Tag Archives: Prophets

This Is My Gift to My King

Today is Epiphany. This morning on our way to church I said to my son, “Yesterday was the 12th day of Christmas and today is Epiphany.” He replied, “Did you just realize that?” Clearly his gift is a quick wit among other creative talents.

Epiphany is the church holiday in which we celebrate the Magi from the east visiting the child Jesus. They brought Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, but before they bestowed these gifts on the young Jesus they offered Him their worship. The Magi worshipped Jesus not for what He had done for them but simply because of who He is. The story of their visit is recorded in Matthew 2:1-12.

In church this morning our pastor talked about the significance of the three gifts the Magi brought, and then he asked what gifts we can give to Jesus. I decided I would share the significance of the Magi’s gifts, as well as my thoughts on my gifts to my King.

The first gift of the Magi was gold. This was the customary gift given to kings. This gift points to Jesus as being a king from His very birth. He is the highest of royalty. The Magi sought Him as the King of the Jews. He is ultimately revealed to be King of kings: “On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.” Revelation 19:16 (NIV).

The second gift of the Magi was frankincense or incense. It was customary for priests to use incense in the temple as part of their worship of God. It was the priests who presented sacrifices in the temple to atone for the sins of the people. But these sacrifices were only temporarily effective for that purpose and had to be repeated over and over. This gift of incense points to Jesus as the final priest. “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.” Hebrews 4:14 (NIV). He has been our sacrifice once for all to atone for the sins of the world.

This third gift of the Magi was myrrh. This is a spice that was used in burial. This points to Jesus as a prophet who will be killed for preaching the truth just as the prophets of the Old Testament were killed. Jesus said, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.” Matthew 23:37 (NIV). Jesus knew that He would be treated just as the prophets were. He was born for this purpose — that He would die and be buried with myrrh to atone for our sins. But praise God, He rose again.

So what then is my gift to my King? What can I give that is worthy of His glory? First of all I give my worship of Him simply for who He is and not for what He has or will do for me. I can give my time and myself. As I listened to the sermon this morning, though, it occurred to me that one of the greatest gifts I can give to Jesus is this blog. As I write to glorify His name and to share His mercy and love with others, I hope that this gift is pleasing to Him so that someday I will hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Matthew 25:21 (NIV).

What gift will you bring to the throne of the King?

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On the Road to Emmaus

A number of years ago – I can’t really remember how long ago – I was reading through Luke. It wasn’t the first time I had read Luke, or at least parts of it, but as often happens when I’m reading scripture I saw something I hadn’t before.

There is a passage of scripture at Luke 24:13-35 that is titled “On the Road to Emmaus” in my NIV Study Bible. It recounts the story of some previously unnamed disciples of Jesus who are trudging along the road three days after the crucifixion of the One they had been following, the One they believed was going to save Israel. The resurrection has occurred, but these disciples don’t understand. They think perhaps Jesus’ body was stolen; they can’t quite grasp the reality that He is alive.

I can picture them walking slowly along, heads hung low, in no particular hurry because there no longer seems anywhere worth going. They are dismayed by the events that have taken place and don’t understand that what has happened to Jesus is the greatest event in the history of the world.

As they trudge along, a man appears and begins walking with them and talking to them. It is Jesus, but they don’t realize it. They tell Him all that has happened, as they understand it. Jesus responds by saying that these things had to happen to the Messiah as foretold by the prophets. Then comes the verse that jumped out at me so that I had to reread it several times to take it all in: “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” Luke 24:27 (NIV).

I sat there mesmerized by that verse. “Moses and all the Prophets” – that’s the Old Testament. With the exception of a few obvious verses, like Isaiah foretelling of the virgin birth, I had never before thought of “all the Scriptures” as being about Jesus.

But they are all about Him. The entirety of the Bible, from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21, is about Jesus. He was there in the beginning and He will be there in the end. The Law is there to show our need for Him as Redeemer and Savior. The Prophets are there to foretell both His first coming as a baby in a manger and His second coming at the end of time. The Prophets were also there to show the Israelites how much they needed the change of heart that only Jesus can bring about and the great mercy of God that only He reveals.

