Saturday, December 29, 2018

The birth of Jesus – Matthew 1:18-25

The birth of Jesus – Matthew 1:18-25
By Pastor Lee Hemen
December 30, 2018

Matthew is the first of what is commonly called the “Synoptic Gospels”. “Synoptic” comes from the Greek adjective synoptikos, which is from two words syn and opsesthai, “to see with or together.” While Matthew, Mark, and Luke have distinctive purposes, they nevertheless view the life of Jesus Christ in a common way. There have been multiple arguments concerning why they are similar and yet also different. Everything from there supposedly being some mysterious other source document known as “Q” no one has ever found a single scrap of to the notion that it was all made up. None of these are correct. The Gospels are similar and yet different simply because they were written by different individuals who either used firsthand accounts they remembered or the testimony of others.

When my brother, my sister and I get together we often share common stories of our youth. While we may share the same events we experienced each one differently and therefore remember them differently from one another. What seemed important to me was not so much so with my other siblings, and vice versa. This is why we have slightly differing accounts of the birth of Jesus and in some instances which are not even mentioned by the authors. However the birth of Jesus is important, so let’s see what Matthew recorded and why he did so…

READ: Matthew 1:18-25

Matthew is one of the earliest narratives written concerning Jesus. In fact there exists a portion of Matthew’s gospel in a small university library in England which strong evidence suggests that it may either be a part of the original gospel or one that was a first copy. Here we discover that…

I. Mary’s child would be the promised Messiah, God in human flesh! (Vv. 18-20)

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.”

  1. Never has there been a birth that has been written about, commented on, and philosophized on more than the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. We must never forget the significance of this birth because it is the birth of the “Christ” the Messiah of the entire world. Now whether one believes in him or not does not change the fact that he is the Messiah; and so we are first introduced to his linage and then to the fact that “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about”. We discover that “His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.” The virgin birth is central to the nature of who the Messiah truly is; he is God in human flesh. Contrary to political correctness or socialistic nonsense God did not rape Mary. She was a willing vessel for the God she worshipped, honored and loved. Marriages were arranged for individuals by parents, and contracts were negotiated. After this was accomplished, the individuals were considered married and were called husband and wife. They did not, however, begin to live together. Instead, the woman continued to live with her parents and the man with his for one year. Most men upon hearing their future spouse was pregnant and not by them would have immediately divorced them. Not Joseph “Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.” He chose not to create a public scandal by exposing her condition to the judges at the city gate. Such an act could have resulted in Mary’s death by stoning. “But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.’” Mary’s child would be the promised Messiah, God in human flesh!

  EXAMPLE: These words from the messenger of God must have brought to Joseph’s mind the promises of God through Jeremiah to provide salvation through the New Covenant: “The time is coming… when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers… I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest… For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more (Jeremiah 31:31-34 NIV).” Mary’s child would be the promised Messiah, God in human flesh!

Names have meaning for the child who receives them and for the future of their lives. Sadly, many have forgotten this fact in our day and age and often name their children without any thought for the child or their future. We learn that…

II. Mary’s baby Jesus would save all mankind! (Vv. 21-23)

“She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”--which means, “God with us.”

  1. The angel of God tells Joseph about the importance of Mary’s pregnancy in both matter of fact terms and in the terms of prophecy fulfilled: “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” The baby in Mary’s womb would be unique and special. He would be a child of God born through the presence and power of God. His name would be literally Yeshua or Jesus in the Greek meaning “God saves” and in this case the salvation he would bring would be salvation from our sins. The unnamed angel also told Joseph that this was in keeping with God’s eternal plan, for the Prophet Isaiah had declared 700 years before that “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”--which means, “God with us.” No greater truth or greater prophecy was ever told and fulfilled. This baby inside of his mother would become a man who would die on a cross and rise from the dead to show the world that he was indeed the salvation of all mankind. Mary’s miraculous conception fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy, and her Son would truly be God with us. In light of this declaration Joseph was not to be afraid to take Mary into his home. Jesus would later teach his followers, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father (John 14:9 NIV)” and that “I and the Father are one. (John 10:30 NIV)” The very notion that God would do such a thing is contrary to all that people think about gods. There are those who desperately try to suggest that this is nothing new by relating the fables and myths of false deities but they read like science fiction or fantasy. Only here within the gospel of Matthew do we find the Creator becoming man and the narrative rings true because of who Jesus is and what he would finally accomplish. Any other story is but myth and fable. Mary’s baby Jesus would save all mankind!

