“‘For nothing will be impossible with God.’ And Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.’ And the angel departed from her.” (Luke 1:37-38)
The angel of the Lord who appeared to Mary to tell her that she was to give birth was the same who had appeared to her kinsman, Zacharias a priest. But Mary was a simple and humble country girl who in some way knew the scriptures. She knew the Lord and had faith in Him. She knew He was capable of mighty deeds, yet the message the angel Gabriel gave her made no sense since the supernatural conception of a child by the Holy Spirit was something never heard of before. Mary understood that the Lord was finally fulfilling His age old promise of Messiah and was glad of it. She was willing to do what the Lord commanded even if she did not fully comprehend how it was to happen. In addition, she did think about the affect this would have on here life or the consequences to her reputation and social status. All she thought was the Lord commanded and she had to obey without hesitation.
Mary is a good example for us to emulate. She had faith in the Lord. She knew that God always fulfills His promises. She knew that the Lord exalted the lowly. He called the least likely people to accomplish His work, not the rich, famous and mighty. The Lord God delights to extend mercy. His ways and His will confound humans because He does things contrary to what the world thinks best. He favors and blesses the lowly, the humble, the insignificant, and uses them to accomplish His greatest works. He still does this through us His Church.
Merry Christmas to all!
“For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay. ‘Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith.'” (Habakkuk 2:3-4 ESV)
After Habakkuk spoke his complaint, he waited on the Lord for a further reply. He wanted good news. He wanted words of encouragement. So he waited on Yahweh to answer. He did not worry and fret. He did not shout or yell or repeat the same phrases or complaints or petitions over and over. He realized that God had heard and would answer. And He did. The answer He gave was meant to provide His people, then as well as now, with practical help that would sustain them through trying times while remaining faithful to the Lord.
The righteous people of Judah were about to face devastation which they had never known before. The very foundation of their world was about to crumble. They were going to lose everything: their homes, fields and maybe their lives. Their families would be torn apart and exiled to a land a thousand miles away, enslaved and abused by idolatrous and cruel pagans. Since there was no way to avoid this, what possible hope could they have? What good news would make these circumstances more endurable? What would the Lord give them to help them to remain faithful without falling into despair or turn away from Him? According to Habakkuk the righteous will live by faith. They will walk in obedience because they believe what God says will happen even though the evidence of their eyes and their experience say different.
Now this explanation of the righteous will live by his faith in context differs in some way from our understanding of what it means for the righteous to live by faith. Our understanding of that phrase derives from Martin Luther’s proclamation that our salvation depends on God’s work not ours. Luther’s understanding of the verse was based on its reinterpretation by the apostle Paul in Romans 1:17 and Galatians 4:10-14.
Paul knew the practical meaning of the passage, that the righteous must live by faithful obedience to God’s word, trusting in His promises even in the midst of turmoil. This is the right way to live because it is God’s way. Yet under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit Paul explained the fuller meaning of the verse, a meaning which liberates us from the tyranny of keeping the Law. We no longer have to worry that God will condemn us. He offers mercy, forgiveness, wisdom and strength to those who come to Him knowing that without His help, no one can live a life of righteousness even if he or she wanted to. We can live in righteousness but we only as we rely on Christ. The words the righteous will live by faith mean that salvation does not depend on our good works, our piety or even our keeping of the law, or failure to do so. Salvation is by faith in the righteousness of Christ, in His atoning work on the cross. The benefits of His work are granted to all those who are humble and broken and who surrender themselves to His will.
“Pilate addressed them once more, desiring to release Jesus, but they kept shouting, ‘Crucify, crucify him!’ A third time he said to them, ‘Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no guilt deserving death. I will therefore punish and release him.’” (Luke 23:20-22)
The Sanhedrin had no authority to condemn Jesus to death so they decided to place the case before the Roman governor, Pilate. They accused Jesus of provoking a rebellion against the Roman Empire as He had claimed to be the King of the Jews. Although Jesus did admit to this, Pilate could see that He was a humble and peaceful man and deemed this matter to be just a petty squabble among the Jews. He packed Jesus off to Herod to delay making a decision, but Herod was consumed only by self-interest and perhaps by guilt over the execution of John the Baptist. He did not want to make any decision. Eventually Pilate made a choice to placate the Sanhedrin. He did not really care about justice, compassion, or civil rights only politics and self-interest. Yet he wrote this charge over His head as if He were an insurrectionist: King of the Jews.
