Advent: Glory to God, Peace on Earth.

13 “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:13-14)

As of yet, we do not know how the shepherds responded to the angel’s declaration. We’ll see that later on in Luke 2. However, in today’s text we do witness the angelic response to the angelic announcement.

Upon completing the revelation from God concerning the birth of Christ, there immediately appeared with the angel a large number of other angels. An army of angels, if you will. Their appearance coincided with their singular praising of God and God alone.

In their praise they continually said, ““Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” It should be noted that the text does not say they sang but their words resound with the pure and holy praise for God. Let’s examine their statement in detail.

Glory (δόξα; doxa) means to attribute to God praise, splendor for His amazing might. God is the object of this praise.

In the highest (ὕψιστος; hypsistos) refers to God as the most High God. God is a world above the earth. He is from heaven on high.

And on earth (γῆ; ge) means this world of fallen and sinful people God has brought peace (εἰρήνη; eirene) tranquility and a freedom from worry. This is accomplished by the birth and incarnation of the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).

Who are the specific ones who will receive this peace? It is among those with whom he is pleased!  This is a statement in reference to the gracious of God. God’s peace of justification (Romans 5:1) is a gracious gift to those who are the objects of his pleasure (Ephesians 1:3-11).

Dr. R. C. Sproul explains that, “As God receives glory in the highest heaven where He resides, so the objects of His grace receive peace on earth.”

 As a child of God, do you recognize that you are an object of God’s grace and peace? If so, take time today to worship and thank the Lord for His wonderful gifts.

May the Lord’s truth and grace be found here.

Soli deo Gloria!

 

LORD’S DAY 46, 2019.

On each Lord’s Day this year, we will display the 52 devotionals taken from the Heidelberg Catechism which are structured in the form of questions posed and answers given.

The Heidelberg Catechism was originally written in 1563. It originated in one of the few pockets of Calvinistic faith in the Lutheran and Catholic territories of Germany. Conceived originally as a teaching instrument to promote religious unity, the catechism soon became a guide for preaching as well.

Along with the Belgic Confession and the Canons of Dordt, it forms what is collectively referred to as the Three Forms of Unity.

The devotional for LORD’S DAY 46 is as follows. Please take note of the biblical references given in each answer. This morning’s devotional addresses The Lord’s Prayer.

Q. Why did Christ command us to call God “our Father”?

A. To awaken in us at the very beginning of our prayer what should be basic to our prayer—a childlike reverence and trust that through Christ God has become our Father, and that just as our parents do not refuse us the things of this life, even less will God our Father refuse to give us what we ask in faith.1                                                                                   1 Matt. 7:9-11Luke 11:11-13.

Q. Why the words “in heaven”?

A. These words teach us not to think of God’s heavenly majesty as something earthly,1 and to expect everything needed for body and soul from God’s almighty power.2

1 Jer. 23:23-24Acts 17:24-25.
2 Matt. 6:25-34Rom. 8:31-32.

May the Lord’s truth and grace be found here.

Soli deo Gloria!

 

 

Advent: Unto You is Born this Day.

8 “And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:8-14)

An unidentified angel suddenly appeared to a group of shepherds abiding in the field watching over their flock. What was the angel’s message which he said was “good news of great joy that will be for all the people?”

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). The phrase “For unto you” immediately refers to the shepherds, but also Israel and eventually mankind. “Is born this day” speaks of the reality of Jesus’ birth having occurred on the same day as the angel’s appearance to the shepherds. “In the city of David” is a clear contextual reference to Bethlehem. “A Savior” indicates the special significance of this child’s birth over against any other child’s birth. “Who is Christ the Lord” indicates the specific identify of this child: God in human form.

How would the shepherds be able to find this newborn child? The angel continued by saying, “And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:12). The word sign (σημεῖον; semeion) means an event of a scene which has a special meaning. If the shepherds were to journey to Bethlehem to find this child, which they did, they would be able to identify Him because He not only would be wrapped saddling cloths but also He would be lying in a manger. An unusual location for a newborn child.

Puritan Matthew Henry writes, “The sign was to consist, it seems, solely in the overpowering contrast between the things just said of Him and the lowly condition in which they would find Him—Him whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting, “ye shall find a Babe”; whom the heaven of heavens cannot contain, “wrapt in swaddling bands”; the “Saviour, Christ the Lord,” lying in a manger! Thus early were these amazing contrasts, which are His chosen style, held forth.”

2 Corinthians 8:9 says, 9 “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”  

Henry Barraclough (1891-1983) was born in Windhill, Yorkshire, England. He was educated in England, and studied organ and piano from the age of 5. He worked for a while as a claims adjuster for the Car and General Insurance Company. From 1911-1913, he was secretary to George Scott Robertson, a Member of Parliament. He then joined the Chapman-Alexander evangelistic team as a pianist, and traveled with them to America and remained there. He fought in World War I, then became secretary, and later an administrator, of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, 1919-1961.

He wrote 20 hymn texts and 120 tunes. His most familiar hymn arguably would be Ivory Palaces.

  1. My Lord has garments so wondrous fine,
    and myrrh their texture fills;
    its fragrance reached to this heart of mine
    with joy my being thrills.

    • Refrain:
      Out of the ivory palaces,
      into a world of woe,
      Only His great eternal love
      made my Savior go.
  2. His life had also its sorrows sore,
    for aloes had a part;
    and when I think of the cross He bore,
    my eyes with teardrops start.
  3. His garments, too, were in cassia dipped,
    with healing in a touch;
    in paths of sin had my feet e’er slipped—
    He’s saved me from its clutch.
  4. In garments glorious He will come,
    to open wide the door;
    And I shall enter my heav’nly home,
    to dwell forevermore.

Take time today to thank the Lord Jesus Christ for being willing to leave the ivory palaces of heaven and come to this world of woe in order to save your soul.

May the Lord’s truth and grace be found here.

Soli deo Gloria!

 

Advent: While Shepherds Watched their Flocks.

8 “And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:8-14)

At the same time as the birth of Jesus Christ was taking place in Bethlehem, there were in the same countryside or region shepherds. These were men who took care of sheep and goats. Presumably, some of these sheep would be chosen for sacrifice at the Temple in Jerusalem or selected for each individual families Passover Lamb.

These shepherds were out in the field. They were living outdoors because they were keeping watch over their flock. They were guarding their flock of sheep from potential predators and danger. The text also informs us that it was nighttime. In other words, aside from any presumed bonfire the shepherds may have made, or stars visible in the night sky, it was dark.

