Promises II – Take Two

And the Word became flesh…

As we saw last week, the coming of a Savior – the Messiah, was foretold through promises given to Godly men and women beginning in the Garden of Eden. We saw how God preserved a holy line, beginning with Seth, up to and through the great flood, establishing the house of Shem as the lineage from which the Savior would come. We are now up to the promises given to Abraham, that Isaac would be his heir, and that all nations would be blessed through him. As we pick up there, we will see how God selected certain families to carry the guide-on towards the coming of the Savior.

Isaac Is Born
21 Then the Lord took note of Sarah as He had said, and the Lord did for Sarah as He had promised. 2 So Sarah conceived and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the appointed time of which God had spoken to him. 3 Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore to him, Isaac. 4 Then Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. 5 Now Abraham was one hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. 6 Sarah said, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.” 7 And she said, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.”

8 The child grew and was weaned, and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. (Genesis 21:1-8)

The conception and birth of Isaac was a supernatural-event which had little to do with Abraham’s abilities but everything to do with Sarah’s abilities. A survey through the Old Testament will reveal that it was not uncommon for “old” men to father children with much-younger women, but Sarah was NOTmuch-younger”. She was ninety years old, well-past her child-bearing years. This should cause us to pause and reflect on the fact that the coming of Christ, the Messiah, was God’s doing from beginning to end. It was God’s plan to send a Redeemer, and He caused everything necessary to happen according to His plan, even the “most-unlikely” events.

The Offering of Isaac
22 Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 2 He said, “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you.” 3 So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him and Isaac his son; and he split wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. 4 On the third day Abraham raised his eyes and saw the place from a distance. 5 Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go over there; and we will worship and return to you.” 6 Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son, and he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. 7 Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” And he said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” 8 Abraham said, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together.

9 Then they came to the place of which God had told him; and Abraham built the altar there and arranged the wood, and bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 12 He said, “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.” 13 Then Abraham raised his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram and offered him up for a burnt offering in the place of his son. 14 Abraham called the name of that place The Lord Will Provide, as it is said to this day, “In the mount of the Lord it will be provided.”

15 Then the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven, 16 and said, “By Myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this thing and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies. 18 In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.” 19 So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beersheba; and Abraham lived at Beersheba. (Genesis 22:1-19)

Why did God test Abraham? Could it be that Abraham had come to trust the “promise”, Isaac, more than the “promiser”, God? Could it be, that in a culture that valued having an heir so highly that Abraham had tried to short-circuit God’s promise of an heir by having a son through Hagar, that he almost “worshiped” Isaac?

Having graciously committed Himself to Abraham, God tested Abraham’s obedience. In his obedience, Abraham displayed his full commitment to the Lord, symbolically receiving Isaac, the son of promise, back from death. God’s provision of the ram the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, who died instead of the elect so that they would live. In taking an oath to bless Abraham, and all nations through him, God guaranteed the promise to Abraham’s offspring.

The command to offer Isaac as a sacrifice to God is perplexing at first. Without know what God really had in mind, the command seems to contradict God’s moral law. As the narrative unfolds, however, it is evident that the test was whether Abraham would proceed with the preparations for sacrifice while holding steadfastly to the promise of 21:12, “In Isaac your seed shall be called.” Abraham knew that God was obliged to keep His promise and he knew that if Isaac died, he could not continue the covenant line. Hebrews 11:19 unveils Abraham’s secret; he concluded “that God was able to raise Isaac up, even from the dead.

5 Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go over there; and we will worship and return to you.” Notice that Abraham DIDN’T say “We will worship and I will return to you…” Abraham had every expectation that they would both return.

Isaac’s Sons
19 Now these are the records of the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham became the father of Isaac; 20 and Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, the sister of Laban the Aramean, to be his wife. 21 Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord answered him and Rebekah his wife conceived. 22 But the children struggled together within her; and she said, “If it is so, why then am I this way?” So she went to inquire of the Lord. 23 The Lord said to her,

“Two nations are in your womb;
And two peoples will be separated from your body;
And one people shall be stronger than the other;
And the older shall serve the younger.”

24 When her days to be delivered were fulfilled, behold, there were twins in her womb. 25 Now the first came forth red, all over like a hairy garment; and they named him Esau. 26 Afterward his brother came forth with his hand holding on to Esau’s heel, so his name was called Jacob; and Isaac was sixty years old when she gave birth to them.

27 When the boys grew up, Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the field, but Jacob was a peaceful man, living in tents. 28 Now Isaac loved Esau, because he had a taste for game, but Rebekah loved Jacob. 29 When Jacob had cooked stew, Esau came in from the field and he was famished; 30 and Esau said to Jacob, “Please let me have a swallow of that red stuff there, for I am famished.” Therefore his name was called Edom. 31 But Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.” 32 Esau said, “Behold, I am about to die; so of what use then is the birthright to me?” 33 And Jacob said, “First swear to me”; so he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. 34 Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew; and he ate and drank, and rose and went on his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright. (Genesis 25:19-34)

Esau was a profane, rough-and-ready man of the field who shortsightedly gratified his appetite and despised the family’s future inheritance. Despite his dishonesty, Jacob had the farsightedness to value the inheritance. Do you think God might have had something to do with that (v. 23)?

Jacob’s Deception
27 Now it came about, when Isaac was old and his eyes were too dim to see, that he called his older son Esau and said to him, “My son.” And he said to him, “Here I am.” 2 Isaac said, “Behold now, I am old and I do not know the day of my death. 3 Now then, please take your gear, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field and hunt game for me; 4 and prepare a savory dish for me such as I love, and bring it to me that I may eat, so that my soul may bless you before I die.”

5 Rebekah was listening while Isaac spoke to his son Esau. So when Esau went to the field to hunt for game to bring home, 6 Rebekah said to her son Jacob, “Behold, I heard your father speak to your brother Esau, saying, 7 ‘Bring me some game and prepare a savory dish for me, that I may eat, and bless you in the presence of the Lord before my death.’ 8 Now therefore, my son, listen to me as I command you. 9 Go now to the flock and bring me two choice young goats from there, that I may prepare them as a savory dish for your father, such as he loves. 10 Then you shall bring it to your father, that he may eat, so that he may bless you before his death.” 11 Jacob answered his mother Rebekah, “Behold, Esau my brother is a hairy man and I am a smooth man. 12 Perhaps my father will feel me, then I will be as a deceiver in his sight, and I will bring upon myself a curse and not a blessing.” 13 But his mother said to him, “Your curse be on me, my son; only obey my voice, and go, get them for me.” 14 So he went and got them, and brought them to his mother; and his mother made savory food such as his father loved. 15 Then Rebekah took the best garments of Esau her elder son, which were with her in the house, and put them on Jacob her younger son. 16 And she put the skins of the young goats on his hands and on the smooth part of his neck. 17 She also gave the savory food and the bread, which she had made, to her son Jacob.

18 Then he came to his father and said, “My father.” And he said, “Here I am. Who are you, my son?” 19 Jacob said to his father, “I am Esau your firstborn; I have done as you told me. Get up, please, sit and eat of my game, that you may bless me.” 20 Isaac said to his son, “How is it that you have it so quickly, my son?” And he said, “Because the Lord your God caused it to happen to me.” 21 Then Isaac said to Jacob, “Please come close, that I may feel you, my son, whether you are really my son Esau or not.” 22 So Jacob came close to Isaac his father, and he felt him and said, “The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau.” 23 He did not recognize him, because his hands were hairy like his brother Esau’s hands; so he blessed him. 24 And he said, “Are you really my son Esau?” And he said, “I am.” 25 So he said, “Bring it to me, and I will eat of my son’s game, that I may bless you.” And he brought it to him, and he ate; he also brought him wine and he drank. 26 Then his father Isaac said to him, “Please come close and kiss me, my son.” 27 So he came close and kissed him; and when he smelled the smell of his garments, he blessed him and said,

“See, the smell of my son
Is like the smell of a field which the Lord has blessed;
28 Now may God give you of the dew of heaven,
And of the fatness of the earth,
And an abundance of grain and new wine;
29 May peoples serve you,
And nations bow down to you;
Be master of your brothers,
And may your mother’s sons bow down to you.
Cursed be those who curse you,
And blessed be those who bless you.”

30 Now it came about, as soon as Isaac had finished blessing Jacob, and Jacob had hardly gone out from the presence of Isaac his father, that Esau his brother came in from his hunting. 31 Then he also made savory food, and brought it to his father; and he said to his father, “Let my father arise and eat of his son’s game, that you may bless me.” 32 Isaac his father said to him, “Who are you?” And he said, “I am your son, your firstborn, Esau.” 33 Then Isaac trembled violently, and said, “Who was he then that hunted game and brought it to me, so that I ate of all of it before you came, and blessed him? Yes, and he shall be blessed.” 34 When Esau heard the words of his father, he cried out with an exceedingly great and bitter cry, and said to his father, “Bless me, even me also, O my father!” 35 And he said, “Your brother came deceitfully and has taken away your blessing.” 36 Then he said, “Is he not rightly named Jacob, for he has supplanted me these two times? He took away my birthright, and behold, now he has taken away my blessing.” And he said, “Have you not reserved a blessing for me?” 37 But Isaac replied to Esau, “Behold, I have made him your master, and all his relatives I have given to him as servants; and with grain and new wine I have sustained him. Now as for you then, what can I do, my son?” 38 Esau said to his father, “Do you have only one blessing, my father? Bless me, even me also, O my father.” So Esau lifted his voice and wept.

39 Then Isaac his father answered and said to him,
“Behold, away from the fertility of the earth shall be your dwelling,
And away from the dew of heaven from above.
40 “By your sword you shall live,
And your brother you shall serve;
But it shall come about when you become restless,
That you will break his yoke from your neck.” (Genesis 27:1-40)

Though Isaac knew God had chosen Jacob, he had intended to give everything to Esau. Esau finally broke-down after he realized that he had lost both his birthright and his blessing.

41 So Esau bore a grudge against Jacob because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him; and Esau said to himself, “The days of mourning for my father are near; then I will kill my brother Jacob.” 42 Now when the words of her elder son Esau were reported to Rebekah, she sent and called her younger son Jacob, and said to him, “Behold your brother Esau is consoling himself concerning you by planning to kill you. 43 Now therefore, my son, obey my voice, and arise, flee to Haran, to my brother Laban! 44 Stay with him a few days, until your brother’s fury subsides, 45 until your brother’s anger against you subsides and he forgets what you did to him. Then I will send and get you from there. Why should I be bereaved of you both in one day?”

46 Rebekah said to Isaac, “I am tired of living because of the daughters of Heth; if Jacob takes a wife from the daughters of Heth, like these, from the daughters of the land, what good will my life be to me?” (Genesis 27:41-46)

Unlike Abraham, who had taken the initiative to find a wife for Isaac (Genesis 24), Isaac dropped the ball. As a result, Esau married Hittite women, “daughters of Heth” against his parent’s wishes. Perhaps, hoping to somewhat get back in his father’s good-graces, he married one of the daughters of Ishmael, his uncle.

Jacob Is Sent Away
28 So Isaac called Jacob and blessed him and charged him, and said to him, “You shall not take a wife from the daughters of Canaan. 2 Arise, go to Paddan-aram, to the house of Bethuel your mother’s father; and from there take to yourself a wife from the daughters of Laban your mother’s brother. 3 May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples. 4 May He also give you the blessing of Abraham, to you and to your descendants with you, that you may possess the land of your sojournings, which God gave to Abraham.” 5 Then Isaac sent Jacob away, and he went to Paddan-aram to Laban, son of Bethuel the Aramean, the brother of Rebekah, the mother of Jacob and Esau. (Genesis 28:1-5)

Isaac finally “got-it”. He finally realized that Jacob was God’s chosen-heir, and heir to the covenant God made with Abraham. His first blessing to Jacob determined the patriarchal succession (27:27-29); this one explicitly linked Jacob with the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant (17:1-8).

