700 Years Before Christmas

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For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
    and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
    there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
    to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
    from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

–Isaiah 9 ESV

Following 739 B.C., Isaiah exposes the hearts of the unrepentant children of God beginning in Chapter One, which leads up to this verdict:

…they have no dawn. 21 They will pass through the land, greatly distressed and hungry…. And they will look to the earth, but behold, distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish. And they will be thrust into thick darkness.”–Isaiah 8.

The fall of Israel and, then, Judah lies just ahead. Slaughter and captivity await them. But hope is given to the faithful remnant. God will have the ultimate victory.

Isaiah 9 brings light to the gloom.

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shone.

For unto us a child is born…

In his magnum opus, Prof. John N. Oswalt writes:

Medieval Jewish commentators, combatting the prevailing messianic claims of Christians, argued that all this was simply in recognition of the birth of the crown prince, Hezekiah, and was only a simple royal birth hymn. However, this view flies in the face of the chronology of Hezekiah’s birth, and even more seriously, it is evident from the language that no merely human king is being spoken of. This is clearly an eschatalogical figure, the Messiah.*

The titles [9:6] underscore the ultimate deity of this child-deliverer. Although some commentators have expended a great deal of energy attempting to make these titles appear normal, they are not. . . .this is not a coronation hymn but a birth announcement. . . .the point remains that such extraordinary titling was not normal for Israelite kings. . . .All of this points to a remarkable congruence with the Immanuel prophecy.

(Isaiah, NICOT)

God with us.

*”The Targ. explicitly identifies the person as the Messiah.”

https://spurgeonwarquotes.wordpress.com/2016/12/19/immanuel-god-with-us/ Immanuel–wonderful video, words of Charles Spurgeon

Timeline B.C.

739 following–Isaiah’s Prophecies

721 Samaria Falls; the end of the Northern Kingdom of Israel

701 Sennacherib Invades Judah, deporting 200,000 to Assyria. ‘I shut up Hezekiah in Jerusalem like a bird in a cage.’

597 Jerusalem captured by Babylon. Deportations begin.

586 Temple Destroyed

c.538 Edict of Cyrus. First return of captives

515 Second Temple Completed

4 B.C. Death of Herod which followed the Birth of Jesus

Though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small; Though with patience He stands waiting, with exactness grinds He all.”–Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The Shepherds and the Shepherd King

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The Shepherds and the Angels

8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 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. 2 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!”

15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.–Luke 2 ESV

The Shepherds and the Shepherd King

The angel Gabriel told Mary, “you…will bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He…will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David….”–David, the shepherd Psalmist, who was chosen by God as king of Israel.

In Genesis, God himself is called “the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel”(49:24).

The Patriarchs—Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—were all shepherds. Moses, the shepherd, shepherded God’s people for over forty years.

The shepherd David’s most famous Psalm begins, “The LORD is my shepherd.”

The shepherd Amos ended his prophecy of terrible judgments with the promise that, “In that day I will restore the fallen house of David….”

How wondrous, then, that an angel declared this to Shepherds of Bethlehem, “…behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”

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Still, today, in struggling with the existential conundrum of God vis a vis the Jewish people, a rabbi denotes ‘shepherd’ as “a root metaphor” standing behind the “community’s beliefs, values and behavior.”*

Modern attempts to dismiss the story of the shepherds as legendary propose motives such as this: “God’s grace is revealed to a group of people held in low regard (e.g. as thieves) by the Jews. But the evidence for this [low regard] is late…” (Luke, I. Howard Marshall).

Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel notes: “In a Midrash to the Book of Psalms, the third century [A.D.] Rabbi Yosi bar Hanina noted that there is no occupation more degrading than that of a shepherd who walks around like a beggar holding a staff and bag in hand.”*

Taking this later situation which followed the destruction of Jerusalem and the dispersion of Israel and applying it to the time of Jesus, the Good Shepherd (John 10), creates an anachronism.

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Making Christ Known

May we be mindful that we are called to respond to the Angel’s message just as the Shepherds did. For all who have “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb….the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to fountains of the waters of life”(Rev. 7:17).

*Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel, A Shepherd’s Song: Psalm 23 and the Shepherd Metaphor in Jewish Thought (New York: Kodesh Press, 2014).

Christmas Isn’t Over; Epiphany

epiphany-canadaMatthew 2

. . . Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”

. . . the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. 11 And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. . . .

We are NOW in the 12 Days of Christmas. These are the days from Christmas Day until Epiphany.

Nativity scenes depict the whole of the account of the birth of Christ. Many know that the arrival of the Magi, the Wise Men, occurred after the “manger.” As the text says, “after Jesus was born” the Magi came and entered “the house.” It was probably months after the birth as Herod had all babies, up to the age of two, killed (Matt. 2:16).

In the West, Epiphany (6 January) is celebrated as “the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles as represented by the Magi (Matthew 2:1–12).”