One commentator explains that, “Bethlehem was nearby Jerusalem, and many of the sheep used in the temple sacrifices came from there. The surrounding hills were prime grazing land, and shepherds worked in the area day and night, all year round. Therefore it is not possible to draw any conclusion about the time of year by the fact that shepherds were living out in the fields.”

It was during this nighttime setting that “an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.” What a striking visual contrast to what existed just moments prior to this angel’s appearance. Darkness gave way to the glory of the Lord. Tranquility and relaxation gave way to great fear. The uncommon eclipsed the common.  The unfamiliar outshone the familiar. The sacred replaced the secular.

The great fear the shepherds experienced is described in the Authorized Version (KJV) as being “sore afraid.” Not “so afraid” but “sore afraid.” Their bodies ached from fear.

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” The angel, as God’s messenger, commanded the shepherds to not fear, but rather to pay close attention. This was because the angel was bringing them good news of great joy. This good news would not only be for the shepherds but for all kinds of people.

It is interesting to note that shepherds were considered lower class by the Jewish culture. One commentary explains that, “Due to the proximity to Jerusalem, some scholars have suggested that the flocks here are the temple flocks raised for sacrifice. This narrative would have challenged the values of many religious people, who despised shepherds; shepherds’ work kept them from participation in the religious activities of their communities.”

 What was the good news the angel possessed? We will examine the rest of today’s text when next we meet. Until then, remember that God chooses ordinary people, like shepherds, to do extraordinary work.

Soli deo Gloria!

 

 

 

 

Advent: The Fullness of Time Comes.

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:1-7)

Beginning in Luke 2:4, the Gospel writer moves from the general to the specific. He has introduced a decree issuing a census for the entire Roman world and its citizens in vs. 1-3. We now see how this decree from Rome would impact a couple from Nazareth in Galilee.

Joseph, upon hearing the news concerning the decree, displays his obedience to the government in charge by submitting himself and his betrothed wife Mary to the census. Joseph and Mary traveled from the region of Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to the region of Judea, to the City of David which is called Bethlehem. They did so because their ancestry related them to David (Matthew 1:1-17; Luke 3:38).

Dr. John MacArthur writes that, “Both Joseph and Mary were descendants of David and therefore went to their tribal home in Judea to be registered. This was a difficult trek of more than 70 miles through mountainous terrain—a particularly grueling journey for Mary, on the verge of delivery. Perhaps she and Joseph were conscious that a birth in Bethlehem would fulfill the prophecy in Mic. 5:2.”

 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” (Luke 2:6-7).

Upon their arrival in Bethlehem, Mary gave birth to Jesus. Luke records that it was her firstborn son, but subsequently not her only son (Matthew 13:53-58; Mark 6:1-6). Mary and Joseph would consummate their marriage and have children together. Mary would not remain a perpetual virgin.

Mary wrapped Jesus in what is referred to as swaddling cloths (σπαργανόω; sparganoo). These cloths were literally strips of material used to tightly bind a baby. It kept the baby from scratching their face or eyes with their often sharp fingernails.  

Mary laid Jesus in a manger, which is an animal’s feeding trough. This face gives credence to the speculation that Jesus was born in some type of stable or caravansary. However, no actual description of the location of Jesus’s birth is given.

We also know that there was no place for them in the inn or guest room (κατάλυμα; katalyma). This was due to the presumably large number of people traveling to Bethlehem to register for the census.

The humility and relative obscurity of Christ’s birth parallels the words from Philippians 2: 5-7 which says, Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”

 Puritan Matthew Henry writes, “The place where our Lord Jesus was born is very observable. He was born at Bethlehem; so it was foretold (Mic. 5:2), the scribes so understood it (Mt. 2:5, 6), so did the common people, Jn. 7:42. The name of the place was significant. Bethlehem signifies the house of bread; a proper place for him to be born in who is the Bread of life, the Bread that came down from heaven. But that was not all; Bethlehem was the city of David, where he was born, and therefore there he must be born who was the Son of David. Zion (Jerusalem) was also called the city of David (2 Sa. 5:7), yet Christ was not born there; for Bethlehem was that city of David where he was born in meanness, to be a shepherd; and this our Savior, when he humbled himself, chose for the place of his birth.”

 Soli deo Gloria!

Advent: The Birth of Jesus Christ.

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:1-7)

Arguably, one of the most familiar portions of New Testament Scripture, along with John 3:16 and Romans 8:28, would have to be the account of the birth of Jesus Christ from Luke 2. However, I do not want the familiarity of the words to obscure the meaning of the text. We humans can become so fixated upon familiar words and traditions that we fail to plumb the depths of Scripture to discover the gold of truth lurking underneath the surface. Therefore as we approach today’s text, instead of settling for the raking of leaves let us determine to dig for gold.

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered” (Luke 2:1). The phrase “in those days” refers to the immediate preceding context of Luke’s Gospel. It reminds us of what has already occurred in the lives of Zechariah, Elizabeth and Mary. By extension, it also points to Matthew’s account of the angel’s announcement to Joseph (Matthew 1:18-25). All of those events eventually lead to the singular event of Jesus Christ’s birth.

Included in those aforementioned events preparing the way for Christ’s arrival is that “a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered” (Luke 2:1). A decree is an order or command instructing people what they must. A decree is not optional under an imperial monarchy like Rome or from an emperor such as Caesar Augustus.

What do we know about this Roman ruler? Caius Octavius was the grand-nephew, adopted son, and primary heir to Julius Caesar. Before and after Julius’s death in 44 B.C., the Roman government was consistently torn apart by power struggles. Octavius ascended to undisputed supremacy in 31 B.C. by defeating his last remaining rival, Antony, in a military battle at Actium. In 29 B.C., the Roman Senate declared Octavius Rome’s first emperor. Two years later they honored him with the title “Augustus” (“exalted one”—a term signifying religious veneration). Rome’s republican government was effectively abolished, and Augustus was given supreme military power. He reigned until his death at age 76 (A.D. 14). Under his rule, the Roman Empire dominated the Mediterranean region, ushering in a period of great prosperity and relative peace called the Pax Romana.

 What was the nature of Octavius’ decree? He commanded all the Roman world should be registered, or put on a census list. Why? The primary purpose of a census was for taxation. It was a way to determine how many people would provide revenue to the prevailing government.

Dr. John MacArthur explains that, “This was not merely a one-time census; the decree actually established a cycle of enrollments that were to occur every 14 years. Israel had previously been excluded from the Roman census, because Jews were exempt from serving in the Roman army, and the census was designed primarily to register young men for military service (as well as account for all Roman citizens). This new, universal census was ostensibly to number each nation by family and tribe (hence Joseph, a Judean, had to return to his ancestral home to register—see note on v. 3). Property and income values were not recorded in this registration. But soon the names and population statistics gathered in this census were used for the levying of poll taxes (see Matt. 22:17), and the Jews came to regard the census itself as a distasteful symbol of Roman oppression.”  