  EXAMPLE: I was watching a movie the other day and I can’t remember the name of it but the characters were trying to escape the bad guys and one of them fell off a ledge but was able to grab on by one hand. His rescuer reached down to pull him up and yelled, “Just take a hold of my hand!” I was reminded of a big old rock my brother and I used to play on near our house in Leavenworth, WA. We’d climb on top of it and play like we were going to fall off while the other one would hold out their hand to “rescue” the other from certain death. For that one moment we became to hero who saved someone. While our rescue was make-believe Jesus’ was not. His was physical, spiritual, and eternal. Mary’s baby Jesus would save all mankind!

III. Mary’s husband was faithful to God and her! (Vv. 24-25)

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

  1. First time fathers always have tough decisions to make. It is all new for them from the birth of their first child to the daily care and fostering of them fatherhood is both new and challenging. For Joseph it became even more so. Not only was he newly engaged he discovers that his young bride to be is pregnant. He was probably incredulous, hurt, and then perhaps even angered; but Joseph was also a godly and kind man. We know this because of his actions and that God had chosen him to be the adopted father of the Messiah. Joseph had gone to sleep troubled but being a righteous man and did not want to expose Mary to public disgrace he had in mind to divorce her quietly. However as God usually does he sends a loving message to those who are willing to do his will. As Joseph sleeps he is told the child Mary carries is conceived by him for his purposes. “When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.” Faith is often found in obedience even when one does not understand why at the time. Joseph had a decision to make and he makes the right one. Joseph follows through on what God desires of him but he goes a step further to make sure that no one would question his devotion and Mary’s condition; “he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son.” Joseph violated all custom by immediately taking Mary into his home rather than waiting till the one-year time period of betrothal had passed. Joseph was probably thinking of what would be best for Mary in her condition. He brought her home and began to care and provide for her. But there was no sexual relationship between them until after the birth of Jesus and “he gave him the name Jesus.” Here in Matthew’s gospel we find no manger, no shepherds, no Wisemen but only a righteous man who follows through on his faith. Mary’s husband was faithful to God and her!

  EXAMPLE: “Here I come to save the day!” was part of an old time cartoon called Mighty Mouse. It was during a time when Superman was a big time hero. My brother loved the TV show and used to run around the house with a bath towel tied around his neck like a cape singing the song at the top of his lungs. Of course I was the victim of his physical prowess since I was skinny enough and light enough to throw around like a pillow. Unlike these super heroes Jesus isn’t made up or fictional as some would like you to believe. Joseph may not have has super powers but he was a righteous man who followed God and loved his wife to be. In his selfless act he saved both Mary and the future Messiah. That’s what real sure heroes do. Mary’s husband was faithful to God and her!

Conclusion:

Mary’s child would be the promised Messiah, God in human flesh! Mary’s baby Jesus would save all mankind! Mary’s husband was faithful to God and her!
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This article is copyrighted © 2018 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

4th Sunday of Advent - The love of God fulfilled – Luke 2:1-20

4th Sunday of Advent - The love of God fulfilled – Luke 2:1-20
By Pastor Lee Hemen
December 23, 2018

There are certain dates in life that stand out. I remember my parents and grandparents talking about what they were doing when Pearl Harbor was bombed. I remember watching the first American go into space and when we landed on the moon. I also remember when terrorists flew passenger jets into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. On a happier note, I also remember the day I was married, when we brought our daughter home, and when my grandchildren were born. Is it any wonder then that as believers we should remember the birth of Jesus?

On the fourth Sunday of Advent we pause as Christians remembering the day Jesus was born. Before we pass out presents, drink the hot cider, or eat the first candy canes of Christmas perhaps we would do well to stop and remember why there is Christmas. It’s the day the love of God was fulfilled! Let’s see how…

READ: Luke 2:1-20

We discover that the love of God was fulfilled when…

I. God’s timing was just right! (Vv. 1-7)

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

  1. We often mark important events by what occurs in the world around us and Luke does this also, “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.” The Savior’s birth is marked by what occurred in the world at that time, a government census. We know that Caesar Augustus was made the ruler of the Roman Empire in 27 BC and ruled to 14 AD and because Herod the Great’s reign ended in 4 BC, Jesus was probably born before that time. In fact, “This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.” However, the word translated “first” should be more correctly translated “before”. Therefore Quirinius was governor before the census which fits the timeline. During these kinds of tax censuses, “everyone went to his own town to register.” And, “So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.” Bethlehem was Joseph’s ancestral home because he was a descendent of King David. “He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.” Both Joseph and Mary knew the importance of her pregnancy. And so Mary accompanied Joseph for several reasons. The couple knew she would have her child during the time Joseph was gone and they most likely did not want to be separated during the event. And, since they knew that the baby was the Messiah, they would have known the prophecy of Micah that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem. While unsuspecting Caesars and government officials had no clue about how their edicts would affect the lives of the most important couple in the world, God used them for his perfect plan. “While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” The love of God was fulfilled when God’s timing was just right!

