Devotional 123: That Deceiver

Matthew 27:62-65

Pilate Sets a Guard

62 On the next day, which followed the Day of Preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees gathered together to Pilate, 63 saying, “Sir, we remember, while He was still alive, how that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise.’ 64 Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day, lest His disciples come by night and steal Him away, and say to the people, ‘He has risen from the dead.’ So the last deception will be worse than the first.”

65 Pilate said to them, “You have a guard; go your way, make it as secure as you know how.”

It’s interesting to note that even after they’d gotten what they wanted, there was still enough fear in them to warrant asking for an extra seal around a tomb.

They thought He was lying, but even if the Apostles had taken the body, He would not have been seen again by anyone, and they would have been spreading a falsehood. Remember that after His crucifixion, there were graves opened, but none of the occupants came out until He was the first.

Matthew 27:51-53

51 Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, 52 and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; 53 and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many.

Jesus had told the Sadducees, when they questioned Him regarding resurrection, which they did not believe in:

Matthew 22:25-35

25 Now there were with us seven brothers. The first died after he had married, and having no offspring, left his wife to his brother. 26 Likewise the second also, and the third, even to the seventh. 27 Last of all the woman died also. 28 Therefore, in the resurrection, whose wife of the seven will she be? For they all had her.”

29 Jesus answered and said to them, “You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God. 30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels of God in heaven. 31 But concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God, saying, 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” 33 And when the multitudes heard this, they were astonished at His teaching.

They had  all seen the signs and wonders, and lost the political and financial reign of terror they’d exercised over the people, establishing an uneasy peace with the Roman government when Jesus came into Jerusalem:

 (John 14-19)

14 Then Jesus, when He had found a young donkey, sat on it; as it is written:

15 “Fear not, daughter of Zion;
Behold, your King is coming,
Sitting on a donkey’s colt.”

16 His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written about Him and that they had done these things to Him.

17 Therefore the people, who were with Him when He called Lazarus out of his tomb and raised him from the dead, bore witness. 18 For this reason the people also met Him, because they heard that He had done this sign. 19 The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, “You see that you are accomplishing nothing. Look, the world has gone after Him!

Subjected to stinging rebukes by this young upstart, in their fever to regain control, there was some fear yet in their hearts even after His death. The Apostles, being unlearned men, probably would not have been clever enough to carry out such a scheme, since they could barely understand what Jesus was saying without elaboration or being afraid.

He’d rebuked them too, for their lack of faith, when He appeared to them afterward.

Mark 16:14

The Great Commission

14 Later He appeared to the eleven as they sat at the table; and He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen.

We have so many questions, that we like to think if we’d walked with Jesus Himself, there would be no doubt. Let us remember that in the words of the parable of the wheat and tares: “An enemy has done this.”

And while it is the Father’s will that none perish, and He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, He did not spare His Son the pain of our deserved punishment, nor will He share His glory, nor will victory be to His enemies.

He has also said He’s put blessings before us as well, and we are to choose whom we serve. Joshua gave an emphatic answer, and we are warned that we will not be allowed to walk in two worlds, lest our praise be like lukewarm water to Christ, to whom all authority has been given, because He finished the work of His Father’s command.

It is the pride of mankind that exalts itself above the will of G-d, placing its hopes on the created, glorifying ever shifting ‘scientific’ discoveries that can’t begin to fathom or know the mind of an infinite G-d, even as we are in the process of upsetting the balance of the very systems designed to keep us alive as we exploit, enslave, and engage in all manner of vice, because our hearts are not set on Him.

Ecclesiastes 8:9-11

All this I have seen, and applied my heart to every work that is done under the sun: There is a time in which one man rules over another to his own hurt.

Death Comes to All

10 Then I saw the wicked buried, who had come and gone from the place of holiness, and they were forgotten in the city where they had so done. This also is vanity. 11 Because the sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.

In their zeal to prove Him false, the Pharisees and Romans proved Him all the more true, and ran with the story they’d invented in the first place to discredit Him.  It’s like when Jesus told the people He’d healed not to make Him known, and they witnessed for Him and proclaimed Him anyway, and to a greater degree. His goodness is not to be contained within us, but we are prone to pride and sin.

In the midst of all this clamoring, what needs to be restored in our own lives, that will help us to endure to the end, that we might be saved, and that the Father’s wrath will not abide on us, and that we not die in our sins?

As we come to the season of renewal, resurrection, and the casting off of dead things from our past that yet hold us by the ankles, remember, it was the ‘deceiving’ Jesus, the one who obeyed His Father even unto death on a cross, fully understanding and embracing the nature of his ministry, says to us:

I tell you the truth…

Therefore I pray:

King Jesus,

In these times, we hold fast to Your words, and have seen the Father’s power at work in our own lives, and in the lives of our loved ones. Having done all we can, we stand today united in faith, in love for one another, carrying on the work as the path narrows, the world mocks and scorns, and punishes us. 

That we shall suffer with You that we might inherit with You, this too,You have said to us. As You are the final Prophet of the Living G-d, we see Your words unfolding, for there is no falsehood in You.

You have said to us You will reward the believers who endure to the end, should their works stand the test of the fire to come, and that we will answer for our words and deeds, for there is nothing that is unknown to You.

Help us, in these times of blindness and darkness, confusion and legalism, entertainment and glorifying of false shepherds who compromise Your Word to fill their coffers, to hear and know Your voice, that we not fall away into this fiery furnace of sin and lose You, for while none can snatch us from Your hand, You will open it to let us out should we desire to die, unbelieving in the wrath to come.