 Luke goes on to say that this registration census was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria” (Luke 2:2). Who was Quirinius? He was the imperial governor of Syria. Syria was located northeast of Palestine (Matthew 4:24; Acts 18:18).

And all went to be registered, each to his own town” (Luke 2:3). What do conquered people do when the imperial government and emperor issues an order. They obey it or face the consequences. One’s own town would not only consist of where an individual was born but also where they owned property. Dr. John Walvoord comments that, “Although Egyptian census records show that people had to return to their homes for a tax census, the home to which they returned was where they owned property, not simply where they were born (censuses registered persons according to property).”

 Therefore, God providentially orchestrated these geo-political events in order to ensure ancient Old Testament prophecies would be fulfilled. The providence of God has not changed. He was in control of world events at the time of the birth of Christ. He remains so today. May each of us rest in this timeless, biblical truth.

Soli deo Gloria!

 

Advent: Mary’s Song of Praise: The Magnificat.

46 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50 And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; 52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; 53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55 as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.” 56 And Mary remained with her about three months and returned to her home (Luke 1:46-56).

To set the stage for our examination of Mary’s song of praise, let us consider the commentary by Dr. John MacArthur. He writes, “Mary’s Magnificat (the first word in the Latin translation) is filled with OT allusions and quotations. It reveals that Mary’s heart and mind were saturated with the word of God. It contains repeated echoes of Hannah’s prayers, e.g., 1 Sam. 1:11 and 2:1–10. These verses also contain numerous allusions to the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets. The entire passage is a point-by-point reciting of the covenant promises of God.” Let us examine each point Mary recited of God’s covenant promises and character.

First, 46 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,” (Luke 1:46-47). Mary echoed I Samuel 2:1-10 when she declared that her mind, emotions and will were magnifying or praising the greatness of God (Psalm 34:1-3; 69:30). Additionally, she possessed great gladness and joy in God her Savior (Psalm 35:9; Isaiah 61:10; Habakkuk 3:18). Mary acknowledged that she regarded the Lord as her Savior (Psalm 106:21). She recognized that she was a sinner in need of God’s grace and mercy.

Second, “For he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed” (Luke 1:48).  Mary’s words resembled the words of Hannah (I Samuel 1:11) and the psalmist David (Psalm 138:6). She praised the Lord for using such a person of low estate like her in which future generations would praise her as fortunate.  

Third, “For he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name” (Luke 1:49). Luke 1:49 is filled with Old Testament references for God regarding His might (Psalm 89:8; Zephaniah 3:17), His greatness (Psalm 71:19; 126:1-3), and His holy name (Psalm 99:3; 111:9; Isaiah 57:15).

Fourth, “And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation” (Luke 1:50). God’s continuous pity and compassion (Deuteronomy 5:10; 7:1-9; Psalm 89:1-2; 103:17) are for those who reverence and worship Him.

Fifth, “He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts” (Luke 1:51). The first phrase is taken from Psalm 89:10, 98:1, 118:16, and Isaiah 51:9. Mary spoke of God’s miraculous power. The second phrase cites Nebuchadnezzar’s words from Daniel 4:37. Not only will God choose to use the humble but will scatter or disperse the contemptuous and arrogant individual.

Sixth, “He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate” (Luke 1:52). Mary’s next thought echoed Luke 1:51. Her following statement came from Job 5:11, Psalm 75:7, 107:40-41, 113:7-8, 147:6, and Ezekiel 21;26. Dr. John Walvoord writes that, “The principle that God exalts the humble and casts down the proud was common in the Old Testament (e.g., Prov. 3:34; Isaiah 2:11–12, 17).”

Seventh, “He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty” (Luke 1:53). The idea of filling the hungry comes from Psalm 34:10, and 107:9. The second statement proclaims judgment upon those who are filled with goods but are empty of God.

Eighth, “He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever” (Luke 1:54-55). Mary rejoiced that God had kept His promises (Genesis 17:19; Isaiah 41:8-9; 44:21; 49:1-3; Psalm 98:3; 132:11; Micah 7:20).  

Luke then inserted this epilogue statement. “And Mary remained with her about three months and returned to her home.It is logical to conclude, from the text, that Mary initially visited Elizabeth during the sixth month of her pregnancy and remained with her until she gave birth to her son John three months later. Mary then returned to Nazareth to await the birth of her own child.

It is an amazing blessing to see how saturated Mary’s soul was with the Old Testament Scriptures. This is even more amazing in light of the probability that she did not possess her own copy of the sacred text but rather heard it recited each Sabbath when she visited the local synagogue. How much more should we be filled with God’s Word.

May the Lord’s truth and grace be found here.

Soli deo Gloria!

 

Advent: Mary and Elizabeth.

39 In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, 40 and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, 42 and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” (Luke 1:39–45)

The Gospel of Luke contains a somewhat obscure narrative in the New Testament’s treatment of the incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is a visit that Mary paid to her relatives Zechariah and Elizabeth. Luke 1:36 informs us, through the angel Gabriel, that Elizabeth and Mary were related. “And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren.”

The word for relative (συγγενίς; syngenis) means, in the feminine gender, a kinswoman, who is a female member of an extended family or clan. Beyond this definition, we do not know if Elizabeth was a cousin or even an aunt to Mary. We can otherwise conclude that Elizabeth was older than Mary.

Luke tells us that the events he recorded occurred in the days of the angel Gabriel’s visit to not only Zechariah and Mary, but also presumably to Mary’s betrothed husband Joseph (Matthew 1:18-25). It was during this time, approximately six months into Elizabeth’s pregnancy (Luke 1:26), that Mary quickly traveled south from Nazareth to the hill country of Judea. She journeyed to an unidentified town in Judah and to the residence of Zechariah and Elizabeth.

Dr. John Walvoord explains that, “The journey from Nazareth to the hill country of Judea may have taken three to five days, depending on the precise location of Elizabeth’s home. In view of bandits on the roads, young Mary’s journey was courageous, although she may have found a caravan with which to travel; otherwise her family may not have allowed her to go.”

Upon arriving and entering their home, Mary greeted Elizabeth. Luke then recorded that something miraculous happened. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit” (Luke 1:41).

