News of Great Joy!

white sheep on farm

The birth story of Jesus is absolutely incredible. God chose to announce the birth of His son to a tiny group of shepherds in a field in the middle of the night. It’s very difficult to wrap our heads around just how significant this is. We buy the lie that really big things happen to us when we have enough time, money, or a big enough platform. “If only I had the resources to. . . ” becomes a mantra. Or we make excuses like, “Our church is too small to. . . ” But the reality is that the God of the universe announced His son, the savior of mankind, to a group of sleepy shepherds.

But the message of joy is just as important: “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10, 11 ESV). This theme of joy is found repeated throughout the scriptures. During the time of Ezra and Nehemiah the Israelites heard the Law read and they began to weep. Nehemiah told them not to weep then said, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).

The joy of the Lord is our strength! And the joy that comes because of Jesus’ birth is for all people. This is most definitely something that more people need to celebrate.

Comfort for God’s People

people protesting against war

As we draw closer to Christmas, Christians around the world are celebrating Christ’s birth and are anticipating his return. Last week we talked about the start of Advent, which comes from a Latin word meaning “coming.” We begin Advent by anticipating Christ’s second coming and work our way backwards to his birth (first coming). Peace is the theme for this week, and it’s a timely one as we look at what is happening all over. Many Christians are being persecuted and multiple countries are actively engaged in warfare.

During Isaiah’s time, the Israelites were being pursued by the Assyrians and the North (10 northern tribes) fell in 722 B.C. Through Isaiah, God was warning those in the south that the same thing was going to happen to them if they didn’t repent. But mixed in with stern warnings to repent were messages of hope and peace, of what should be in the future. God didn’t create us to tear each other apart and destroy. He created us to be kind, compassionate, and merciful.

Isaiah 40 is an anticipation of a time when the Messiah would come and restore peace: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins” (Isaiah 40:1, 2 ESV).

Isaiah 40 ends with the infamous passage that he gives power to the faint, and increases the strength of those with no might. . . “but they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint” (vs. 31). This was Jesus’ ministry when he came. He strengthened the weak, healed the injured, and restored peace. Like Israel, we await a time when perfect peace is restored.

We are His Workmanship

smiling woman at the field

There’s something special about crafting something that took a lot of sacrifice. This can be from playing sports, to learning an instrument, to working on a masterpiece. These things take time, energy, and motivation. They don’t just happen. Ever. In fact, it’s an impossibility. When we put blood, sweat, and tears into learning something the payoff is absolutely magnificent!

Paul tells the Ephesians that we are God’s workmanship. Think about that for a moment. God, when we were dead in our own trespasses, made us alive together with Christ! By grace God saved us and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. Paul says that we are saved by grace through faith. . . “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10 ESV).

God takes pride in his children–his workmanship. We are his and he is ours. We belong together and God created us for good works. Our accomplishment in this brings everything back to God. We become one with God and Christ through his Grace. When we realize the value of our worth we are encouraged to work hard for the sake of others.

Jesus’ Mother and Brothers

cute family picture

In the gospel of Matthew Jesus was still talking to the crowd about not blaspheming the Holy Spirit and told the story about a person who had seven evil spirits return when his family appeared. His mother and brothers asked to talk with him. Luke said that they could not get to him because of the crowd.

But he replied to the man, “Who is my other, and who are my brothers?” (Matthew 12:48 ESV). He then pointed to his disciples and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (vs 49, 50). Matthew, Mark, and Luke all have one thing in common with this story: this story is sandwiched between Jesus’ speeches about not hiding/squandering their faith.

Those stories include the parable of the sower, the parable of the weeds, the parable of the hidden treasure, the lamp under the stand, and so on. Jesus’ point that those who do the will of God are his family members was reinforced and even magnified by all the parables the precede and follow. It’s clear that Jesus puts the most emphasis on being doers of God’s word. He also makes a strong contrast between those who get “chocked out” of their faith by the worries of this world and those who set their roots down deep and grow. Being doers of God’s will requires tremendous discipline.