My Lord, let Your living water sustain us in moments of doubt, bless us with undeserved grace, give to us unmerited mercy, and let the Holy Spirit be patient with us, continuing to work the hard soil of our hearts and minds, and place the gentle yoke of obedience on us, when we once again turn back to You.

Indeed, the world has gone over to You, for You have overcome it.

Let it be done to us as You have said. We ask, in faith believing.

Amen.

Devotional 121: Not Far from the Kingdom of G-d

Mark 12:28-34

The Scribes: Which Is the First Commandment of All?

28 Then one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, perceiving that He had answered them well, asked Him, “Which is the first commandment of all?”

29 Jesus answered him, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. 31 And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

32 So the scribe said to Him, “Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth, for there is one God, and there is no other but He. 33 And to love Him with all the heart, with all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

34 Now when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

But after that no one dared question Him.

One of the scribes was beginning to think for himself, as Nicodemus, a Pharisee, did when he came at night to speak to Jesus.

The scribe’s answer lines up with what the Father had to say about Israel placing too much value on ritual rather than obedience.

1 Samuel 15:22

22 So Samuel said:

“Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
As in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
And to heed than the fat of rams.

There are days, brothers and sisters, where we go through the motions; our lips, and not our hearts, ‘honor’ Him. He does not inhabit that praise, because it isn’t really praise.

There are earthly experiences that bring us to the precipice of turning away, of cooling our love, silencing the call, and extinguishing the divine gifts.

What then, when taking up your cross, counting the cost, and following a Savior whose face is set like flint toward the glory of G-d seems almost foolish, if not worthless.

Yet Jesus tells us this for our excuses: (Luke 9:61-62)

61 And another also said, “Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house.”

62 But Jesus said to him, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”

The fate of Lot’s wife dramatically illustrates this for us.

If we are not far from the Kingdom, and if we endure to the end we are saved, and if He is in the midst of our prayers for doing or seeking the Father’s will, and He goes to prepare a place for us, and we are sealed to salvation by the presence of the Holy Spirit, believing He will raise us with a great shout on the last day, we can believe Him when He says “Assuredly, I say to you…”

It is indeed a blessed assurance, a resting comfort, and a heavenly peace.

We are to abide in faith in a world of prophesied turmoil and evil, for it belongs to the prince of this world.

It is the reason a new earth will be created for us to dwell eternally in the Father’s light, spotless and blameless, in a world free from sin and evil. It is something to be feared and desired that we are counted worthy, not because we deserve it, but because He has grafted in those who are not His people through grace, and grace alone.

Though the Father’s wrath abides on the faithless and lawless, His love and mercy daily, and eternally, surround those of us who have placed and confessed our faith in the atoning work of His Son, our Lord and Savior.

And Jesus, given all authority to judge, forgive, and draw us into His Father’s presence, tells us that in doing the Father’s will, and keeping His commandments, we are not so very far from His Kingdom at all.

Therefore I pray:

Father in Heaven,

I am a base and unprofitable servant. 

There are days my corruption, laziness, and sinful rebellion are paraded before Your holy eyes in defiance of Your rules for me to live a long, fruitful life, finishing the work You gave me to do.

There are days when I would be content to have the rocks sing my praise to You, even though it would grieve You.

There are days I set down my cross and indulge my flesh, telling myself I’ve done nothing wrong.

But neither have I drawn closer to You, even though I desire to return.

The Good Shepherd walks the path before me. In Him, You are pleased, and implore me to listen to Him. It is up to me to listen and to know His voice, which ministers Your purpose. I thank Him for coming to find me when I go astray. I thank Him for restoring me to the fold, under Your protection, and not leaving me to the outer darkness. 

Thank You for sending Him to overcome Death and Hell for my soul’s sake; unworthy though it may be, You would not see it burned as chaff in the unquenchable fire set for those who hate You.

I’m humbled that my King thinks so highly of this unfruitful, unprofitable servant, who struggles to do even that which he is supposed to do. Though I have less time to walk in the Narrow Way, I thank You for the rewards to come, if there are any. If not, the Kingdom in and of itself is more than I deserve, however humble my place in it.

Such is Your love, Almighty G-d, that You would send Jesus to draw me near once more, and be with You, praising You and giving You all glory and honor, forever and forever.

May it be done to me as You have said.

Amen.

Devotional 102: In That Day…

Luke 17:26-31

26 And as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man: 27 They ate, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. 28 Likewise as it was also in the days of Lot: They ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built; 29 but on the day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. 30 Even so will it be in the day when the Son of Man is revealed.

31 “In that day, he who is on the housetop, and his goods are in the house, let him not come down to take them away. And likewise the one who is in the field, let him not turn back.

    The final day and hour unknown by all, even Jesus.
(Mark 13:32) 32 “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
    What we do see is the acceleration of the world’s technology, and the continued use of the word ‘unprecedented’ as it pertains to natural events, the ‘chipping’ of employees by their companies, the continued exploitation of people for cheap labor, and the siphoning of wealth and natural resources to those who can afford to pay.
    What we do see are homeless cities in the shadows of luxury buildings that may or may not be filled.
    What we do see is the decline of education, the return and rise of prison slave labor, and  detached and unresponsive, self-serving governments.
    What we do see is a press dedicated to fear-mongering, and creating a sense of ‘other.’
    And it is all of G-d, who has not abandoned His throne, and even now does not share His glory, and even now, is in control.
    We keep thinking there’s going to be a sign, or a warning, where if we got it wrong or walked away, somehow we’d be able to get back. Jesus warns us of being lukewarm, doubtful, and unfruitful. We don’t get those days back, and that’s why He tells us to count the cost before we commit.
    His plan is one of salvation of our corrupted souls, not our earthly flesh. His plan is one of forgiveness and the purging of sin through the blood of Christ, not to wink at it and let it slide because it’s legal under man’s law, and popular in public opinion. His plan is to create a new Heaven and a new earth, not leave us on a planet made dead through the works of His enemy. His plan is destroy evil forever, and let us be under the rule of He who is without sin, our Good Shepherd, Friend, Brother, Judge, King, and Savior, who will come again as Lion, not Lamb.
    But the signs are already here, it’s just that no one believes them to be related to the Word of the Lord. We are witnessing, as signs, only the inexorable, incremental fulfilling of Christ’s prophecies.
    It will be an unprecedented ordinary day, in the context of whatever ‘ordinary’ looks like at that point.
    In the meantime, we move slowly forward, like a celestial iceberg, toward the day of our titanic reckoning. (Matthew 24:3-14)

The Signs of the Times and the End of the Age

Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?”

