Mary’s Song

Mary was in Judea and speaking with Elizabeth, and in response to what Elizabeth told her, she uttered something wonderful…

And Mary said:

“My soul glorifies the Lord
     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
 for he has been mindful
    of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
    for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
    holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
    from generation to generation.
 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
    he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble.
 He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty.
 He has helped his servant Israel,
    remembering to be merciful
 to Abraham and his descendants forever,
    just as he promised our ancestors.”

Luke 1:46-55

May this be our song; may this be our prayer.

I doubt that I need to say more.

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Mary Sees Elizabeth

At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”

                                                                           Luke 1:39-45

In a scene reminiscent of 1 Samuel 1-2, Mary arrives at the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth and as the text tells us, two interesting things happen when she enters the house. First, the unborn John the Baptist leaps for joy upon hearing her voice, and then his mother Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit. You will recall that the angel had told Elizabeth that her son would be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he was born, and this has been borne out; now Elizabeth herself utters a more or less prophetic message.

Elizabeth became the first human to ever proclaim the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

If nothing else, we see in this scene that Elizabeth, in spite of her joy at conceiving a child in her old age, and in spite of being joyous at the important role her son would play in redemption history, that she was fully aware that Mary was carrying the greater of the two, and that as a result, Mary was the more blessed.

What does this tell us some 2,000 years later?

It tells us that this child whose birth we are celebrating now, was no ordinary child, that he was God incarnate. It tells us that this child was/is the One who would change everything and that this change would be for all time. It tells us that in our celebrations, the birth of this child is not to be treated as an afterthought or an “oh by the way” kind of thing, for it is well and truly The Point.

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Strength to Comfort

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.

2Corinthians 1:3-4

These two little verses actually come from the greeting Paul is bringing to the Corinthian church at the beginning of the letter he is sending them. Back in those days, this kind of a flattering and, if I may say so, flowery greeting was customary. Today we might say that it checks a box in the stylebook of that day for a proper letter, and as readers we might just tear through the greeting to get to the meat of the letter. Yet, if we were to simply zip through these verses to get to the good part, we would be doing ourselves a great disservice.

Please, take a minute and read through them again, more slowly this time.

Wow!

Paul is giving praise to the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort. Don’t we all need compassion and comfort at times? I think we all do, even if we don’t like to talk about such things. He continues with this little gem: who comforts us in all our troubles. Do you have any troubles that God cannot bring comfort to help you through? Do you have anything troubling you right now as you read this? If so, the God of all comfort is there with you… pretty amazing if you think about it.

But Paul isn’t quite through yet, for he goes on to say: so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.

So, If I’m getting this right, our wonderful God, the God of all comfort can, and He will, bring us comfort in any kind of trouble, and that His abundance is so great, that we will have compassion and comfort enough left over, so that we can share it with others who need it. When I think about this, it occurs to me that although God has made us many precious promises, He isn’t offering to be my personal therapist or to put it another way, He isn’t providing me with strength and courage and comfort and love just for my benefit and purpose. No! He is providing these things to me so that I can use them for the benefit of others, and in so doing, I will be acting for God’s purpose.

Double Wow!! This is beyond amazing, and just think, this came from the part we usually just rush through to get to the good stuff.

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Mary has a Visitor

Luke 1:26-38

Six months after Elizabeth became pregnant; the angel Gabriel pays a visit to Mary in Nazareth: “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

Have you ever read legal notices in the newspaper? Years ago I read some just to see what they were all about and I couldn’t believe that so many of them began, “Greetings from the State of Nevada, you have been sued.”

“Greetings” indeed!

Mary’s reaction to the greetings Gabriel brought her was a bit similar: What kind of greetings would these be, am I in trouble?

In one sense, maybe she was in “trouble” for she was to become pregnant before she was married to Joseph, her betrothed. Yet this would be no ordinary pregnancy, for God Himself would be the Father of her child, and her conception would be from the Holy Spirit who would “come upon” her. Her son would be named Jesus, and would be known as the Son of the Most High, sitting in the throne of David forever and ever, ruling God’s people in glory; He would be the Savior of the World. In the process of telling her all of this, he also mentioned that Elizabeth had conceived in her old age and was already in her sixth month of pregnancy; Mary marveled at this. It should also be noted that she received the news a little better than poor old Zechariah, for she said: “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.”  What amazing faith!

Soon, she would pay Elizabeth a little visit…

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Photo of the Week: April 27, 2022

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The birth of John is foretold

Luke 1:5-25

Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth were old and well beyond child bearing; they had no children and no hope of ever having children. He was a priest at the Temple, and she was something of a disgrace for being barren. On a certain day, Zechariah was chosen by lot, as was the custom, to enter the Holy Place to burn the incense to God. This of course was the twice daily ritual following the sacrifice for the atonement of sins. It is important to this story for us to understand that the casting of lots was done to enable God to choose which priest was to enter the Holy Place, thus Zechariah’s selection would have been understood as God’s choice, and no accident.