The text continues with Elizabeth saying to Mary, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”

What exactly happened? Dr. John MacArthur comments that, “The Holy Spirit undoubtedly guided Elizabeth’s remarkable expression of praise. This expression is not in praise of Mary, but in praise of the child whom she bore. It was a profound expression of Elizabeth’s confidence that Mary’s child would be the long-hoped-for Messiah—the one whom even David called “Lord” (cf. 20:44). Elizabeth’s grasp of the situation was extraordinary, considering the aura of mystery that overshadowed all these events (cf. 2:19). She greeted Mary not with skepticism but with joy. She understood the response of the child in her own womb. And she seemed to comprehend the immense importance of the child whom Mary was carrying. All of this must be attributed to the illuminating work of the Spirit (1:41).”

Has the Lord ever given you an insight into a situation which you did not previously possess? Upon receiving such insight and wisdom, did you praise Him for it? Elizabeth did. And as we shall soon see, so did Mary. Take some time to do so today.

May the Lord’s truth and grace be found here.

Soli deo Gloria!

 

 

 

 

LORD’S DAY 45, 2019.

On each Lord’s Day this year, we will display the 52 devotionals taken from the Heidelberg Catechism which are structured in the form of questions posed and answers given.

The Heidelberg Catechism was originally written in 1563. It originated in one of the few pockets of Calvinistic faith in the Lutheran and Catholic territories of Germany. Conceived originally as a teaching instrument to promote religious unity, the catechism soon became a guide for preaching as well.

Along with the Belgic Confession and the Canons of Dordt, it forms what is collectively referred to as the Three Forms of Unity.

The devotional for LORD’S DAY 45 is as follows. Please take note of the biblical references given in each answer. This morning’s devotional addresses The Lord’s Prayer.

Q. Why do Christians need to pray?

A. Because prayer is the most important part of the thankfulness God requires of us.1 And also because God gives his grace and Holy Spirit only to those who pray continually and groan inwardly, asking God for these gifts and thanking God for them.2

1 Ps. 50:14-15116:12-191 Thess. 5:16-18.
2 Matt. 7:7-8Luke 11:9-13.

Q. What is the kind of prayer that pleases God and that he listens to?

A. First, we must pray from the heart to no other than the one true God, revealed to us in his Word, asking for everything God has commanded us to ask for.1 Second, we must fully recognize our need and misery, so that we humble ourselves in God’s majestic presence.2 Third, we must rest on this unshakable foundation: even though we do not deserve it, God will surely listen to our prayer because of Christ our Lord. That is what God promised us in his Word.3

1 Ps. 145:18-20John 4:22-24Rom. 8:26-27James 1:51 John 5:14-15.
2 2 Chron. 7:14Ps. 2:1134:1862:8Isa. 66:2Rev. 4.
3 Dan. 9:17-19Matt. 7:8John 14:13-1416:23Rom. 10:13James 1:6.

Q. What did God command us to pray for?

A. Everything we need, spiritually and physically,1 as embraced in the prayer
Christ our Lord himself taught us.

1 James 1:17Matt. 6:33.

Q. What is this prayer?

A. Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.* For the kingdom and the power and the glory are yours forever. Amen.1**

1 Matt. 6:9-13Luke 11:2-4.

*This text of the Lord’s Prayer is from the New Revised Standard Version in keeping with the use of the NRSV throughout this edition of the catechism. Most biblical scholars will agree that it is an accurate translation of the Greek text and carries virtually the same meaning as the more traditional text of the Lord’s Prayer
**Earlier and better manuscripts of Matthew 6 omit the words “For the kingdom and … Amen.”

May the Lord’s truth and grace be found here.

Soli deo Gloria!

 

 

Advent: Christmas Carols, Part 2.

We are focusing on three predominant Christmas Carols which are continually sung through the Christmas season by both sacred and secular recording artists and choirs. I refer to Joy to the World, O Come All Ye Faithful and Hark! The Herald Angels Sing. When were they written and by whom? Today, we examine O Come All Ye Faithful and Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.

O Come All Ye Faithful is also known by its Latin title Adeste Fidelis. It has been attributed to various authors, including John Francis Wade (1711–1786), John Reading (1645–1692), King John IV of Portugal (1604–1656), and anonymous monks.

The earliest printed version is in a book published by John Francis Wade, but the earliest manuscript bears the name of King John IV, and is located in the library of the Ducal Palace of Vila Viçosa in Portugal. A manuscript by Wade, dating to 1751, is held by Stonyhurst College in Lancashire, UK.

The original four verses of the hymn were extended to a total of eight, and these have been translated into many languages. The English translation of “O Come, All Ye Faithful” by the English Catholic priest Frederick Oakeley, written in 1841, is widespread in most English-speaking countries.

The lyrics are as follows.

O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant!
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem;
Come and behold him
Born the King of Angels:
O come, let us adore Him, (3×)
Christ the Lord.

God of God, light of light,
Lo, he abhors not the Virgin’s womb;
True God, begotten, not created:
O come, let us adore Him, (3×)
Christ the Lord.

Sing, choirs of angels, sing in exultation,
Sing, all ye citizens of Heaven above!
Glory to God, glory in the highest:
O come, let us adore Him, (3×)
Christ the Lord.

Yea, Lord, we greet thee, born this happy morning;
Jesus, to thee be glory given!
Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing!
O come, let us adore Him, (3×)
Christ the Lord.

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing first appeared in 1739 in the collection Hymns and Sacred Poems. Its lyrics were written by Charles Wesley. Wesley had requested and received slow and solemn music for his lyrics, not the joyful tune expected today. Moreover, Wesley’s original opening couplet is “Hark! how all the welkin rings / Glory to the King of Kings”.[1]

The popular version is the result of alterations by various musicians, notably by Wesley’s co-worker George Whitefield who changed the opening couplet to the familiar one, and by Felix Mendelssohn, whose melody was used for the lyrics.

In 1840—a hundred years after the publication of Hymns and Sacred Poems—Mendelssohn composed a cantata to commemorate Johann Gutenberg‘s invention of movable type printing, and it is music from this cantata, adapted by the English musician William H. Cummings to fit the lyrics of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” that is known today.

“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” was regarded as one of the Great Four Anglican Hymns. The other three include All Praise to Thee, my God, this Night, by Thomas Ken, Lo! He Comes With Clouds Descending, by Charles Wesley, and Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me, by Augustus Montague Toplady.

The lyrics to Hark! The Herald Angels Sing are as follows.

Hark! The herald-angels sing
“Glory to the newborn king;
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled”
Joyful all ye nations rise,
Join the triumph of the skies
With the angelic host proclaim
“Christ is born in Bethlehem”

Hark! The herald-angels sing                                                                                                            “Glory to the new-born king”

Christ, by highest heaven adored
Christ, the everlasting Lord,
Late in time behold Him come
Offspring of a Virgin’s womb:
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see,
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel

Hark! The herald-angels sing                                                                                                          “Glory to the newborn King”

Hail the Heaven-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings,
Risen with healing in His wings;
Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth

Hark! The herald angels sing                                                                                                     “Glory to the new-born king”

A fourth stanza by George Whitfield is often included.