And Jesus answered and said to them: “Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows.

“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake. 10 And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. 11 Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. 12 And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But he who endures to the end shall be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.

The Great Tribulation

14 “So when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought notthen let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.15 Let him who is on the housetop not go down into the house, nor enter to take anything out of his house.16 And let him who is in the field not go back to get his clothes.17 But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days!18 And pray that your flight may not be in winter.19 For in those days there will be tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the creation which God created until this time, nor ever shall be.20 And unless the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake, whom He chose, He shortened the days.

21 “Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or, ‘Look, He is there!’ do not believe it.22 For false christs and false prophets will rise and show signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.23 But take heed; see, I have told you all things beforehand.

Everyday events will be ongoing, and then eternity will impose itself on time, and the law, judgment, and will of G-d will supersede the fragile and compromised dominion of men.

In the meantime, the suffering of those of us who will not renounce His Name in order to continue to exist will also increase. We must hold fast to the fact that this is not our permanent home, and the rubber of our faith will meet the road of reality when the pain of their torture hits, and we are confronted with our own mortality, and He does not deliver us in spectacular fashion, as with the Hebrew children, but we become one of the ‘others’ delivered up, and cut in two.

We have, to our peril and on a global scale, disregarded the words of the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Galatians:

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. 10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.

And if our righteousness on our best day is as filthy rags before the Father, how much more then should we heed Christ, and prepare the way of the Lord?

Therefore I pray: 

Lord Jesus,

As we strive in a fallen world to hold fast to its polar opposite, and do the Father’s will, that we may be reconciled to Him in word and deed, and live with You in eternity, give us a bold spirit to endure to the end that we might be saved.

We ask this so that we might not hold onto the Truth as a selfish thing, for You tell us none can come to You unless the Father grants it. We ask that You put the seeds in us to plant, and call us to where they’re needed, which You have said is not already among the righteous.

A lot of churches have become culture clubs that don’t serve their communities, that do outreach like Pharisees, seeking their rewards among men, patting sinners on the head, and saying ‘Keep warm and well fed,’ while providing no coat or food. The minds of their shepherds are on earthly pleasures even as they preach. They seek power they can’t keep in a world where they can’t stay, and don’t honor You with their hearts.

The tares are planted, and the wolf and serpent stalk and slither among the flock, seeing to their own profit and posterity like Simon the Sorcerer, who sought Holy Spirit’s power as a magic act. They have forgotten Your words: ‘They have their reward.’

Yet we are tried, mocked, tempted, grow weary, and even now as the prophecies of unfold, we are doubtful if any of this will come to anything resembling what You’ve told us.

In those times, remind us to seek You, that we might be comforted, given rest, and imbued once more with power from on high; let us seek times of refreshing, and let our peace return to us.

Bring to mind the Psalms and Proverbs of Your two greatest kings, for one teaches us how to do business with G-d, and the other, with man.

I would endure to the end, Lord, that me and my house, and the ones that You’ve given me as I sow will be saved.  I ask that You grant this also to my Brothers and Sisters around the world, that it will be as You have said:

Mark 13:27

27 And then He will send His angels, and gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest part of earth to the farthest part of heaven.

and (Matthew 24):

42 Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming.43 But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into.44 Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.

In that day, we will ask You no more questions, there will only be unspeakable joy, and the memory of this fallen world will be washed away forever.

May it be done to us as You have said.

Amen.

 

Devotional 94: He Marveled

 

Mark 6:4-6

But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own country, among his own relatives, and in his own house.” Now He could do no mighty work there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them. And He marveled because of their unbelief. Then He went about the villages in a circuit, teaching.

To marvel implies a much greater sense than to be ‘surprised.’ Here’s a working definition:  to be filled with wonder or astonishment.  

It is both a verb and a noun, yet when we see it applied to Jesus in the form of a verb, we know then that He was truly in one of two places: one where faith was strong, or one where it was not.

How could the Messiah, who came from the Father to deliver us from evil, be made to marvel at our faithlessness? If He in fact knew what was in a man, and never wavered from His mission, and seen the heart of the people toward Him, why would He be surprised?

Verse 4 tells us He already knew that, but Verse 6 seems like He didn’t.

I suggest it was quiet, more like a silent grief. Who wouldn’t choose salvation of their soul, redemption from the grave, and eternal life? Who would choose separation from an omnipotent and loving Creator? Having lost our earthly fathers, who would choose to not be with their Heavenly Father?

Here was the Promised, at the height of His ministry, in the midst of His own, doing signs and wonders and miracles, turning sinners to G-d and reaching the lost, willing to give of Himself to the point of death to atone for sins He never committed, and yet…

“He marveled at their unbelief.”

We live in a world of beauty. Who would willingly leave Eden? The vistas of our planet, the power of its nature, the temperateness and variety of its climes, and the comforts of life blind us to the Truth that there is something better.