In the East, on 6 January, the Orthodox Church celebrates the Feast of the Holy Theophany,  Epiphany , as the manifestation of God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), at the Baptism of Christ.

Matthew 3: 16 When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. 17 And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

Epiphany

A Meditation for Christmastide and Epiphany: God With Us –A WONDERFUL Video <4 min.(youtube)

Advent, The Shepherds’ Candle

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“Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you, who is Christ the Lord.  This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

 “Glory to God in the highest,
    and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

 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.”

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

It will be wonderful to be glorifying and praising God in our gatherings during Christmas week. In this very familiar passage of Scripture, there is one line that seems unfamiliar, at least if we judge by our actions.

“…They made known what had been told them about this child…”

How many have heard us during this Holy Season?(link)

 

We have many wonderful works of art depicting the Angels and the Shepherds, and of the Shepherds at The Manger Scene. But how hard it is to find just one that depicts the shepherds sharing the Good News of  our Saviour’s birth.

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Can we Christians be found in that picture?

Babylon

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Revelation 14

Then I saw another angel flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth—to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people— saying with a loud voice, “Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water.”

And another angel followed, saying, “Babylon[f] is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she has made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.”

Then a third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives his mark on his forehead or on his hand, 10 he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation. He shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.”

12 Here is the patience of the saints; here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.

13 Then I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’”

“Yes,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them.”

Isaiah: God Speaks to People of Sodom

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Isaiah One

Hear O heavens! Give ear O earth!

For the LORD has spoken:

“Children I have raised and brought up,

but they have rebelled against me.

The ox knows its owner;

the donkey its master’s trough;

Israel does not know,

my people does not understand.”

Woe! Sinning nation,

guilt laden people,

evil generation,

corrupt children.

They have forsaken the LORD:

they have turned away from the Holy One of Israel;

they have turned back. . . .

Hear* the word of the LORD, governors of Sodom;

give ear to the teaching of our God, people of Gomorrah. . . .

When you spread out your hands [to pray],

I will turn my eyes from you.

Even though you multiply your prayers,

I am not listening.

It is blood that fills your hands.

[*Hebrew does not recognize a distinction between hearing and doing. If you do not obey a command you do not truly hear it.]

Wash to be clean!

Take away the evil of your deeds from before my eyes.

Stop doing evil; learn to do good. . . .

“Come now, let us argue it out together,” says the LORD.

“Even if your sins were like scarlet,

they could become white like snow.

Even if they were like crimson,

they could be like wool.

If you are willing and listen,

you will eat the best of the land.

But if you refuse and rebel,

the sword will devour you.”

For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

“This passage [18ff] provides a conclusion to the contrast between [religious system] and ethical behavior . . . there is only one intelligent course of action—obedience and submission.”

“. .. what God is asking the people to debate with him is the wisdom of the two alternatives that are left them. Should they continue as they are and be destroyed, or should they obey God and be blessed?”

“God does not contend with us as though he wished to pursue our sins to the utmost. There is hope, but in God’s way, not ours.”

“There is a delicate balance to be maintained here between human freedom and divine sovereignty. On the one hand, it ought not to be said that obedience produces forgiveness. God forgives and cleanses not because he must, but because he wishes to and has made a way for that to be done through the death and resurrection of Christ. But, on the other hand, it is also plain that God does not proclaim forgiveness to those who are unwilling to obey.”

“The primary emphasis in Scripture is upon act. It is not how one feels but what one does that is of primary importance.”

–John N. Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament

Good Friday–Dying for the Ungodly

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Romans 5

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, . . . the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. 11 And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.

We, as Christians, need to hold onto a keen awareness of the facts to which Paul points us in Romans 5.

Christ died for the ungodly (v. 6).

While we were sinners, Christ died for us (v. 8).

Even while we were enemies, . . . (v. 10)!

Accepting this sharpens our hearing as we listen to the words of our Lord:  “ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,  so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”–Matthew 5

Christ tells us to imitate our Father.

 “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,  bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. . . .  and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”–Luke 6

What resources do we have to obey? The gift given when we were reconciled. Romans 5 tells us that   “the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

Adolf Schlatter writes, “The ungodly were loved by the one who did the will of God.  The act of love by which he unites the ungodly with himself, at the same time is the act of obedience by which he does the will of God. Hence his love originates from God’s love. He has demonstrated the extent to which God values the person and intently unites him with himself, in that Christ died for the ungodly.” (Romans, p. 123f)

Thus, we (who were loved even as enemies) trust and obey and praise God for Good Friday! You might like to read Charles Spurgeon’s reflections on this day. See April 10 in his Morning and Evening book and read some of the days before and after. (You can find this to read on-line.) Spurgeon truly understood the effects and implications of Good Friday, both in what Christ did for us, and what He calls us to do for others.  Spurgeon Quotes Here

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