  EXAMPLE: Timing is everything, or so they say. Paul writes, “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.” (Galatians 4:4-5 NIV) History reveals that the coming of Christ was at just the right time. Alexander the Great had conquered most of the known world, bringing with him the Greek culture and language. The Roman Empire picked up where Alexander left off. It was under Roman rule that the crucifixion took place, where the blood of Christ was shed for us. It was under the rule of Rome that conditions were made ready for the spread of the gospel across three continents: good roads, territorial boundaries and a unifying language. God had put all the pieces in place at the perfect time to send his Son. The love of God was fulfilled when God’s timing was just right!

Luke shares that the love of God was fulfilled when…

II. God’s announcement was given! (Vv. 8-14)

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."

  1. What kings, Caesars, and governors cared about most was of no concern for God. In fact, God often uses the small things and the insignificant people to declare his ways and purposes. And here we discover “there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.” Those who were considered the outcasts from their own society, because they worked with animals by touching them, feeding them, and caring for them, the shepherds are the common folk God announces the birth of his son to. God goes to these “least in the kingdom” first to proclaim the birth of Jesus. Imagine being one of these lowly folks, tending your flock, and suddenly God’s messenger out of the blue comes to where you are in the fields. Luke writes that, “An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.” Isn’t it interesting that God chooses to go to these who raised the lambs to be sacrificed in the temple to disclose the birth of the Lamb of God who would be sacrificed for the sins of the world? The first words of God’s messenger would be the words his Son would often use: “Do not be afraid.” God’s angel brings them “good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” The good news of great joy was not just for the Hebrew nation but also for all people everywhere! “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” The Messiah, the Anointed One, the Son of God! The shepherds would know what the angel declared to be true because they are given specific instructions on what they will find and how they will find him, “This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” An animal’s feeding trough would be the bed of the Savior and the simple dressings of a newborn would be his regal robe! Before the shepherds could completely digest what they have been told, “Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.’” The love of God was fulfilled when God’s announcement was given!

  EXAMPLE: During Boy Scouts we used to sing the Announcements Song, it was to the tunes of Row Row Your Boat, What Do You Do with a Drunken Sailor, Frères Jacques’, Have You Ever Seen a Lassie, and London Bridge. The ending was “Announcements, announcements, announcements! We’ve got a silly cheer, which you've just got to hear! It makes no sense we're sure you know; the announcements have to GO!” However, not all announcements are bad or boring. Wedding announcements, birth announcements, and announcements of achievement are ones that tell us of joyous occasions that we should celebrate! The announcement given to shepherds long ago certainly wasn’t boring or bad; it was good news of great joy! The love of God was fulfilled when God’s announcement was given!

We finally learn that the love of God was fulfilled when…

III. God’s good news was shared! (Vv. 15-20)

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about." So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen which were just as they had been told.

  1. Can you imagine what was going through the minds of those simple shepherds? Surprise, yes, shock, certainly, and perhaps some incredulity or astonished skepticism! What’s a shepherd supposed to do with this kind of news? Luke relates, “When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’” Being the down-to-earth men they were known to be, they decide to go and see for themselves if what the angelic messengers spoke and sang about was true or not! “So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.” Isn’t it interesting that neither the people's chief priests, the teachers of the law, nor the great King Herod himself had enough faith to go themselves, but these men do! I can just imagine that when they came to where the child and his parents were, they were even more humbled. They find everything exactly as the angel said it would be. And so, “When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.” And in the midst of this wonderful story of simple shepherds is a precious truth of a mother’s heart, “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” While potentates schemed, Wisemen wondered, and shepherds saw for themselves; a mother ponders what it all means for the future of her child. Of all the mothers of Israel, she was the one who gave birth to the Messiah and here he was in her arms! Meanwhile, “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen which were just as they had been told.” The love of God was fulfilled when God’s good news was shared!

  EXAMPLE: Have you ever watched YouTube flash mob videos? There is one of people in a mall food court where suddenly someone stands up and boldly begins singing the Hallelujah Chorus. To the surprise of everyone, another person gets up and joins in, then another, and another; soon the food court is resounding with the harmonies of Handel’s masterpiece. A local opera company had planted their singers in strategic places so that they could joyfully interject the glory of God into the everyday lives of lunching shoppers. “Think of intentionally interjecting God’s grace into a situation where some undeserving soul needs a second chance; of sharing the love of Christ with someone who is needy; of being the hands of Jesus that lift up a weary friend; or of bringing peace to a confusing and chaotic situation.” The same is true for those shepherds so long ago, for them the love of God was fulfilled when God’s good news was shared!