We also live in a world of evil: we use words like ‘exclusive’, and ‘illegal.’ We worship mammon, forgetting the treasure is the King’s. (Haggai 2:8), we enslave and slaughter, and give over to the lusts of our flesh, and that which G-d has allowed us to have dominion over, we have used to replace Him. Science is used as an argument against an infinitely creative G-d, though we have not fathomed the depths of His universe. Even Neil deGrasse Tyson, who is an atheist, titled his series: The Inexplicable Universe. He mocks G-d and Christians, yet the title speaks for itself. (As Pilate said, ‘What I have written, I have written,” not knowing the truth of it).

The unbelieving claim a morality with no compass; it is as selective and subject to imperfection as sectarian faith, and in fact, leads to a belief that one’s own goodness is sufficient, so there is no need to refocus, repent, or return to anything other than their own center. The appeal is in the ritual, the mantra, the chanting, the incense, the doing of things.

Grace requires nothing, and is undeserved, and claims a true and lasting forgiveness that allows us to stand blameless before the Father on the day of judgment.

Who wouldn’t choose that?

And then we have the story of the centurion:

Then Jesus went with them. And when He was already not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to Him, saying to Him, “Lord, do not trouble Yourself, for I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof. Therefore I did not even think myself worthy to come to You. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man placed under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.

When Jesus heard these things, He marveled at him, and turned around and said to the crowd that followed Him, “I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!” 10 And those who were sent, returning to the house, found the servant well who had been sick.

A pagan’s humility and faith in the Son of G-d made Jesus marvel. He found Himself in a place where faith was strong.

Do we really want the Son of G-d to come to us, cleanse us, reveal our hearts, renew our minds, and put right spirits within us?

Then let us humble ourselves, and believe, and give the Prophet honor among us.

Therefore I pray:

Lord Jesus,

In the times we forget Your promises, let us remember that judgment starts with the children of G-d, and that many who say to You ‘Lord, lord,’ will be denied, and that some who have never uttered Your name will be grafted in, because they have proven to be worthy workers by doing the Father’s will. 

It is those, You tell us, who are Your brothers and sisters (Matthew 12:50)

Your power and love were such that it touched the heart of pagans, and cleaved the heart of Pharisees.

We are but sheep, and sheep are easy to pick off, easy to deceive, easy to kill, and we have an enemy in the fold.

But You are the Good Shepherd, and assure us no one can snatch us from Your hand.

I ask also, Lord, that You keep us from leaping out of Your grasp.

Forgive me for the times when the faith of pagans outstripped my own, where the praises of rocks replaced my own, and I have placed an idol on the altar where the Father’s Word should be.

Let us remember that prophets don’t speak of time, but events, and the events we see now are the events You foretold, and You tell us Your word is truth (John 17:17).

We would be sanctified by it, and live in the year of the Lord’s favor, saved by faith in You from the day of the Lord’s wrath. 

In the days ahead, Lord Jesus, I would have You marvel at my turnaround, and rejoice in my repentance. Anoint me once more, and sing over me, and purify me, that I may be redeemed from the power of the  grave, and live eternally with You.

Only say the word, Lord, and I shall be healed.

I would be a sign, a wonder, and a testimony to the Father’s will, that all who see my light through You will marvel at it, and turn to G-d, giving Him the glory.

Let it be done to us as You have said.

Amen.

Devotional 82: A Chosen Vessel

 

Acts 9:11-15

11 So the Lord said to him, “Arise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus, for behold, he is praying. 12 And in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hand on him, so that he might receive his sight.”

13 Then Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem. 14 And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.”

15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel.”

The art of selection, depending on what you’re looking for, and why, is largely a matter of outward appearance: quality, sturdiness, appearance (decor, if you prefer),  your perception of whether or not the item you’ve chosen meets the criteria to do the job you require.

The Father doesn’t work with appearances that way, and he surely didn’t work that way in the life of the most ardent, unlikely disciple: Saul of Tarsus, arguably the most legalistic and zealous Pharisee of his day, to the point where he had a fearsome reputation among those who followed Christ as a cruel man who embarrassed believers by leading them off in chains.

If nothing else, the Word is full of the unlikely, the lowly, and the outcast standing before the mighty, the powerful, the rulers, and proclaiming the even more fearsome Word of the Lord.  It was to their own peril, and the peril of those around them, if they focused on the outward appearance of the man instead of the selection of the G-d who sees, and tests, our hearts.

This goes back as far as Joseph, the runt of the litter, but the favored of his father.

This goes back as far as Samuel, who immediately went for the tallest and strongest among those who would be king over Israel, until the Lord checked him, and led him to inquire about David, the shepherd, regarded as the least likely of Jesse’s sons to do anything great, much less rule.

It goes all the way through to Amos, a tree gardener, with no credentials in the clergy at all, a man on the periphery of an already obscure service.

It’s in the humble birth of Jesus, born to poor parents in a humble setting, for an event as simple as gathering for a census count.

It happens again when the thief on the cross, after a life given over to sin, receives salvation in the last hours of his life, through a simple statement of faith.

But not so for Paul; his educational credentials were unimpeachable, and he admonished men to show themselves approved of their callings (2nd Timothy 2:15)

The spectrum continues on in us, called of Christ, confirmed by the Spirit, chosen by the Father to do the mission work of the Kingdom in pointing lost souls to the Way.

We fail along the Way ourselves, but we are chosen vessels all the same. The Lord repairs us with times of refreshing, and only bids that we open our mouths, and through faith let Him speak to the needs of those who are standing before us, before Him, in the hope that they have ears to hear.

We are sowers, church builders, teachers, living sacrifices, living stones, priests, kings, gods (John 10:34) prophets, healers, and artists and craftsman of every stripe.