Come, Desire of Nations, come,
Fix in us thy heav’nly Home;
Rise the Woman’s conqu’ring Seed,
Bruise in us the Serpent’s Head. Adam’s Likeness now efface,
Stamp thy Image in its Place;
Second Adam from above,
Work it in us by thy Love.

 Hark! The herald angels sing                                                                                                     “Glory to the new-born king”

May the Lord’s truth and grace be found here.

Soli deo Gloria!

 

 

Advent: Christmas Carols.

Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who dwell in it! Let the rivers clap their hands; let the hills sing for joy together before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.” (Psalm 98:7-9)

What is, or are, your favorite Christmas Carols. Without a doubt, the Christmas Season is dominated by holiday music: both sacred and secular. However, we will focus our attention on traditional carols and hymns which address the incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ.

In particular, let’s focus upon what I refer to as the Big Three Christmas Carols. These include Joy to the World, O Come All Ye Faithful and Hark! The Herald Angels Sing. When were they written and by whom? Let’s briefly examine each one.

Joy to the World” was written by Isaac Watts. Watts was an English Christian minister, hymn writer, theologian, and logician. He was a prolific and popular hymn writer and is credited with some 750 hymns. He is recognized as the “Godfather of English Hymnody.” Many of his hymns remain in use today and have been translated into numerous languages.

As of the late 20th century, “Joy to the World” was the most-published Christmas hymn in North America. According to the Dictionary of North American Hymnology, Joy to the World was published in 1,387 hymnals in North America before 1979. Hymnarry.org cites the Christmas carol as one of the Top 20 Christmas hymns.

The words of the hymn are taken from  Psalm 98, 96:11–12 and Genesis 3:17–18. The carol was first published in 1719 in Watts’ collection The Psalms of David: Imitated in the language of the New Testament, and applied to the Christian state and worship.

As one author explains, “In stanzas 1 and 2 Watts writes of heaven and earth rejoicing at the coming of the King. An interlude that depends more on Watts’ interpretation than the psalm text, stanza 3 speaks of Christ’s blessings extending victoriously over the realm of sin. The cheerful repetition of the non-psalm phrase “far as the curse is found” has caused this stanza to be omitted from some hymnals. But the line makes joyful sense when understood from the New Testament eyes through which Watts interprets the psalm. Stanza 4 celebrates Christ’s rule over the nations.” The nations are called to celebrate because God’s faithfulness to the house of Israel has brought salvation to the world.”

The music most associated with Watts’ lyrics is from the edition by Lowell Mason for The National Psalmist (Boston, 1848). It was his fourth revision of the tune he named ANTIOCH and attributed as “arranged from Handel.”

Joy to the World is often found on many recording artist’s Christmas albums. These include such notables as Andy WilliamsThe SupremesBing CrosbyElla FitzgeraldJohnny CashNat King Cole, Walter Cherry, Neil DiamondPat BoonePerry ComoVic DamoneMariah Carey, and acapella group Pentatonix.

The lyrics are as follows.

Joy to the World; the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King!
Let ev’ry heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing.

Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields & floods, rocks, hills & plains
Repeat the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make his blessings flow
Far as the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love.

May the Lord’s truth and grace be found here.

Soli deo Gloria! 

Advent: Christmas Traditions.

From what sources did we get many of our Christmas traditions? I am thinking about Christmas Trees, wreaths, holly and ivy, garland, etc.? These mainstays of the holiday season become a source of debate and discussion among many believers as to their appropriateness and whether they obscure the real meaning of Christmas. Let’s see how they originated.

The Hanging of Stockings. There is no official record of when the hanging of stocking began, one of the most logical explanations is that it’s a variation on the old tradition of leaving out shoes with hay inside them on December 5, the eve of St. Nicholas’s feast day. Lucky children would discover that the hay they left for St. Nick’s donkey had been replaced with treats or coins when they woke up the next morning.

Another story says that St. Nicholas learned of a father who was unable to pay for his three daughters’ dowries, so St. Nick dropped gold balls down a chimney, which landed in stockings hung by the fire to dry. But this appears to be a modern telling—traditional versions of the story generally have the gold land at the father’s feet after being thrown through a window.

In 1883, The New York Times wrote: “In the days of the unobtrusive white stocking, no one could pretend that the stocking itself was a graceful or attractive object when hanging limp and empty from the foot of the bedstead. Now, however, since the adoption of decorated stockings, even the empty stocking may be a thing of beauty, and its owner can display it with confidence both at the Christmas season and on purely secular occasions.”

Christmas Caroling. Though it may seem like a centuries-old tradition, showing up at people’s houses to serenade them with seasonal tunes only dates back to the 19th century. Before that, neighbors did visit each other to impart wishes of good luck and good cheer, but not necessarily in song. Christmas carols themselves go back hundreds of years, minus the door-to-door part. The mashup of the two ideas didn’t come together until Victorian England, when caroling was part of every holiday—even May Day festivals. As Christmas became more commercialized, caroling for the occasion became more popular.

Christmas Trees. Before Christianity, people used evergreen boughs to decorate their homes during the winter; the greenery reminded them that plants would return in abundance soon. As Christianity became more popular in Europe, and Germany in particular, the tradition was absorbed into it. Christians decorated evergreen trees with apples to represent the Garden of Eden, calling them “Paradise Trees” around the time of Adam and Eve’s name day—December 24. Gradually, the tradition was subsumed into Christmas celebrations.

The tradition spread as immigrants did, but the practice really took off when word got around that England’s Queen Victoria decorated a Christmas tree as a nod to her German husband’s heritage (German members of the British Royal Family had previously had Christmas trees, but they never caught on with the wider public). Her influence was felt worldwide, and by 1900, 1 in 5 American families had a Christmas tree. Today, 25 to 30 million real Christmas trees are sold in the U.S. every year.

The Colors of Red and Green. There’s no hard-and-fast reason or event that deemed red and green the Official Colors of Christmas. Several theories include that the color green may have derived from the evergreen tradition that dates back to before Christianity, and the red may be from holly berries. While they’re winter-hardy, just like evergreens, they also have a religious implication: The red berries have been associated with the blood of Christ.

Regardless of your preferences, believers in Christ are to make sure that everything they do brings honor and glory to the Lord (I Corinthians 10:31). This includes the decorating of our homes at Christmas.

May the Lord’s truth and grace be found here.