Jacob’s Dream
10 Then Jacob departed from Beersheba and went toward Haran. 11 He came to a certain place and spent the night there, because the sun had set; and he took one of the stones of the place and put it under his head, and lay down in that place. 12 He had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants. 14 Your descendants will also be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and in you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed. 15 Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” 16 Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” 17 He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”

18 So Jacob rose early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on its top. 19 He called the name of that place Bethel; however, previously the name of the city had been Luz. 20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me on this journey that I take, and will give me food to eat and garments to wear, 21 and I return to my father’s house in safety, then the Lord will be my God. 22 This stone, which I have set up as a pillar, will be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You.” (Genesis 28:10-22)

As we read the stories of Jacob, it is easy to wonder which “side” he was really on, his or God’s? So, the Lord appeared to Jacob and gave him promises at critical points in his life; during his flight to Padan Aram (28:10-22), on his return to confront Esau (32:1, 2, 22-23), and when Jacob faced threats from Laban’s sons (31:1-3), and the Canaanites (35:1-15). God knows that we too have short memories and are easily side-tracked, and so, as He reminded Jacob of His promises, He also reminds us that He is ever-present and ever-faithful.

Jacob Wrestles With God
24 Then Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 25 When he saw that he had not prevailed against him, he touched the socket of his thigh; so the socket of Jacob’s thigh was dislocated while he wrestled with him. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking.” But he said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27 So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28 He said, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.” 29 Then Jacob asked him and said, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And he blessed him there. 30 So Jacob named the place Peniel, for he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved.” 31 Now the sun rose upon him just as he crossed over Penuel, and he was limping on his thigh. 32 Therefore, to this day the sons of Israel do not eat the sinew of the hip which is on the socket of the thigh, because he touched the socket of Jacob’s thigh in the sinew of the hip. (Genesis 32:24-32)

In wrestling with Jacob, God appeared in human form and deprived Jacob of his natural strength, but Jacob emerged the victor by clinging to God for blessing. Jacob emerged from that encounter with God a changed-man, with a new name, Israel. Jacob, deprived on his natural strength and in pain, and would have to continue on in faith, faith that God was still “for-him” and would keep His promises.

The Genealogy of Jesus the Messiah
1 The record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham:

2 Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers. 3 Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, Perez was the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram. 4 Ram was the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon. 5 Salmon was the father of Boaz by Rahab, Boaz was the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse. 6 Jesse was the father of David the king.

6 David was the father of Solomon by Bathsheba who had been the wife of Uriah. 7 Solomon was the father of Rehoboam, Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asa. 8 Asa was the father of Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah. 9 Uzziah was the father of Jotham, Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah. 10 Hezekiah was the father of Manasseh, Manasseh the father of Amon, and Amon the father of Josiah. 11 Josiah became the father of Jeconiah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.

12 After the deportation to Babylon: Jeconiah became the father of Shealtiel, and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel. 13 Zerubbabel was the father of Abihud, Abihud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor. 14 Azor was the father of Zadok, Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud. 15 Eliud was the father of Eleazar, Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob. 16 Jacob was the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, by whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah. (Matthew 1:1-16)

Tracing Jesus’ genealogy, we find something that was NOT common in Hebrew genealogies, the presence of women in the genealogy. Women aren’t usually named in Near Eastern genealogies, but they are intrinsic to God’s purpose in sending Christ into this world. The five women named in Jesus’ genealogy all remind us that God often does the unexpected and chooses the unlikely. Tamar (v. 3), reminds us of Judah’s failures (Genesis 38:6-30). Rahab (v. 5), was a harlot (Joshua 2). Ruth (v. 5), was a Moabite (Ruth 1:4), and thus subject to a special curse (Deut. 23:3-5). Bathsheba, Uriah’s wife (v. 6), was David’s downfall (2 Saumel 11). Mary fulfills Isaiah 7:14 (v. 23), and the even more important promise of Genesis 3:15 (Gal. 4:4-5).

Tamar
Tamar was Judah’s daughter-in-law. It is said that “Bad apples don’t fall far from the family tree”, and Judah proves that point. In Genesis 38, we find that Judah left the family community and married a heathen woman. They had three sons, Er, Onan and Shelah. Er married Tamar,but he was an evil man, so God took him. As was the custom of the day, Judah gave Tamar to Onan, but Onan refused to impregnate her, so God took him too. After Judah refused to give Shelah to Tamar, she tricked Judah into having sex with her, so that she could have an heir. (Genesis 38:12-30) How could this mess be part of the family-tree of the Messiah? Never fear, it gets even “juicier” from here.

Rahab
Do you remember the story of the fall of Jericho? Rahab was part of that story, beginning in Joshua 2. She hid the spies who went to check things out before the conquest of the Promised Land, and in return, she received a promise that she and her family would be spared when the children of Israel conquered Jericho. Jericho was destroyed in Joshua 6, but Rahab and her family were spared, as promised, in Joshua 6:22-23. Yes, even Rahab, a harlot, became part of the Messiah’s family tree. She was the mother of Boaz, who we will meet next in Ruth. This should remind us that God moves in mysterious ways…

Ruth
1  Now it came about in the days when the judges governed, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the land of Moab with his wife and his two sons. 2  The name of the man was Elimelech, and the name of his wife, Naomi; and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion, Ephrathites of Bethlehem in Judah. Now they entered the land of Moab and remained there. 3  Then Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died; and she was left with her two sons. 4  They took for themselves Moabite women as wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. And they lived there about ten years. 5  Then both Mahlon and Chilion also died, and the woman was bereft of her two children and her husband. (Ruth 1:1-5)

13  So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife, and he went in to her. And the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son. 14  Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed is the Lord who has not left you without a redeemer today, and may his name become famous in Israel. 15  May he also be to you a restorer of life and a sustainer of your old age; for your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.”

The Line of David Began Here
16  Then Naomi took the child and laid him in her lap, and became his nurse. 17  The neighbor women gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi!” So they named him Obed. He is the father of Jesse, the father of David.

18  Now these are the generations of Perez: to Perez was born Hezron, 19  and to Hezron was born Ram, and to Ram, Amminadab, 20  and to Amminadab was born Nahshon, and to Nahshon, Salmon, 21  and to Salmon was born Boaz, and to Boaz, Obed, 22  and to Obed was born Jesse, and to Jesse, David. (Ruth 4:13-22)

Boaz stands-out in stark-contrast to Onan, who refused to be Tamar’s “kinsman-redeemer”, by truly fulfilling the role of the “kinsman-redeemer” for Naomi and Ruth. The beauty of Boaz’s selfless-act in becoming Naomi and Ruth’s “kinsman-redeemer” is that he became a “type” of Jesus Christ, our “kinsman-redeemer”.

Bathsheba
Bathsheba WAS David’s downfall. His first mistake was staying behind while he sent his troops out to war. (2 Samuel 11:1) David had time on his hands. How often do WE fall when we have time on our hands? David saw Bathsheba bathing and lusted for her. How many times had David seen Bathsheba naked before? How many times had he lusted for her before? Was it because David didn’t have an “available” woman to take to bed? I doubt it, because he already had several wives and concubines. Was Bathsheba a “temptress”? That is not how Nathan the prophet portrayed her in 2 Samuel 12:1-4. She was the innocent-victim of David’s sinful-choices. Even though their first child would die (2 Samuel 12:14-23), Bathsheba would bear David another son, Solomon (2 Samuel 12:24-25), through whom the Messiah would come. Solomon also built the first Temple.

Mary
God chose a poor, young girl from a backwater village to bear His Son. Mary was young – quite-likely no more than fourteen, and may have been as young as twelve when she became pregnant by the Holy Spirit. BUT, she had great faith, faith that God would keep His promises.

Joseph
While most of the emphasis in the Christmas story is placed on Mary and her role in the Incarnation, we must not forget Joseph. Whatever hopes and dreams he had for their family got dashed big-time when Mary became pregnant before they got married. It was a huge “leap-of-faith” for Joseph to accept the responsibilities for being Jesus’ earthly-father. He couldn’t know how it would turn out.

Closing thoughts…
At this point, you may be wondering; “Where are all the “godly” people in this story? It sure appears that there are more “scoundrels and scumbags than saints””, and you are right. Sure, a few “saints” appear amid the “scoundrels and scumbags”, but they are few and far between. This story is about the God who keeps His promises, regardless of who He has to use. God can, and is using me, even with my “checkered-past”, because, in some ways, my story isn’t any “prettier” than theirs.

As much as we would like to think that all the patriarchs were “saints“, they weren’t. When God didn’t provide the promised son soon enough to suit Abraham, he took matters into his own bedroom with another woman. Jacob was a master of dirty-dealing, bilking Esau out of both his birthright AND his father’s blessing. While we didn’t look at the chapters dealing with Jacob’s marriages and his dirty-dealings with his father-in-law, he was no “saint” there either. These things should remind us that “God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called“, and as inadequate as we may feel to do the work of the Lord, we have His sure-promise that He will be with us all the way.

In Christ,
Steve

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Born Of A Virgin

And the Word became flesh…

Born of a virgin…
Jesus, while fully-divine, was also fully-human, which required a human biological-parent, a mother, and not just any mother, a virgin. Had His mother not been a virgin, there would have been the possibility of Him having a human-father also. That His mother would be a virgin was prophesied long before His birth.

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 Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14)

It is NATURALLY impossible for a virgin to conceive, let alone know the gender of the baby before it is even conceived, and yet, that was the promise of Isaiah 7:14. In defiance of all the odds, a virgin will conceive and bear a son, but not just any “ordinary” son, he will be Immanuel, which means “God with us“. Not only will this child be “special“, He will be God in human-flesh.

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. 19 And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. 20 But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of 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 Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.”

24 And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, 25 but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus. (Matthew 1:18-25)

A young man would naturally be skeptical of his fiance’s fidelity if she turned-up pregnant, particularly if they hadn’t even slept together, let alone had sex. What was going on here? Had she been unfaithful? If so, who was the father? Would her parents attest to her virginity? Would she allow him to see for himself? These are the kind of questions that may have been going through Joseph’s mind when he got the news.

What should he do? Divorce was an option, but was it a good option? He loved her, so he certainly didn’t want to see her get stoned, the penalty for infidelity. What should he do?

Either way, either she would be a social-outcast, or they would be social-outcasts. Could he handle raising a son who wasn’t his own? Could he handle the stigma of raising an “illegitimate” child? He wanted to do the “right-thing“, but what WAS the “right-thing” to do? What would YOU do?

Then, a dream…

We may never face a monumental and life-altering decision such as Joseph was faced with, but if we are, how will we respond? Will we respond in faith, leaving the consequences up to God? Or, will we “chickenout“?

About ten years ago, I was faced with the decision of whether I should marry the lady I was dating. I wasn’t quite-sure, until I had a “mysterious-visitation“, at work. The “presence” was nothing-short of “eerie“, “hair-raising“, but the message was clear, “She was the one God had for me“. Was that “visitation” “angelic“(divine), or was it something “else“? There was nobody else with me in the room.

Do not be afraid” is a command that permeates the Bible, because God is in control. Joseph was to step-out in faith and take Mary as his wife, because, regardless of what happened, God would “have his back“. Do WE trust God that much?

For unto us…
6 For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;
And the government will rest on His shoulders;
And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
7 There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace,
On the throne of David and over his kingdom,
To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness
From then on and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this. (Isaiah 9:6-7)

This prophesy from Isaiah 9 is one of the most well-known of the Messianic prophesies, and it reveals to us WHO that Baby in the manger really is. Grandeur and glory on a bed of hay. Each of these titles reveals a facet of Jesus’ ministry, and He could have chosen any one of them to call Himself, and yet His favorite title was “Son of Man“.