And so it was with Paul: the same zeal he had to persecute the Church was the very same zeal he used to defend it, to the point where it says he ‘confounded’ the Jews by proving Christ was written of in what we now call the Old Testament.

Jesus told them: “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about Me.” (John 5:46)

Out the billions born since then, we too are chosen vessels, made to His purposes, filled with His will, for the Gospel of Christ and the salvation of all nations, and to the Father’s glory.  Such zeal as we have, and such persecutions as we suffer for our faith, let us not waver, even unto death.

He chose us before the foundation of the world, and ordained us to his purpose, giving us the gifts to fulfill them, shaping us that we may withstand the tests and trials to come, and tells us: “Be of good cheer,” and “Do not be afraid.”

He knows, and He will bring the work to completion.

Therefore I pray:

Lord Jesus, 

You say no ones come to You unless the Father draws them, and the Spirit will come to reveal the Truth of the Word to those whom the Father chooses. 

You tell us no one can snatch us from Your hand, but You never said we could not wriggle out.  I fear sometimes that I may fall of my dark volition, my unrepentant desire to walk in two worlds, when You tell me I too, at the peril of my eternal soul, must choose You over all. (Luke 9:24-25)

Yet Your disciple, Paul, tells us that Your message is foolishness to those who are perishing. (1 Corinthians, 1:18)  You tell us that persecution and the delivering up to faithless authorities is our earthly reward, but that to lose our lives is to gain the kingdom. 

Paul tell us also, “For me, to live is Christ, to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)

We ask, in these times, that You gird us, and help our unbelief. Give us new hearts, and a spirit of boldness. Give us a mustard seed of faith to speak to our mountains, and let us abide in You, that our fruit may be good as well as abundant. 

Let us rejoice in the trials that beset us, and keep our eyes focused on You, with the Word of G-d as a lamp, held higher than His Name to light our paths that lead to the Narrow Road, through the torn veil, to Your throne at G-d’s right hand, and to the Kingdom of Heaven in His presence forever.

Let the dark glass of the world be cleansed, that we may finally see, and understand, as You wipe the tears from our eyes, and bid us enter into Your rest, having fulfilled our purposes as Your vessels.

We would hear, “Well done.”

May it be to us as You have said.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

Devotional 80: They All Said Likewise

Mark 14:27-31

Jesus Predicts Peter’s Denial

27 Then Jesus said to them, “All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written:

‘I will strike the Shepherd,
And the sheep will be scattered.’

28 “But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee.”

29 Peter said to Him, “Even if all are made to stumble, yet I will not be.

30 Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you that today, even this night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times.”

31 But he spoke more vehemently, “If I have to die with You, I will not deny You!”

And they all said likewise.

It is in the struggle of the day to day that as we strive to be more like Christ, we reveal ourselves to be more like Peter when Jesus was captured. We are sincere in our hearts and minds, but what doesn’t bear us out are the actions.

The Parable of the Sower is quoted so often because it is so true, and speaks to not only the heart, but our spirit nature as well. Because it dwells within a mortal frame, and the mortal frame seeks its own comfort, we find that we, like the Apostle Paul, do that which we don’t want to do.

There are books aplenty on how to focus during prayer, how to pray more powerfully, more earnestly. There are books on fasting, and connecting with our spirit. There are books and cds and podcasts all dealing with the issue of being more devout because as we go about our earthly existence, we are not, in most cases, working out our salvation and heeding the Holy Spirit’s call to our own spirit.

It’s about achieving levels of consistency that keep us in Jesus’ presence, and yet, we have this story: a simple fisherman, selected by Christ Himself, as passionate and mercurial a man as could be found, a man whose fate was so fearful to Satan that he asked Jesus to sift Him, made a vow he believed to be true, and wasn’t worth the air it took to breathe it.

Luke 22:  31 And the Lord said, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.”

Peter then proceeds to fall asleep in Gethsemane’s courtyard, and in waking, cuts off a soldier’s ear. And we all know as the night proceeds, Jesus’ prophecy comes true, causing Peter to weep.

And as Jesus is arrested, we are told these devout disciples, whose passionate claims of loyalty were still in their hearts, broke apart like hammered stones.

Mark 14:50 Then they all forsook Him and fled.

Jesus knew, for we are told He knows what’s in the hearts of men; He tells us that out of the heart, the mouth speaks.

But He also knows that if we stray, if we have a mustard seed of faith, that we will return. And when we do, we must strengthen our brethren.

Are we hiding in the crowd today? Are the soldiers watching, waiting for those who’d point the way to you and say, “There they are.”?  Are we vehemently denying to the prince of this world’s servants, with a curse, that we don’t know the Man?

Are our hearts bitterly weeping when we come back to ourselves when we’re alone?

No, believer, not for us the Field of Blood, but Calvary, always. Jesus has prayed for us, and tells us that all who the Father gives Him will not be taken away. He tells us He does not in any way cast out those who seek Him. The Father tells us that if we return to Him, He will return to us, in His longsuffering and desire to forgive and restore us.

There is yet time, and there is yet grace.

Jesus will get us alone and ask: “Do you love me more than these?”

He asked Peter three times, to remove each denial, until Peter was cut to the heart and grieved that the Lord would question him, though I believe in his spirit he knew what was taking place.

It is a wonderful thing to see that after the Ascension, we read these words:

Acts 2:14

Peter’s Sermon

14 But Peter, standing up with the eleven, raised his voice and said to them, “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and heed my words.

Be encouraged then, brothers and sisters, in the covenant of His mercy and grace; He’s prayed for us, and waits for our return. He restores us in body and soul, and we are once again in the fold of our Good Shepherd.