Soli deo Gloria!  

Advent: Christmas Cards.

How and when did Christmas Cards originate? A prominent educator and patron of the arts, Henry Cole traveled in the elite, social circles of early Victorian England, and had the misfortune of having too many friends. During the holiday season of 1843, those friends were causing Cole much anxiety.

The problem were their letters: An old custom in England, the Christmas and New Year’s letter, had received a new impetus with the recent expansion of the British postal system and the introduction of the “Penny Post.” This allowed the sender to send a letter or card anywhere in the country by affixing a penny stamp to the correspondence.

Now, everybody was sending letters. Sir Cole—best remembered today as the founder of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London—was an enthusiastic supporter of the new postal system, and he enjoyed being the 1840s equivalent of an A-Lister. But he was a busy man. As he watched the stacks of unanswered letters, he fretted over what to do. “In Victorian England, it was considered impolite not to answer mail,” says Ace Collins, author of Stories Behind the Great Traditions of Christmas. “He (Cole) had to figure out a way to respond to all of these people.”

Cole hit on an ingenious idea. He approached an artist friend, J.C. Horsley, and asked him to design an idea that Cole had sketched out in his mind. Cole then took Horsley’s illustration—a triptych showing a family at table celebrating the holiday flanked by images of people helping the poor—and had a thousand copies made by a London printer. The image was printed on a piece of stiff cardboard 5 1/8 x 3 1/4 inches in size. At the top of each was the salutation, “TO:_____” allowing Cole to personalize his responses, which included the generic greeting “A Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year To You.” It was the first Christmas card.

Cole’s inner circle of friends immediately recognized his idea as a good way to save time. Within a few years, several other prominent Victorians had simply copied his and Horsley’s creation and were sending their own Christmas Cards during the holiday season.

While Cole and Horsley get the credit for the first, it took several decades for the Christmas card to really catch on, both in Great Britain and the United States. Louis Prang, a Prussian immigrant with a print shop near Boston, is credited with creating the first Christmas card originating in the United States in 1875. It was very different from Cole and Horsley’s of 30 years prior, in that it didn’t even contain a Christmas or holiday image.

Christmas Cards have become an integral part of our holiday celebrations. Don’t fail to send yours this year.

Soli deo Gloria!

 

 

 

 

Advent: Extraordinary Circumstances Revisited.

19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.” (Matthew 1:19=25)

Not only do extraordinary circumstances occur in our lives, as they did with Joseph, but they may also present opportunities of grace. Joseph faced a dilemma. His betrothed wife, Mary, was pregnant and they both knew He was not the Father. What was he to do in light of her apparent infidelity?

Today’s text informs us that Joseph, her husband, was a righteous man. Joseph was intent on doing what was right. Joseph came to the “logical conclusion” that Mary had been unfaithful to him and he could not see a way to take Mary home with him and be married. He was a man of principle and wanted to live according to the will and Word of God.

However, Joseph did not want to disgrace her. Not wishing to expose her to public disgrace, he could either institute a lawsuit against Mary or he could send her away secretly. This is what he decided to do. He would divorce her quietly, which was an evidence of his love for her. This would not involve any judicial procedure.

Joseph considered what he should do. He reflected, pondered, deeply considered or contemplated in order to reach a conclusion about the matter. He loved Mary and wanted to be her husband. But he was finding it difficult to transition from principle to deed.

It was during those moments of thought and reflection on what he should do that an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. The text does not tell us who specifically the angel was, but I suspect it was Gabriel. The angel told Joseph not to be afraid about taking Mary as his wife. In other words, Joseph was not to hesitate or be anxious about marrying Mary. The reason being was that the child conceived in her was of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35). Mary had not been unfaithful at all.

The angel continued by saying that Mary would bear a Son, a fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14 which says, “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign; Behold a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name, Emmanuel.”

 In light of this news, the angel also said that Joseph was to call the boy’s name Jesus which meant Yahweh is salvation. The reason the angel gave was that Jesus would save His people from their sins. This promise is restated in Acts 4:12 which says, “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”

Joseph obeyed the Lord and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him. He took Mary as his wife. He took her into his home when the betrothal period was over and married her. However, the text goes on to say that he kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son. They did not consummate their marriage until after Jesus was born. Joseph also called the child’s name Jesus (Matthew 12:46-47; Mark 3:31-32; Mark 6:1-3; Luke 8:19-20; John 2:12; John 7:3-10; Acts 1:14).

Did Joseph and Mary have other children following the birth of Jesus? The Scriptures inform us that they did. Matthew 13:55 says, “Is this not the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary, and His brothers, James, and Joseph, and Simon, and Judas? And His sisters, are they not all with us?” Mark 6:1-3 also says, “Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? Are not His sisters with us?”

Face with extraordinary circumstances, Joseph was obedient to the Lord. God calls us to that same obedience when we face our extraordinary circumstances. Let us resolve to do so.

May the Lord’s truth and grace be found here.

Soli deo Gloria!

Advent: Extraordinary Circumstances.

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 1:18)

 I have lived long enough to witness extraordinary circumstances. Extraordinary means “unusual or remarkable; unusually great; that which provides astonishment or admiration.” Circumstances mean “a fact; an occurrence or a condition.”

Here are a few “extraordinary circumstances” I have observed in my life!

  • November 22, 1963 – The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
  • April 1968 – The Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
  • June 1968 – The Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy.
  • Graduating from high school. Believe me, this was an extraordinary accomplishment.
  • Graduation from college, seminary, and receiving my doctorate.
  • Getting married.
  • Becoming a father.
  • Becoming a father-in-law.
  • Becoming a grandfather five times over.
  • 9/11.
  • Observing the northern lights in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
  • Serving the Lord as a pastor/teacher.

This is just a partial list. I am sure that you have encountered extraordinary circumstances in your lifetime. Joseph, the betrothed husband of Mary, certainly did. What I have discovered is that first of all, extraordinary circumstances “will” occur in your life. They may not be exactly the same as Joseph’s, but they’re extraordinary nevertheless. You may not know when, where or even why they may happen, but God does cause them to occur.

What extraordinary circumstances occurred in Joseph’s life? Let’s see.

Matthew 1:18 says, “18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.”

In several ways, Matthew’s account of Jesus’ incarnation parallels the birth narrative found in Luke 1:26ff. However, Matthew’s narrative focus in not on Mary but rather on Joseph.

Matthew mentions the one year betrothal period of engagement known as the Kuddushin. The actual wedding ceremony, referred to as the Huppa, had yet to take place.

Matthew also mentions that this betrothal period occurred “before they came together.” In other words, Mary and Joseph had not consummated their relationship (Luke 1:27-38). However, in a restricted sense theirs was essentially a marriage.

