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Thursday, December 17, 2015

A Light to the Gentiles

As most of you know, I've had a health issue this week, so I'm a bit behind.  For that reason, I'd like to share with you an old post from Christmas 2010:
In Luke 2:22-38, we read of Joseph and Mary bringing Jesus to the temple to present Him to the Lord, as the Law required for every firstborn male.  A man named Simeon, who had been promised by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Christ, was moved to go to the temple, as well.  When Simeon saw the baby, “he took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said, ‘Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel’” (Luke 2:28-32).
Prior to this, the birth of Christ appeared to be a gift to the Jews alone.  Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, prophesied in Luke 1:68-79, speaking of salvation “in the house of His servant David,” “to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember His holy covenant.”  Mary, in her song of praise in 1:46-55, sings of God helping “His servant Israel.” When Gabriel is foretelling of the Lord’s birth, he reveals “He will reign over the house of Jacob forever.” 
And yet, Simeon reveals that He will be a light for revelation to the Gentiles, as well.  It is important to note that this was God’s plan all along.  There are some who view the offering of the gospel to the Gentiles as God’s “plan B” – the Jews rejected Christ, so God had to call for the evangelizing of the Gentiles in order to salvage His plan for salvation.  But this text in Luke 2 shows that God intended to save Gentiles long before the Jews rejected Him.
We’ve seen hints of this in our short study in Matthew the last few weeks.  The genealogy of Matt 1 includes both Jews and Gentiles, demonstrating that Christ’s family tree was not strictly Jewish.  Later in the chapter, when it is revealed to Joseph the significance of Mary’s pregnancy, the angel reveals of the baby, “He will save His people from their sins.”  This calls the readers attention back to the genealogy, hinting that this Savior will be a redeemer of all kinds of people. 
Chapter 2 supports this notion.  We saw last Sunday morning that there were three groups confronted with the Christ, all of whom responded to Him in one of two ways, rejection or worship.  Who was it that received the special revelation of the star and understood its significance?  The Gentile wise men.  Who were the only ones to worship the baby King?  The Gentile wise men.
We also find in the epistles evidence that it was always God’s intention to bring salvation to the Gentiles.  In Gal 3:8, Paul writes, And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, "In you shall all the nations be blessed."  In Eph 3, we read about “the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” (vv4-5).  What is this mystery?  “This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (v6).
But was this really God’s plan all along?  Yes.  V11, reads “This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
How then do we explain Jesus’ statement to the Canaanite woman in Matt 15:24, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel"? This is a matter of chronology, not intention.  It was always God’s intention to save “the nations” (Gal 3:8), yet in the accomplishment of His plan, it pleased God to proclaim the gospel to the Jew first, then to the Gentile (Acts 1:8; Rom1:16; 2:9-11). 
We have further evidence that this was God’s eternal plan in that Scripture teaches that God blinded the Jews, that He might bring the gospel to the Gentiles.  Romans 11:7-8: What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, as it is written, "God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day."  V11 adds that “through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles.”  In His providence, God has brought about this chain of events “in order to make known the riches of His glory for vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory – even us whom He has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles.”
This is why it is appropriate for us to consider that the Christ was sent to us, as a matter of God’s eternal elective purpose, rather than as an afterthought.  God is not like a man whose plans don’t always pan out.  Salvation history is not the story of how God’s hopes were riding on the Jews, yet against His intention, they rejected Christ, forcing Him to seek an alternative so that the incarnation would not go to waste.  No, it was all His plan from eternity past, and it has all, is all, and will all come to pass exactly as He desires. 
It is this magnificent tapestry of salvation that moves Paul to exclaim, Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!  For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?  Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Rom 11:33-36)
There is so much meaning, history, prophecy, and providence present in the manger scene.  Just a small Jewish child asleep on the hay – and yet the singular hope for the eternal reconciliation of Jew and Gentile in one body to God. 
I’m looking forward to worshiping Him with you on Christmas Eve.  Oh, come let us adore Him.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

"My prayer life is feeling very dry and lifeless..."

While studying for this Sunday’s message on Phil 1:9-11, I was reminded what a great resource the Bible is when it comes to filling our prayers with Scriptural ideas and words.  Many of us struggle in our prayer life.  The reasons may vary, but some of us find that our prayers sound stale and lifeless, mainly because we say the same things all the time.
Monday: “Lord, please help my wife to manage her busy schedule well.  Please help my kids to come to know you.  Please help us to be faithful with the things you’ve given us.  Please improve my relationship with so-and-so.  Please help me to desire the Bible more…”
Tuesday: “Lord, please help my wife to manage her busy schedule well.  Please help my kids to come to know you.  Please help us to be faithful with the things you’ve given us.  Please improve my relationship with so-and-so.  Please help me to desire the Bible more…”
Wednesday-Sunday: “Lord, please help my wife to manage her busy schedule well.  Please help my kids to come to know you.  Please help us to be faithful with the things you’ve given us.  Please improve my relationship with so-and-so.  Please help me to desire the Bible more…”
It can quickly turn into a mindless recitation of meaningless words.  No wonder we struggle to desire to pray.
One possible solution to this problem of rote prayers is to derive the content of our prayers from the Bible.  The Bible is filled with prayers.  And not just any prayers, but Holy Spirit-inspired prayers.   
Most of the epistles contain some kind of prayer for the recipients.  For example, our passage for this Sunday is Paul’s prayer for the Philippians: And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the praise and glory of God (Phil 1:9-11).
Compare that to the kind of generic thing we pray for our families: “Lord, please help them to grow spiritually.”  The prayer in Phil 1:9-11 is so much richer and more substantive.  It also reminds us even as we pray that the ultimate reason to pray this for someone is so that God will be praised and glorified.  There are similar prayers in Rom 1:8-12, 1 Cor 1:4-9, Eph1:15-23, Eph 3:14-19, Col 1:9-14, and Phm 6.
We can also pray the psalms, which offer material for virtually every circumstance we could face.  What about when we fall into that old familiar sin?  Instead of praying yet again, “Lord, please forgive me and give me the strength to obey,” how much better would Psa 51 be?
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me…Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice….Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me…Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit…
Again, praying a Scripture like this not only provides different words than we normally use, but it reminds us how to think biblically about our sin and circumstances. 
But we don’t have to limit ourselves to only the prayers of the Bible.  We can pray other passages as well.  Men, why not pray for ourselves, “Lord, help me to love my wife as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…help me to love her as my own body, nourishing and cherishing her…”? (Eph 5:25-33).
When preparing to deal with a conflict at home, in church, or at work, we could pray, “Father, please help me to be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger, knowing that the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (Jas 1:19).
What about when we’re struggling with anxiety? “Father, please help me to focus my thoughts on whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, whatever is excellent or worthy of praise…” (Phil 4:8).
Implementing this method can breathe new life into your prayer time, simultaneously turning your mind and heart to the Scriptures.  Give it a try!