Therefore I pray:

Lord Jesus,

You tell us that if we deny You before men, You deny us to the Father.

Yet we know that You sighed in Your spirit, You marveled at the centurion’s faith, You wept for Lazarus, You drove out the money lenders, and rebuked the very ones You called for their hardness of heart when they were told You had risen.

You asked for another way to avoid the pain of the Cross, seeing the agony ahead, and as the Apostle Paul tells us, despising the shame. 

What we do not read is that You were afraid, and did not deny the Father, though Satan himself tempted You in a moment where the angels had to minister to You.

Let us remember that when our faith appears dead, and our hearts fearful, and our spirits silent, You speak to us as to the man whose daughter died, and they told him not to trouble You.:

Mark 5:36 As soon as Jesus heard the word that was spoken, He said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not be afraid; only believe.”

Today, we gather together to sing Your praises, to thank You for your sacrifice in reconciling us, in calling us, revealing the will of the Father for us through the power of the Holy Spirit, who guides us into all truth, and convicts us of sin.

Today, we return to You, and ask that you strengthen us for the days ahead.

Gird us up as we stand with other believers, and amid the enemy’s servants, to say in word and deed: “Heed my words.”

May it be to us as You have said.

Amen.

Devotional 78: A Family Comes to Faith

Mark 3:20-21

A House Divided Cannot Stand

20 Then the multitude came together again, so that they could not so much as eat bread. 21 But when His own people heard about this, they went out to lay hold of Him, for they said, “He is out of His mind.”

Mark 3:31-35

Jesus’ Mother and Brothers Send for Him

31 Then His brothers and His mother came, and standing outside they sent to Him, calling Him. 32 And a multitude was sitting around Him; and they said to Him, “Look, Your mother and Your brothers[a] are outside seeking You.”

Acts 1:12-14

The Upper Room Prayer Meeting

12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey. 13 And when they had entered, they went up into the upper room where they were staying: Peter, James, John, and Andrew; Philip and Thomas; Bartholomew and Matthew; James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot; and Judas the son of James. 14 These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.

What we essentially have in these three passages is a crisis of faith that was resolved after Christ was crucified.

We have scattered disciples, a fearful church, and the emotional letdown of Jesus not delivering the Jews from the Romans, because despite everything else He said and did, they still thought that was included. He told them to have hope, but it wasn’t in that; human nature being what it is, they hoped anyway.

With His absence came uncertainty, for until Peter took charge after being restored, no one was really leading, though they were in corporate prayer.  And now, with all  of those who followed in Jesus’ footsteps, were His family, right alongside, also in prayer.

Things had changed. Dynamics had shifted, and the things Mary once pondered in her heart now became clear. The questions the disciples had been afraid to ask Him about, content to be in His presence and not wanting Him to leave

We have our own crises when we’re disconnected from Jesus, when He’s gone from us because we’ve moved. We too feel uncertain, like a kid told to sit there on the bench at the train station while his dad goes to get them something to eat.

This is the reason the book of Acts reinforces the idea of fellowship with other believers, and in seeing our faith on display, people respond when they see someone who strongly believes in something be consistent with it. Even if they hate it, as the Apostle Paul once did, they pay attention to it. This is true even in the Old Testament, where time and again because they saw faith in action, enemies came against Nehemiah’s leadership.

It’s important to note that while the multitude may have followed Jesus for their own reasons, and dispersed when they’d received what they wanted, there were likely some that came to real faith, since the miracle couldn’t be denied.

And so it was with Mary and Jesus’ brothers. All that He spoke came to pass, and they couldn’t deny His divinity any more.

With that, when Peter took his mantle the persecution began, and from the unity of the gathering in the Upper Room, the church was scattered throughout the world.

Stay encouraged by the words of the writer of Hebrews:  (v.23-25)

23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.

Therefore I pray:

Lord Jesus,

We thank You that we get the chance to assemble freely and praise Your Name.

As the persecution mounts through our government from the top, and the faithless from every side, let us remember that we live in the times You prophesied, and that we must endure to the end.

While we may, let us read and study to show ourselves approved, so that we may recognize the false teaching and compromise that creeps into the pulpits and leads astray as they break Your commandment not to add or subtract from the Word of G-d as they twist it to profit, and to their own glory, serving self and mammon instead of You.

We too, because of our faith in You, are told we are out of our minds; but as we live our lives devoted to You, as beacons on hillsides, as salt, living sacrifices, and  fruitful branches, they too will see us, and come to glorify the Father in Your name, no longer able to deny Your divinity as it works through us to heal a broken, hurting world.

Strengthen our hands as we continue Your work. Help us keep focused on the truth of Your word, awaiting the fulfillment of Your promises in our lives. Keep us in a right spirit and sound mind, helping us to speak with boldness the reasons for our faith, so that when the enemy says to stop  so they can give us their terms, we can say to them like Nehemiah,  (6:3)

So I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down. Why should the work cease while I leave it and go down to you?”

As Your faith family gathers once more to seek, honor, praise, and thank You for reconciling us to the Father, help us to find the narrow path, finish the work, bear worthy fruit, and go out to minister in Your name with boldness, and in gladness.

Let it be to us as You have said, and done to us according to our faith.

Amen.

Devotional 77: The Forbidden Name

Acts 4:13-17

The Name of Jesus Forbidden

13 Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus. 14 And seeing the man who had been healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it. 15 But when they had commanded them to go aside out of the council, they conferred among themselves, 16 saying, “What shall we do to these men? For, indeed, that a notable miracle has been done through them is evident to all who dwell in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. 17 But so that it spreads no further among the people, let us severely threaten them, that from now on they speak to no man in this name.”