John the Baptist highlighted His sacrificial-role in our redemption by calling Him “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”(John 1:29)

Jacob’s Last Words to His Sons
49 And Jacob called his sons and said, “Gather together, that I may tell you what shall befall you in the last days:
2 “Gather together and hear, you sons of Jacob,
And listen to Israel your father. (Genesis 49:1-2)

From the Tribe of Judah…
8 “Judah, your brothers shall praise you;
Your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies;
Your father’s sons shall bow down to you.
9 “Judah is a lion’s whelp;
From the prey, my son, you have gone up.
He couches, he lies down as a lion,
And as a lion, who dares rouse him up?
10 “The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
Nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
Until Shiloh comes,
And to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.
11 “He ties his foal to the vine,
And his donkey’s colt to the choice vine;
He washes his garments in wine,
And his robes in the blood of grapes.
12 “His eyes are dull from wine,
And his teeth white from milk. (Genesis 49:8-12)

It was customary for the patriarch of the family to gather his sons together at the end of his life to give them their individual-blessing. As Jacob was speaking to Judah, he used many powerful symbols: Judah will be a “conqueror“, praise, submission, homage (v.8), a “lion“, symbolizing strength (v.9), a “ruler“, symbolized by the scepter and staff (v.10), “humble“, symbolized by the donkey, “prosperous“, symbolized by the wine and milk (v.11, 12).

Verse 10 also predicts a “universal” and “eternal” kingdom, which will only be finally-realized when Christ returns in glory at the Second Coming, when He breaks the power of sin and death.

The Son of David…
When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me; when he commits iniquity, I will correct him with the rod of men and the strokes of the sons of men, 15 but My lovingkindness shall not depart from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. 16 Your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever.”’” 17 In accordance with all these words and all this vision, so Nathan spoke to David. (2 Samuel 7:12-17)

The theological and historical significance of God’s promise to David, recorded in these verses, can hardly be overestimated. Indeed, the promise of an enduring Davidic kingdom has been called the summit of the entire Old Testament. Looking back, it takes up the promises made to Abraham and his seed (Genesis 17:16) and brings them to rest on David (vv. 9, 10, 12). Looking forward, it prepares for the Messianic hope that maintains Israel’s faith and hope, even while in exile. The hope for a Messiah culminates in the coming of Jesus Christ.

Remembering the Covenant with David
3 “I have made a covenant with My chosen,
I have sworn to My servant David:
4 Your seed will I establish forever,
And build up your throne to all generations.”
29 His seed also I will make to endure forever,
and his throne as the days of heaven. (Psalm 89:3-4, 29)

This portion of Psalm 89 celebrates God’s faithfulness to keep His promises. The dynasty of David, as an earthly political enterprise, was long-lived, but not eternal. It was to be superseded by the eternal kingdom of David’s “greater-son“, Jesus Christ.

The reign of Jesse’s offspring
1 Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse,
And a branch from his roots will bear fruit.
2 The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him,
The spirit of wisdom and understanding,
The spirit of counsel and strength,
The spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
3 And He will delight in the fear of the Lord,
And He will not judge by what His eyes see,
Nor make a decision by what His ears hear;
4 But with righteousness He will judge the poor,
And decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth;
And He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth,
And with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked.
5 Also righteousness will be the belt about His loins,
And faithfulness the belt about His waist. (Isaiah 11:1-5)

All that was left of the Davidic dynasty was a stump. The privileged sons of David, no less than the Assyrians, were like trees that have been chopped down, felled because of their own evil actions. Out of that stump will spring another shoot, a righteous shoot, who will finally bring truth, righteousness and justice to the earth. He will be a King like no other, because these cherished-qualities will be innate in His character, a part of His “DNA“.

‘Behold, days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the good word which I have spoken concerning the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 15 In those days and at that time I will cause a Righteous Branch of David to spring forth; and He shall execute justice and righteousness on the earth. 16 In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will dwell in safety; and this is the name by which she will be called: the Lord is our righteousness.’ 17 For thus says the Lord, ‘David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel; (Jeremiah 33:14-17)

This promise is not finally to restore the monarchy, which had died-out because of corruption, but to inaugurate the Messianic kingdom, the “Righteous Branch of David“. God would be faithful to keep His promises, but not yet…

To be born in Bethlehem…
“But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
Too little to be among the clans of Judah,
From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel.
His goings forth are from long ago,
From the days of eternity.”
3 Therefore He will give them up until the time
When she who is in labor has borne a child.
Then the remainder of His brethren
Will return to the sons of Israel.
4 And He will arise and shepherd His flock
In the strength of the Lord,
In the majesty of the name of the Lord His God.
And they will remain,
Because at that time He will be great
To the ends of the earth.
5 This One will be our peace. (Micah 5:2-5)

These prophesies formed the Jews’ collective “vision” of what and who the Messiah would be. Israel, as a nation, had all but ceased to exist after the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C., and was without a Davidic King from then until the Advent of the Messiah (who they didn’t recognize). Thus, they were looking for a “temporal” “Messiah” who would liberate Israel from bondage, re-establish the Davidic kingdom, and make Israel great again. They couldn’t reconcile these prophesies with the “Suffering Servant” of Isaiah 53, because they didn’t understand that their Messiah’s conquest and triumph wasn’t going to be over their temporal enemies, but over their eternal enemies, sin and death, on a cross. Is it any wonder they crucified Jesus?

His lineage was foretold, His birthplace was foretold, and that His mother would be a virgin was foretold, but these are just the tip of the Old Testament promises “iceberg“. The first promise of a Savior was given by God to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:15), and we will delve into the subsequent chain of promises in “Promises” and “Promises II“.

In Christ,
Steve

Who Was John the Baptist?

There came a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light. (John 1:6-8)

There had been no prophets in Israel for over 400 years. God had been silent, and seemingly absent during this period, but He had promised another prophet, a prophet who would come in the spirit and power of Elijah to prepare the way for the coming Messiah. John the Baptist was called to be that prophet.

John the Baptist was descended from the priestly-tribe of Levi, and his miraculous birth and in-the-womb filling by the Holy Spirit set him apart as someone special, and even though he was only on the scene for a short while, his contribution to the kingdom of God was significant. He was also the last Old Covenant prophet. Before we get into his testimony, let’s look at who he was.

Birth of John the Baptist Foretold
5 In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zachariah, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord. 7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both advanced in years.

8 Now it happened that while he was performing his priestly service before God in the appointed order of his division, 9 according to the custom of the priestly office, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And the whole multitude of the people were in prayer outside at the hour of the incense offering. 11 And an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense. 12 Zacharias was troubled when he saw the angel, and fear gripped him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John. 14 You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. 15 For he will be great in the sight of the Lord; and he will drink no wine or liquor, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb. 16 And he will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God. 17 It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

18 Zachariah said to the angel, “How will I know this for certain? For I am an old man and my wife is advanced in years.” 19 The angel answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20 And behold, you shall be silent and unable to speak until the day when these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their proper time.”

21 The people were waiting for Zachariah, and were wondering at his delay in the temple. 22 But when he came out, he was unable to speak to them; and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple; and he kept making signs to them, and remained mute. 23 When the days of his priestly service were ended, he went back home.

24 After these days Elizabeth his wife became pregnant, and she kept herself in seclusion for five months, saying, 25 “This is the way the Lord has dealt with me in the days when He looked with favor upon me, to take away my disgrace among men.” (Luke 1:5-24)

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.

There were many priests in many families in that time, so a priest might only get the privilege to serve in the temple once in their lifetime. Zachariah was an old man by the time his turn came around, and even though he and his wife had prayed for a child for many years, they were still childless. They were no ordinary couple, because they both were from priestly-lineage. We are also told that they were righteous before God.

Imagine being at the altar of incense and having an angel appear out of nowhere. Fear would be a very normal response. This was no “ordinary” angel either, rather he was one of the only two angels mentioned by name in the Bible, Gabriel. He had a very-special message for Zachariah; they were going to become parents, in their old-age. God HAD been hearing their prayers, and was going to grant their wish in a very-special way. Their son would be special, the forerunner of the coming Messiah, in fulfillment of an Old Testament prophesy:

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet
Before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.
6 And he will turn
The hearts of the fathers to the children,
And the hearts of the children to their fathers,
so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.”(Malachi 4:5-6)

What was the “curse” that was promised in that last phrase if the Jews didn’t turn back to God? As we know from history, Jerusalem fell to the Romans, the Temple was demolished, and the Jews were scattered across the Roman empire in 70 AD. Why?

Because the Jews had rejected the long-promised Messiah.

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 soon take place…

What did Elizabeth mean when she said; “This is the way the Lord has dealt with me in the days when He looked with favor upon me, to take away my disgrace among men.” (Luke 1:25)? We get insight into just how important bearing children was to a Jewish woman in that culture. Being “barren” was “disgraceful“, and was often seen as a “curse” from God (1 Samuel 1:5-6), and sometimes it was (2 Samuel 6:23), and being childless meant that the family-name and lineage died out. No child also meant no heir, and that was a dire situation, particularly for a widow.

God had instituted the kinsman-redeemer custom in the Old Testament for cases where the husband died before giving his wife an heir (Deuteronomy 25:5-6). That is the theme of the book of Ruth, which was a foreshadowing of our great kinsman-redeemer, Jesus Christ.

The importance of having a child, particularly an heir, in that culture, cannot be understated. Among the miscellaneous laws God gave the Jews is an exemption from public/military service for young men who had just gotten married. “When a man takes a new wife, he shall not go out with the army nor be charged with any duty; he shall be free at home one year and shall give happiness to his wife whom he has taken.” (Deuteronomy 24:5)Give happiness” is understood to include marital-relations leading to conception of a child, hopefully an heir. We can see why this was huge for Zachariah and Elizabeth. We can also see why Jesus entrusted the care of His mother, Mary, to John (John 19:25-27), since He was her firstborn.

Mary Visits Elizabeth
39 Now at this time Mary arose and went in a hurry to the hill country, to a city of Judah, 40 and entered the house of Zachariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 And she cried out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord would come to me? 44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord.” (Luke 1:39-45)

56 And Mary stayed with her about three months, and then returned to her home. (Luke 1:56)

We see fulfilled the prophecy by Gabriel that John would be filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb, as told to Zachariah.

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. and 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.

Everything else is fluff.

John Is Born
57 Now the time had come for Elizabeth to give birth, and she gave birth to a son. 58 Her neighbors and her relatives heard that the Lord had displayed His great mercy toward her; and they were rejoicing with her.

59 And it happened that on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to call him Zachariah, after his father. 60 But his mother answered and said, “No indeed; but he shall be called John.” 61 And they said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who is called by that name.” 62 And they made signs to his father, as to what he wanted him called. 63 And he asked for a tablet and wrote as follows, “His name is John.” And they were all astonished. 64 And at once his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he began to speak in praise of God. 65 Fear came on all those living around them; and all these matters were being talked about in all the hill country of Judea. 66 All who heard them kept them in mind, saying, “What then will this child turn out to be?” For the hand of the Lord was certainly with him. (Luke 1:57-66)

Here, we see the fulfillment of Gabriel’s word that Zachariah would be mute until after the birth, and surprise of surprises, once Zachariah confirmed the baby’s name, his tongue was loosened and he was able to speak.

Many names carried special-significance, particularly in the Old Testament. “John” was one of those “special-names“, and it means “the Lord is gracious“. Under normal circumstances, naming their child was a right specifically-reserved to the father, but Zachariah wasn’t going to get that privilege. The angel had given him the name he was to give his son, and he wasn’t going to be able to speak until after John was born and named.

Zachariah’s Song…
67 And his father Zachariah was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying:
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of David His servant—As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from of old—Salvation from our enemies, and from the hand of all who hate us; to show mercy toward our fathers, and to remember His holy covenant, the oath which He swore to Abraham our father, to grant us that we, being rescued from the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days.”

76 “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; For you will go on before the Lord to prepare His ways; To give to His people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, with which the Sunrise from on high will visit us, to shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

80 And the child continued to grow and to become strong in spirit, and he lived in the deserts until the day of his public appearance to Israel. (Luke 1:67-80)

At some point after Mary’s song, it was Zechariah’s turn. His was a prophetic song and though it was primarily about his son, it also included elemental references to the Messiah he would serve…

Notice in these verses the clear reference to his son John who came to fulfill the prophecy of old and “prepare the way of the Lord”. Of particular interest is the ending, Zechariah’s mention of the “tender mercy” of God and the way he uses the example of the rising sun each day as an example of God’s mercy. Where would we be if the sun stopped rising?

