Joy To The World

Do you remember when you were a kid and Christmas Day rolled around? You tore into something lovingly wrapped and discovered that thing you had been wanting for so long…oh the joy you felt! You could not, at that moment, have felt any happier. The joy you felt was indescribable; that someone loved you enough to give you exactly what you wanted, exactly what you needed, and they willingly paid the price for you to have it.

Joy to the World describes, essentially, this feeling.

Joy to the world
Joy to the world
Joy to the world, the Lord is come
Let earth receive her King
Let every heart prepare Him room
And Heaven and nature sing

The whole Old Testament in your Bible points forward to the coming of the Lord (if you don’t have a Bible read it here for free!). The New Testament documents the life and legacy of the Lord Jesus, and one thing constantly associated with Him is joy.

The song is filled with Scripture (Isaiah 9.6, Isaiah 11.10, John 12.15,  Revelation 17.14, Revelation 19.11-16, and Psalm 98.5-9 to name some!).

As we made room in our lives for that gift we ripped open on Christmas Day, possibly discarding old things to make way for it, this year let every heart prepare Him room, discarding old things and receiving our King

 

All Wrapped Up: Where Was Jesus Born?

When you think about Christmas, what comes to mind? 

Maybe family, friends, food? 

Turkey, tinsel, trimmings? 

Carols, cards, cakes? 

Or, maybe, gifts, presents?

Christmas Day is fast approaching, and there may be some exchanging of gifts. Maybe you are really excited to give that special someone that special gift, maybe you are really excited to open some gifts, to tear open some presents…but before you can see what is inside, before you can watch someone open their gift, you have to unwrap it, don’t you, and before that, someone took the time to wrap up that gift.

In Luke 2.7-12 we read of a very special gift all wrapped up.

7 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. 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. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

Interestingly, one line of thinking can show that the shepherds who watched sheep near Bethlehem were no ordinary shepherds, but that they were there to care for the sheep who bred lambs for the temple. These were temple flocks and therefore very special sheep.

I read that

“Bethlehem’s shepherds were known to care for the temple flock. These men may have also protected and cared for the lambs used in temple sacrifice.”

Dr. John Macdonald gives more detail,

Consider the possibility that these were not shepherds of ordinary sheep.

Alfred Edersheim (1825-1889) provides an intriguing answer to our question. He was Jewish by birth and training. Later, he became a follower of Jesus, studied and taught biblical theology in Scotland, and wrote The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. Writing about these shepherds, Edersheim referenced the Jewish Mishnah

The Mishnah is a collection of documents recording oral traditions governing the lives of Jewish people during the period of the Pharisees. As such, an understanding of the Mishnah gives us insight into how Jewish people lived during the time of Jesus.

One regulation in the Mishnah “expressly forbids the keeping of flocks throughout the land of Israel, except in the wildernesses – and the only flocks otherwise kept, would be those for the Temple-services” (Bab K. 7:7; 80a).

Jerusalem and Bethlehem, and their surrounding fields were not in the wilderness where ordinary flocks of sheep were kept. Therefore, according to the Jewish regulations, the flocks under the care of the shepherds near Bethlehem must have been “for the Temple-services.” These shepherds watched over sheep destined as sacrifices in the Temple at Jerusalem. 

These guys were, then, trained specially to raise lambs for the temple, their task was to raise sacrificial lambs. They had to make sure that when a lamb was offered without spot or blemish (Exodus 12.5, 1 Peter 1.9), that this truly was the case. Apparently, these lambs were wrapped in cloths to prevent injury or harm.

Back in Luke we read that 

“…she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger…

…this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

The place where these special lambs were born and raised was in a place called Migdal Edar, “The tower of the flock.”  on the outskirts of Bethlehem. This watchtower was used by the shepherds for protection from their enemies and wild animals. In this building the priests would bring in the sheep that were about to give birth to their lambs. The tower of the flock at Bethlehem is the perfect place for the Lamb of God to be born (John 1.29).


In the very place where thousands of sacrificial lambs had been born before Him, now the ultimate gift of God to the world had come.


Micah 4.8 foretells the place where the Savior would be born,

“As for you, O tower (Migdal) of the flock, the stronghold of the daughter of Zion, to you shall it come, even the former dominion shall come, the kingdom of the daughter of Jerusalem.”

During lambing season the sheep were brought to the tower from the fields, as the lower level functioned as the birthing room for sacrificial lambs. Due to the fact that the shepherds were themselves under the care of Rabbis, these shepherd-priests would maintain a ceremonially clean birthing place. What a perfect place for the Lamb of God to be born, a ceremonially clean place where sacrificial lambs were born. The manger in the tower of the flock was not a smelly stable with other animals as we often see at this time of year, but the perfect place in the perfect place (Micah 4.8, 5.2).