Have people been hostile to your witness? It will increase.

Is His name forbidden in your workplace? It will increase.

The demons are busy, and immorality is described as progress. You are bigoted and intolerant if you actually practice the tenets of your faith, and crime is low because nothing’s illegal.

But our Lord tells us we can’t serve two masters; we will love one and hate the other, and that G-d and money can’t be served at the same time.

As the unfaithful and unrepentant gather around us with their own stones, we must take stock and ask what we are willing to lose, for our Lord tells us there is a cost to follow, and that we, being servants, will be subject to like treatment.

Matthew 10: 24-26

24 “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.25 It is enough for a disciple that he be like his teacher, and a servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more will they call those of his household! 26 Therefore do not fear them. For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known.

Let us be reminded that Simeon said in the temple:

Luke 2:34-35

34 Then Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against 35 (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”

The hearts of men have been hardened toward G-d since the fall, since the Flood, since the Exodus, but one day we will give an accounting of our own hearts.

The world would have us believe the Rolling Stones in the song Sympathy for the Devil:

‘And I was ’round when Jesus Christ/ had his moment of doubt and pain

‘Made damn sure that Pilate/ washed his hands and sealed His fate.’

This is why we need to read our Word. Jesus asked that the cup pass, but He never doubted. Pain, undoubtedly. Doubt? Never. And He said to Pilate,

John 19:11

11 Jesus answered, “You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above. Therefore the one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin.”

The Pharisees too thought His fate had been sealed, and thinking they put fear in the hearts of the Apostles, (who’d already had their moment of doubt Mark 14:50) didn’t realize they’d have to continue with an even more rapid spreading of the Gospel than before. But they recognized the source of it: the power in the Name of Jesus, so they forbid it to be spoken.

In today’s world, we have our mockers as well. They would have us keep it to ourselves, and take pride in the things they should be ashamed of, but as Paul says, for it is in Him we live, move, and have our being. (Acts 17:28)

From within, we have prosperity preachers, and believers who will not study and hand their teaching completely over to their pastors, who are now themselves preaching false doctrines and substituting the Apostle Paul for Jesus, forgetting the Apostle himself admonished against this: 1 Corinthians 4-6

For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not carnal?  Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.

Let us remember our enemy is subtle with his power, and that his light still seduces into pride and falsehood, for he became the father of lies in Eden, and has not strayed from his mission.

Let’s not stray from our own, and remember, as this man,  to cry out all the more: mercy for ourselves…(Luke 18)

39 Then those who went before warned him that he should be quiet; but he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

And forgiveness for others: (Matthew 18)

21 Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. 

If we are not pure and sure in our own hearts, our witness won’t reach even those who have good soil to receive it.

Therefore I pray:

Rekindle my fire to spread Your word, Lord, with a pure heart, a right spirit, and fill me with the boldness and power of Your Holy Spirit, that I may speak the goodness of Your name in fearlessness and power.

The signs are gathering together, the day is far spent, the hour is late, and the love of many is growing cold, and the elect are being deceived.

I would have that You strengthen me to endure to the end, for I would be saved, and have those you’ve sent to me endure with me, and enter into Your rest. As a temple, a living stone, and Your creation, I would be reconciled to the Father through You, and fear not those who can only kill the body, but rather He who can cast my soul into hell.

Help me, in this new year, to draw closer to You, to abide in You, to believe in You, and know that Your promises are true, and Your prophesies concerning me shall come to pass. Help me to keep in mind that there will be a judgment, where I will give account for the time You allotted me, the talents You’ve given me to use to Your glory, and the provision You’ve sustained me with along the way.

Let Your Name increase, and mine be as nothing, for it is through Your will that I draw my next breath, and by Your grace that all my faculties are yet mine to possess. 

I thank You for life as I know it, health as I have it, and strength as You’ve given me. Let me have a heart of joyful thankfulness, and a fearless spirit to confess You before men, as You confess me, even now, to the Father. 

Thank You, Lord Jesus. 

May it be to me as You have said. 

Amen.

A Sword Will Pierce Your Own Soul

Luke 2:34-35

34 Then Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against 35 (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”

As we began, so we end this Christmas Eve day, with the words of Simeon.

When he was done prophesying, he turned his attention to Mary and spoke those words. There was a great foreshadowing here, and later, throughout the Lord’s earthly ministry, did He not reveal the thoughts and hearts of men?

Did he not admonish those He called to follow?

John 15:17-19 

The World’s Hatred

18 “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you.19 If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.

Did He not give us the reason?

John 7:7

 The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil. 

Did He not tell is we would share in His suffering, as well as His glory?

John 15:20

 20 Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also.

And yet, though it says she pondered these things in her heart, she forgot. On the day they went looking for Him, he was an embarrassment, and they thought He was out of His mind.  This was especially striking, because every day, Mary was in His presence. Every day, was she not reminded of the miracle of His birth? Reminded of the angel’s visit? Reminded of her song? Reminded of the visit to her cousin?

She watched Him grow in favor and wisdom with G-d and man, so why would she think He was out of His mind all those years later, even after the enigmatic words He spoke in the temple as a child?

Mark 3:20-22

A House Divided Cannot Stand

20 Then the multitude came together again, so that they could not so much as eat bread. 21 But when His own people heard about this, they went out to lay hold of Him, for they said, “He is out of His mind.”

It is because we also forget, Brothers and Sisters, that the divine love of the Father afforded us the means to reconcile with Him through Jesus, and only through Jesus can we do so, and we do not understand divine love even as we fear divine judgment.

John 14:6   Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.

Only abiding in Him do we have the ability.

John 15:5  “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.

His teachings were hard for some to understand and follow. They turned away.