As we continue reading it becomes abundantly clear that Zechariah isn’t talking about the literal sun, rather he is referring to God’s Son, coming to shine the light of His presence in a dark world that teeters on the edge of destruction. God’s Son will light the path so that we might avoid falling into disaster and be redeemed by God to find the path of peace.

This is a powerful and gripping image, reminiscent of the prophets of centuries before, and one that should light our hearts still today, for it has come to pass, and we who follow Jesus Christ have received its incredible blessing.

With this, Luke has set the stage for the arrival of God’s Son, but this arrival will have an unusual kind of glory…

Next time…
Next week, we will begin looking at the Old Testament promises and prophesies which pointed to the coming Redeemer, Jesus Christ.

In Christ,
Steve

What Is Our Only Hope? – Why Jesus’ Humanity Matters…

What is our only hope?

We are faced with a crisis of hope in America today. Fewer people have true hope than at any time in the past. Two or three people have committed suicide since this service began, and before it ends, several more will have committed suicide. Someone commits suicide every fifteen minutes, twenty-fours a day, seven days a week, and one out of five is a Veteran. Suicide is the ultimate expression of hopelessness. Why are so many people living without hope?

We see hopelessness in divorce courts. Over fifty percent of the people who say “I do” will say “I don’t” sometime in the future. Those marriages may last for many years before they dissolve or just a few days as my most recent one did. Why do people say “I do” and then say “I don’t”? Why was there so much hope when they said “I do” and yet they are hopelessly broken when they say “I don’t“. “Til death do us part” has become “Til death or disconvenience do us part“. Why this epidemic of hopelessness? What has caused all this hopelessness?

Could it be that throwing God out of America has real consequences?

Could it be that when people say “I don’t want anything to do with God“, He gives them their wish and turns them over to the worst to torture themselves for all eternity.

The Bible will provide the answers people need, but only if they are willing to get acquainted with its Author. Are you living without hope? If so, I hope that you will stay tuned as we look at “What is our only hope? Why Jesus’ humanity matters“.

We are broken people, living in a broken world, and if we are truly honest with ourselves, there is far more brokenness in us than we would like to admit, which is why we act like we are “okay” even when we aren’t. We have learned to put on a “happy-face” even when we are crying inside because we don’t want those around us to know how broken we are. Only God can heal our brokenness and make us whole again, but we have to trust Him to do what we can’t do for ourselves. God, in the person of Jesus Christ, became a man so that He could bring us back into a right-relationship with God and with one another. He IS our ONLY hope.

We often ask “Where was God when…?“, and we can list a thousand-and-one events when God was seemingly-absent, but was He? If we don’t really know who Jesus is, we would be tempted to think of God merely as a detached observer, but we couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Four major traumatic events are etched deeply into my memory, and beg the question Where was God when…?

Where was God when the Space Shuttle Challenger became a ball of fire?

Where was God when the Murrah Federal Building was bombed?

Where was God when the Twin Towers fell?

Where was God during the Pulse Nightclub massacre?

While I was somewhat “detached” from those events, every one of them left grieving family and friends behind, and I was deeply-shocked by them. The Pulse Nightclub massacre struck way too close to home, since I live fairly close to Orlando. Where was God when those events took place?

Getting more personal…

Where was God when my wife committed suicide?

Where was God when my brother Darrell died of cancer?

Where was God when my mom died?

Whether it is a major-event or a personal-tragedy, our deepest desire is to know that God cares, that He understands our pain and suffering. While we might think that God was “detached” from those events, as we will see from John 11, God was very-much present during and after those events. This should give us hope, both for the present, AND for the future.

The Death and Resurrection of Lazarus
11 Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 It was the Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick. 3 So the sisters sent word to Him, saying, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.” 4 But when Jesus heard this, He said, “This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it.” 5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So when He heard that he was sick, He then stayed two days longer in the place where He was. 7 Then after this He said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8 The disciples said to Him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone You, and are You going there again?” 9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. 10 But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” 11 This He said, and after that He said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I go, so that I may awaken him out of sleep.” 12 The disciples then said to Him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” 13 Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that He was speaking of literal sleep. 14 So Jesus then said to them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15 and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe; but let us go to him.” 16 Therefore Thomas, who is called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, so that we may die with Him.”

17 So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off; 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary, to console them concerning their brother. 20 Martha therefore, when she heard that Jesus was coming, went to meet Him, but Mary stayed at the house. 21 Martha then said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to Him, “Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.”

28 When she had said this, she went away and called Mary her sister, saying secretly, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29 And when she heard it, she got up quickly and was coming to Him.

30 Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha met Him. 31 Then the Jews who were with her in the house, and consoling her, when they saw that Mary got up quickly and went out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 Therefore, when Mary came where Jesus was, she saw Him, and fell at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled, 34 and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews were saying, “See how He loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not this man, who opened the eyes of the blind man, have kept this man also from dying?”

38 So Jesus, again being deeply moved within, came to the tomb. Now it was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 Jesus said, “Remove the stone.” Martha, the sister of the deceased, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” 41 So they removed the stone. Then Jesus raised His eyes, and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. 42 I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me.” 43 When He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth.” 44 The man who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” (John 11:1-44)

In our era of instant-communications, we barely remember when all news from friends and loved-ones came by “snail-mail“, so it is hard for us to fathom that it could have taken several days for Jesus and His disciples to have found out about Lazarus’ sickness, but it did. At the end of John 10, Jesus had escaped Jerusalem with a price on His head and headed East to beyond the Jordan River where it was a bit “safer“. Jesus and His disciples were there when they heard the news that Lazarus was sick. “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.

Jesus was deeply-relational. Mary, Martha and Lazarus weren’t merely “friends“; they were virtually “family“. Jesus’ love for them transcended “friendship“; it was a deep, intimate love, which was reserved for those who were closest to Him, such as John.

I have no biological siblings, but I have a few dear friends who have become “family” to me. We care about each other on a far-deeper level than mere “friendship“. Maybe you have some of those too.

Mary and Martha had sent for Jesus, but He didn’t respond immediately. He stayed where He was for two more days. Oh, He could have spoken the word and Lazarus would have been healed immediately, but He didn’t. He waited until after the funeral. Jesus tells us why He waited in verse 4, But when Jesus heard this, He said, “This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it.”

17 So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off; 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary, to console them concerning their brother. 20 Martha therefore, when she heard that Jesus was coming, went to meet Him, but Mary stayed at the house. 21 Martha then said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to Him, “Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.”

Lazarus being in the tomb for four days was proof-positive that he was actually DEAD. He also wasn’t in a coma or merely sleeping. He was stone-cold DEAD. Bethany was close enough to Jerusalem for her to have friends there, and many of them had come to console Mary and Martha, and while funerals happened very quickly, public-mourning continued for quite a while.

Martha was reeling from the death of her brother, but Jesus could have prevented his death. She expresses a curios mix of scolding and confidence. Martha then said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.”

Jesus begins to show her that, while He was too late to prevent Lazarus’ death, it WASN’T too late for Him to do something about it. Jesus wanted her, and us, to realize that God doesn’t operate on our time-schedule. 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”

Martha, unlike the Sadducees who didn’t believe in a resurrection, DID believe that Lazarus would be raised when the final-curtain was dropped on this phase of our human existence. However, she still didn’t have any confidence that Lazarus would rejoin their family. It seemed that death had still gotten the last word…

This is where Jesus begins turning the tide. 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; Standing before her was the very Creator, the ultimate Author of life. He had breathed life into a pile of dust and given Adam life. He was also the ultimate Authority on resurrection, because if He could breathe life into mankind, He could also breathe new life into a man. He was also making an explicit-claim to Deity because only God could raise the dead.

His next claim either confirms His place in the looney-bin or completely-separates Him from the rest of humanity. “He who believes in Me will live even if he dies, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.” He is either who He says He is, the Incarnate Son of God, or the biggest fraud that ever walked the earth, because He is claiming that those who truly believe in Him WILL have eternal life.

Do you believe this?” This is the reality-check. Does Martha believe in Him? Her answer shows that she was willing to risk believing His claims and lay skepticism aside. She knew that, standing before her, was the ONLY person who could alter the course of history, who could make their family whole again. 27 She said to Him, “Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.” She affirms that she believes that He is the long-awaited Messiah.

28 When she had said this, she went away and called Mary her sister, saying secretly, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29 And when she heard it, she got up quickly and was coming to Him. Mary didn’t waste any time going back with Martha to where Jesus was.

30 Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha met Him. 31 Then the Jews who were with her in the house, and consoling her, when they saw that Mary got up quickly and went out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 Therefore, when Mary came where Jesus was, she saw Him, and fell at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled, 34 and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews were saying, “See how He loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not this man, who opened the eyes of the blind man, have kept this man also from dying?”

Two sisters, same exact statement to Jesus, but He gave two very-different responses. Why? Both sisters expressed confidence that Jesus could have prevented Lazarus from dying if He had been there. How could He confront Martha one moment and bawl like a baby with Mary the next? He was strong one moment and vulnerable the next. He was either a deluded, wacko nut-case, or He was who He said He was, the Incarnate Son of God. He revealed both His true Deity and His true Humanity by His responses to Martha and Mary. He is both fully God and fully human, the perfect God-Man. His favorite title for Himself was “Son of Man“.

When we look at Martha, she is almost angry at Jesus because He allowed Lazarus to die. Had He gotten there sooner, He could have healed Lazarus, rather than allowing him to die. Mary approached Jesus with pleading-humility, falling at His feet. Why did Jesus answer Martha rather harshly, while He entered Mary’s grief and broke out in tears?
Jesus demonstrated both “sides” of His personhood, that He is fully-God, and at the same time, fully-human. His deity allows Him to claim, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.” , while His humanity allows Him to enter into our pain and grief.

33 When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled, 34 and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” We may be wondering why Jesus didn’t know where Lazarus was buried, but that may have been in deference to His friends.

35 Jesus wept. This is the shortest verse in the Bible, and it should cause us to pause and rethink our doctrine of Christ. He was God, enshrouded in human-flesh.

38 So Jesus, again being deeply moved within, came to the tomb. Now it was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 Jesus said “Remove the stone.” Martha, the sister of the deceased, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” 41 So they removed the stone. Then Jesus raised His eyes, and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. 42 I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me.” 43 When He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth.” 44 The man who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

Jesus hurt with Mary, Martha and their friends as they came to Lazarus’ tomb, which was simply a cave with a stone rolled in front of the entrance. It was, in most cases, reusable, because in that desert climate, bodies dried out very quickly, leaving nothing but bones, allowing other family members to be buried in it also. Joseph was buried in Egypt, but he bound his family with an oath that they would take his bones with them when God liberated them from Egyptian domination. (Genesis 50:24-26). He didn’t want to be interred permanently in Egypt.

39 Jesus said “Remove the stone.” Martha, the sister of the deceased, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days.” Only dead bodies decay, proof that Lazarus was really DEAD. The stench of death was going to be replaced with the joy of resurrection.

40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” 41 So they removed the stone. Jesus, speaking as God Incarnate, was going to reveal the glory of God in a dramatic way.

Then Jesus raised His eyes, and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. 42 I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me.” Jesus’ prayer may sound strange to us a first-glance, but it reveals something very profound about who He is, His intimate connection with His Father. He wasn’t just a man with an elevated “God-consciousness“; He was the Incarnate Son of God. He was God in human-flesh. He had a perfect “hotline” with His Father far beyond our wildest imaginations.

When Jesus walked up to the tomb, He didn’t have a look of glee on His face. No, He had tears in His eyes, and righteous-indignation in His heart, because Sin, the Fall, and the Curse had robbed Him of one of His dearest friends. As Creator-God, He never intended for Lazarus’ story, or anyone else’s story to end this way, in death. We are created to live, not to die.

