From Eden - November 27

From Eden…
Sunday November 27
Are you one of those delusional types who enjoys road trips? Perhaps your heart skips a beat when you pack up and prepare for several hours behind the wheel, seeing the beautiful, spacious skies, amber waves of grain, and majestic purple mountains above the fruited plains of America. Maybe you were born one of those nomadic, rambling gypsy types.

My childhood is marred by family trips gone sour. From long car rides with my two brothers, fighting over precious space in the backseat, to humiliating pit stops out on deserted highways, to the inevitable swearing and staring contest with the unfoldable map, I still break out in occasional cold sweats whenever we get our motor running and head out on the highway.
However, with the advent (clever use of the word alert!) of the GPS and map apps on the phone, life is so much easier for the weary traveler. Long journeys are easier on the entire nervous system. In fact, occasionally I enjoy the prospect of the journey, of heading off to some place promising peace, rest, hope, reunion and joy.

The journey we will be taking over the next few weeks is not one that requires any physical travel. However, it is a spiritual trip that is loaded with anticipation, hope, peace, and joy. Over the next several days, we will start out and make the beautiful journey to Bethlehem. Old Testament prophecy will be the GPS that guides us and sets the expectation of where we are headed. And we will glance ahead to its fulfillment in the New Testament.

Join us as we begin our journey to Bethlehem at an unlikely starting point: a garden.

Beginnings In Eden: Messiah Will Be Born of a Woman and Destroy Satan
Genesis 3:15 “I will put hostility between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.”

 The journey to Christmas and Bethlehem launches at the beginning of Scripture. The first prophecy of the Messiah comes in a curse on Satan the serpent. As Adam and Eve are dismissed from Eden, we initiate the journey towards the Messiah. The trajectory of the journey will lead us to the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Over the course of the next several weeks, we will check in on the road map for our
journey to Christmas, the holy Scriptures. We will see together that our journey to Christmas was a part of God’s intricate plan. And as we investigate almost thirty Messianic prophecies, it will become undeniable that a beautiful scarlet thread of redemption is strung by God’s providence throughout the Old Testament and culminating in the New Testament.

It begins in Genesis. It starts in Eden. The Messiah will come, born of a woman, to ultimately conquer the accuser of mankind, Satan. This prophecy points to the power that Jesus has over Satan in Mark 3. Jesus binds and silences Satan. He is able to free people from the tyranny of sin, death and hell. Satan will hurt Jesus, as is referenced in the striking of the heel. But ultimately the victory belongs to the Messiah.

This is a powerful promise for each and every believer. Be encouraged as we begin this journey together by with words of the Apostle Paul:
“The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.” (Romans 16:20)

Father, thank you for Jesus. Thank you for saving us from the evil and destruction of Satan. Thank you for delivering us. Remind us again of the power over sin, death, and hell that Jesus has provided. Amen

From Eden - November 28

Monday November 28
Have you ever blown through some one-horse, zero traffic light town while racing toward your final destination? Growing up, my family did that. We used to cruise through the mega-burg of Waukomis, Oklahoma. It was a “blink and you’ll miss it” blip on the map. However, on one trip, we made the decision to stop and get a soda at the burp’n’slurp there. And lo and behold, they had the world’s best fried chicken. And because I come from simple, “salt-of-the-earth people”, my family ate a bucket load of chicken gizzards. From that day forward, whenever we made a trip, we always looked forward to the promise of gizzards in Waukomis. We learned not to overlook a place like Waukomis.

With that lesson in mind, don’t overlook a place like Haran. Not because they served chicken gizzards, but for a more significant reason. It was there that God made a special promise to Abraham that would be fulfilled in Jesus. God told Abraham, and us too, that His children are blessed to be a blessing. And God would bless all people everywhere through this holy descendant of Abraham, Jesus. The Journey Continues Through Haran: The Messiah would be a descendant of Abraham. God blessed all people, every nation, through Abraham.

Genesis 12:3 “I will bless those who bless you, I will curse anyone who treats you with contempt, and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

God made a powerful covenant, a sacred promise to Abraham. God would bless the world through Abraham. Matthew begins the lineage of Jesus with Abraham. The genealogy refers to Jesus as both a Son of David and Abraham.  Jesus is the fulfillment of the promise God made to Abraham.

If you were highlighting a map of the journey of these promises, it starts in Eden and flows into Haran. It connects Adam, Eve and Seth to Abraham, Sarah and Isaac. And both the promise and the journey are fulfilled in Jesus, as the Apostle Peter confirmed in the sermon he preached at Solomon’s colonnade.

“In addition, all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those after him, have also foretold these days. You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your ancestors, saying to Abraham, ‘And all the families of the earth will be blessed through your offspring.’ God raised up his servant and sent him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your evil ways.” Acts 3:24-26

God, thank you for blessing our lives and our world with Jesus. Please, use me to be a blessing to others. Thank you for surprising promises made to us through your Scriptures that encourage us. Amen

From Eden - November 29

Tuesday November 29 – Yahweh Jireh
On our annual Christmas road trip visit my Grandma Smith in Denver, we would drive through the interestingly named town of Slapout, Oklahoma. It must’ve been named after its location as it is “slap out in the middle of nowhere.” Driving through Slapout with my brothers and father, the last person to notice the city sign would then be the victim of several slaps to the back of the head. Ten-hour road trips reiterate that necessity is the mother of invention. You have to occasionally find something to occupy the hours. I always heard that Slapout was originally called something else, but the name was changed because of the town’s proximity to nothing. The new name is more accurate to what the town is.

