not already destroyed.
“I am the Lord, and I do not change.” What an immensely comforting thought! In all the change and chaos that can surround us, amidst all the fickleness and fecklessness of people, God does not change and he is in control.
I got behind in writing meditations on our daily advent scriptures when we went away for Grandma’s funeral and in the events surrounding that. So this is a “makeup” lesson because I really do want to dwell on all these scriptures for a few moments.
Highlights of this passage include:
The ultimate answer to a seeming lack of justice
The messenger who will prepare the way for the Lord
The sudden appearance of the Lord in his Temple
The fulfillment of the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants when the “messenger of the covenant” appears
The absolute, blinding purity of the Lord
The acceptance of the people’s offerings following the work of the Messiah
The assurance that justice WILL prevail

The previous chapter of Malachi ends with these words:
You have wearied the Lord with your words.
   “How have we wearied him?” you ask.
   You have wearied him by saying that all who do evil are good in the Lord’s sight, and he is pleased with them. You have wearied him by asking, “Where is the God of justice?”
We have all struggled with the problem of evil. We have been discouraged to see seemingly wicked people prosper, and have felt that God doesn’t care. We despair over the lack of justice. We may think God doesn’t notice or doesn’t care. God’s response to the question “Where is the God of justice?” is to come down himself and personally deal with evil in a very permanent, just, effective way. “The Lord himself will come to his temple.”

Messenger (verse 1)
The way we (the people of Israel at the time the Messiah came) would know the Lord’s coming was imminent was that a messenger would come. This is another prophecy concerning John the Baptist and his ministry of calling people to repentance and preparing the way for Jesus. (see also Isaiah 40:3)

Sudden Appearance (verse 1)
The people hearing Isaiah’s message did not know that hundreds of years would pass, including 400 years of silence with no words from any prophets, but then events would unfold very quickly. The messenger would appear and the Messiah would be revealed and the perfect sacrifice would be made. I love that Simeon and Anna (Luke 2) immediately recognized Jesus when he made his first incarnate appearance in the Temple at 8 days old. The very next record we have of the early years of Jesus is when he was 12 years old and was discussing scripture with the religious leaders in the Temple.
I believe this passage also looks forward to the second coming of Jesus.

Messenger of the covenant (verse 1)
We have already looked at the covenant God made with Abraham (Genesis 12, 15, 22) and restated many times to the descendants of Abraham, culminating in David (2 Samuel 7). This passage in Isaiah illuminates how that covenant will be fulfilled.

Purity of the Lord (verses 2-3)
What beautiful imagery of the absolute, scorching, consuming righteousness and purity of the Lord. Over and over in scripture, we see that people – no matter how “holy” – are unable to stand in the face of God’s holiness (Moses in Exodus 3, Isaiah in Isaiah 6, Ezekiel in Ezekiel 1:28, and many others). There is no way to appear before the Lord, to even offer our selves to him, without the purification offered by the Lord.

Acceptance of the people’s Offerings (verse 4)
Because of the purifying work of the Lord, we can approach God and make sacrifices to him.

Assurance that justice WILL prevail (verses 5-6)
We begin and end with justice today. God will make sure that the wicked are punished and that the oppressed receive justice. He notices every wrong done to the defenseless, and as the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, he has the power to enforce justice.
If you are wondering where is the justice in your situation, if you have seen people do evil against you with impunity, please know that God has noticed your affliction and he has a plan in motion for justice on your behalf.

Exhausting the Lord’s Patience or Being the Lord’s Servant?

Sunday, December 18 – Isaiah 7:10-14

Isaiah 7:10-14 (New Living Translation)
 10 Later, the Lord sent this message to King Ahaz: 11 “Ask the Lord your God for a sign of confirmation, Ahaz. Make it as difficult as you want—as high as heaven or as deep as the place of the dead.”
 12 But the king refused. “No,” he said, “I will not test the Lord like that.”
 13 Then Isaiah said, “Listen well, you royal family of David! Isn’t it enough to exhaust human patience? Must you exhaust the patience of my God as well? 14 All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’).

Ahaz seems to have had his own idea of how his religion should work. The Lord specifically told him through Isaiah to ask for a sign but he refused. It did not fit in with his idea of how he should behave with God. God did not have a lot of patience with this refusal of Ahaz’s to relate to Him in the way He laid out for Ahaz.