Was He already starting to feel the icy-jaws of death close around Him? He knew that in order to raise Lazarus from the dead, He would have to die for the sins of His people. In order to interrupt Lazarus’ funeral, He would have to be buried too, and only by His own glorious resurrection would He be able to secure Lazarus’ resurrection. He was only a few days away from the cross…

We can almost hear the anger in His voice and see His rage as He bellowed-out “Lazarus, come forth.” Death was not supposed to claim the lives of those we love, but it had claimed the life of one of His dearest friends, Lazarus. They were virtually family. He was staring in the face of the vilest result of our fall into sin, death. Death wasn’t part of God’s original plan. Death came as the ultimate curse of the Fall. It wasn’t “natural“, it wasn’t “normal“, even though we have come to think of Death as being both “natural” and “normal“.

How many people have you known who have slipped the bonds of this life and entered into the next life without dying first? If you are like me, you have attended far too many funerals as you have lost far too many friends and loved-ones to death. I lost my “twin” brother in 2011. That was a tough memorial service, but I couldn’t have NOT been there. My dad died in 2013. My friend Liz lost her mother in 2015 and her father this year as well as her best friend. I lost my mother in April.

He, who was the Creator of Heaven and Earth, invaded the Dragon’s lair, bound the Dragon, grabbed the keys and released one of its captives. He, who had breathed life into the first man, breathed new life in Lazarus. The Dragon would not be finally slain until Jesus strode from His own tomb after His crucifixion.

Lazarus didn’t come out of his grave as a zombie; rather he came out of his grave struggling with his grave-clothes. Lazarus was, after he was relieved of his grave-clothes, buck-naked. When someone died, those who were close to them washed their body, and if spices were available, packed spices around the body as they wrapped it almost “mummy-style“. Since clothing was handmade and costly, there was no reason to bury them in their clothes.

We can imagine the jubilation of his friends and family when Lazarus walked out of the grave – ALIVE. That would have been an event to celebrate in style. Their family was whole again!

45 Therefore many of the Jews who came to Mary, and saw what He had done, believed in Him. (John 11:1-45)

Why does Jesus’ humanity matter? Only by becoming human, one of us, was He able to live the life we cannot live, die the death that we deserve in our place, and be resurrected that we may be resurrected. God had to become a man, so that man could be brought back into fellowship with God.

A prominent theologian, who is the son of a prominent theologian, recently had to resign all of his positions in disgrace because he was caught driving under the influence of alcohol, AND, he had a minor child with him. The arresting-officer wasn’t swayed by who he is and what he has done prior to that time, because in the eyes of the law, he had violated the law. The judge might be lenient on him, but he won’t get off Scott-free. Thus it is when we stand before God. Regardless of how “good” we may have been, we were born sinners, and regardless of how “minor” our sins may have been, we are guilty before God, and there is NOT any “plea-bargaining“. There is ONLY on plea that holds up in God’s court and prevails, and that is the blood and righteousness of Christ on our behalf. Had God not become human in the person of Jesus Christ, there would NOT be any acceptable plea. We would ALL be guilty before God.

That was the way it was with the Apostle Paul. Paul, then known as Saul, was a Pharisee who was zealous for the Law of God, yet he rejected the very Messiah he had longed for all his life. He also rejected and persecuted the very faith that had grown up around Christ and His teachings. When the risen Christ confronted him on the road to Damascus, He didn’t confront him about the “good” that he had done, but about the EVIL he was doing. Paul was guilty before God, and he needed a new heart and a new life-direction. Acts 9:1-7 recounts his conversion.

His humanity also matters because He experienced everything that we experience, pain, sorrow, loss and grief, so that when we experience those things, He can share in them with us. When I lost my mom, as painful as it was, my supreme-comfort was that she is in the presence of God, and that Jesus shares in my pain, sorrow, loss and grief. I don’t travel this road alone. Jesus is with me every step of the way.

The Apostle Paul gives us even deeper reason to believe in Jesus’ true humanity:
12 Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; 14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. 15 Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; 17 and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:12-19)

If Jesus had not truly become a man, He could not have died on the Cross, and He couldn’t have been raised from the dead. All of these events are absolutely-vital to our salvation. Paul ends with these words; “we are of all men most to be pitied.”

The Heidelberg Catechism opens with these beautiful words:
Q. 1 What is your only comfort in life and in death?
A. That I am not my own, but belong — body and soul,
in life and in death — to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.
He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood,
and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil.

He also watches over me in such a way
that not a hair can fall from my head
without the will of my Father in heaven;
in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.

Because I belong to him,
Christ, by his Holy Spirit,
assures me of eternal life
and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready
from now on to live for him.

For those who are in Christ, we are kept by the Lord and Creator of the cosmos. Jesus didn’t abandon His earthly-body when He ascended back into Heaven. He is living at the right hand of God the Father as the eternal God-Man, as fully-human as we are.

Is Jesus your Savior and Lord? I pray that He is, but if He isn’t your Savior and Lord, tomorrow is not guaranteed, nor are you even guaranteed your next breathe. We all have an appointment with death, but we don’t know when that will be. As I was working on this message, one of my elderly neighbors took her last breathe. I had seen her outside that morning. Only God knows her eternal-destiny. The only way for you to be certain that, when you die, that you will meet your Creator in peace, is by humbly acknowledging your need for a Savior and committing your life to Christ. He died that you might live, and He lives that you might live with Him forever. May this be your day of salvation. Jesus is waiting for you…

In Christ,
Steve

The Incarnation – Jesus is Born

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us…

As we gather here on Christmas, we have come to the most important event in human history, the birth of Jesus, because without His birth, there would have been no crucifixion or resurrection, thus no redemption. The birth of Jesus Christ was the hinge-pin of redemption-history, tying the Old Testament to the New Testament and the Promises to their fulfillment.

Mary’s visitation…
Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; 33 and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God. 36 And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, the servant of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:26-38)

Mary’s reaction to this announcement isn’t surprising, considering that she was young, perhaps 12 to 14 years-old, and she still wasn’t married yet. Yes, she was engaged, but she was still living with her parents, as was the custom. This was Gabriel’s second earthly-visit in the last few months. He had visited Zacharias just six months earlier, and now Elizabeth, who had been unable to have a child, was in her sixth month of pregnancy. God had done the impossible for Zacharias and Elizabeth, and He was going to do the same for Mary. Once Mary was assured that this was of God, she responded with faith and trust.

Mary Visits Elizabeth
39 Now at this time Mary arose and went in a hurry to the hill country, to a city of Judah, 40 and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 And she cried out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord would come to me? 44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord.” (Luke 1:39-45)

When Mary visited Elizabeth, she saw with her own eyes that God had enabled Elizabeth to get pregnant. In response to God’s goodness, she praised God in this very beautiful song. God, in His covenant-love for His people, was providing a Redeemer and fulfilling His promises given long ago.

The song of Mary…
And Mary said: “My soul exalts the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave; for behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed. For the Mighty One has done great things for me; and holy is His name. And His mercy is upon generation after generation toward those who fear Him. He has done mighty deeds with His arm; He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart. He has brought down rulers from their thrones, and has exalted those who were humble. He has filled the hungry with good things; and sent away the rich empty-handed. He has given help to Israel His servant, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and his descendants forever.” (Luke 1:46-55)

Joseph’s visitation…
Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. 19 And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. 20 But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of 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 Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Emmanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.”

24 And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, 25 but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus. (Matthew 1:18-25)

Betrothal was much more binding than mere engagement. The only way a betrothal could be annulled was by divorce. Mary was pregnant, but they weren’t married yet. If he divorced her, she could be charged with adultery and potentially be stoned because that was the penalty for adultery. The baby wasn’t his, as a check of her virginity would verify. Of course a check of her virginity would also show that she was pregnant even though she was still a virgin. God didn’t have to break her hymen to make her pregnant.

Joseph was in a sticky-situation. Would anyone actually believe Mary’s story of being visited by an angel? Did he actually believe it? All he knew was that his decision would be life-changing. Did he already have hopes and dreams for their future together? We are told that Joseph was a “righteous man“, so he didn’t want to make a rash decision. He had probably had several nearly-sleepless nights before finally falling asleep in exhaustion. It was then that God visited him through an angel.

The angel reminded Joseph of the long-awaited prophesy that Emmanuel, God with us, would be born, and he was going to be the “father” of the Messiah. Whatever doubts Joseph had were quickly put to rest, and he responded in faith and took Mary home to be his wife.
How hard was it for Joseph to not have sex with Mary, his right, for the next nine or so months, particularly since a marriage wasn’t “official” until it was consummated? Even though Mary would still be a “virgin” after the baby was born, Joseph would not have the honor of “deflowering” her. We are simply told that Joseph kept her a virgin until after Jesus was born.

The birth of Jesus
Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. 2 This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. 4 Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, 5 in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. 6 While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. (Luke 2:1-7)

Mary and Joseph had a “divine-appointment” in Bethlehem and the Romans unknowingly arranged it. That must have been an arduous journey for them because Mary was “due” any day. Even though this was Mary’s first baby, she was still a “little girl” by modern-day standards, barely old enough to get pregnant, let alone have a baby. Bethlehem was packed with travelers, so it was no wonder that the local Inn was full. All that was left for shelter was a stable, maybe the innkeeper’s stable.

We can’t imagine a more humble “delivery-room“, but the coming King wouldn’t ever live in a palace. There had been no “baby-shower“, so all Mary had to wrap her baby in was strips of cloth. She may have brought them along just for that purpose. There were no doctors or nurses, and probably not even a mid-wife. Joseph, who had never helped deliver a baby, had to help her with the delivery. Maybe he had swept some of the manure out of the stable and put some fresh hay in the manger, but there was nothing “sanitary” about this delivery. They may have not even had a “clean” knife to cut the cord with. The baby’s first bed was a manger, a feed-trough for animals, but it was better than if Mary had delivered her baby on the road.

Emmanuel, God with us, was born that night. The Word, who had taken on human-flesh, entered into our world, and the world would never be the same.

Celebration!
In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; 11 for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there appeared 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 men with whom He is pleased.

15 When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. 17 When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 The shepherds went back; glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them. (Luke 2:8-20)

Even though Jesus was born into humble-circumstances, God orchestrated a celebration of His birth. Angels serenaded a bewildered group of shepherds who were camped nearby for the night. I wonder if anyone else saw the heavenly-show. The shepherds didn’t waste any time checking out the marvelous news, and with the shepherds, we should glorify and praise our wonderful God.

Glory to God in the highest! Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!!!

Wishing you and yours a blessed Christmas and a healthy and productive New Year!

Sola Deo Gloria!

Bible Study – The Resurrection

Had Jesus Christ not been resurrected from the dead, He would have died the death of a common-criminal, proving the Jewish religious leaders right that He was a fraud, a deceiver, a self-deluded huckster. His outrageous claims would have been little more than the rantings of deluded mad-man, an illegitimate one at that, but when He rose from the grave on that third day, it validated everything He had said about Himself. His resurrection was also as important as His crucifixion in purchasing our salvation, because His glorious resurrection is the guarantee of our own future-resurrection.

The Apostle Paul summed up the significance of Christ’s resurrection with these words: 12 Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; 14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. 15 Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; 17 and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:12-19)

If Christ has not been resurrected, what are we doing here? Am I also a “huckster“?

What “evidence” did Paul present to “prove” that Christ’s resurrection was “real“? 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; 7 then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; 8 and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed. (1 Corinthians 15:3-11)

The Resurrection

Imagine with me, if you will, the surprise, the shock at finding that tomb EMPTY. If ANYONE was convinced that Jesus was dead, those women were, because they had been there when He died. Only a small-handful of His followers dared to be there during the crucifixion, John, and those four women. They had seen the bloody-mess that used to be His back. They saw the blood running from many open-wounds. They heard the gasp as He was thrown down on that cross. They heard the “thud” as His head hit that hard wood. They saw the Roman soldiers drive those ugly spikes through His hands and feet. They heard His labored-breathing as He hung there. They heard His screams of agony. They saw the sky go dark, inky-black, for three hours. They heard His last words as He committed His spirit to His Father. They saw His last gasp as He said “It is finished“. They also saw the Roman soldier jab his spear into His side. Yes, He was dead, very dead.