We should learn from Jesus’ humble and humiliating suffering. When we suffer we often complain, cry and become filled with self-pity especially when we are falsely accused. As Jesus was suffering, His concern was not His own pain but the feelings and needs of others. He comforted the grieving women. He forgave His executioners, both the Romans and the Jews. He granted mercy and salvation to the repentant thief. And, no doubt, His thoughts were for us as well, for He bore the weight of our sins. He experienced the wrath of God because of us, so we too are to be counted among those who nailed Him to the cross. When we suffer we should seek the help of Jesus so we may offer our pain for His glory. We do this because of what Jesus endured on our behalf.
“With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say in that day: ‘Give thanks to the Lord, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted. Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously; let this be made known in all the earth.'” (Isaiah 12:3-5)
In the previous chapter Isaiah prophesied of the coming of the Messiah and His awesome kingdom. In that day, we will offer Him ecstatic praise. What else can we do when all these things come to pass? We will be praising and rejoicing for eternity. The first reason we praise Him is because we want to thank Him for His deliverance and salvation. Then we want to praise Him as a community of faith, of believers bound together with Him. The unity and peace which all humanity longs for will be ours In that day.
Those who come to Him and drink of these waters find strength, wisdom and new life for ever and ever. Thus salvation and eternal life are found no where else in the universe but in this well of life. This is what we declare to the nations. We praise God that they might hear the Good News of life that is in no other but in Him. We have found the greatest news, the meaning and purpose of life and we must share it with others before it is too late. If we do not tell them the good news then they will perish. The joy we have in the Lord enables us to preach the gospel to everyone we meet.
“In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah: “We have a strong city; he sets up salvation as walls and bulwarks. Open the gates, that the righteous nation that keeps faith may enter in. You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” (Isaiah 26:1-3 ESV)
Isaiah likened the Kingdom of God to a strong city, a fortress, one where God dwells with the redeemed. Our strength as the people of God is in Jesus Christ our Lord. He has delivered us by His cross from sin and death. He gives us peace in the midst of chaos and suffering.
Perhaps the ancient Jews who heard these prophetic words as Isaiah spoke them thought he was referring to Jerusalem for at the time good King Josiah had launched sweeping religious reforms throughout Judah. God would be pleased with them now, so they thought. Josiah knew that whatever he did would not change the determined judgment of the Lord. He undertook reform not because it would assuage God’s wrath, but because it was the right thing to do. He acted with righteousness even though he received no benefit from doing so.
Many people today would not do as Josiah did if they knew it would have no benefit to them personally. They want the peace and joy God promises but without the cross. They want to know what the advantages of Christianity are to them before they will believe. What’s in it for me? Will it heal my illness? Will it make me happy? Will it make me prosperous and rich? And many churches, preachers and individual Christians go out to their way to accommodate them to make Christianity more palatable. Yet the message of Isaiah is that we should do the right thing because it honors God, no matter what the cost to us. And the good news is that the Lord will give us peace.
Jesus calls His disciples to seek to promote the needs and agenda of His Kingdom first over all our own needs. This is because when we look at people in the world who are prospering we are often tempted to compromise with the ideology of the world and compromise with sin, to seek our own agenda over God’s. This is easy if we buy into the lie that the media loudly proclaims that we are missing out on the important issues of life if we do not have this house or take that vacation or are not enjoying our life with food, feasting and fun!
Jesus reminds us that the life to which He calls us is the most important issue of existence, not money, fame or pleasure. He tells us that we should not worry about anything not even the things we need. He is telling us, His people, that our worries and concerns in this life are unrealistic. As long as we trust Him, we should not worry or fret because He will supply us with everything we need, not all the extras that we think we cannot live without. As we face the future it is easy to lose faith, to forget that Christ is going to return. Yet when we face the future with hope and expectation that He will, we will begin to realize that all the injustices we see will be righted and all the suffering we endure now will vanish. Therefore we should always be mindful that since we have been called into God’s kingdom we must then carry out the work He has given us with gladness and peace. The entire resources of His kingdom are at our disposal. We are to use those resources, not to glorify ourselves or increase our personal prosperity or prestige but build His kingdom, not ours. Then we will have all that we need and will be blessed with the peace of God.