The Bible in 10 Weeks – Week 7 Review

"...and they shall call his name Immanuel."
“…and they shall call his name Immanuel.”

God created this world and placed us in it. He was there in the garden with us and it was good. But we rejected him and turned to various idols. This pattern repeats again and again with the same tragic results. We turn from God to sin and to death and to those things that will never satisfy. Left alone this would be all we would ever know. Sin, death, and dissatisfaction. No amount of effort or progress could restore us back to the garden.

So God came to us. We celebrate that fact every Christmas. In Jesus Christ the God of the Exodus; the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and the God of Israel came to be with us. We celebrate ‘Immanuel.’ And God came to seek and save the lost. This is the radical teaching of Christianity. It was beyond the world’s imagination that God would enter this fallen creation the way that he did. As Tim Keller says, “The founders of every other major religion said, ‘I’m a prophet who shows you how to find God,’ but Jesus taught, ‘I’m God, come to find you.'”

That is good news.

Timing is everything: A short Christmas reflection

If you know anything from the book of Esther, you probably know the line, “And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

You get the sense that God has a plan for Esther, and that was a plan to save the Jews from an evil plot. As we read from the front to the back of the Bible, you get that same sense. God always has a plan and has someone prepared for “such a time as this.”

Such was the case when Jesus Christ was born to us. We celebrate that God would even come to this world, at all. We marvel that it happened the way it did. But we should take note that not only did it happen a certain way, but it happened at a certain time. God had been orchestrating history to bring about all the right circumstances and preparing the world in just the way he wanted. Then, at the right time, he sent his Son. Jesus was sent to announce the kingdom at such a time as this.

We see this in passages like this:

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

Galatians 4:4-5

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

Ephesians 1:7-10

Jesus Christ came at the right time to fulfill the will of God–to redeem us from our sins, to adopt us as his own children, and to bring all things to himself, reconciling the world.

It’s such good news that is the result of a real good plan, and it’s why we gladly proclaim, “Merry Christmas!”

Christ in Psalm 118

We talked about this psalm briefly in one of the Reading Groups as a member brought our attention to it. It is hard not to see a picture of Jesus Christ in these words, words which are quoted in reference to him in the New Testament.

I love to see the way in which the whole of Scripture points us to Jesus. The Old points us ahead and the New Testament draws our attention back to him. As we celebrate Christmas it is also good to see such connections and remember that Jesus was no backup plan. Before the world was even created, the plan has been to save the world through him. Like we read in the beginning of John, Jesus may have entered the scene in one way when he was born to Mary, but Jesus has always been on the scene since the very beginning. Christmas is the beginning of a big reveal, but the suspense had been building for a long time.

Psalm 118

22 The stone the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone;
23 the Lord has done this,
    and it is marvelous in our eyes.
24 The Lord has done it this very day;
    let us rejoice today and be glad.

25 Lord, save us!
    Lord, grant us success!

26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
    From the house of the Lord we bless you.
27 The Lord is God,
    and he has made his light shine on us.
With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession
    up to the horns of the altar.

28 You are my God, and I will praise you;
    you are my God, and I will exalt you.

29 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    his love endures forever.

God is still guiding history, and he won’t take a day off tomorrow

mayan calendarDon’t forget to set your clocks tonight–the end of the world is tomorrow.

Or so some interpreters of Mayan calendars would have us believe. But there are some real easy reasons to ignore this and the many other claims like it that come up every so often. We aren’t looking forward to the end of the world. We aren’t looking forward to the end of our time on the world, as if we were to be snatched away. We are looking ahead when Jesus Christ will come back. That is what we believe the future holds.

Not this week, but later in Matthew we are told we don’t know the day nor the hour this will happen. (So if someone is real specific, that’s reason number one they are wrong.) We are to live always with vigilance in anticipation of his return and live in light of his rule. We need not be fearful about the end, nor do we need to worry or panic about its coming. We have read this week that God came into this creation. He did not create the world, wind it up and then let go. We aren’t chugging along on our own. God has created this world, but he has remained intimately involved with it. No end of times would spring upon us as though it snuck up on God, too. We need not panic for this world is not out of his sovereign hands.

Christmas shows us that God still cares and has not forsaken his people nor his creation. The opposite is true–he still has a perfect plan for us and nothing can stop him. Not even the Mayans.

