Posts Tagged 'devotion'

Three Minutes With Mike

Immanuel

BeFunky_baby-jesus-christmas-nativity-wallpapers-1024x768.jpg

To Christ, all the prophets bore witness; but none so clearly, forcefully, fully, and evangelically as Isaiah. This singular prophet spent a lot of time on the person, the offices, the work and suffering of our Lord, but also on His glorious conquests – spiritually during His first coming and materially in His Second. When reading the prophecies of Isaiah concerning Jesus Christ, we have an outline of His ministry and of this world’s redemption.

Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14 NKJV)

And this verse, more than any other, encapsulates a view of Christ and His mission; our Lord’s history in a single verse.

Christ is God

First of all, this verse tells us in no uncertain terms that Jesus Christ is God. This, of course, shouldn’t surprise Christians, but it was a baffling thing for Isaiah’s listeners to hear. For 2,000 years, Christians have had verses like these that serve to back up what Isaiah spoke:

Before anything else existed, there was Christ, with God. He has always been alive and is himself God. He created everything there is—nothing exists that he didn’t make. Eternal life is in him, and this life gives light to all mankind. His life is the light that shines through the darkness—and the darkness can never extinguish it. (John 1:1 – 5 TLB)

For in Christ there is all of God in a human body; so you have everything when you have Christ, and you are filled with God through your union with Christ. He is the highest Ruler, with authority over every other power. (Colossians 2:9, 10 TLB)

[Jesus Christ] was God, [He] did not demand and cling to his rights as God, but laid aside his mighty power and glory, taking the disguise of a slave and becoming like men. And he humbled himself even further, going so far as actually to die a criminal’s death on a cross. Yet it was because of this that God raised him up to the heights of heaven and gave him a name which is above every other name… (Colossians 2:6 – 9 TLB)

Jesus Christ, admired by many people of many different faiths, was not a prophet. He was not a “good man.” He was higher and loftier than any angel or seraph. Jesus Christ was and is God. He is the Son of God, but essentially God Himself. That’s what Isaiah said and that’s what dozens of New Testament verses say. It’s the supreme truth above all others. Jesus Christ is God.

For the people of Isaiah’s day, the idea of “Immanuel,”  “God with us,” was nothing new. God had been in the midst of them before. Historically, God was with the Israelites as both a fiery pillar and a fluffy cloud. He dwelled in their midst over the mercy-seat. His presence came and went and came again for generations. But this was something new. For the first time, God would come in all His fullness, in all His glory, and in all His power in the Person of Jesus.

Why not? God can do whatever He wants to! Is it so hard to believe that the God who created the universe can visit us as a man? To dispute the possibility of the doctrine of the Incarnation is to limit God’s power.

Our Lord Himself said this:

He told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and earth.” (Matthew 28:18 TLB)

Jesus Christ was given unlimited authority, or if you will, “all power.” Power to bless. Power to heal. Power to save. Power to pardon and regenerate the vilest of sinners. Power to give eternal life to all who believe.  As God, Jesus also has the power to judge all people. Consider –

For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written: “As I live, says the Lord, Every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall confess to God.” So then each of us shall give account of himself to God. (Romans 14:10 – 12 NKJV)

Yes, Jesus Christ is God. The prophets foretold it. Jesus Himself spoke of it. His attributes prove it. Jesus Christ is God. But there is more to “Immanuel.”

Christ is near

Remember, “Immanuel” means “God with us.” In His own essence, God the Father is above us, under us, all around us. He is beyond us. He is behind us. As the governor of the universe God is everywhere, all the time.

But as “Immanuel,” this awesome God is “with us.” He is right where we are.

He is with us in our humanity. Again, the prophet Isaiah said it best:

For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given… (Isaiah 9:6a NKJV)

God’s Son has been given. A child was born to Mary. Divinity wrapped up in flesh. It’s a stunning verse that our minds are unable to fully comprehend. The Creator and creature in one Person. Jesus Christ. The eternal and the finite joined together. He assumed out nature – He was clothed in our flesh. Born of a woman, fully man yet fully God. God was “with us.” Not as fire or as a cloud or as the glory of the Shakina, but as one of us.

Yes, Jesus was a “with us,” but He had a purpose. He came to us as one of us to save us. God didn’t come to earth just to “get away from it all.” He didn’t come to earth just see how things were going down here. God came to earth to save mankind. Can you imagine?