While in the Holy Place, Zechariah was startled by the angel of the Lord who came to bring him some very unexpected good news: Elizabeth would conceive a child in her old age.

Does this remind you of someone?

This would be no ordinary child, for he would be filled with the Holy Spirit even before being born, which was the special favor of God in a time when there was no generally available indwelling of the Spirit. He would prepare the way for the Lord Himself with the spirit of Elijah, the great prophet of old. In the process, he would bring many people back to the righteous ways of the Lord.

Zechariah was to call the boy John.

If you were in Zechariah’s sandals, what would be your reaction? Maybe you’d be overjoyed, or shocked, or terrified, or very proud… or skeptical! Zechariah wanted to know how he could be sure this news was true, a fairly human concern, I’d have to say. It would appear that the angel wasn’t all that impressed with such a reaction, however. He identified himself as Gabriel who served in the presence of God, and informed Zechariah that he would be mute until the miraculous (there’s really no other word for it) birth was completed.

Well, Zechariah asked for a sign, and he got one… right?

Meanwhile, the people outside praying were wondering what had happened to Zechariah; he’d been inside far too long. When he emerged from the Temple, they could tell he had experienced some kind of vision, but he couldn’t tell them anything about it. He returned home and his wife became pregnant; the Lord had taken away her disgrace and she went into seclusion for her term. Yet soon another angelic visit would take place…

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A Brief Introduction to Luke

Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus,  so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

Luke 1:1-4

Luke opens with a formal introduction in the best ancient Greek style, and certainly along with Acts, Luke is written in the most elegant formal Greek, standing out from all other New Testament writings. As he says in his introduction, it is organized along the formal lines of a Greek historian, and in that sense compares favorably to any of the ancient Greek historical texts.

The most important thing for us to take from the introduction is the reason Luke is writing this book; it was so the reader would be certain about the things they were taught about the Lord Jesus Christ, and in this there is a bit of apologetic in Luke’s writing that differs somewhat from the other Gospel authors.  The idea of being “certain” about the things of God is not really a modern idea, for in our times we prefer to say that one cannot ever be entirely certain about anything other than science.  Of course, science has found certainty in a great many things which were wrong, although we don’t like to talk about that. If we were to be entirely honest with ourselves, we would have to acknowledge that science sometimes continues to be certain about things which aren’t quite right today, especially when politics enter the picture.

In any case, Luke wants his readers to be certain, we will be reading, and I hope that our level of certainty will have increased greatly by the time we are finished.

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This sounds familiar… doesn’t it?

Why do the nations conspire
    and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth rise up
    and the rulers band together
    against the Lord and against his anointed, saying,
“Let us break their chains
    and throw off their shackles.”

Psalm 2: 1-3

Whether you follow the international scene closely, or if you prefer the study of history, these words are likely to sound familiar to you. It seems that the things that nations are doing today are at least as old as the Scriptures; there’s nothing new under the sun.

Yet the machinations of Men aren’t the only things going on out there:

The One enthroned in heaven laughs;
    the Lord scoffs at them.
He rebukes them in his anger
    and terrifies them in his wrath, saying,
“I have installed my king
    on Zion, my holy mountain.”

Psalm 2: 4-6

Although the kings and rulers of this earth feel pretty sure of themselves in their plots, schemes and pointless struggling and striving, they are being watched by Almighty God, who isn’t all that amused by their misdeeds. It would seem that He favors an altogether different King. Perhaps the next few verses will sound most familiar of all:

I will proclaim the Lord’s decree:

He said to me, “You are my son;
    today I have become your father.
Ask me,
    and I will make the nations your inheritance,
    the ends of the earth your possession.
You will break them with a rod of iron;
    you will dash them to pieces like pottery.”

Psalm 2:7-9

In these verses, quoted by the Hebrews author, God is speaking to the King of kings and Lord of lords, who also happens to be God’s own Son. While these verses were prophetic when they were first written, we know that He, the Son, has indeed come. He reigns even now at the right hand of the Father in Heaven, heir to all things in the universe. We also know that we, His followers are His co-heirs to everything, and that in the fullness of time, He will put an end to this fallen world and redeem all of Creation, putting away sin, rebellion, war, suffering, pain and tears. Every human will receive their just due, whether it is a positive or a negative reward: Justice will prevail in this universe― of that we can be certain.

What amazing promises we have; what a great hope we possess. Hold on to these, and this will no doubt be a wonderful week.

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Sunday Sermon Notes: April 24, 2022

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.