They had watched as His body was taken down from the cross. They may have even assisted as His body was washed and prepared for burial. They saw Him being buried. Their only hope had died a horrible-death. Jesus was DEAD.

As many times as Jesus had told them that He would rise again on the third day, they still didn’t understand, until…

Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb, while it was still dark, and saw the stone already taken away from the tomb. 2 So she ran and came to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.” 3 So Peter and the other disciple went forth, and they were going to the tomb. 4 The two were running together; and the other disciple ran ahead faster than Peter and came to the tomb first; 5 and stooping and looking in, he saw the linen wrappings lying there; but he did not go in. 6 And so Simon Peter also came, following him, and entered the tomb; and he saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the face-cloth which had been on His head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 So the other disciple who had first come to the tomb then also entered, and he saw and believed. 9 For as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead. 10 So the disciples went away again to their own homes.

11 But Mary was standing outside the tomb weeping; and so, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying. 13 And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” (which means, Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene came, announcing to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and that He had said these things to her. (John 20:1-18)

How did that stone get moved? It was massive, and it would have taken a Herculean-effort to move it, particularly since it had been rolled downhill into place, but it HAD been moved. Mary Magdalene WASN’T seeing things. As incredulous as it was, she couldn’t keep that news to herself, she had to tell SOMEONE, and the first two people she ran into were Peter and John. We can’t blame them for racing to the tomb, because in that culture, almost nobody took a woman’s word for anything. They had to find out for themselves. We should note that the ONLY rational-explanation was that someone had stolen His body. They still didn’t “get-it“…

Things got even stranger because His grave-wrappings were there, but He wasn’t in them. If someone had stolen His body, why did they leave His grave-wrappings behind? Nothing made sense. The only thing they knew for sure was that He wasn’t there. They still didn’t “get-it“…

Peter and John went home, still shaking their heads, leaving Mary behind. We may never know why Mary stayed at the tomb, but her devotion to her Lord was soon rewarded.

Imagine the awesome-sight of seeing Angels in the tomb, as if her senses weren’t overloaded enough already. Then they spoke to her… “Woman, why are you weeping?” The only explanation she could come up with was “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” She still didn’t “get-it“…

As she turned around, she saw her risen Lord, or did she? Was she prevented from recognizing Him, or had her grief so-blinded her to the reality of the resurrection that she couldn’t believe her eyes? Think about it for a moment before we go on…

Even though His voice should have been familiar, she didn’t recognize it when He said “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?”. Why did she think that He might be the gardener? Was He still naked, as He was when he was crucified and buried? Gardeners and other common-laborers often worked naked to preserve what little clothing they had. The Roman soldiers had stolen His clothes when they crucified Him, so He didn’t have those to wear, and there was no WalMart just around the corner either. Even though artists love to portray Jesus walking out of the tomb in a gleaming-white robe, we don’t really know how long it was before He actually got some more clothes. It also wasn’t “shameful” for Him to appear naked to her.

16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” Did His tone of voice change, or did calling her by name provide that needed-recognition? He didn’t call her “woman” again. He called her “Mary“, her name. “Woman” was generic, but “Mary” was personal, very personal. Don’t we love to hear our name? Our name makes us stand out in a crowd.

She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” (which means, Teacher). Mary was overwhelmed, and the only word she could get out was “Teacher“. He was that and more, but it was good enough for now. “Teacher” was also personal, because He was her Teacher before He became her Lord.

Jesus was ALIVE, and all Mary could do was hang-on to Him. The last three days had been HELL, so she didn’t want to lose Jesus again. Would we cling to Jesus as Mary did? It wasn’t “bad” or “wrong” for Mary to touch Jesus, but He wasn’t merely raised from the dead, He was resurrected, never to die again. His resurrection-body, while it still bears the marks of His crucifixion, is glorified, perfect, and the ultimate-template of the resurrection-body which will be ours when that time comes. Jesus still lives in and through His body, as He will for all eternity.

18 Mary Magdalene came, announcing to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and that He had said these things to her. I’m sure that Mary didn’t just stroll back into town to find the disciples, rather, she probably RAN back into town because that news was too good to keep to herself. She was excited, and for good reason, because the resurrection of Jesus Christ WAS good-news. Three days of hell had come to an end.

As we reflect back on those events which happened almost two-thousand years ago, we should come away with a renewed-sense of what our salvation cost. Had Adam and Eve not sinned in the Garden, we might still be perfect and there would have been no need for Jesus Christ to come to earth. Had there been no Jesus Christ, there would have been no crucifixion, and without the crucifixion, there would have been no resurrection. We, and our sin, are what brought Jesus to earth. We, and our sin…are why He died on that cross. We are the reason….

Next time, we will consider some of those events which Paul spoke about in 1 Corinthians 15. Please join us for “Seeing Is Believing“.

Sola Deo Gloria!
Steve

Bible Study – The Crucifixion

Why DID Pilate go from “I find no guilt in Him.” to handing Jesus over to be crucified?

Pilate had finally caved-in to political-pressure and issued the “verdict” that the Jews had been wanting all along. He also “washed his hands” of that whole mess.

24 When Pilate saw that he was accomplishing nothing, but rather that a riot was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this Man’s blood; see to that yourselves.” 25 And all the people said, “His blood shall be on us and on our children!” 26 Then he released Barabbas for them; but after having Jesus scourged, he handed Him over to be crucified. (Mathew 27:24-26)

Little did the Jews know at that time, but Jerusalem would be destroyed by the Romans only forty-years later, on Passover, 70 AD. Their “day of reckoning” was gruesome beyond description, as over 300,000 Jews were slaughtered and another 100,000 were captured and sent into exile. There were piles of bodies in the Temple and their blood ran down the steps. There wasn’t even one stone left standing of their beloved Temple once the Romans got done destroying the city.

The Crucifixion
17 They took Jesus, therefore, and He went out, bearing His own cross, to the place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha. 18 There they crucified Him, and with Him two other men, one on either side, and Jesus in between. 19 Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It was written, “JESUS THE NAZARENE, THE KING OF THE JEWS.” 20 Therefore many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Latin and in Greek. 21 So the chief priests of the Jews were saying to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews’; but that He said, ‘I am King of the Jews.’” 22 Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.” (John 19:17-22)

It was customary for the condemned to carry their own cross to where they were going to be crucified, however, we know from Luke 23:26, that after Jesus became too weak to bear His own cross, the Romans pressed a passer-by into service to carry it for Him.

Golgotha, or the Place of a Skull, was a bluff which overlooked the city of Jerusalem, and its rocky-face bore a strong-resemblance to a human-skull. It was a well-known execution-site which was quite close to the city, so it was no wonder that an “audience” had gathered for Jesus’ crucifixion.

It was also customary for a plaque stating the “charges“, thus the “reason” why each criminal was being executed. Pilate chose to make another “jab” at the Jews by writing; “JESUS THE NAZARENE, THE KING OF THE JEWS.” Then, when the chief priests objected, Pilate stuck to his guns. Even though Pilate had finally bowed to political-pressure, he knew in his heart that Jesus was innocent of any wrong-doing, particularly anything that was worthy of death. Pilate had Jesus crucified, not because he wanted to, but because he HAD to.

The soldiers were just doing their job. Human-life was cheap, particularly if the prisoner was a Jew. They weren’t paid to ask questions, just follow orders, so they didn’t care who they crucified, even if it WAS the Son of God. Jesus was just one of many prisoners they had executed through the years, so other than that mysterious inscription, they thought nothing about it. They just did their job…

38 At that time two robbers were crucified with Him, one on the right and one on the left. 39 And those passing by were hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads 40 and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” 41 In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking Him and saying, 42 “He saved others; He cannot save Himself. He is the King of Israel; let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe in Him. 43 He trusts in God; let God rescue Him now, if He delights in Him; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” 44 The robbers who had been crucified with Him were also insulting Him with the same words. (Matthew 27:38-44)

The two “robbers” may have been cohorts of Barabbas, who was also scheduled to be crucified that day, but was “spared” when the Jews chose him to be released rather than Jesus.

It should come as no surprise that some of the mob that had screamed “Crucify him, Crucify him” would have followed the execution-party to the place of the execution, and that their hearts hadn’t become any less evil when they hurled insults at Jesus. Sadly, even the two criminals joined in on the abuse, until…

39 One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” 40 But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” 43 And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43)

One man died and went to Hell, but the other man went to Heaven when he died.

Simple-faith was saving-faith!

Let that sink in for a moment….

23 Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took His outer garments and made four parts, a part to every soldier and also the tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece. 24 So they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it, to decide whose it shall be”; this was to fulfill the Scripture: “They divided My outer garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots.”(Psalm 22:18) 25 Therefore the soldiers did these things. (John 19:23-24)

The Romans always crucified their prisoners naked, and because their prisoners wouldn’t need their clothes again, those clothes became “souvenirs” for the soldiers on the “crucifixion-team“. Their understanding of “modesty” was far-different than ours today, and well, criminals were criminals, undeserving of any “special-privileges“. So much for the cute little “loin-clothes” artists like to draw in.

But standing by the cross of Jesus were His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus then saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” 27 Then He said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” From that hour the disciple took her into his own household. (John 19:23-27)

Only a small-handful of His followers dared to be there during the crucifixion, John, and those four women. They had seen the bloody-mess that used to be His back. They saw the blood running from many open-wounds. They heard the gasp as He was thrown down on that cross. They heard the “thud” as His head hit that hard wood. They saw the Roman soldiers drive those ugly spikes through His hands and feet. They heard His labored-breathing as He hung there. They heard His screams of agony. They saw the sky go dark, inky-black, for three hours. They heard His last words as He committed His spirit to His Father. They saw His last gasp as He said “It is finished”. They also saw the Roman soldier jab his spear into His side.

Did memories of Jesus’ childhood come flooding through Mary’s mind as she watched her first-born son die? Did the words of Simeon from those early-days resound through her ears? Did she remember that prophesy? Jesus was only forty-days-old when they had presented Him in the Temple. 34 And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and]rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed— 35 and a sword will pierce even your own soul—to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”(Luke 2:34-35)

All but two of Jesus’ disciples had turned-tail and ran when Jesus was arrested, and after Peter denied his Lord, he too vanished into the woodwork. Only John followed Jesus all the way to the cross. In spite of everything, there were four very-gutsy women at the foot of the cross, including Jesus’ own mother, Mary. I can’t even imagine how hard it must have been for Mary to see her own Son crucified, dying, dead… That scene must have haunted her til the day she died. Perhaps that is why Jesus chose to give her a “comforter” then, rather than later.

Jesus, in spite of being tortured and hung on a cross, took care of His responsibility as Mary’s first-born-son to provide for her care after He was gone. Mary had been a widow since before Jesus began His earthly-ministry, as evidenced by there being no mention of Joseph in the Gospels other than in Jesus early life, and him not being present at the Wedding in Cana. Widows were totally-dependent on their family, namely their eldest son, for their support and livelihood, because when their husband died, whatever inheritance there was was passed out among their sons, which was why the first-born was supposed to get a “double-portion” of the inheritance. Jesus was NOT going to allow His mother to try to eke-out some kind of existence, so He entrusted that responsibility to one of His faithful-followers, John. Tenderness in the midst of suffering…

45 Now from the sixth hour darkness fell upon all the land until the ninth hour. 46 About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” 47 And some of those who were standing there, when they heard it, began saying, “This man is calling for Elijah.” 48 Immediately one of them ran, and taking a sponge, he filled it with sour wine and put it on a reed, and gave Him a drink. 49 But the rest of them said, “Let us see whether Elijah will come to save Him.” 50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. 51 And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split. 52 The tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; 53 and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they entered the holy city and appeared to many. 54 Now the centurion, and those who were with him keeping guard over Jesus, when they saw the earthquake and the things that were happening, became very frightened and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:45-54)

Part of the penalty for sin is God’s curse upon us. God’s favor is portrayed as the light of His countenance shining upon us, so His curse, which is the opposite of His favor, is God’s “turning out the lights” of His countenance upon us. Jesus Christ had NEVER been separated from His Father for so much as a nano-second in all eternity. The light of His Father’s countenance shone upon Him during His whole earthly journey, until He died on that cross. Jesus, Who was sinless, took upon Himself OUR sin, and when He died on that cross, He died for us as we should have died. Jesus experienced the totality of God’s wrath and curse…God “turned out the lights“, both physically and spiritually. God turned His back on His OWN Son. God was silent…absent…

46 About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” God the Father had poured out His horrible wrath for sin on His own Son. God had “turned out the lights” on His only Son, our Savior, so that we too could become children of God. “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Even God’s creation “turned out the lights” for three hours. That must have been a scary time, midnight at high-noon. The Earth trembled, the Earth shook, rocks were torn-apart, tombs were opened, and long-dead saints appeared in Jerusalem. The Veil of the Temple, which separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies, was sixty-feet-long, thirty-feet-high, and up to four-inches-thick, was torn in two, from top to bottom. God’s presence, which had long-been separated from ordinary people by that veil, became open to all.