Return of the Unclean Spirit

close up photography of beige concrete decor

In Matthew, Jesus gave a strange account of a person who has an “unclean spirit” who leaves him. Jesus said, “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none” (Matthew 12:43-42 ESV). This is interesting, because it is in contrast to the story of the demons who entered the pigs and went into the water. Water, or the deep, is where demons were thought to live. What’s different here is the the demon passes through waterless places seeking rest.

The restless demon says that it will enter back into the “house” from which it came. But it finds it swept clean and put in order. So the demon goes out and “brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first” (vs. 45). Jesus said that’s what it will be like with this evil generation.

There are lots of points that can be made. First, people should never let their guard down. Just because we are living in a season of peace doesn’t mean the devil isn’t prepared to attack. Second, We shouldn’t be assuming. Evil people clean on the surface and assume they are cool with God. Clearly they are caught off-guard when evil comes back. Finally, it can probably be argued that evil people create an inviting environment for evil spirits. It’s not insignificant that these evil spirits chose a person as their home rather than the “deep” of the sea, where they belong.

In my opinion, Jesus is giving a stern warning that evil shouldn’t be tolerated. He previously said that a tree is known by its fruit. Jesus said, “for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (vs. 34). We’ve got to do good and be on the lookout for evil.

A Kingdom Divided Cannot Stand

group of people standing on top of building during sunset

After Jesus cast the demon out of the man that made him mute, Jesus was accused of casting the demon out by the name of Beelzebul, the prince of demons. Jesus knew their thoughts and said, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand?” (Matthew 12:25, 26 ESV).

Jesus then asked them by whom their sons cast demons out. If Jesus was doing it by the name of Beelzebul, then so were the Pharisees. Jesus went on to explain that all blasphemies are forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or the one to come. Most people focus on this part of Jesus’ speech and rightfully so. If there is an unforgivable sin, we want to know for sure that we are able to avoid it at all costs.

But just as important is Jesus’ point that a kingdom cannot be divided and stand. There is no room for people to be divided as a family, as a nation, or as a church. At a time when our nation is so divided, it’s especially important for Christians to stand united and show the world that Jesus is king! There’s no need or reason for division. We all share the same Savior. God’s church is a people of beauty. When people see unity, healing takes place!

Nobody Will Hear Jesus’ Voice

woman placing her finger between her lips

There is something unnerving about being mute. If you’ve ever witnessed someone who is nonverbal, especially someone who once was able to speak, you know that it is very distressing. To not be able to communicate with precise words is frightening. Daniel experienced a time when he was mute. After hearing about Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, Daniel was worried and became mute. When he had another vision of his own, Daniel recounted, “When he had spoken to me according to these words, I turned my face toward the ground and was mute” (Daniel 10:15). It wasn’t until someone in the likeness of a child touched his lips that Daniel could speak again.

In Mark 9 a demon had come over a little boy and had made him mute. The boy’s dad said, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute” (Mark 9:17). The demon was violent and would often throw the boy down and would throw him into both fire and water. When Jesus cast the demon out, it convulsed the boy so violently that people thought the boy was dead. In Matthew 9 Jesus healed a man with a demon that made him mute. When the demon was cast out, “the mute man spoke. And the crowds marveled, saying, ‘Never was anything like this seen in Israel'” (Matthew 9:33).

Given the “oppression” of being kept from speaking that’s mentioned in the Bible, it may be surprising that Isaiah prophesied that the messiah would be oppressed and silenced. In fact, Jesus ordered his followers not to talk at all about him. This was to fulfil what Isaiah said: “He will not quarrel or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets” (Matthew 12:19). Jesus actually spent a huge portion of his life being mute. This demonstrates that the signs were very important. Jesus did not have a huge platform. There was no social media and often he was made mute. Yet God’s kingdom advanced like never before. We don’t always need a big platform to bless other people. We need to remember that God is the one working through us!