1 John 1:1-4

John has a way of telling the story of Jesus from a lofty, heavenly viewpoint, and this is surely one of those instances.  His Gospel begins in a similar way, (see John 1:1-4) it provides a perfect parallel passage in fact.  Of course, in Revelation, John’s vantage point is so lofty that most misread it entirely. Here in this short letter, John is setting forth two basic and wonderful facts:  First, that Jesus is the Messiah, the anointed One of God.  Second, He is setting forth the fact that he, himself, is an eyewitness of Jesus, and Apostle who lived and walked with Jesus for over three years, consequently he is able to give eyewitness testimony about Him.

In verse one, John is letting us know that he saw this Jesus with his own eyes, touched Him with his own hands, heard Him with his own ears, and that now he (John) is proclaiming as the Word of Life, the Word that was with God and that was in fact God from the very beginning, a beginning that predates time itself.

I hate to be crass after such lofty statements, but to put it in the simplest possible modern American terms, John is saying something like:  Hey!  I’m about to tell you something important; listen up. Hey dummy, I know what the heck I’m talking about here!

Back to lofty: In verse two, John takes a step further, as he did in John 1:2.  This Word of Life really appeared, and John saw Him, John was there.  This eternal life that came from the Father Himself John is now going to proclaim to us. John will proclaim this great news of the Word of Life so that we may have fellowship with John and with Jesus, the Son, as well as with the Father. And in doing so, our entry into fellowship will make John’s joy complete.

Fellowship is an interesting word, from the Greek word koinōnia meaning “association, community, communion, joint participation, intercourse; the share which one has in anything, participation.” This participation is not only in relationship, but in purpose, for we really cannot separate the Person of Christ from the purpose of the Father.  John’s joy will be complete, because by the proclamation of the Word of Life, we will be in relationship and purpose with John, our fellow believers, and with the Lord Himself.

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth.  But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

1 John 1:5-7

Here, we enter the first section of the letter which begins at verse 5 and continues through 2:14. This section is given context in verse 5: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. Thus, this section is all about John’s declaration of light versus darkness, and it contains comparisons and contrasts.

Before we take a look at it, keep in mind what John wrote in John 1:4 “In him was life, and that life was the light of men.” All through the Gospel story, John used “light” as signifying the presence of Jesus, contrasted with “darkness” denoting His absence.  Keeping this in mind, let’s take a look at our text. After proclaiming that God is light, John gets down to his explanation claiming that if we claim to be in fellowship with God, but walk in darkness, we lie, and are not in the truth.  This is a rather easy statement to understand, for if we are in darkness, then we aren’t in His presence, and if we aren’t in His presence, we couldn’t possibly be in fellowship: There is no half-way.

The contrast is that if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship… because we are with Him in the light.  If we have this fellowship in the light of His presence and truth, then His blood purifies us from all sin.  The reality of the statement is that we can’t be in fellowship with Him until our sins have been forgiven by His sacrifice on the cross.

Sometimes, we may walk a bit in darkness, and by this I mean that we may stray from time-to-time.  John doesn’t suggest that our errors kick us out of fellowship as we will see a little farther through this text, but that there is a way to return to the light of His presence, by confessing our sins., as we see in the next paragraph:

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.

1 John 1:8-10

I think we all would agree that a claim by any one of us to have never sinned would be little short of crazy.  John seems to think it’s worse than that− all have sinned, but take heart, for there is a way out, confess your sins and He will forgive; this is our covenant promise.  There is simply no need for us to wring our hands and carry around a burden of guilt and shame before God, for when we confess our sins (acknowledge them) He will forgive; we have His Word on that.

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Active Love

People love to talk about love. Love, love, love; all we need is love. Love is the answer. Love conquers all… God is love.

I love pizza!

Maybe it’s all true; I won’t argue against it. Yet if we stop and think about it, don’t we sometimes reduce the whole subject of love down to the level of a slogan, a cliché even? We all might be familiar with what love feels like, but what does it look like in practice?

Not surprisingly, the Scriptures have much to say about love. In fact, Jesus Himself had some things to say on the subject, as did His Apostles. We know that God so loved the world that He sent His one and only Son to die for us. We know that the greatest Commandment was that we should love the Lord our God with all our hearts, soul, mind and strength, and that the second greatest was that we should love our neighbor as ourselves.

In his letter to the Romans, Paul said a great deal about God’s grace, and how He showed us His love through His grace. Then, he went on to discuss our response to God’s grace, and once again, he wrote about love; this time of our love for one another. Here’s a sample:

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Romans 12:9-13

Notice he begins by telling us that our love must be sincere. Sincerity is much more than a slogan, and it is never cliché. From what follows in these few verses, it would also appear that our love is active in nature, something that can be observed to be put into action. We mustn’t waste love on things which are evil, rather we should love only what is good, wholesome and true. Out of love comes service to God, and service to God is seen when we hold others up as being more important than ourselves, when we meet the needs of others without worrying about our own desires and pleasures. Love isn’t about pleasing ourselves― it’s about serving others.

Many people talk a good game, but when love is put into action, the love of God in us can be seen by everyone to His glory, and no slogans are needed.

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