54 Now the centurion, and those who were with him keeping guard over Jesus, when they saw the earthquake and the things that were happening, became very frightened and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” A Roman centurion confessed what the Jews refused to believe.

28 After this, Jesus, knowing that all things had already been accomplished, to fulfill the Scripture, said, “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar full of sour wine was standing there; so they put a sponge full of the sour wine upon a branch of hyssop and brought it up to His mouth. 30 Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit. (John 19:28-30)

It is finished! The debt for our sin was paid-in-full. God’s Plan of Redemption had been brought from Promise to Reality. Our Creator-God had made-good on His promise to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:15.

Care of the Body of Jesus
31 Then the Jews, because it was the day of preparation, so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. 32 So the soldiers came, and broke the legs of the first man and of the other who was crucified with Him; 33 but coming to Jesus, when they saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. 34 But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out. 35 And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you also may believe. 36 For these things came to pass to fulfill the Scripture, “Not a bone of Him shall be broken.” 37 And again another Scripture says, “They shall look on Him whom they pierced.”

Breaking the legs of crucified prisoners hastened their death, because it denied them ability to push their body up with their legs so they could breathe somewhat easier. Besides suffering from catastrophic blood-loss, they also suffocated to death. Jesus was already dead, so they didn’t break His legs, but a soldier did run a spear up through His side and vital-organs “just to make sure”. Two prophesies, which had been given centuries before that, we fulfilled by their actions.

38 After these things Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but a secret one for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate granted permission. So he came and took away His body. 39 Nicodemus, who had first come to Him by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds weight. 40 So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen wrappings with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. 41 Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. 42 Therefore because of the Jewish day of preparation, since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there. (John 19:31-42)

It was customary among the Jews to wash the body carefully before they prepared it for burial. That would have been a tedious and time-consuming task with Jesus’ body because He was covered with blood from head to toe, and by then, some of that blood had matted and dried. It was a labor-of-love for those two men, because it also made them ceremonially-unclean, and thus unfit to partake of Passover and the festivities which followed it. This wasn’t going to be a “poor-man’s” burial, because a hundred pounds of spices was a LOT of spices and cost a significant chunk of money. Linen also wasn’t a “poor-man’s” fabric either, but the cost wasn’t going to deter them from doing it right. This wasn’t just anyone’s tomb; Joseph honored Jesus by burying Him in his own tomb. (Matthew 28:59-60) Jesus died an ignominious-death, but He got a dignified-burial.

Almost eight-centuries before Jesus Christ came to earth, God spoke through the prophet Isaiah and gave us a detailed description of the life, ministry and death of the coming “Suffering Servant“. As we look back, we can see how this prophesy was fulfilled by Jesus Christ, and we look forward to its ultimate-fulfillment when Christ returns to make all things right, and all things new.

The Suffering Servant
53 Who has believed our message?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
2 For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot,
And like a root out of parched ground;
He has no stately form or majesty
That we should look upon Him,
Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.
3 He was despised and forsaken of men,
A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
And like one from whom men hide their face
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.
4 Surely our griefs He Himself bore,
And our sorrows He carried;
Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten of God, and afflicted.
5 But He was pierced through for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him,
And by His scourging we are healed.
6 All of us like sheep have gone astray,
Each of us has turned to his own way;
But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all
To fall on Him.
7 He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
Yet He did not open His mouth;
Like a lamb that is led to slaughter,
And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers,
So He did not open His mouth.
8 By oppression and judgment He was taken away;
And as for His generation, who considered
That He was cut off out of the land of the living
For the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due?
9 His grave was assigned with wicked men,
Yet He was with a rich man in His death,
Because He had done no violence,
Nor was there any deceit in His mouth.
10 But the Lord was pleased
To crush Him, putting Him to grief;
If He would render Himself as a guilt offering,
He will see His offspring,
He will prolong His days,
And the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in His hand.
11 As a result of the anguish of His soul,
He will see it and be satisfied;
By His knowledge the Righteous One,
My Servant, will justify the many,
As He will bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great,
And He will divide the booty with the strong;
Because He poured out Himself to death,
And was numbered with the transgressors;
Yet He Himself bore the sin of many,
And interceded for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53)

Sola Deo Gloria!

Bible Study – Celebrations

What will begin with celebrations will end in infamy. Thus begins “Holy Week” or “Passion Week“, the events which will climax in Christ’s crucifixion. Jesus was rapidly-approaching His “hour“, what He came to earth to do, to die on the cross and accomplish our salvation. The promise, given in Genesis 3:15, was soon going to be fulfilled. The “Seed of the woman” was going to “crush the head of the Serpent“, Satan.

Mary Anoints Jesus
12 Jesus, therefore, six days before the Passover, came to Bethany where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 So they made Him a supper there, and Martha was serving; but Lazarus was one of those reclining at the table with Him. 3 Mary then took a pound of very costly perfume of pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4 But Judas Iscariot, one of His disciples, who was intending to betray Him, said, 5 “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and given to poor people?” 6 Now he said this, not because he was concerned about the poor, but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box, he used to pilfer what was put into it. 7 Therefore Jesus said, “Let her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of My burial. 8 For you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have Me.”

This scene is interesting in how it contrasts the differences between the heart of love in one who has been set free and the selfish, self-centered heart of one who is in bondage to Satan. We see the love of self-giving Mary contrasted with the evil and selfishness of Judas Iscariot.

As we saw in John 11, Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead, so there was great reason to celebrate with a lovely dinner. Jesus and Lazarus were the guests of honor, while Martha, ever the faithful servant, served them. That left Mary to do what she thought was appropriate, anoint Jesus.

The parallel passages, Matthew 26:6-13 and Mark 14:3-9, place this scene at the home of Simon the leper, but this setting is no less significant than it would have been if it was at the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus. They also mention that Mary poured some of the perfume over Jesus’ head. Nothing else is mentioned in the Gospels about Simon, other than that he had been a leper, but it is probably safe to assume that Jesus had healed him and that he had become one of His closest friends. If Jesus had healed him, that would be even more reason to celebrate.

3 Mary then took a pound of very costly perfume of pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. Nard is the fragrant-essence which has been extracted from the roots of a plant which grows only in the Himalayas of Nepal, China, and India, so it had to be imported and was very valuable and costly. It is one of those spices or perfumes where “a little-bit goes a long way“, but Mary wasn’t sparing when she poured the whole bottle on Jesus’ feet. Imagine being in a home filled with fragrant perfume.

4 But Judas Iscariot, one of His disciples, who was intending to betray Him, said, 5 “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and given to poor people?” 6 Now he said this, not because he was concerned about the poor, but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box, he used to pilfer what was put into it. Judas showed his true-colors because he had no real concern for the poor, but was really a thief. How much had he stolen so far?

7 Therefore Jesus said, “Let her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of My burial. 8 For you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have Me.”

Jesus makes an interesting statement for allowing Mary to anoint Him, “so that she may keep it for the day of My burial“. He has been predicting His death, burial and resurrection for quite a while by now, and He knows that those events are looming-large on His horizon. They are now just a few days away. There will always be poor people among them to help, but Jesus, the Incarnate Son of God, will only be on this earth for about eight weeks. Time for honoring Him is growing short.

9 The large crowd of the Jews then learned that He was there; and they came, not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, whom He raised from the dead. 10 But the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death also; 11 because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and were believing in Jesus.

Raising Lazarus was the most significant miracle Jesus performed, and if there were doubts in anyone’s minds about whom He was, that event should have put them to rest. Who wouldn’t want to see someone who had been raised from the dead?

Raising Lazarus from the dead only fueled the religious leader’s hatred of Jesus, and because of the attention that miracle garnered, they plotted to murder Lazarus also. Murderous-hearts aren’t satisfied with just murdering one man, they would eventually go after all of His disciples.

Jesus Enters Jerusalem
12 On the next day the large crowd who had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, 13 took the branches of the palm trees and went out to meet Him, and began to shout, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel.” 14 Jesus, finding a young donkey, sat on it; as it is written, 15 “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your King is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.” 16 These things His disciples did not understand at the first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written of Him, and that they had done these things to Him. 17 So the people, who were with Him when He called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead, continued to testify about Him. 18 For this reason also the people went and met Him, because they heard that He had performed this sign. 19 So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are not doing any good; look, the world has gone after Him.” (John 12:1-19)

This event, which is commonly called the “Triumphal Entry“, was the official start to Passion Week. Jesus entered Jerusalem making full claim to being the Messiah. Zechariah had prophesied about his event several hundred years earlier when he wrote; “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, l colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Zechariah 9:9)

The other Gospels mention Jesus sending two disciples to procure the donkey. The clothes that His disciples placed on the donkey’s back made a “royal-saddle“, while the clothes and palm-branches created a “royal-road” for Him to ride in on. These things symbolized the crowd’s acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah, the “King of the Jews“. If Jesus REALLY was the Messiah, there was something missing. Where was His Army? How was He going to drive the Romans out if He had no Army? There was still that false-perception about the Messiah even among His disciples, as is evident in Luke 24:13-27 and Acts 1:6. They were still looking for a “conquering-king“.

Jesus came riding in, not on the mighty-steed of a conquering-king, but on a lowly donkey, a symbol of peace, because He wasn’t going to ascend the Throne by doing battle and throwing the Romans out, but by being nailed to a Roman cross. He was going to be enthroned forever as the King of kings and Lord of lords, by way of the cross. He was going to conquer the world, not with an Army, but with the Gospel, as He continues to do today.

Their joyous shouts of “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel.” were taken from Psalm 118:25 & 26. “Hosanna!” is a Hebrew expression which means “Save, now“.

16 These things His disciples did not understand at the first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written of Him, and that they had done these things to Him. Things were going at a dizzying-pace, which didn’t leave the disciples much time to “process” what was going on. They also hadn’t yet been filled with the Holy Spirit, so these events would only start making sense after the fact. How many of us have had events in our lives which only began to make sense months, even years, later? I have only recently been able to start putting the pieces together of a puzzle which has been nineteen years in the making. I am here, in this time and place, because of events, both good and bad, which have unfolded over the last nineteen years, without which, I would have never made it here.

17 So the people, who were with Him when He called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead, continued to testify about Him. 18 For this reason also the people went and met Him, because they heard that He had performed this sign. The adoring-crowd was growing larger the closer they got to Jerusalem. Was Lazarus in Jesus’s entourage? We aren’t told, but he may have been with Jesus as He entered Jerusalem, which gave the crowd the opportunity to see Lazarus also. The Pharisees didn’t want anything to do with this spectacle.

19 So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are not doing any good; look, the world has gone after Him.” In spite of their best efforts at quelling Jesus’ popularity, they had been steadily losing ground. People could tell that Jesus was “genuine“, just as they could tell that the religious leaders were fakes.