Since Ahaz refused to ask for a sign, the Lord himself decided what the sign would be. A lot has been said about this scripture, but just looking at the words themselves in this translation, we can see:

§  The prophecy has to do with the royal line of David. We know from previous scriptures we have studied that the Messiah, the one who would sit on David's throne forever, would ultimately come from this house.
§  Ahaz wouldn’t think of something difficult, so God spoke of a sign so outlandish Ahaz probably would not have thought of it if he tried. A virgin would conceive a child and give birth. Pretty crazy, pretty impossible. But as Gabriel said to Mary (Luke 2), nothing is impossible with God.
§  The son would be called “Immanuel,” which means God is with us. My favorite thought! (I quote it often: The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14, NIV)

I know I’m jumping ahead and we’ll get to this again later, but I must contrast Ahaz’s response to Mary’s. Ahaz refused to do what the Lord commanded, but Mary said “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” Here is the passage:

26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, 27 to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. 28 Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!”
 29 Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. 30 “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God! 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”
 34 Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.”
 35 The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God. 36 What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she’s now in her sixth month. 37 For nothing is impossible with God.”
 38 Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her.

Friday, December 9, 2011

From the Distant Past

Tuesday – December 6

Micah 5:2-4 (NLT)
 2 But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
      are only a small village among all the people of Judah.
   Yet a ruler of Israel will come from you,
      one whose origins are from the distant past.
 3 The people of Israel will be abandoned to their enemies
      until the woman in labor gives birth.
   Then at last his fellow countrymen
      will return from exile to their own land.
 4 And he will stand to lead his flock with the Lord’s strength,
      in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
   Then his people will live there undisturbed,
      for he will be highly honored around the world.
Don’t you love how bits and pieces of the same imagery are woven throughout the tapestry of scripture? I especially love the reference here to the Lord’s role as our shepherd.
I am very “behind” on this advent blog because of preparing for and being away for Grandma Layton’s funeral, my husband’s dear maternal grandmother. I appreciate the godly heritage she gave to my husband and to me and our children.
But I am determined to meditate on every scripture I “assigned” to myself for this advent! So here it is Friday and I’m up to Tuesday.
This passage in Micah is a primary source of the knowledge that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem. It was written hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus. And then, at the perfect time, Jesus was indeed born in Bethlehem, a small town in the area inhabited by the tribe of Judah, a small town of King David. As we meditate on these passages day after day, it is glorious to see the picture emerging from so many different prophets writing at so many different points of history, to see so many details fulfilled through the life of one person, Jesus.
Bethlehem still exists, and has historically been the home of thousands of Palestinian Christians. Sadly, these Christians have mostly been forced out or frightened out in the unrest and terror of recent decades.
We’ve meditated at length on Jesus coming from the lineage of King David as prophesied. A new twist in this passage is the phrase “one whose origins are from the distant past.” There is a lot to chew on in this passage, but I am going to focus on this one phrase and share some scriptures treating Jesus’ distant past. I hope you will enjoy and be blessed by reading and thinking about these verses today. Jesus is not some “new kid on the block.” The awareness of him as Messiah/Christ/Savior is some 2,000 years old, less than the awareness of some spiritual leaders. But Jesus himself has been “around” forever (not speaking figuratively), and he is not a spiritual leader but is in fact God.

Colossians 1:15-22 (NLT)
15 Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.
      He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation,
 16 for through him God created everything
      in the heavenly realms and on earth.
   He made the things we can see
      and the things we can’t see—
   such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world.
      Everything was created through him and for him.
 17 He existed before anything else,
      and he holds all creation together.
 18 Christ is also the head of the church,
      which is his body.
   He is the beginning,
      supreme over all who rise from the dead.
      So he is first in everything.
 19 For God in all his fullness
      was pleased to live in Christ,
 20 and through him God reconciled
      everything to himself.
   He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth
      by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.
 21 This includes you who were once far away from God. You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions. 22 Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault.

John 1:1-14 (NLT)
 1 In the beginning the Word already existed.
      The Word was with God,
      and the Word was God.
 2 He existed in the beginning with God.
 3 God created everything through him,
      and nothing was created except through him.
 4 The Word gave life to everything that was created,
      and his life brought light to everyone.
 5 The light shines in the darkness,
      and the darkness can never extinguish it.
 6-9 God sent a man, John the Baptist, to tell about the light so that everyone might believe because of his testimony.  John himself was not the light; he was simply a witness to tell about the light.  The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.
 10-13 He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him.  He came to his own people, and even they rejected him.  But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.  They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.
 14 So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.

There are many others, but these are two of my favorites. They give me joy every time I read them. I pray they give you joy as well. And if you have any questions about these scriptures, or any insights to share, please ask or share!