As I pondered this verse that day years ago, right then and there I closed my eyes, bowed my head, and prayed this prayer: “Lord Jesus, just as You revealed to the disciples on the road to Emmaus what was written about You in the Old Testament, please show me wherever You are whenever I open my Bible and read these ancients words.”

And you know what? God is faithful! He has answered this prayer more times than I can count. He opened my eyes to see the big picture of the Scriptures – both Old and New Testaments – and to see the place of Jesus throughout. Jesus is central to it all! Everything that is exists by Him, for Him, through Him, and reveals His glory and grace.

I know I have written other posts about specific places in which I have found Jesus revealed in the Old Testament, but the purpose of this post is not to recount all the places in the Law and Prophets that I have found Him. Rather, today I want to encourage you who are reading to humbly pray the prayer I shared above. Then open up your Bible to an Old Testament book or chapter that you have avoided because you think you can’t possibly find Jesus there. When you find Him there, come back and tell me about it in a comment. I’d love to hear about how our faithful God opens your eyes, too.

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To Be Despised by All but God

I’m working my way through Ezekiel in the Old Testament, and before that I read Jeremiah. These are challenging books to read and to apply to our daily lives. Here and there is a nugget with direct – and easy – application, but I think these books are there for a much bigger purpose. The Old Testament prophets show us what is important to God. As I read, I find that God is primarily concerned with two things:

  1. That His people trust in Him and not in idols of their own making. This seems reasonable, since He alone is trustworthy. An idol made of stone or gold – or as we often trust in these days, of paper in the form of money and stocks – cannot protect us or provide a sure and trustworthy future. Only God can do that.
  2. That His people care for the “widow and the orphan,” that is, the less fortunate of society who are in need of a helping hand. This seems reasonable, too, since those of us who have been blessed should not find it a burden to bless others in return.

These are simple principles. When asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus echoed these two principles when He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” Matthew 22:37-38 (NIV).

And yet the prophets were hated and ridiculed for telling the Israelites that they would suffer and were suffering exile and death, war and famine, because they failed to follow these two simple principles. Instead of loving and trusting the God who had seen them through so much and protected them, they trusted in idols and the ways of their neighbors. Instead of loving their neighbors and caring for the downtrodden, they cared only for their own gain and gluttony. The Israelites were warned over and over by the prophets. I believe that the message of the prophets – that these two principles are paramount – is just as relevant for our world today as it was for ancient Israel.

The other day I received this wonderful quote in my Quotemeal email from Heartlight.org. I believe it illustrates not only the struggle the Old Testament prophets faced, but also the struggle those who trust in Christ alone for salvation and seek to share His expectation that we love our neighbors with the world face today.

To be forged upon the anvil of God’s purpose, to be at once His hammer, His tongs, and His molten iron; to hear words that rend the heart, see visions that pierce the chest; to be emptied like an urn, again and again and again until one desires only rest, only an end to the refilling — and to know one cannot live without the refilling. To be given words that one dare not speak, and to feel those words churning and boiling in the belly until one must speak them aloud, or die. To be despised, soon or late, by everyone except Adonai — and to desire it so, while hating it. This is to be a prophet.
— Thom Lemmons

I’m not suggesting that I am a prophet, but there have been times in my life when I was compelled to speak, or to write, words I did not wish to say or write. I have had words churn and boil in my mind and in my heart, felt the fear of saying or writing them, but had to push through that fear and let those words fly and land wherever God desires.

Just writing that last paragraph makes it seem all so dramatic, but really it just is. Sometimes I don’t push through the fear and I fail to share the words that are on my heart. Although I have not yet died as a result, a small part of my spiritual growth does whither. Perhaps my faith would be stronger and more souls would have been saved if I had always spoken up.

But, in the end, I know that God loves me and knows I am being sanctified daily, though sometimes more slowly than I would like.

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Prophecy – A Poem

In pondering what to write for my Thankful Thursday poem, I couldn’t think of a synonym for thankful that I wanted to write about (not even using my online Thesaurus). So I decided instead to write about something I am thankful for. The thing that has been on my mind lately (which you might have noticed if you’ve read any recent posts) is prophecy.

There are so many prophecies about Jesus in the Old Testament that I love to read. Although my faith is primarily grounded in my own experience with how Jesus has changed me and changed my life, the analytical part of me that sometimes has doubts needs something more. The fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies by Jesus, often times in ways He could not from a human perspective have controlled, provides the “something more” that answers any doubts. For that, I am eternally thankful.