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (Colossians 1:19, 20 NIV)

The word “fullness” is what drives home the truth of Christ’s deity. For some, Christ is great man or supreme spiritual being but not quite God. But the apostle understood the Incarnation in absolute terms: all of God fills, completes and pervades the Person of Jesus Christ. But Paul understood something else: there is a sense of permanence in the Incarnation. That’s what the word “dwell” implies. Some people think that “Jesus became God” or that Jesus was merely a role that God assumed for a few years. Yet “God with us” is not a temporary arrangement any more than the Incarnation is temporary. The permanent, eternal fullness of Deity in Christ and the permanent fullness of man in a single Person is the only basis for reconciliation. The great transaction that occurred at the Cross was not a play or a drama. It was a real event with eternal consequences. The consequences for sinful man are obvious. The work of Jesus makes peace possible between sinful, rebellious man and his Holy God. But rarely do we ever speak of the consequences for Jesus Christ. When the “Immanuel” event took place, our Lord took on aspects of mankind for all eternity.

He is “with us,” in all the stages of life. In the helplessness of infancy, God is with us. In the exuberance of childhood, God is with us. In the maturity of adulthood, God is with us. Through all the joys, the pain and the temptation of life, God is with us. He is with us as our Savior, our Friend, our constant Companion, our Deliverer, our dependable Advisor. He is with us in life, and He will be with us in death.

For I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from his love. Death can’t, and life can’t. The angels won’t, and all the powers of hell itself cannot keep God’s love away. Our fears for today, our worries about tomorrow, or where we are—high above the sky, or in the deepest ocean—nothing will ever be able to separate us from the love of God demonstrated by our Lord Jesus Christ when he died for us. (Romans 8:38, 39 TLB)

That’s the real implication of “Immanuel.” There is no escaping Him.

Am I a God who is only in one place and cannot see what they are doing? Can anyone hide from me? Am I not everywhere in all of heaven and earth? (Jeremiah 23:23, 24 TLB)

It’s not an exaggeration to say that God hates sin – He hates our sin. But how He loves us! Paul wrote that it “pleased” God to have His fullness in His Son. The Incarnation “pleased” God.  Why did God find it so pleasing? What aspect of “Immanuel” pleased God? Maybe it has something to do with this:

For in Christ there is all of God in a human body; so you have everything when you have Christ… (Colossians 2:9, 10a TLB)

As sinful creatures, we have so many needs. We need health. We need wisdom. We need guidance. We need so much, but when we have Christ, we have everything we need. No wonder God the Father is so pleased with His “Immanuel.”

With US

“Immanuel,” “God with US.” He is with us. What do we do with such great knowledge? Do we ignore Him? The sad fact is, most Christians have become experts at ignoring and avoiding the God who went to such extremes to be with them. We are good at paying lip service. But we are terrible at being obedient. We are good at saying we love Him, but rarely do we show Him. Because He is with us, He demands our love, our confidence and our obedience. “Immanuel” is the greatest wonder in the universe, yet it means so little to so many.

This Christmas season, let’s take time to consider “Immanuel.” “God with us” is so profound we can scarcely realize its ramifications. So let’s start with worship. “Immanuel” demands our sincerest worship – not just on Sundays but every day of the week. We are to be obedient. We are to seek His will and fulfill it. We are to be devoted to Him. “Immanuel” ought to be last thing we think about at night and the first thing we think about in the morning.

We are not our own bosses to live or die as we ourselves might choose. Living or dying we follow the Lord. Either way we are his. (Romans 14:7, 8 TLB)

Don’t you know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and who was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourselves but to God; he bought you for a price. So use your bodies for God’s glory. (1 Corinthians 7:19, 20 GNB)

There is no doubt about it: God is with us. And we owe Him more than just our gratitude.

 

EZRA/NEHEMIAH, Part 14

Revive Us Again!

Nehemiah 8

For people who don’t find history interesting, Nehemiah chapters 8—11 are a refreshing change of pace. The first 7 chapters of Nehemiah’s book are two parts history with one part of intrigue. Very often, the following 4 chapters are referred to “revival chapters,” because they contain all the elements of a genuine spiritual revival. Students of revivals throughout Church history will readily recognize the four elements:

  • A renewed and sincere interest in the Word of God and a return to expositional preaching;
  • A conviction of sin under the ministry of the Word of God;
  • Fasting, prayer, confession of sin, and heightened awareness of God’s justice and mercy;
  • A commitment to learn and follow the will of God.

When these four things are present in a church, then we might say that church is in a state of revival. Add verse 10 into the mix, and we not only have a revival, but a truly satisfied congregation:

…the joy of the LORD is your strength.