I read recently that,

“After the lambs were born, the priestly shepherds would place the lambs in the hewn depression of a limestone rock known as the manger and wrap the newborn lambs in swaddling clothes preventing them from thrashing about and harming themselves until they had calmed down so they could be inspected to meet the requirement of being without spot or blemish.”

“…she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger

…this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2.7, 12)

What was the sign?  The baby wrapped in cloths. 

Where was the baby lying?  In a manger. 

Do you think the shepherds understood when they were told this? 

Absolutely!

There was no need for the angels to give the shepherds a map-pin or directions to the birthplace of Jesus, the sign of the manger could only mean their manger at the Tower of the Flock where they routinely birthed and wrapped sacrificial lambs. We can reasonably conclude that these shepherds knew exactly who this baby was, and exactly where He was born.


They had now been told that the reality to which their life’s work pointed had now arrived!


William Barclay said 

“It is a lovely thought that the shepherds who looked after the Temple lambs were the first to see the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” 

Jesus was the sacrificial lamb, and He was our sacrificial lamb.

Jesus was wrapped as a baby in the traditional cloths of lambs and placed in a manger. He was wrapped as a baby, wrapped as a lamb, and wrapped as a gift. He is the Lamb who came to take away the sins of the world; spotless and without blemish.

The point of all this is to say that He is the real gift we are celebrating this time of year, He was wrapped; wrapped as a baby, wrapped as a lamb, and wrapped as a gift. 

The angels announced the birth of a Saviour that day in the city of David, which is the gift that we all need, not just at Christmas time, but today, tomorrow, the day after that, and the day after that, and every single day after that, too. 

How excited will you be on the 25th to open a gift from a loved one, or to watch a loved one open your gift…that is the feeling we need when we think of the gift of God to the world, His Son, the gift of Jesus.

Jesus Christ is the better gift.

He is the gift of a clean slate before God, 

He is the gift of reconciliation, 

He is the gift of eternal life, 

He is the gift of the opportunity to have a right relationship with God,

He is the gift of forgiveness from our sins.

He knew that we needed that gift, even before we did. Before we even knew it was there, before the foundation of the world, this gift was ready, poised, waiting to be accepted, through faith in Him alone. This gift was always plan A for humanity, never plan B. That’s what we gather to celebrate at this time of year, to commemorate and to consolidate.

All we have to do is take the gift. 

Will you take it? 

Have you taken it?

Will you take the free gift of salvation that Christ wants to give you right now? 

I pray you do now, tomorrow, and every day.

What a wonderful gift, the best gift ever given.

Decisions to make?

Photo by John-Mark Smith on Pexels.com

​“The mere reading of the Word of God has power to communicate the life of God to us mentally, morally, and spiritually.”

– Oswald Chambers

Living in this part of the world, you often hear people say ‘Insha’allah’, or, ‘God willing’. If you’ve lived here long enough you’ll know that this can actually mean a whole manner of things…

But, the notion of ‘If the Lord wills it’ is actually very Biblical (have a look at James 4.13-15 for example).

People then ask, ‘How can I know God’s will for my life?’, and that is a great question.

God (most usually) speaks to us in four ways…

Through prayer, through His Word, through circumstance, and through other believers.

So, if you’ve prayed about a big decision and nothing is happening, if other believers are unsure about the road you’re heading down, if everything about the circumstances points to a bad choice, and if you’re doing something that goes against how the Bible says we ought to live, its hard to say that God is in it. 

But, if you’ve spoken to other believers and they are positive, if all the circumstances align in a way you could never have engineered or even imagined, if you’re living in the light of His Word, and if you’re prayed up and God is opening doors, then what are you waiting for? 

He is speaking to you, He is opening a door for you, He is directing your steps. 

If we wait for the audible voice of God – Jesus’ baptism-style – we may be waiting a long time. 

Pray, read His Word, look around at how He is already working in your life, and talk to other believers…then go for it!

1 Timothy 1.18-20 – Fight the Good Fight

Paul wraps up chapter one much the same as he started it in 1.3urging and charging.

18 This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, 19 holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, 20 among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.

Where we read charge, this is a military word so Paul is being serious, and this takes us back to v.3, 

As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith.

Paul is also being loving as he writes Timothy, my child, but overall the message is clear – you need to make sure that what is being taught and accepted as right and proper is, in fact, right and proper.

The tools needed, the weapons needed to wage the good warfare are, we read, faith and a good conscience. They’re pretty essential to our Christian life, aren’t they, faith and a good conscienceWe see the consequence of rejecting these fundamentals (v.20), but where does the focus of both lead us?

Faith and a good conscience both lead us to Jesus.

It is through faith in Him that we are saved unto eternal life (Ephesians 2.8-9), and it is through His shed blood for us that our consciences are made good (Hebrews 9.13-14). 


So, how do we fight the good fight? With faith and a good conscience

Where do they lead us? To Jesus. 


 

The Gospel in Malachi

Where is the Gospel in Malachi?