Prophecy

Prophecy foretold His coming
Righteousness He would bestow
On all who called upon His name and His
Punishment took as their own
Humbly He bowed to the Father’s will
Emmanuel, whose blood was spilled
Could not be held by death, He rose
Yahweh saved, His promise fulfilled

One of my favorite prophecies concerning the crucifixion (besides Isaiah 53) is Psalm 22:

My enemies surround me like a pack of dogs;
      an evil gang closes in on me.
      They have pierced my hands and feet.
I can count all my bones.
      My enemies stare at me and gloat.
They divide my garments among themselves
      and throw dice for my clothing.
Psalm 22:16-18 (NIV).

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Just Following Jesus

I was thinking today that I might stop calling myself a Christian. Now before my Christian friends get all up in arms thinking I’ve lost my senses,  and my non-Christian friends dance a jig thinking I’ve finally come to my senses, let me explain.

Christianity is one of the major religions of the world. According to the Random House Dictionary on Dictionary.com, the word “religion” means:

a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.
 
Based on this definition, I don’t believe creating a new religion was what Jesus came to do. He didn’t actually talk about a new moral code, but rather came to fulfill the moral code that already existed in the Jewish faith. The commandments that He preached about were the sum of the law and the prophets of the Old Testament. He told His disciples, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:12.
 
But Jesus came for something so much bigger and more important than creating a set of ritual observances that one must follow or a moral code of conduct for right living. He came to reconcile Himself with His creation. He came because mankind, on its own, is unable to live by any moral code, except perhaps the most lax or lenient of codes. Jesus came because “God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16.
 
For some time I have argued that Christianity is different from other religions in that it is about what God did to redeem us instead of what man must do to redeem himself. But in practice, Christianity has often become no different from other religions because in many Christian churches the divinity of Christ and mankind’s need of a savior are downplayed or even rejected. This makes me sad because I kind of like the name Christian.
 
What I think I’m going to start calling myself is a disciple of Jesus Christ. There is a great song on Third Day’s new CD called “Trust in Jesus” that sums up how I feel about my faith. These are the lyrics:
 
One of these days we all will stand in judgment for
Every single word that we have spoken
One of these days we all will stand before the Lord
Give a reason for everything we’ve done
And what I’ve done is

Trust in Jesus
My great Deliverer
My strong Defender
The Son of God
I trust in Jesus
Blessed Redeemer
My Lord forever
The Holy One, the Holy One

What are you going to do when your time has come
And your life is done and there’s nothing you can stand on
What will you have to say at the judgment throne
I already know the only thing that I can say I

There’s nothing I can do on my own to find forgiveness
It’s by His grace alone I trust in Jesus
Trust in Jesus

Religion , defined as a moral code, can tell us how we should live, but it can’t tell us how we should die. And you know we all have to die someday, each and every one of us. When that time comes I know that if I come before God and stand upon my own merits, on my own actions in having done the right thing according to the Christian moral code, I will fail. There is no doubt in my mind or my heart that I would be judged guilty of selfishness and pride just for starters. But because I humbly accept Jesus’ atonement for my sins, my judgement will be “innocent” because He was innocent, the perfect Redeemer to pay my debt.

When asked by a rich young man what good deed would earn him eternal life in Matthew 19:16-26, Jesus illustrated that even this good, rich man who had obeyed all the commandments would not have eternal life unless he followed Jesus. His disciples were astounded and asked who could possibly then enter the Kingdom of God. “Jesus looked at them intently and said, ‘Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.’” Matthew 19:26.

I look at the world around me and I see violence, hatred, sadness, brokenness, starvation, poverty, and so much more that religion and moral codes have failed to fix. In spite of Jesus’ message of redemption and grace, people still keep trying to fix everything on their own, to figure out what good deed they must do to earn eternal life and make all things right. If we just have compassion and are accepting and tolerant of all religions we will be enlightened and the world will be a better place. I do agree that compassion and respect for others are wonderful goals of religion, but they are not enough. What we do not need are more of the religions that have failed us thus far.

What each individual needs is a Savior; what mankind needs is a Deliverer; what the world needs is a Redeemer. But there is hope. We have such a Redeemer! Jesus said:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” 

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” 

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” John 14:1-7.