Conclusion:

The love of God was fulfilled when God’s timing was just right, when God’s announcement was given, and when God’s good news was shared!
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This article is copyrighted © 2018 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

3rd Sunday of Advent - The Joy of our worship - Matthew 2:1-12

3rd Sunday of Advent - The Joy of our worship - Matthew 2:1-12
By Pastor Lee Hemen
December 16, 2018

Though not everyone agrees on the timing of the arrival of the Magi from the East, they apparently came sometime after the birth of Jesus. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, though still in Bethlehem, were now in a house (oikia) or residence. Matthew could have simply been describing where Mary and Joseph were staying. Jesus was also called a child (paidion) rather than infant. The focus is the Magi’s joyous worship.

When Denise and I first began to date, I would drive hundreds of miles, often times during very bad weather just to see her. I wrote her letters where I painstakingly drew cartoon characters just to make her smile. I was and am willing to sacrifice anything for her happiness and contentment. Why would I do this? I did it because I love her. She is the joy of my life. And isn’t that the way believers should respond to the joy of their worship as well? Let’s discover just what the joy of our worship should be…

READ: Matthew 2:1-12

In the musical The Sound of Music the song “Climb Every Mountain” states that we should “Climb every mountain, search high and low; Follow every byway, every path you know. Climb every mountain, Ford every stream; Follow every rainbow, till you find your dream.” Here in Matthew’s gospel we discover the Magi were willing to do just that. They teach us that the Joy of our worship…

I. Inspires us to overcome any obstacle! (Vv. 1-2)

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”

  1. The exact identity of the Magi is impossible to establish, though several ideas have been floated over the years; everything from a secret society, magicians, wizards, or simple wealthy truth seekers. They have been given traditional names of Gaspar, Melchior and; Balthazar; and identified as representatives of the three groups of peoples that descended from Noah’s sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. None of this is true. This notion is from about the 7th century. More likely they were pagan Gentiles of high position from a country, probably Persia, northeast of Babylon. Maybe they were given a special revelation by God of the birth of the King of the Jews. This may simply have been revealed in the sky, as indicated by their title “Magi” (specialists in astronomy) and by the fact they referred to a star which they saw. Or this revelation could have come through some contact with Jewish scholars who had migrated to the East. Those who wanted to learn more about the world around them often read the manuscripts of differing religions, histories, or literature of other nations. Some think the Magi’s comments reflect knowledge of Balaam’s prophecy concerning the “star” that would “come out of Jacob” (Numbers 24:17). Whatever the source, they came “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod.” And we discover the main reason is stated in their question, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” These men had to travel a long distance (between 550 to 600 miles), mostly walking or perhaps riding, and endured the hardships of thieves and robbers, weather and dirt, and weeks if not months of travel. They left the safety of hearth and home in search of a child and for the mere chance “to worship him”! The Joy of their worship inspires us to overcome any obstacle!

  EXAMPLE: There are many who search for truth, but some never recognize it. Some give their lives serving others, like Mother Teresa who constantly agonized over whether she truly had done enough “good things” for Jesus to love her! There are those who live a lifelong journey of bellybutton introspection focusing on self and emptying themselves of all worldly desires to find a sense of wholeness. Some think happiness is only found in the moment. Here we find traveling Wisemen following a heavenly star hoping to kneel before a child on the chance that he might be the One they sought. That’s what the Joy of worship does; it inspires us to overcome any obstacle in order to worship Jesus!

There are those who say they have found the object of their worship, but when one takes a closer look all you see is them! We can mouth Christian platitudes, wave our hands in the air, sing all the choruses we know, and even quote Scripture verbatim but not know why we are to worship because we truly do not know Jesus whom we are to worship! The Joy of our worship…

II. Is more than counterfeit comprehension! (Vv. 3-8)

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people's chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.’” Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

  1. King Herod knew what he worshiped and this is why, “When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.” Herod was shaken to his core. It was said that it was better to be a pig in Herod’s household than to be one of his children! Herod in his paranoia had two of his sons and a wife murdered. Herod was not the rightful king from the line of David. In fact, he was not even a descendant of Jacob, but was descended from Esau and was an Edomite. This is why the Jews hated their king! Herod however was crafty and in fact did a lot to build up his nation militarily, financially, and physically. “When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ (Messiah) was to be born.” Herod in his paranoia wanted to know who this threat to his throne was. They give him the answer gleaned from Micah, “But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.” Both Herod and his advisors had a counterfeit response and reason for their belief. The people’s chief priests and teachers of the law wanted to show off their knowledge to their King and Herod wanted to thwart any opposition to his reign! What he learned was soon related to the Magi, “Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared.” He was already planning his infanticidal response whereby “he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity (that) were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.” (Matthew 2:16 NIV) So, Herod sends them to Bethlehem and tells them, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” He only wanted to “worship” him at the end of a sword. The Joy of worship is more than counterfeit comprehension!