We’ve come to a place by looking at the Minor Prophets that we’ve seen the ultimate remedy for our sin and human condition is not our external repentance and obedience, but the Lord’s coming to his temple, as Malachi says.

Our own righteousness, our own efforts, our own remedies cannot stand the day of the Lord.

We need the righteousness of another, if we are going to stand on that day— which is precisely what God gives us in the gospel. The Good News comes into the midst of our bad news, and says look, don’t worry, take the burden off yourself (Duguid).

God’s people in the Old Testament we’ve read of through this series, God’s people today, you and me, us, humans, there is no

realisation of the depth of God’s love for us, 

reponse, 

honour, 

faithfulness, 

hope, 

obedience, 

fear.


What is the remedy for this?


What is the remedy for the human condition that we all have?

All throughout the Minor Prophets we have been looking at how they point to the character, the qualities, the truth of Jesus, and they all build towards Him being the remedy for the human condition.

IMG_1817

It all crescendos to Jesus being the remedy that we need.

It might seem too simple…it is, believe and receive.

We need to acknowledge that we need a Saviour, we need to acknowledge that we have a problem before we jump into the finer points of our faith. 

It’s no use dealing with the superstructure if the foundation is not right, I read this week, and our foundation has to be that we are sinners in need of remedy that we cannot provide for ourselves.

D.Martin Lloyd-Jones said

“We go astray because we are not truly convicted of our sin.”

Many not yet believers are not yet believers because they don’t see the need for it, they don’t think they need a remedy, they think they can achieve all of this by themselves, many of the Old Testament persuasion and other works-related worldviews would say that righteousness is attained by keeping laws and doing things, but that twists the very purpose of the law – to show us that we need more, we need more than law, the law highlights that we are sinful and we need a remedy to this.

Let us use the law, the Old Testament, the Prophets, the Minor Prophets to see that we are all together in our human condition, that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and that all are in need of a Divine, Sovereign, Redemptive, Restorative Remedy.

Jesus is that remedy.

He addresses everything that makes us human, and do you know what, He takes that just as it is, He loves you and accepts you just as you are, right now, but then works in and with you to remedy everything that is broken, everything that is lacking, everything that is missing, and slowly, day by day, from the inside out, turns you into the person you were made to be, made in the image of God, being transformed into His likeness until the day you see Him face to face and live in His presence for eternity. 

What a remedy.

Malachi.009

Never Been A Moment

This week I’ve been thinking about the line between feelings and faith, and how this influences who we are and how we are.

During our Spiritual Depression Miniseries we said that we ought to interpret our lives based on the Bible, not interpret the Bible based on our lives. The problem with the latter is that our lives then become the ultimate test and truth of reality, rather than the Word of God. When this is the case, our lives can change, our feelings can change, and we end up being blown here and there by every wind of change, often multiple times a day. This then has the potential to change who we are, and how we are. 

Think of the person interpreting their life independently, all alone, not in relation to something that never changes.

What happens when they feel abandoned and their circumstances seem to support that feeling?

What happens when they feel lost and their circumstances seem to support that feeling?

What happens when they deal with loss?

What happens when they deal with tragedy?

If we rely on feelings over faith, it’s only a matter of time before we end up in a dark place.

There’s a part of this song that speaks to this so well,

There’s never been a moment
I was not held inside Your arms
There’s never been a day when You were not who You say You are

Despite what is going on around us, God never changes (Malachi 3.6, Hebrews 13.8). Because God never changes, His Word to us is solid, true, and lasting (Luke 21.33). So, when we might feel abandoned, lost, alone, or down, we can turn to the Word of God and know, for sure, that He is always there, always true, and always ready with an all consuming, heart pursuing, grace extending, never ending love.

This should define who we are, and how we are. 

Even Then

Most Thursday’s we have a devotional with a bit of music, and today we’ve got Even Then by Micah Tyler.

On the nights when the dark lasts a little bit longer
When the wind and the storm is a little bit stronger
When the fear in my heart dips a little bit deeper
When my faith to stand gets a little bit weaker

Where could I run to?
Where could I go?

There will be times in our lives when things get tough, when we experience periods where we think ‘Where are you Lord?’, when we have doubts of emotion and feel as if nothing will ever get any better. 

I read recently that when things are happening that we don’t understand, we must fall back on the things we do understand. When life gets rough and tough where do we run, where do we go?

Psalm 73 offers a very present help in times of need and trouble,

Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me to glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

It should come as a great comfort to us that the Lord never lets go (John 10.28) of those who have turned to Him in faith. When the dark, stormy, fear-filled times come along, we have an ever present help in our times of need. We must turn first and foremost to the Word of God in times of trouble, not our own feelings, not someone else’s experience, the solid, tried, true, and tested Word of God. 

It is always good to start with the Bible, where there is explicit teaching on every condition…

D.Martin Lloyd-Jones

He is our refuge and strength, He is in our midst, He will help, He is with us.

We need only be still and know that the Lord of hosts is with us (Psalm 46).