For others, their worldly wealth got in the way of their mission. They chose their wealth.

What is it for us, today? The commercialism, the career, the emphasis on things and saving money, going about our everyday lives, and making of His sacrifice, as the writer of Hebrews says, ‘a common thing.’

Hebrews 10:29

29 Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?

We are repeatedly told we cannot fathom mind of G-d. Why redeem us in this way, when He has the power to cleanse all and start over, as He did with the flood? He didn’t create a new man, he preserved a remnant of a righteous one, and He did it all through the Word, searching for them, and putting His hedge of protection around them even as He delivered them in their fallen states into enemy hands.

We fail to understand our worthiness of grace, and therefore are keenly aware of when we’ve received it for our own sins. That is the piercing of our souls: and with it comes sorrowful repentance, purification, and the chance to return, and like the prodigal go from: “Father, give me–” to “Father, make me…”

We ever reduce the things of Heaven to the things of man. “The Big Man in the Sky.” Really? “The Energy of the Universe.” It just exists with no source?

No, let’s not be sidetracked by the foolishness of celebrating solstices. Let’s not have our own questions cause us to doubt. If we say we believe in the promise of salvation, in our humanity and day to day struggles, there are times we will forget, but it isn’t Jesus out of His mind. It’s us out of fellowship, no longer abiding, because the pasture in the valley looks greener, though it’s shrouded in shadows and death and fire.

But when we do, let us be still, and remember that He yet still rejoices over our coming to Him, as He came to us.

Let us remember to take up our crosses, and count the cost.

Let us remember that we share in His suffering, to be mocked and persecuted.

Let us remember we will be tempted, and that there are times we will fail.

But most importantly, this Christmas, let us remember that He loved us first, and came down to be with us, to speak the heart of the Father to us, and His will for us, and left us a reminder in His Word that we can access whenever we want, no veil, no sacrifice, no law.

Let us ponder these things in our hearts, and remember.

Let them pierce our own souls when we forget.

May it be to us as He has said.

Merry Christmas

How Can This Be?

Luke 1: 18-20

18 And Zacharias said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.”
19 And the angel answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings. 20 But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time.”

 

 

The angel Gabriel made two visitations, and got the same response, but issued two very different outcomes.

It actually seems a bit unfair on the face of it: Zacharias is muted, and Mary gets an explanation.

Zacharias, as priest, had been serving for a long time, had no doubt read the Torah through countless times, studied at the feet of rabbis, and was deemed worthy to serve in the temple, and up to this point, had probably never experienced a visitation quite like this.

But he’d read of them, and studied them, and knew of the power of G-d performing miracles where His people were concerned.

He’d read of G-d opening the wombs of the barren, and so, we discover, prayed that his own wife’s reproach be removed.

Yet when the moment came, instead of offering his praise and thanks, he, like Abraham and so many others, doubted. Abraham and Sarah’s time had also passed beyond the realm of physical love.

But if G-d did it to His purposes for Abraham, would He do less for Zachariah and Elizabeth, using them as vessels, as Matthew’s Gospel reminds us, to fulfill all righteousness? (Matthew 3:13-17)

Gabriel had to remind Zachariah too, despite all he’d learned, studied, and experienced in the natural world, that all things are possible with G-d.

Luke 1: 30-34
30 Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. 33 And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”
34 Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?”

Mary, a young, betrothed, village girl, not widely known beyond her village, expresses wonder at the angel’s news.

Raised in the tradition of a patriarchal society, she is a dutiful daughter, faithful to the Law, and to G-d. But there’s something else there too: a courageous heart.

Gabriel’s announcement takes her from the obscurity of her village to the eternal stage in a matter of moments, and the Lord chooses her because she has the mettle to not back down from the hidden-behind-the-hand whispers of gossip from the village women, the embarrassment to her betrothed and her family.

Nor will she run away from the coming challenges of the arduous journey to be present for the census, then the perilous flight to Egypt.

She ponders the meaning of her role in G-d’s plan, and though she later forgets (Mark 3:21), she is still no less faithful in the moment of her Son’s execution than she was at His birth. She was there for Him in the beginning, and the end, of His earthly ministry, and grieved with a mother’s love.

As she was a virgin, unknown to a man, and untried in the ways of the world, Gabriel did indeed have to explain what G-d was about to do.

And her answer confirms the Father’s choice as the correct one:

(38) Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.     

No matter our age or station, there are times the Lord demands things of us where we don’t see how they’re going to happen, or even why.

There are times we pray, and are surprised when they’re answered.

There are times we’re blessed, when we haven’t asked for anything.

This holiday season, let’s remember with gratitude all the Father has done for us through the Son and the Spirit. We need not get caught up in solstices, pagan rituals, or the accuracy of the calendar, or even whether or not He’s commanded us to celebrate.

(He didn’t command us not to 😉 )

All of that is pretty rubble and utter nonsense in the light of the coming glory that awaits His faithful.

Winter is cold, beautiful, and a season of death, but it is also a herald to a season of renewed life. If the natural world reflects the kingdom, and if the words of Christ are indeed true, we too shall experience a season of renewed life.

We shall be spotless and blameless before the Almighty, the blood of His Son covering the blight of our flesh, and shining forth the purity of Jesus’ righteous spirit.

Our illnesses will be made well, our bodies transformed as His when He ascended.

The Spirit of Christmas will indeed be manifest, without all the trappings and frenzy of things that are not of G-d. Our family gathering will be never-ending. The feasting will be holy, and the fellowship happy.

And while we yet dwell, awaiting His return, let us continue to spread the Gospel to those we have in this moment, and be at peace with ourselves and each other in the doing.

Merry Christmas.