  EXAMPLE: There is an atheist group who has paid for giant billboards with the message, “Who needs Christ during Christmas? Nobody.” Interestingly, American Atheists President David Silverman, whose heritage is Jewish, says they are trying to focus only on the “fun” parts of Christmas. And sadly, this is what many folks, including Christians, do as well. They focus only on the “fun” parts forgetting that worship of Christ is more than head knowledge or showing up once a year. Some view worship as a country club experience where they pay their dues for the benefits or grand show; it is more about receiving than giving, rights instead of responsibilities, entitlements instead of sacrifice, and being served instead of serving. They might as well be atheists asking, “Who needs Christ during worship? Nobody!” The Joy of worship is more than counterfeit comprehension!

Author Greig Beck in his thriller novel “Dark Rising” writes, “Without sacrifice, there is no freedom. Without freedom, there is no life. God bless them who give their all for us.” He wasn’t writing about missionaries, instead he was writing about those in the military who sacrifice themselves for the cause of freedom. Should this not be said of the believer? In the story of the Magi and this third Sunday of Advent, we discover that the Joy of our worship…

III. Makes us enthusiastically sacrifice! (Vv. 9-12)

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

  1. Simple trust is an amazing thing. We discover it in children and are often silenced by it. We discover it here with the Magi and it should cause us to pause, because, “After they had heard the king, they went on their way.” At this time, they did not know Herod’s intent they only wanted to continue their journey. They followed the star they have seen earlier and wonder of wonders, “the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was!” Stars, like planets, usually go from east to west because of the earth’s rotation, not north to south! Could it be therefore that “the star” which the Magi saw and which led them to a specific house was the Shekinah glory of God or one of his angelic messengers? -- Possibly. But “When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.” They knew what it meant! It was showing them the way to the One they sought! The same God who had lead the children of Israel through the wilderness for 40 years, now lead these Wiseman. “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him.” They did not pause to worship or recognize Mary nor Joseph. The mother and father are of little importance to those who seek the Messiah. They immediately went to the object of their search! “Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.” Some believe the gifts signified the character of Jesus’ life. Gold might represent his deity or purity, incense the fragrance of his life, and myrrh his sacrifice and death. Scripture does not say and therefore it is speculation. However, it speaks volumes on how these men were willing to enthusiastically sacrifice their time, talents, and treasures in order to worship Jesus! “And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.” The joy of our worship makes us enthusiastically sacrifice all that we have for Him!

  EXAMPLE: How about you? What do you sacrifice for Jesus? Maybe you are more like the four blind men in the Asian myth who come across an elephant for the first time. One grasps the trunk and thinks it’s a snake; another, touches the elephant’s leg and says it’s a tree. A third finds the elephant’s tail and concludes it’s a rope. The fourth blind man finds the elephant’s side and assumes it’s a wall. It is not as some think differing religions describing the same thing in radically differing ways. The truth is that spiritually blind folks cannot make sense from that which they are blind to! Jesus correctly asked, “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit?” (Luke 6:39 NIV) and of course the answer is “yes”! Stop being blind, the Joy of your worship should make you enthusiastically sacrifice all that you have for Jesus!

Conclusion:

The Joy of our worship inspires us to overcome any obstacle; it is more than counterfeit comprehension and it makes us enthusiastically sacrifice! Just like the Wisemen.
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This article is copyrighted © 2018 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

Saturday, December 08, 2018

2nd Sunday of Advent - The peace of God - Isaiah 52:6-10

2nd Sunday of Advent - The peace of God - Isaiah 52:6-10
By Pastor Lee Hemen
December 9, 2018

Last week we spoke of how the Messiah would be called by the names of Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. There were those who incorrectly thought that the Messiah would bring about the end of war or that everyone would find bliss. Interestingly, there are those in our day who still have misconceptions of who the Messiah is and the peace he brings.

Isaiah introduces us to a Messiah who would bring peace to all mankind. He begins these verses by calling the nation of Israel to “Awake, awake, O Zion, clothe yourself with strength. Put on your garments of splendor, O Jerusalem, the holy city. The uncircumcised (ungodly) and defiled will not enter you again.” Jerusalem’s pagan conquerors — the uncircumcised and defiled — would never again invade and pollute the holy city after the Messiah came. This is part of the peace he would bring when he came. Let’s discover this morning of the Second Advent, the peace of God!

READ: Isaiah 52:6-10

The world today thinks that peace comes from the absence of conflict that it can be obtained through gain or government, but Isaiah teaches us that…

I. The peace of God comes from Him alone! (v. 6)

Therefore my people will know my name; therefore in that day they will know that it is I who foretold it. Yes, it is I.