The setting of chapter 8 is found in the last verse of chapter 7:

When the seventh month came and the Israelites had settled in their towns…

Let’s look at what happened when the people of Judah had finally settled in their towns. It all began with the Preacher.

1. The Preacher, 8:1

They told Ezra the teacher of the Law to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded for Israel.

We haven’t heard from Ezra in a long time; it had been years since the end of his book and the beginning of Nehemiah’s. But Ezra hadn’t been idle during those years. While he may not have been directly involved in Nehemiah’s reconstruction efforts, he was very much involved in his own reconstruction efforts. Scholars generally agree that Ezra had already been teaching the Scriptures to the people of Judah; he was “reconstructing” the Law of God in their hearts. This was important because the generation now living in Jerusalem had no exposure to the Temple, the festivals, or most of the aspects of the religious life of their parents and grandparents; they had to be taught, and Ezra did just that.

It was not accident or coincidence that the people asked Ezra to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses. Their hearts were ready for more of God and ripe for a move of God.

2. The Place of Meeting, 8:3, 4

It’s hard enough for a modern preacher find a congregation that can pay attention to the Word of God for a mere one hour Sunday morning, but here, Ezra read the Word of the Lord all day, and the people listened!

Ezra the teacher of the Law stood on a high wooden platform built for the occasion. (verse 4a)

So we have recorded for us the first time a pulpit was used in the ministry of God’s Word. It wasn’t the Baptists that invented it, it was the people of Ezra’s day. It was a special elevated platform (the Hebrew means “tower”) built specifically for this purpose, about 300 feet from the Temple grounds.

To most people, a 40 minute sermon seems like an eternity, but the people who had gathered to hear Ezra had been in captivity all their lives; they heard stories about the old days when God moved during the ministry of His Word; they had a taste of His Word and they were hungry for more.

3. The Listeners, 8:2—3; 5—6

A. They were many but not all, verse 2

the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand.

Notice who was there to hear the Word: those who could understand it. This tells us a couple of things. First, from the perspectives of Ezra and Nehemiah, some preparations must have been made. Ezra had prepared their hearts for more through his ministry. Perhaps they made arrangements for babies and children to be looked after so as to keep distractions down to a minimum. But also, not every citizen was there; some didn’t show up for “whatever” reason. Maybe they had better things to do that morning, like wash their cars or plant their gardens. The point is, a true revival of faith is brought about when faithful followers of Christ have an interest and show up.

Second, the people that cared enough to show up that day already had an understanding of Scriptures. They didn’t need to be taught more; they didn’t need to be convinced to listen to Ezra. They understood what God wanted of them because they understood the Scriptures.

These things help us understand the nature of a true revival. It starts, not with an evangelist and praise band; it begins with individual believers who are already sold out to God; who are already in His Word and devoted to studying it. To those, revival comes.

B. They listened, verse 3

And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law.

This verse is quite remarkable for two reasons. First, the people, who already had an understanding of Scriptures because they knew them, listened “attentively” as Ezra read it. They knew it, they could probably recite it, yet they still listened “attentively.” They paid strict attention as they heard the Word being read. This is really astonishing. Very often, we Christians, who are so familiar with the Bible, have the bad habit of skipping over the verses or stories we think we know so well. They were more interested in the book than the preacher; they sought the message, not the man.

The other reason this verse is so remarkable is the fact that the those who gathered to hear the Word read, stayed and listened “from daybreak till noon .” Imagine that! For some 5 hours or longer, the faithful stood and listened as Ezra read the Scriptures. Talk about devotion and reverence. They were really interested; they had been held in exile for 70 years, finally they’re out and they can’t get enough of the Word of God!

C. They were reverent, verse 5

and as he opened it, the people all stood up.

They didn’t have padded pews to sit on. They stood up as Ezra read the Word for 5 hours. They stood up; a sign of reverence and obedience. These people, as a show of their high regard for the Scriptures and of their devotion to its admonitions, “stood up.” No wonder revival came to these people; they were ready for it every way.

D. They responded, verse 6

They people responded in two stunning ways:

…and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!”

When the crowd shouted, “Amen! Amen!,” they were basically shouting to Ezra, “We’re with you! We’re with you!” And the fact that they repeated it twice shows how intense the feeling was behind their affirmation.

Then they bowed down and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground.

Their second response was to “bow down.” This phrase occurs only a handful of times in the Old Testament and it’s an undignified posture. These people got down on all fours, with their foreheads on the ground in humble, reverential worship of God.

From the posture, they “worshiped” God. They responded to the demands of the Word by assuming a humbling position and offering God the adoration of their hearts. They yielded completely to the Scriptures with all their being.