Bonus: Enjoy REM singing happily about the end…

Into Darkness Christ Came: Matthew 2 and Reflections on Newtown, CT

We know about the recent events of Newtown, CT and the depths of darkness we see in such a tragedy. It make me ache to think of those whose lives were snatched away. It seems difficult to celebrate with joy the coming of Jesus when the world looks so dark.

Sadly, that is just the sort of world to which Christ came. It is why he came. This place is not as it should be nor is it as it was created to be.

When Christ came, did waves of goodwill roll out from Bethlehem enveloping the whole world? Sadly no. Immediately the dark powers of this world were in full force. Jerusalem was distrubed, but the king–the man with power and power to lose–escalates the situation. Hate takes hold, fear drives him on. And so soon after Immanuel, Jesus Christ is born, children are slaughtered by Herod to protect his place as King.

16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. 17 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:

18 “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”

Matthew 2

How can we even claim to be a people–a world–worth saving? From his first to his final breath, we see how the world reacts to its savior. Jesus comes to bring peace on earth, to make peace between humanity and God. Yet Herod seeks his life at his birth, and the crowds are calling to crucify him before his death.

It is terrible. And this world can still be terrible. It can terrify us. But that is why he came. And that is why we need his peace. Only Jesus has the power and authority to say in John 14, 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.”

But it is hard to live with his peace, especially in trying times. I am reminded of the Christmas carol, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” and this stanza:

And in despair I bowed my head
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Hate is strong. There is evil is this world. We can’t ignore that. We can’t deny it. The events of the world do not make sense if there is no sin. It is a powerful force pulling and pushing us. But there is more. Hate is strong, sin and death are powerful, but they do not have the victory.

It may appear that they do, but we are to live according to what is unseen. We are to step out in faith and believe that Christmas does mean peace on earth and Jesus has come to save. It does not always look like this has happened. But by faith we say we will not live according to the darkness. We won’t live according to the ways of the world nor the values or this world. We, by faith, seek to be children of light and live in light of God’s rule. We live as followers of a new way.

He did not design his people for hate and fear. He called us to love and service. We are called to live in a way that is a great ‘yes’ to God and his ways, and is a resolute ‘no’ to the evil we know tries to overwhelm the world.

Christ came into a world not unlike what we see now. Full of fights for power, with greed, fear, and hate. A world with sin. The fight looked to have been lost to all who knew him for those powers had won. The powers had put him on the cross. It looked like the day was lost–that love had lost. But we were wrong. Christ defeated such powers and did so through sacrifice, humility, love, and obedience. The cross looked to become a sign of the victory of all that is wrong in the world, but appearances can deceive. Hate was strong, Christ was mocked, there seemed to be no peace. Despair seemed the only option for his disciples.

But the truth of God can go unseen for a time. Sin and death were no match. We were wrong. When it looked like Christ had failed and God had died, he had won the victory. The Christmas carol concludes:

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.

By faith we hear those words and sing that song. There still is hideous evil in this world and we mourn. But we Christians are called to live out our hope. We live unlike those who believe hate gives strength and power prevails. We follow a savior who had power in humility and submission. Our savior died at the hands of evil, but he died for us, and he now lives. At this time of year we celebrate his birth, but every Sunday we celebrate his resurrection, and the resurrection is victory over the powers of sin and death.

Jesus Christ came to a world created good, a world that fell–but did not fall from grace. God’s grace endures. Christ came to this world bringing grace, making peace, and doing so because it is a place in the greatest of need.

Today the world needs Jesus Christ. We need him. Only he is our peace, and when we place our faith in him, look to him for our hope, and live in his love, then we make a stand. We draw a line and say ‘no.’ We will not let sin masquerade as sovereign on earth. We will not forsake this world to evil. God is not dead, nor does he sleep. Christ rose and we will carry his name into a world in desperate need and live according to his rule, anticipating the day when he will come again.

Advent reading this week for Year in the Bible

You may have been longing for some Advent readings for Year in the Bible and if so, this is your week. We are in the third Sunday of Advent and we open up the Gospel of Matthew. It is also our last of the four gospels and it’ll be a bridge from the Fall to Winter quarter.

Take your time with familiar passages like these. Even though we hear about Christmas every year, we always can return to these cherished texts. And it is easy to “hear about Christmas” every year and for that to mean a lot more about shopping and family get-togethers than Immanuel.

We are almost to our final winter quarter so keep your eyes peeled for an updated reading guide to take us all the way to the end.