It never ceases to amaze me how joyous shouts of “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel.” quickly gave-way to angry screams of “Crucify Him, crucify Him“. That just goes to show how quickly evil can overcome good.

We will finish up with John 12 next week, because it really is an introduction to the events and discourses which will follow soon thereafter.

In Christ,
Steve

Are We Too Busy?

A special visitor had come to town and there was a lot to do to get ready to entertain him, but one of the sisters refused to help with the preparations. Instead of helping with the cleaning and cooking, she wanted to hear what their special guest had to say. The other sister was furious…

38 Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. 40 But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; 42 but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)

Jesus was SUCH an important visitor that Martha thought that she had to get things “justright” for Him. The floor has to be swept, the dishes had to be washed, and their food had to be prepared. After all, she WAS entertaining the Son of God, the most important person who has ever walked this earth. Does this sound familiar?

We succumb to the “tyranny of the urgent” far too often and leave more important things undone, such as being a good mate to our spouse or parent to our children. I mentioned the song “Cats In The Cradle” in my post “Regrets“, and it really brings to light our relentless pursuit of things we may think are “urgent“, but really aren’t.

I wrote about having proper priorities in our time-management in “Priorities – Time“, and the more I study the Bible, the more strongly I believe that, counter to what our culture would say, I really did place things in their proper order. If you haven’t read it already, I invite you to read it and prayerfully consider your time-priorities.

You may be thinking that there are some things which truly are “urgent“, and you are right. True emergencies require immediate attention, and I have responded to plenty of those. I have dropped everything to rush my neighbor-gal to the hospital many times, and I have spent countless hours with her in hospital rooms. On her part, if she was in the hospital on Sunday, she has insisted that I go to church before I come up to see her. I also take the time to give her my undivided-attention when she calls or needs to talk, and recently I set-aside a Saturday to go with her to see her father, who is in an assisted-living facility. She wanted the companionship and needed the emotional-support. Sometimes I am the only “sanity” in her otherwise-crazy world.

Jesus highlighted what our priorities should be; “but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” People and relationships MUST be our highest-priorities, and all else MUST be secondary.

Are YOU too busy?

In Christ,
Steve

Bible Study – Raising Lazarus

A dear friend was sick, but Jesus was ministering somewhere else when He got the news. While Jesus could have chosen to speak the word and heal Lazarus, as He did in John 4:46-54, He chose not to. Jesus healed the sick quite frequently, but He was going to do something that had never been done before, raise someone from the dead. Jesus was also going to reveal both “sides” to His personhood, His deity and His humanity, in a dramatic-way. This event also occurs just a few days before Jesus was going to be crucified, when He will not only bind the Dragon of death, but by His resurrection, He will slay the Dragon, once and for all.

We may wonder WHY Jesus didn’t heal Lazarus from afar. After all, He could have come home to a hero’s welcome. He could have thumped His chest and said “See what I did“, but He didn’t. Jesus wanted to bring glory to God the Father, rather than just to Himself. Everything He did brought glory to God the Father. There is a lesson for us too. Whose glory are we working for, our own, or God’s.

The Death and Resurrection of Lazarus
11 Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 It was the Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick. 3 So the sisters sent word to Him, saying, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.” 4 But when Jesus heard this, He said, “This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it.” 5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So when He heard that he was sick, He then stayed two days longer in the place where He was. 7 Then after this He said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8 The disciples said to Him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone You, and are You going there again?” 9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. 10 But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” 11 This He said, and after that He said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I go, so that I may awaken him out of sleep.” 12 The disciples then said to Him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” 13 Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that He was speaking of literal sleep. 14 So Jesus then said to them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15 and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe; but let us go to him.” 16 Therefore Thomas, who is called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, so that we may die with Him.” (John 11:1-16)

Jesus was very relational, and some people were closer to Him than others. Mary, Martha and Lazarus were FAMILY, even if they weren’t related to Him, so when they sent word to Jesus, it was “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.” I can certainly relate, because I have friends who are closer to me than anyone except my mom. They are FAMILY, and I will do anything I can to help them, resources-permitting.

4 But when Jesus heard this, He said, “This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it.” 5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. This was a curious response, considering how close He was to them, but He had a reason.

6 So when He heard that he was sick, He then stayed two days longer in the place where He was. 7 Then after this He said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” Why did Jesus stay where He was for two more days? Had He started something that He wanted to finish before He left? We’re not told or even given a clue. He had slipped out of Jerusalem and Judea at the end of John 10, but to go see His friends, He had to go back into Judea because Bethany was close to Jerusalem.

8 The disciples said to Him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone You, and are You going there again?” His disciples were justifiably concerned about His welfare in Judea, but they didn’t realize was that nothing could happen to Jesus until the appointed time. He was firmly in control of everything, including the time of His death.

9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. 10 But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” We see another contrast between Light and Darkness, day and night, God’s presence and the forces of evil. As long as Jesus was there, God’s presence was in their midst. There would come a time when Jesus would be taken from them and evil would have free-reign, but Jesus was still with them.

11 This He said, and after that He said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I go, so that I may awaken him out of sleep.”Fallen asleep” is a metaphor for dying, and it is used in many other passages throughout the New Testament. On the flip-side, “awaken” or “quicken” means to bring back to life.

12 The disciples then said to Him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” 13 Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that He was speaking of literal sleep. 14 So Jesus then said to them plainly, “Lazarus is dead,” 15 and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe; but let us go to him.” Hey guys, wake up and smell the coffee. Oh well, they will eventually get the picture.

16 Therefore Thomas, who is called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, so that we may die with Him.” Poor Thomas still didn’t understanding that Jesus was firmly in control. Maybe he is imagining them being turned into a very large pile of rocks.

17 So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off; 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary, to console them concerning their brother. 20 Martha therefore, when she heard that Jesus was coming, went to meet Him, but Mary stayed at the house. 21 Martha then said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to Him, “Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.”

Lazarus being in the tomb for four days was proof-positive that he was actually DEAD. He also wasn’t in a coma or merely sleeping. He was stone-cold DEAD. Bethany was close enough to Jerusalem for her to have friends there, and many of them had come to console Mary and Martha, and while funerals happened very quickly, public-mourning continued for quite a while.

Martha was reeling from the death of her brother, but Jesus could have prevented his death. She expresses a curios mix of scolding and confidence. 21 Martha then said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.”

Jesus begins to show her that, while He was too late to prevent Lazarus’ death, it WASN’T too late for Him to do something about it. 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

24 Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Martha, unlike the Sadducees who didn’t believe in a resurrection, DID believe that Lazarus would be raised when the final-curtain was dropped on this phase of our human existence. She still didn’t have any confidence that Lazarus would rejoin their family.

This is where Jesus begins turning the tide. 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life”; Standing before her was the very Creator, the ultimate Author of life. He had breathed life into a pile of dust and given Adam life. He was also the ultimate Authority on resurrection, because if He could breathe life into mankind, He could also breathe new life into a man. He was also making an explicit-claim to Deity, because only God could raise the dead.

His next claim either confirms His place in the looney-bin or completely-separates Him from the rest of humanity. “he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.” He is either who He says He is, the Incarnate Son of God, or the biggest fraud that ever walked the earth, because He is claiming that those who truly believe in Him WILL have eternal life.

Do you believe this?” is a reality-check. Does Martha believe in Him? Her answer shows that she has gone from skeptic to true-believer. 27 She said to Him, “Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.” She affirms that she believes that He is the long-awaited Messiah.

28 When she had said this, she went away and called Mary her sister, saying secretly, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29 And when she heard it, she got up quickly and was coming to Him. Mary didn’t waste any time going back with Martha to where Jesus was.

30 Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha met Him. 31 Then the Jews who were with her in the house, and consoling her, when they saw that Mary got up quickly and went out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 Therefore, when Mary came where Jesus was, she saw Him, and fell at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled, 34 and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews were saying, “See how He loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not this man, who opened the eyes of the blind man, have kept this man also from dying?”

Two sisters, same exact statement to Jesus, but He gave two very-different responses. Both sisters expressed confidence that Jesus could have prevented Lazarus from dying if He had been there. How could he confront Martha one moment and bawl like a baby with Mary the next? He was strong one moment and vulnerable the next. He was either a deluded, wacko nut-case, or He was who He said He was, the Incarnate Son of God. He revealed both His true Deity and His true Humanity by His responses to Martha and Mary. He is both fully God and fully human, the perfect God-Man. His favorite title for Himself was “Son of Man“.

We may be wondering why Jesus didn’t know where Lazarus was buried, but in His humanity, He wasn’t omniscient. His deity didn’t always inform His humanity. He also claimed to not know when He will return in Matthew 24:36.

38 So Jesus, again being deeply moved within, came to the tomb. Now it was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 Jesus said, “Remove the stone.” Martha, the sister of the deceased, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” 41 So they removed the stone. Then Jesus raised His eyes, and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. 42 I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me.” 43 When He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth.” 44 The man who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

Jesus hurt with Mary, Martha and their friends as they came to Lazarus’ tomb, which was simply a cave with a stone rolled in front of the entrance. It was, in most cases, reusable, because in that desert climate, bodies dried out very quickly, leaving nothing but bones, allowing other family members to be buried in it also. Joseph was buried in Egypt, but he bound his family with an oath that they would take his bones with them when God liberated them from Egyptian domination. (Genesis 50:24-26). He didn’t want to be interred permanently in Egypt.

39 Jesus said, “Remove the stone.” Martha, the sister of the deceased, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days.” Only dead bodies decay, proof that Lazarus was really DEAD. The stench of death was going to be replaced with the joy of resurrection.

40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” 41 So they removed the stone. Jesus, speaking as God Incarnate, was going to reveal the glory of God in a dramatic way.

Then Jesus raised His eyes, and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. 42 I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me.” Jesus’ prayer may sound strange to us a first-glance, but it reveals something very profound about who He is, His intimate connection with His Father. He wasn’t just a man with an elevated “God-consciousness“; He was the Incarnate Son of God. He was God in human-flesh. He had a perfect “hotline” with His Father far beyond our wildest imaginations.

We can almost hear the anger in His voice and feel His rage as He bellowed-out “Lazarus, come forth.” Death was not supposed to claim the lives of those we love, but it had claimed the life of one of His dearest friends, Lazarus. They were virtually family. He was staring in the face of the vilest result of our fall into sin, death. Death wasn’t part of God’s original plan. Death came as the ultimate curse of the Fall. It wasn’t “natural“, it wasn’t “normal“, even though we have come to think of Death as being both “natural” and “normal“.

How many people have you known who have slipped the bonds of this life and entered into the next life without dying first? If you are like me, you have attended far too many funerals as you have lost far too many friends and loved-ones to death. My dad died in 2013, and my friend Liz lost her mother last year (2015). I also lost my “twin” brother in 2011. That was a tough memorial service, but I couldn’t have NOT been there.

He, who was the Creator of Heaven and Earth, invaded the Dragon’s lair, bound the Dragon, grabbed the keys and released one of its captives. He, who had breathed life into the first man, breathed new life in Lazarus. The Dragon would not be finally slain until Jesus strode from His own tomb after His crucifixion.

Lazarus didn’t come out of his grave as a zombie; rather he came out of his grave struggling with his grave-clothes. Lazarus, after he was relieved of his grave-clothes, was buck-naked. When someone died, those who were close to them washed their body, and if spices were available, packed spices around the body as they wrapped it almost “mummystyle“. Since clothing was handmade and costly, there was no reason to bury them in their clothes.

I can imagine the jubilation of his friends and family when Lazarus walked out of the grave – ALIVE. That would have been an event to celebrate in style. Their family was whole again!

45 Therefore many of the Jews who came to Mary, and saw what He had done, believed in Him. 46 But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them the things which Jesus had done. (John 11:1-46)

Yes, a few people believed in Jesus after He resurrected Lazarus, but the Pharisees had their “snitches“. As we will see next time, the Pharisees kicked their murder-plot into high-gear, even plotting to murder Lazarus as well. They had serious-concerns about Jesus getting too popular…

In Christ,
Steve