  1. God’s people would be freed from their chains, never to be enslaved again! Isaiah prophesied, “For this is what the LORD says: ‘You were sold for nothing, and without money you will be redeemed.’” (v.3) No amount of money could pay the debt they owed! The Israelites did not fully understand that the enslavement God saw his people under was the rebellion of sin and that they could never buy themselves back without the blood of a sacrifice! No amount of ransom could buy them back from their enslavement to sin, only the blood of a perfect Lamb could! This is why the writer of Hebrews would later write, “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said, ‘Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and in offerings, you were not pleased… Here I am--it is written about me in the scroll-- I have come to do your will, O God.’” (Hebrews 10:3-7 NIV) God would ask them, “And now what do I have here?” He answers his question by relating, “For my people have been taken away for nothing, and those who rule them mock, and all day long my name is constantly blasphemed.” (v. 5) while we may be shortsighted, God’s view is much longer. The Israelites willingly sold themselves into slavery for a pittance and those who enslaved them mocked God as a result! They refused to listen and repent. Yet, God’s plan all along was to redeem all people and his desire was that they would know how it occurred and who was responsible when it happened! Isaiah was told by God, “Therefore my people will know my name; therefore, in that day they will know that it is I who foretold it. Yes, it is I.” When the peace of God came, all people everywhere would know who brought it about. This is why the angels rejoiced singing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests.” (Luke 2:14 NIV) The peace of God comes from him alone!

  EXAMPLE: Daily Bread’s Les Lamborn writes, “During the Christmas season, we wait. We wait in traffic. We wait in checkout lines to purchase gifts. We wait for family to arrive. We wait to gather around a table filled with our favorite foods. We wait to open presents lovingly chosen. All of this waiting can be a reminder to Christians that Christmas is a celebration of waiting for something much more important than holiday traditions. Like the ancient Israelites, many are waiting for Jesus” the peace of God. Isaiah teaches us that the peace of God comes from him alone!

God made the first move when he came as a baby. A star would appear marking the way, angels would proclaim him, and shepherds would witness to what they saw. Isaiah teaches us that...

II. The peace of God would be proclaimed! (Vv. 7-8)

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!” Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices; together they shout for joy. When the LORD returns to Zion, they will see it with their own eyes.

  1. Here is a wonderful picture of rescue. The enemy has surrounded the city, they are encamped around the walls and there is no escape and it seems as if no one is coming to their rescue. Thousands upon thousands of the enemy’s troops are assembled and just when they are ready to step forward to fight, there comes a cry from one of the watchmen on the wall of the besieged, “Look! Look to the mountains there is where our help comes from!” And all eyes strain to see a lone runner from the foothills headed to the besieged and the enemy parts for him like the waters of the Red Sea for Moses. Isaiah declares, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” Notice that the deliverance is not brought about by a larger army, more advanced weaponry, or a master general but by the beautiful “feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation”! And what is this message of salvation they would proclaim to those waiting for rescue and to the camp of the surrounding enemy? “Your God reigns!” As wonderful as the return of Israel from their Babylonian captivity, what utter joy will there be when the Messiah finally comes to Zion and proclaims, “Your God reigns!” Now, dear child of the King, you are the messenger of the Messiah in our besieged city, our occupied territory, and surrounded nation. You are the one with beautiful feet to proclaim the peace of God, you are the one running from the mountains bringing good news that that he alone reigns! “Listen!” Isaiah commands. “Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices; together they shout for joy.” Those entrapped can rejoice, because “When the LORD returns to Zion, they will see it with their own eyes.” Israel would see their Messiah coming to them, but some would not care or would refuse to hear him when he came. But whether they wanted to believe it or not he would come. And, they would see it with their own eyes. The peace of God would be proclaimed!

  EXAMPLE: Isaiah was a watchman; Nahum was a watchman and various men in various ways prophesized announcing the coming of the Messiah, the light of the world. John the Baptist was the last “who was sent from God… He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe.” John knew that “He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.” In fact it was Jesus who “was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” (John 1:6-11 NIV) And, now the last command the Messiah has given his watchmen on the wall who look to the mountains is, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth”! The peace of God is to be proclaimed!

What joyous news, what a wonderful truth to proclaim, those enslaved and those surrounded by the enemy can be freed forever! Isaiah teaches us that…

III. The peace of God brings salvation! (Vv. 9-10)

Burst into songs of joy together, you ruins of Jerusalem, for the LORD has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem. The LORD will lay bare his holy arm in the sight of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God.

