17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!–2 Corinthians 5:17 (NRSV)
1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.–Romans 12:1,2 (NRSV)
God has been so gracious and merciful to us to bring us to another New year’s Eve. As we contemplate our activities for the day and make our resolutions (if you do that), let us take into account the One who has given us this new day and this coming new year. Our activities should reflect the love that Christ Jesus has shown us and put in our hearts. The world desperately needs that message now more than ever. Let us resolve to make the new year a year that we dedicate or re-dedicate our lives, body and soul to Him for His service. If we, as Christians, everywhere, firmly resolved to do that and actually carried it out, then maybe our resolutions could turn into a revolution! (Yes, I got the idea from the phone commercial, but it is a great idea). Rejoice tonight and in the coming year, but do it so that God gets the glory!
12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, a criminal, or even as a mischief maker. 16 Yet if any of you suffers as a Christian, do not consider it a disgrace, but glorify God because you bear this name.–1 Peter 4:12-16 (NRSV)
Yesterday, we talked about how Jesus was tempted by satan when Jesus was alone, tired and hungry. satan picks our weakest moments to tempt us, when we are sick or when we are already having a bad day. It is those times that he uses our friends and families to annoy us even more. We should count it a joy to share in the same sufferings that our Lord and Savior had to go through. Jesus faced satan directly, we face him indirectly everyday because he uses those around us to do his work. Don’t get angry at the person speaking, just remember, evil comes from the devil. But we can control how we react to it. We have the Spirit of God abiding within us, so that we have the power to call on the name of Jesus, Who has already won the victory. It is Jesus that fights our battles for us. Every confrontation by satan is a spiritual battle, not a battle of flesh and blood. Rest in Jesus and His Word and you will find security, peace, and joy. 10 The name of the Lord is a strong tower;
the righteous run into it and are safe.–Proverbs 18:10 (NRSV)
If we allow God to fight our spiritual battles for us, we win and God gets the glory! Rejoice!
1 Then Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan River. He was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2 where he was tempted by the devil for forty days. Jesus ate nothing all that time and became very hungry.
3 Then the devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become a loaf of bread.”
4 But Jesus told him, “No! The Scriptures say, ‘People do not live by bread alone.
5 Then the devil took him up and revealed to him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. 6 “I will give you the glory of these kingdoms and authority over them,” the devil said, “because they are mine to give to anyone I please. 7 I will give it all to you if you will worship me.”
8 Jesus replied, “The Scriptures say, ‘You must worship the Lord your God and serve only him.
9 Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, to the highest point of the Temple, and said, “If you are the Son of God, jump off! 10 For the Scriptures say,
10 ‘He will order his angels to protect and guard you.
11 And they will hold you up with their hands so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.
12 Jesus responded, “The Scriptures also say, ‘You must not test the Lord your God.–Luke 4:1-12 (NLT)
Jesus was tempted for 40 days by satan. We are not told how long each temptation lasted or how often the temptation was repeated. Since satan has probably not changed his pattern of tempting humans, it was probably a constant nagging to just go ahead and do it. When the first temptation fails, he tries another tactic, always going about like a roaring lion, but having no power. The first temptation that Jesus faced was one we are all familiar with; pride: “you don’t need God, just do it yourself”. The second temptation was idolatry and greed: “just worship me and I will give you everything you want”. Why should you wait and go through all the pain and suffering when you can have it now, just by bowing down to sin? The third temptation is the sin of presumption: “You know God is going to take care of you, just go ahead and do what you want to do, it doesn’t matter”. We are told in Psalm 19:13 Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression. Yes, God will take care of us in dangerous situations, but to think that we can do outrageous things of our own choosing and expect God to always react is presumptuous and deadly. It is one thing to test God’s faithfulness but it is completely different to tempt Him with foolishness.
2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in, they did not find the body. 4 While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 5 The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. 6 Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.–Luke 24:2-7 (NRSV)
The swaddling cloths are gone! The burial cloths are laid aside! Now, we see the real gift, unwrapped and resurrected! Now, we can understand the reason for the celebration of His birth. A birth that would have gone unnoticed if not for His death and Resurrection. Unto us a Son is given, a Son who was obedient unto death on a cross that you and I might have eternal life. He was born in a lowly station of life, but now He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords with total authority over all creation. Every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord! rejoice, for He is risen!
6 For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. Isaiah 9:6,7 (NRSV)
This prophecy was fulfilled in Luke 2 when the virgin Mary gave birth to the baby Jesus. God would keep His covenant with David that a member of David’s household would always occupy the throne of Israel. Jesus would not establish His earthly kingdom at that time, but it will be completely fulfilled when the new Jerusalem is established. It will be an eternal kingdom with Jesus as the last king. Jesus is the Prince of Peace, Mighty God, and the everlasting Father. We can celebrate the birth of Jesus because it is another assurance that God never fails to keep His covenants and His promises. He is an awesome, amazing God who holds us in the palm of His hand and we can never be separated from Him. He inhabits the praises of His people, so praise Him continually and “forget not all His benefits”.
76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people
by the forgiveness of their sins.