4. The preacher

A. He blessed the Lord, verse 6

Ezra praised the LORD

Literally, Ezra the preacher began by “blessing the Lord.” He recognized God as “the great God,” far greater than himself or his ideas. The message of God was great; Ezra was merely a messenger. To “bless” the Lord means to make God smile. When we bless the Lord, we make God happy.

B. He stuck to the Book and spoke clearly, verse 8

They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read.

It seems as though several preachers read and interpreted the Scriptures that day in addition to Ezra. Some scholars think Ezra was the “head reader” and the Levites were assigned by him to paraphrase the Hebrew into the language of the exiles. Some of those born in exile may not have had a good understanding of the Hebrew language, so Ezra made sure that he did whatever was necessary to make the plain meaning of the Word clear, and the people understood.

Ezra and the Levites made the Law of God clear, they did not teach their own ideas. They simply enabled the people to grasp what was being read: the Book of the Law. They did no engage in silly histrionics in trying to make it more interesting. How different from today’s church, where all manner worldly methods are employed in “preaching the Word.”

As R.L. Stevenson correctly observed: “The Bible should be read as freshly as a book, not dreamingly as the Bible.”

Ezra and the Levites were not song-and-dance men, they were not entertainers. Their job was to make the people understand the Word of God. For the preacher, it is not enough simply to read a verse or two and tell humorous stories. It’s not enough for the people in the pews to simply hear the Word. They must use their reasoning minds to understand it; to grasp intelligently the mind of God.

We have to admire Ezra as much as we admire Nehemiah, for he was faithfully adhering to the prophet Jeremiah’s admonition:

Let the prophets who have dreams tell their dreams, but let the one who has my word speak it faithfully. For what has straw to do with grain?” declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 23:28)

5. The effect of the Word

A. They wept, verse 9

For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.

This was the first response of the people to the Word of God. They were filled with sorrow because of a consciousness that the Law of God had been broken. The powerful exposition of God’s Word will always bring about a deep conviction of sin. Notice, it wasn’t a hymn or worship chorus that brought about the tears, it was the preaching (exposition) of the Word of God. This is what brings about revival in a person’s heart. Revival is not an emotional gimmick, but a conviction of the heart caused by an honest exposition of God’s Word, not a manipulation of it.

This kind of sorrow is not a kind of self-centered remorse, but a genuine sadness of knowing how far from God’s ideal you have fallen and how much you have offended Him. But this kind or sorrow is not meant to last long:

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4)

B. They rejoiced, verse 12

Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them.

When the Ezra and Nehemiah saw the people weeping, they said something that may sound odd at first, but was actually very wise:

This day is holy to the LORD your God. Do not mourn or weep.” (verse 9)

This revival among the people was NOT about the people; it was about God. The day during which the Word was read was a holy day to God; it was set apart for HIM, not THEM. Had the people continued in their weeping and mourning, the day would have degenerated into a wishy-washy self-centered celebration of emotionalism, and that is not what a revival is for. The religious leaders forced the people to get a grip on their emotions and to remember Whose day this was.

Then they told the people what they should be doing:

Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” (verse 10)

Repentance was to be followed by celebration. God’s Word, at first, may cause sadness and conviction and it may cause a heart to melt or break, but that’s not the end it! The end-goal of godly conviction must always be rejoicing and celebration in the Lord. Or, another way to look at it: mourning because of sin must always precede the joy of salvation.

C. They ministered to those in their midst in need, verse 10

Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared.

The beautiful words at the end of verse 10 have formed the basis of many sermons: The joy of the Lord is your strength. Now you know the context. Repentance, followed by joy leads to service, which leads to the ability to tap into God’s strength. This is how believers look after each other. Those who have share with those who don’t have, in the strength of the Lord. True revival will lead to needs within the community of faith being met.

The Word of the Lord, read and taught faithfully, will bring about a revival in the hearts of those who hear it IF they are seeking more of the Lord. The Word of the Lord will convict of sin, which will lead to repentance, ending in joy. This idea of “joy” was one reason why John wrote his first letter:

We write this to make our joy (or your) complete. (1 John 1:4)

God does not want any believer to be miserable, He doesn’t want you to have a little bit of fun. God wants His people to have a whole lot of fun around His word and in service to Him. Studying the Word of God and listening to its exposition ought to bring an abundance of joy into your life. If it doesn’t, there is a problem in your life that you need to face up to. Something is seriously wrong with a Christian who has no interest in God’s Word; no interest in reading it, studying it, hearing it preached, and no interest in Christian fellowship. Those are the things that must precede any revival.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

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