  1. Over and over we find Isaiah telling the people to “burst into song” to “rejoice” because God would hear their cries for help. Isaiah tells them, “Burst into songs of joy together, you ruins of Jerusalem, for the LORD has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem.” In the midst of standing in the ruin of their lives and the rubble of their city, the embattled and surrounded Israelites were to “Burst into songs of joy together”! How could they do such a thing? God has already “comforted his people.” In fact, the important message is that God has already “redeemed” bought back Jerusalem, meaning all of Israel. This is why John the Baptist’s papa, Zachariah, would break his silence by singing, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people!” (Luke 1:68 NIV) Isaiah wrote, “All the lands are at rest and at peace; they break into singing.” (Isaiah 14:7 NIV) Matthew would understand and reiterate Isaiah’s words by reminding us, “The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.’” (Matthew 4:16-17 NIV) The promise Isaiah proclaimed is the fact that God Himself would “lay bare his holy arm in the sight of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God.” God would show the entire world his power and ability to bring salvation through his Messiah. It is summed up in the majestic wonderful words of John, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Jesus would say, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27 NIV) The peace of God brings salvation!

  EXAMPLE: There are folks who read the last chapter first when they start a new thriller. They may think that it takes the anxiety out of reading. So it is with Christians because we know the end of the story, we can be messengers of peace in the midst of utter chaos, calm in the face of disaster. We are to experience peace under pressure. Kingdoms may fall, friends may falter, churches may fold, oceans may rise, and mountains may crumble, but we can be at peace. How do we maintain such composure? By remembering that the “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7 NIV). In fact, just as Isaiah wanted the Israelites to be comforted that the Messiah would come, Jesus reminds us, “Yes, I am coming soon.” (Revelations 22:20 NIV) Today could be the day! The peace of God brings salvation!

Conclusion:
The peace of God comes from Him alone!
The peace of God would be proclaimed!
The peace of God brings salvation!
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This article is copyrighted © 2018 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

Sunday, December 02, 2018

1st Sunday of Advent - Our expectation and hope! - Isaiah 9:1-7

1st Sunday of Advent - Our expectation and hope! - Isaiah 9:1-7
By Pastor Lee Hemen
December 2, 2018

We should not allow outside circumstance to dictate how we respond to life. Recently however the political and social climate of our nation has caused many to become full of gloom and despair. There are those in the political arena that encourage their constituents to be despaired by their opposition simply because things are not going the way they want. Life hardly ever does, yet on the 1st Sunday of Advent we light the candle of hope.

Hope is more than wishful thinking; it is the outcry of the human heart and the certainty of God's promise. We as his children hope in him because we know who he is and what he has done. The Israelites of Isaiah's day had no such experience. They should have been able to trust God and the promises he made from knowing their own history, but in the midst of war, famine, and the threat of enslavement it can be tough to see God or his promises. Perhaps this is where you are today. Take heart, there is hope. Let's discover what Isaiah tells us during this day of Advent concerning hope…

READ: Isaiah 9:1-7

In a world where we find self-centerness at the forefront of the human condition it is often hard to find hope in the world. But today we can discover anew just what it means to have hope in what may seem a hopeless situation. Isaiah tells us that…

I. The coming Messiah would be the hope of joy! (Vv. 1-3)

Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan--The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as men rejoice when dividing the plunder.

  1. There would come a time in Israel's history when instead of asking God they would consult with "mediums and spiritists" to seek what the dead had to say concerning the living. Because of their fickle nature concerning the word of God and not following him alone they would go hungry both physically and spiritually. Things would get so bad they would become bitter and blame God for their own faithlessness!  The coming Messiah would be their hope of joy and "there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress." The Israelites could now look forward to the Messiah's coming which would bring renewed joy. In fact even the non-believing gentiles would find the joy of God and so Isaiah tells them that "In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan--The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned." The wonderful truth would be that something good would indeed come from Galilee of the Gentiles. He would be from there and out of what the Jews considered to be an area of spiritual darkness, there would be the light of life, Jesus Christ! Death was an ever present shadow in the life of those who could not or would not trust God; however, a new light would dawn. God would "enlarge the nation and increase their joy" because of those who would now trust in the one coming. Isaiah foretells that the nation of Israel would "rejoice" before God "as people rejoice at the harvest, as men rejoice when dividing the plunder." What a wonderful time Isaiah spoke about! The coming Messiah would be the hope of joy!

  EXAMPLE: Christmas is that time of year when children began making wishes and wants made known. They long for something wonderful to unwrap on Christmas Day. With excitement and anticipation their longings turn into hope and when the day arrives, it turns into joy! When Jesus came as a baby in a feeding trough the world did not know that the hope it had long awaited for had arrived. Yet all of creation paused on that one moment as a child was born and the hope of the ages came true. Matthew fittingly applied this passage to Jesus, who began His preaching and healing ministry in that region. The coming Messiah would be the hope of joy!