Have you seen Him? He’s waiting for you to come and follow. Will you join me?

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What Purpose Is the Law?

Twenty years ago I was a third-year law student, learning the law and preparing for my new career. Twenty years later I do not practice law, though I do use my law degree in my current employment in legal publishing. For a long time I wondered why I went to law school and what God would have me learn from it. I think that it has given me a better understanding of the purpose of the law — both the Biblical law of Moses and the law that governs society.

Let’s take a look at the law in the United States. There are hundreds of thousands of laws at the city, county, state, and federal levels. Many are criminal laws prohibiting certain behavior. Others are civil laws requiring individuals to engage in certain behavior. Some laws are statutory and are created by legislative bodies, or are rules created by agencies that were created by legislative bodies. Other law is based on past court case decisions. Often laws are passed to prohibit a wrong that has been committed. The sheer number of laws on the books in the United States is mind-boggling. It makes the Biblical law of Moses look like a drop in the bucket.

In spite of all of these laws telling us what we cannot or should not do, or what we must do, the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates “In 2008, over 7.3 million people were on probation, in jail or prison, or on parole at year-end — 3.2% of all U.S. adult residents or 1 in every 31 adults.” In the civil arena, millions of lawsuits are filed against individuals, insurance companies, and corporations every year because of a claim that someone has violated someone else’s rights or injured them in some way. Clearly all the laws aren’t really doing what they were designed to do, which is protect people and give them guidance on how to behave in a civilized society.

We spend so many resources trying to create laws to govern how we should act. We are coming up on an election next week in which we will elect legislators, and in some cases judges, to create more laws, or modify or interpret the ones we have. Billions of dollars have been devoted to campaigning for this election and billions more will be spent to pay these legislators and judges to do their job. Unfortunately, in our “civilized” society such as system seems to have become necessary, though not completely effective.

At the core of all of the laws that are passed or handed down by judges are some basic principles that came from the mouth of a Savior. Jesus said, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:12. Even today, this is the core of the law: to treat others as you would want them to treat you. If only we as humans would do that, we would no longer need the hundreds of thousands of laws telling us how to act. But instead of doing to others as we would have them do to us, we do to others as they HAVE done to us. We want payback and justice.

It seems the human heart, the human will, does not naturally follow the golden rule. We never have. In the beginning, there was only one rule: “Don’t eat the forbidden fruit.” One simple rule designed to protect Adam and Eve from the knowledge of evil, from selfishness and pride that lead to anger and bitterness. When there was that one simple rule, following the golden rule came naturally because they didn’t know anything else. But they broke that one simple rule.

Later God gave ten simple commandments, all designed to protect the Israelites and teach them how to follow the basic golden rule. But they couldn’t seem to obey even those ten simple commandments, and so more detailed rules and regulations were added to clarify and expand on the basics of the ten. Over time, the Pharisees did much the same as we have. They took a simple ten commandments and the other rules and regulations God had given, and they added a whole host of laws to clarify and expand upon them to govern the Jewish people.

Then along comes Jesus to bring us back to the basics, and what is the Greatest Commandment of all:

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question:

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:34-40.

It seems so simple. Love God and love your neighbor (who is, by the way, pretty much everyone, not just the guy who lives in the house next to yours). And yet the human heart so often doesn’t get it. Oh sure, we love those who love us and those we get along with, but what about those people who really tick us off? We don’t really love them. We don’t even know how. That’s why we create all those other laws to try to control our true nature, which is selfish and prideful. But the law will always fail in its efforts to change who we truly are.

But there is still hope.

For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit. Romans 8:3-4.

You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you. Romans 8:9-11.

The Spirit of Christ changes a person when they truly believe in their need for a Savior and the saving Grace of Jesus. It doesn’t happen all at once, but over time the Spirit rearranges the heart and will of God’s children to truly understand what it means to love your neighbor. The Spirit creates a desire to love your neighbor more and more. The law becomes irrelevant to the extent that you want to do better than the law can proscribe, because the law as humans know it and try to create it can never live up to the Godly standard of true and abiding love.

To be governed by the Spirit rather than the law is the last great hope of humanity. All we need to do is believe, trust, and surrender. Then we will truly love.

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