Dr. John Walvoord writes that, “The fact that Jesus was born “of Mary” only, as indicated in the genealogical record (v. 16), demanded further explanation. Matthew’s explanation can best be understood in the light of Hebrew marriage customs. Marriages were arranged for individuals by parents, and contracts were negotiated. After this was accomplished, the individuals were considered married and were called husband and wife. They did not, however, begin to live together. Instead, the woman continued to live with her parents and the man with his for one year. The waiting period was to demonstrate the faithfulness of the pledge of purity given concerning the bride. If she was found to be with child in this period, she obviously was not pure, but had been involved in an unfaithful sexual relationship. Therefore the marriage could be annulled. If, however, the one-year waiting period demonstrated the purity of the bride, the husband would then go to the house of the bride’s parents and in a grand processional march lead his bride back to his home. There they would begin to live together as husband and wife and consummate their marriage physically. Matthew’s story should be read with this background in mind.”

It was at this time that Mary was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. Mary became pregnant while remaining a virgin. The pregnancy occurred through the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit. The immediate cause of her condition was the powerful-life imparting creative work of God the Holy Spirit. Mary knew this pregnancy occurred because the angel told her this would happen (Luke 1:26-35). She knew Joseph was not the biological father because they had not consummated their relationship. So did Joseph. What an extraordinary set of circumstances Joseph was now facing.

Dr. Walvoord concludes by saying. “Mary and Joseph were in the one-year waiting period when Mary was found to be with child. They had never had sexual intercourse and Mary herself had been faithful (vv. 20, 23). While little is said about Joseph, one can imagine how his heart must have broken. He genuinely loved Mary, and yet the word came that she was pregnant.”

What will Joseph do in light of these extraordinary circumstances? That is what we will examine next. Suffice to say that Joseph will do that which is right and biblical. How about us?

May the Lord’s truth and grace be found here.

Soli deo Gloria!

 

 

 

LORD’S DAY 44, 2019.

On each Lord’s Day this year, we will display the 52 devotionals taken from the Heidelberg Catechism which are structured in the form of questions posed and answers given.

The Heidelberg Catechism was originally written in 1563. It originated in one of the few pockets of Calvinistic faith in the Lutheran and Catholic territories of Germany. Conceived originally as a teaching instrument to promote religious unity, the catechism soon became a guide for preaching as well.

Along with the Belgic Confession and the Canons of Dordt, it forms what is collectively referred to as the Three Forms of Unity.

The devotional for LORD’S DAY 44 is as follows. Please take note of the biblical references given in each answer. This morning’s devotional addresses The Ten Commandments.

Q. What is the aim of the tenth commandment?

A. That not even the slightest desire or thought contrary to any one of God’s commandments should ever arise in our hearts. Rather, with all our hearts we should always hate sin and take pleasure in whatever is right.1                                                                   1 Ps. 19:7-14139:23-24Rom. 7:7-8.

Q. But can those converted to God obey these commandments perfectly?

A. No. In this life even the holiest have only a small beginning of this obedience.Nevertheless, with all seriousness of purpose, they do begin to live according to all, not only some, of God’s commandments.2                                                                           1 Eccles. 7:20Rom. 7:14-151 Cor. 13:91 John 1:8-10.
2 Ps. 1:1-2Rom. 7:22-25Phil. 3:12-16.

Q. Since no one in this life can obey the Ten Commandments perfectly, why does God want them preached so pointedly?

A. First, so that the longer we live the more we may come to know our sinfulness
and the more eagerly look to Christ for forgiveness of sins and righteousness.1 Second, so that we may never stop striving, and never stop praying to God for the grace of the Holy Spirit, to be renewed more and more after God’s image, until after this life we reach our goal: perfection.2

1 Ps. 32:5Rom. 3:19-267:7, 24-251 John 1:9.
2 1 Cor. 9:24Phil. 3:12-141 John 3:1-3.

May the Lord’s truth and grace be found here.

Soli deo Gloria!

 

 

Advent: When God Chooses You to Serve Him, We are to Submit to Him.

38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.” (Luke 1:38)

How do you respond when the Lord reveals His will to you? It may be through His Word, always the place to begin, by promptings through prayer, counsel from godly mentors, along with the providential circumstances of life. Regardless, how do you respond?

Are you reluctant? This means to be unwilling, unenthusiastic, and hesitant. You know what the Lord wants of you but you are unwilling, unenthusiastic and hesitant to submit to what He wants of you. Ultimately you serve but you’re not happy about it. You go kicking and screaming, figuratively or literally, as you submit to His sovereign leading.

Or maybe you are fearful of the unknown. Your fear is because of the many intangibles or questions you have in which there are no immediate answers. You submit but to say you are truly happy and contented is a stretch at best.

Or perhaps you submit willingly and gladly knowing that God can be trusted and that He will never leave you nor forsake you.

I often find that submitting to the Lord’s will involves a process of proceeding through all three of the aforementioned responses, along with many others. This process ultimately ends up with me being at peace because regardless where, when and how the Lord leads, He is always there.

Examining today’s text reveals to us Mary’s immediate reaction to Gabriel’s message and answers to her questions and concerns. She said, “I am the servant of the Lord.” She acknowledged her position before the Lord.

The word servant (δούλη; doule) in this context means female slave or slave woman. Mary recognized her humble positon before the Lord. She solely belonged to the Lord. The word Lord (κύριος; kyrios) means ruler, owner and one who commands. In other words, Mary acknowledged that she was a slave of the sovereign God of the universe. Whatever He wanted, that is what she was willing to do.

Mary then said, “Let it be to me according to your word.” This statement revealed her heart. She was willingly submissive to whatever the Lord wanted of her.

One commentator writes that, “Mary expresses her submission to the Lord’s will in regular Old Testament terms for submission or acquiescence (e.g., 1 Sam 1:18; 25:41; 2 Sam 9:6, 11; 2 Kings 4:2; 2 Sam 7:25).”

Dr. John MacArthur writes that, “Mary was in an extremely embarrassing and difficult position. Betrothed to Joseph, she faced the stigma of unwed motherhood. Joseph would obviously have known that the child was not his. She knew she would be accused of adultery—an offense punishable by stoning (Deut. 22:13–21; cf. John 8:3–5). Yet she willingly and graciously submitted to the will of God.”

Submitting to the Lord’s will may not always be easy. Doing the Lord’s will may be even harder. However, submitting to and carrying out the will of God for our lives is always best.

May the Lord’s truth and grace be found here.

Soli deo Gloria!

 

 

 

 

Advent: When God Chooses You to Serve Him, He Providentially Leads You.