Certain religions encourage the spiritual enslavement of their adherents. Islam, Latter Day Saints, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and others do this through the deliberate distortion of Biblical truth. Throughout the history of the world sinful mankind has used whatever means, including religion to force others into slavery. However, Isaiah tells us that…

II. The coming Messiah would be the hope of freedom! (Vv. 4-5)

For as in the day of Midian's defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. Every warrior's boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire.

  1. We truly do not understand what it means to be enslaved; even those who would like to riot or feel justified in their marching against racism, do not know the injustice of enslavement. Yet, we are all enslaved until we are set free from the bonds of sin. And sadly, even fewer folks understand their enslavement. However, the Israelites did and they longed for their freedom from not just physical oppression but from their bondage to sin. Here, Isaiah proclaims to them they have hope because just "as in the day of Midian's defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor." The Messiah would bring an end to their bondage! Midian had been a thorn in the side of the Israelite's flesh for years. Because of the Israelite's own sin God allowed the Midianites to so oppress them that they had to prepare "shelters for themselves in mountain clefts, caves and strongholds" and "Midian so impoverished the Israelites that they cried out to the LORD for help." (Judges 6:1-6 NIV) God rose up Gideon who would resoundingly defeat thousands of them with only 300 men, but now they would have a new Deliverer. He would completely shatter their yoke of slavery that burden them and the rod of their oppressor would be gone! In fact, the hope the Messiah would bring about would do away with the reminders of war! "Every warrior's boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire." These things would now only be good for the flames of a funeral pyre; the coming Messiah would be the hope of freedom!

  EXAMPLE: Some think that it was Christians who began the Crusades; this is an outright boldface lie. The Crusades began as a response by believers for the decades of war and enslavement the forces of Islam brought to the Christian world. Wherever the armies of Islam marched, you either submitted or died. When they finally came to the shores of Italy and had forcefully taken over most of Europe, the Mediterranean and Middle East, the Pope responded by raising armies to fight the threat. Many of the areas Paul and the other disciples had won to Christ fell under the heavy boot of Islam and never returned to the truth of Christ. Isaiah's nation now faced similar circumstances and longed for real freedom. He tells them that the coming Messiah would be the hope of freedom!

True freedom is found in trusting Jesus, but freedom without peace is little freedom. However, the freedom Jesus brings is spiritual first, which influences the physical nature of the world around it when it is applied to the lives of those he influences. But Isaiah now turns to a new truth concerning the coming Messiah. He would be more than just a king or leader; Isaiah tells us that…

III. The coming Messiah would be the eternal hope of peace! (Vv. 6-7)

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.

  1. Now Isaiah proclaims to them such a wonderful thing that many found it hard to believe. They were now living much as their ancestors did; under the oppression from their own rulers like Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, Hezekiah, and Manasseh and the threat of coming annihilation from Assyria and finally Babylon. They were not to trust in others like Egypt to save them, but instead rely on God alone. However, here Isaiah goes beyond their current circumstances and looks to the future of his people. He foretells that "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders." The one to come would be their ultimate ruler; but more than being simply a king or monarch, the one to come would "be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, [and] Prince of Peace." These are not the common titles or monikers for cruel kings but the wonderful names for one who would be concerned and care for his people! The Messiah would be the "Wonderful Counselor" of God (Holy Spirit), he would be "Mighty God" (God himself), the "Everlasting Father", and the "Prince of Peace" (the Son of God)! All three personalities of the trinity are named and actively involved! However, the peace the Messiah would bring would not be like the world gives, Jesus would declare, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives." (John 14:27 NIV) In fact, Isaiah declares that the ministry of the Messiah would be different from any earthly ruler: "Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever." His rule and reign would not last just a lifetime, it would be forever! His rule and reign would bring a lasting peace no one had ever experienced before! The coming Messiah would be God in human flesh and "The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this." The coming Messiah would be the eternal hope of peace!

  EXAMPLE: It amazes me that whenever someone is faced with the truth of a situation they often get angry. I was speaking with someone the other day about how the healthcare system has been destroyed; how it has affected me and my brother as well. His retort was not just confusing, it grew louder as he spoke. I have learned the volume of your response does not mean you are right. The frustration of one's soul is calmed by the presence and power of the Spirit. As the saying goes, "No God no peace, know God know peace!" The coming Messiah would be the eternal hope of peace!

Conclusion:

The coming Messiah would be the hope of joy! The coming Messiah would be the hope of freedom! The coming Messiah would be the eternal hope of peace! That is what this day of Advent is all about; hope.
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This article is copyrighted © 2018 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.