78 By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon[h] us,
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”–Luke 1:76-79 (NRSV)
These are the words of Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist as he prophesied that John was the one to fulfill the prophecy in Isaiah 40:3 A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
John was a faithful messenger. He knew that he was not the Messiah, but that he was a precursor to the Messiah coming. We need to be as faithful as John in delivering the Good News of the coming of Jesus Christ. We still live in a spiritual wilderness in our world today. It is getting spiritually drier everyday and it is up to us to be faithful in telling the world that not only has Jesus come, but He is coming again. People get ready.
30 The angel told her, “Don’t be afraid, Mary. You have found favor[a] with God.
31 You will become pregnant, give birth to a son, and name him Jesus.
32 He will be a great man and will be called the Son of the Most High.
The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David.
33 Your son will be king of Jacob’s people forever, and his kingdom will never end.”
34 Mary asked the angel, “How can this be? I’ve never had sexual intercourse.”–Luke 1:30-34 (Gods word)
Can you imagine the thoughts that must have gone through Mary’s mind at this announcement? The thoughts of the shame of being unmarried and pregnant? She would be ridiculed and possibly put away by Joseph, her betrothed. What faith it took for Mary to say, “I am the Lord’s servant. Let everything you have said happen to me”. And, then, Joseph, how could he accept this? Surely, Mary had been unfaithful and gotten herself in this condition. But God! But God had a plan and a purpose. Can we even imagine what God could do through us, if we had even a hint of the faith that Mary and Joseph displayed in carrying out God’s marvelous plan. How many times has God spoken to us and we have responded with “How can this be?” Will we say okay to God,even when it doesn’t make sense to us? Do we believe or do we just mouth the words? But God!!
17 I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near—a star shall come out of Jacob,
and a scepter shall rise out of Israel; it shall crush the borderlands of Moab,
and the territory of all the Shethites. Numbers 24:17 (NRSV)
This would have been a strange prophecy for the Israelites to hear. This was a conformation of the prophecy in Gen 49:10 that the scepter would never depart from between Judah’s feet. All priests were to be of the tribe of Levi and Jacob was of the tribe of Judah. How could a priest rise out of the tribe of Judah? But God had a plan that would not violate the laws that He had handed down. When the scepter rose out of Israel, there would be a change in the way people were to worship God. This is explained further in Hebrews. 12 For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well. 13 Now the one of whom these things are spoken belonged to another tribe, from which no one has ever served at the altar. 14 For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests. 15 It is even more obvious when another priest arises, resembling Melchizedek, 16 one who has become a priest, not through a legal requirement concerning physical descent, but through the power of an indestructible life.–Hebrews 7:12-15 (NRSV)
So, we see that while the priesthood of the Levites was established by the law, the priesthood of Jesus was established through the power of an indestructible life that could only be from the Creator. It was decided before the earth was formed. Jesus would be the final and perfect blood sacrifice for all the sin of the world. He was not, can not, and will not be destroyed or defeated. What Adam gave up in Eden, Jesus took back with His death and resurrection.
Now, we celebrate His birth, but that truly was just the beginning.
6 Your throne, O God, endures forever and ever. Your royal scepter is a scepter of equity;
7 you love righteousness and hate wickedness. Therefore God, your God, has anointed you
with the oil of gladness beyond your companions;
8 your robes are all fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia.–Psalm 45:6-8 (NRSV)
This prophecy about Jesus was repeated and expanded in Hebrews 1. It was decided before the foundations of the earth were laid and before man was ever created. The Godhead knew that the creature they would create would fall and need a redeemer. Hebrews 1:10 And, “In the beginning, Lord, you founded the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands;
11 they will perish, but you remain;
they will all wear out like clothing;
12 like a cloak you will roll them up, and like clothing they will be changed.
But you are the same, and your years will never end.”
What kind of love causes a Creator to create a creature that the Creator knows will fall and He, Himself, will have to die to redeem the creature? This could only be conceived in the mind of a loving, compassionate Creator. A Creator who was willing to give up His position in Heaven and become as one of his creatures. From a throne to a manger. From a manger to a cruel death on a cross. From a cross to a grave. From a grave to the throne room of the Creator. It is the birth of that Creator that we celebrate in this season. Truly, He, and He alone is worthy of all praise, blessing, honor, and glory.
Fill each day with hymns, psalms, and shouts of praise and give Him glory. Let the whole world know that God alone is worthy and eternal.
7 It is for your sake that I have borne reproach,
that shame has covered my face.
8 I have become a stranger to my kindred,
an alien to my mother’s children.–Psalm 69:7,8 (NRSV)
This prophecy found in Psalms is repeated in Isaiah 53:3 and fulfilled in John 1:11. Jesus gave up all His glory in heaven and became obedient even unto death on a cross. All of this because of God’s incredible love for us. As humans, we cannot understand or duplicate the depth of that love. But we still have the responsibility of doing our best to show that love to those that Jesus puts in our path each day. We can do this by showing unexpected kindness and benevolence. Most of us are familiar with the quote that says “witness wherever you go and, if necessary, use words”*. “Let your little light shine” is more than a children’s song, it is a message from the heart of God.
*Most attribute this quote to St Francis of Assisi, but there is some disagreement about the author.