35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. 36 And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” (Luke 1:35–37)

What do we mean by the phrase the providence of God? You probably noticed that a variation of the word providence is contained in the title of today’s blog.

Providence, means to see in advance, beforehand and/or to provide for. It means that God is not a mere spectator in the world’s events. Rather than just being the creator of the universe, the Lord is also the sustainer of the same. The universe, and all its inhabitants, are not only dependent upon God for its origin but also for its continued existence.

Dr. R. C. Sproul writes that, “The central point of the doctrine of providence is the stress on God’s government of the universe. He rules His creation with absolute sovereignty and authority. He governs everything that comes to pass, from the greatest to the least. Nothing ever happens beyond the scope of His sovereign, providential government. He makes the rain to fall and the sun to shine. He raises up kingdoms and brings them down. He numbers the hairs on our head and the days of our life.”

Therefore, there are no chance events. There is no such thing as chance, luck or fate. With respect to Mary and the virgin birth of Christ, it was not by chance that God had Gabriel visit her with the news that she would conceive and give birth to the Messiah. It was also not be chance how God would bring this event to pass.

In response to Mary’s questions concerning how this virgin birth would occur, Gabriel said, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.” There are three key phrases Luke used to describe this miraculous event.

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you.” The virgin birth will be the result of a divine act by God the Holy Spirit. The first person of the Trinity, God the Father, will direct the third person of the Trinity, God the Holy Spirit, to participate in the incarnation of the second person of the Trinity, God the Son.

To come upon means to arrive or to cause to happen. The Greek word ἐπέρχομαι (eperchomai) refers to the general conception of life. The Holy Spirit would miraculously cause the conception of life to occur within the womb of the Virgin Mary.

“The power of the Most High will overshadow you.” The word power (δύναμις; dynamis) means ability or supernatural energy. This power and energy originates from and is solely sourced in the Most High, which is name for God stressing His majesty and supreme authority. This creative, active and productive power solely belonging to God would overshadow (ἐπισκιάζω; episkiazo) Mary and resembling the Shekinah glory of God in the Old Testament mysteriously conceive the virgin birth of the Christ.

“Therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.” The result of this miraculous work of the Holy Spirit is that the Holy One who is to be born of Mary will be the incarnate Son of God. To be called the Holy One means One who is separate, a cut apart or a cut above.

Jesus Christ would be transcendentally separate from other human beings. He would be different in unique way. He would be consecrated and set apart unto purity. He would be inherently separate from sin but would become the object of God the Father’s wrath by bearing the curse of the sinner’s sin (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Gabriel concluded his message to Mary by informing her of what God was doing in the life of her relative Elizabeth. She too would bear a child who would be intricately involved in the life of the child Mary would conceive and deliver. The conclusion is that nothing is impossible with God. He is in control.

Both pregnancies were within the providential plan and design of God. So also is everything which occurs in our own lives. He still is in providential control.

May the Lord’s truth and grace be found here.

Soli deo Gloria!

 

 

 

 

 

Advent: When God Chooses You to Serve Him, His Will May Perplex You.

34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34)

One of the enduring principles of biblical interpretation which was kindled by the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century was this: Scripture Interprets Scripture. In other words, the Word of God is its best interpreter.

Dr. R. C. Sproul writes, “It has often been charged that the Bible can’t be trusted because people can make it say anything they want it to say. This charge would be true if the Bible were not the objective Word of God, if it were simply a wax nose, able to be shaped, twisted, and distorted to teach one’s own precepts. The charge would be true if it were not an offense to God the Holy Spirit to read into sacred Scripture what is not there. However, the idea that the Bible can teach anything we want it to is not true if we approach the Scriptures humbly, trying to hear what the Bible says for itself.

Dr. Sproul continues by explaining that, “At the time of the Reformation, to stop unbridled, speculative, and fanciful interpretations of Scripture, the Reformers set forth the fundamental axiom that should govern all biblical interpretation. It is called the analogy of faith, which basically means that Holy Scripture is its own interpreter. In other words, we are to interpret Scripture according to Scripture. That is, the supreme arbiter in interpreting the meaning of a particular verse in Scripture is the overall teaching of the Bible.

This principle of Scripture interpreting Scripture is important with any doctrine of Scripture, but especially so when addressing the doctrine of the virgin birth of Christ. Does the Bible teach that Jesus Christ was born of a virgin?

The confusion about the veracity of this doctrine concerns the prophecy contained in Isaiah 7:14 which says, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” We examined this prophecy already with respect to the identity of the Jewish Messiah and whether Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies.

The debate arises in that the Hebrew word for virgin “almah” not only can mean a female who has never had sexual relations (i.e. virgin), but also can mean a marriageable girl or a young woman. What then does the New Testament teach?

Matthew’s account of the birth of Christ, taken from the perspective of Joseph, says that, 18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.” (Matthew 1:18-25)

When Matthew quotes from Isaiah 7:14 in vs. 23 he uses the Greek word παρθένος (Parthenos) which means a female who has never had sexual relations.

When Mary asked the angel “How will this be, since I am a virgin” she expressed an understanding of how could she conceive since she had never sexually been with a man, including Joseph. Mary not only correctly interpreted Gabriel’s message but also understood and believed it.

In light of this, we can correctly interpret Isaiah 7:14 in light of Matthew 1:23 and Luke 1:34. The virginity of Mary biblically refers to her having not yet consummated a physical relationship with Joseph, or any man for that matter.

Dr. John MacArthur explains that, “Mary understood that the angel was speaking of an immediate conception, and she and Joseph were still in the midst of the long betrothal, or engagement period (see note on Matt. 1:18), before the actual marriage and consummation. Her question was borne out of wonder, not doubt, nor disbelief, so the angel did not rebuke her as he had Zechariah (Luke 1:20).”

Dr. John Walvoord writes, “Mary did not seem surprised that the Messiah was to come. Rather, she was surprised that she would be His mother since she was a virgin (lit., “since I do not know a man”). But the angel did not rebuke Mary, as he had rebuked Zechariah (v. 20). This indicates that Mary did not doubt the angel’s words but merely wanted to know how such an event would be accomplished. The answer was that the Holy Spirit would creatively bring about the physical conception of Jesus (v. 35). This miraculous conception and Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ was necessary because of His deity and preexistence (cf. Isa. 7:14; 9:6; Gal. 4:4).”

We can trust what the Bible teaches regarding the virgin birth of the Messiah in Isaiah 7:14 as fulfilled in the Bible’s account of the virgin birth of Jesus Christ. They are not in contradiction.

May the Lord’s truth and grace be found here.

Soli deo Gloria!