The Journey Affirmed in Yahweh Jireh: The Messiah Will Be a Willing SacrificeGenesis 22:9-10 “When they arrived at the place that God had told him about, Abraham built the altar there and arranged the wood. He bound his son Isaac and placed him on the altar on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out and took the knife to slaughter his son.”
The next stop on the prophetic journey toward Christmas was renamed by Abraham. He called this place Yahweh Jireh, which means God provides. And God certainly did provide. First for Abraham, and then for everyone. The new name Abraham gave the place was more accurate to what God had done there.

God called Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac. Isaac was the promised son, the one through whom God said he would carry on the covenant. Now God calls Abraham into this extreme test of covenantal fidelity. He asks Abraham to be willing to sacrifice and forfeit this promise. Of course, God stops his hand before Abraham kills his own son. God then provides a ram caught in a thicket nearby.

Isaac also displayed covenantal fidelity. Isaac allowed his elderly father to both bind and place the younger man on the altar. The promised son was willing to die. In Isaac we are reminded of the only Son of God who was not only willing to die but did die for our sins. Jesus was the Messiah who laid down his life and died for our sins. Jesus was the perfect promised Son who was willing to die for our sins.

I think it would be appropriate, in light of this account, to also rename Christmas as Yahweh Provides, because that is what God did for us two thousand years ago in Bethlehem. Our heavenly Father provided the Son who was the perfect sacrifice for our sins.
“For God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

Our God who provides, thank you for seeing our deepest need and providing your Son. Help us to respond with changed names, lives, and purposes. Amen.

Goshen - November 30

Wednesday November 30 – Goshen

On one wintry trip back home to Oklahoma from Colorado, our vehicle broke down in the Oklahoma panhandle near the sprawling metroplex that is Buffalo. Could there be a more panhandle-sounding name than Buffalo, Oklahoma? The truck had been limping along since Dodge City, Kansas (it sounds like we made the trip back in the 1890s as opposed to the 1990s, from Dodge City to Buffalo) and we eeked into Buffalo on a snowy January evening.

Tensions in the vehicle had been boiling up over departure disagreements. However, I had a friend from college who was on staff at the Baptist church in Buffalo, so I stopped at a pay phone (it was the 1990s) and called him to see if he could put us up for the night. Graciously, he did put us up for the night, and he even provided a nice meal for us. It eased a lot of the tension and provided relief from a difficult trip. It was a nice place to preserve our frazzled nerves a bit. We also understood that Buffalo would not be our final destination. We would eventually make it home.

Preserved in Goshen: The Messiah would be the One who rules forever.
Genesis 49:10 “The scepter will not depart from Judah or the staff from between his feet until he whose right it is comes and the obedience of the peoples belongs to him.”

After establishing Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the promised land, God moves the budding nation of Israel into Egypt to avoid a terrible famine. Prior to the onset of the famine, God established one of Jacob’s sons, Joseph, into a place of authority and leadership in Egypt. It is a remarkable account of both God’s faithfulness and provision. It also reminds us that while we are bound by temporary understanding, God views everything through the lens of eternity.

With that understanding in mind, we see the next turn in the journey. On his deathbed in the land of Goshen, a portion of Egypt, Jacob is blessing his sons with the insight of the future that God had blessed the old man. He shares the future plans of Reuben, Simeon and Levi. Then he gets to his fourth-born son, Judah. It is in Judah’s forecast that we see this prophecy of a coming King who will reign. People will bow and devote their lives in obedience to this King. This is shared through the image of a king’s royal scepter.

Jesus the Messiah will come and be the eternal King and all of our obedience is to be given to Him alone. As he lay dying, Jacob prophecies about this great King.
God provided Goshen as a place where the house of Jacob/Israel could be preserved. Despite eventually being enslaved in Egypt, God multiplied the Hebrews significantly and for a season, Goshen was the place where Israel grew and survived. It was not, however, there final destination. God had a plan to lead the people of Israel back home.

However, while they are in Goshen, God reveals this royal component several generations before instituting the Israelite monarchy with Saul and David. A King is coming from Judah’s family that will rule with all authority and people will bow in obedience. And not long after the birth of that King, people bow in reverence before Him.

“Entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and falling to their knees, they worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” Matthew 2:11

“Through him we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the Gentiles,” Romans 1:5

Lord, help us to surrender and submit to you in full and loving obedience. And allow that heartfelt obedience to lead us to true worship and devoted service. Amen

Egypt - December 1

Thursday December 1 – Egypt

I have never had the misfortune of being delayed for very long in an airport (knock on wood). We have had some extra hours tacked on to the flight because of minor delays. But we have never had a flight cancelled and been forced to scramble or stay overnight near some airport in Cincinnati. That loss of control, as plans are forced to change, must throw some folks for a loop. While I am more flexible than some, I would not look forward to that unforeseen stay. I can see how some would be frustrated and even feel a bit helpless. If the airplane won’t fly, what can you do?
Of all of the options available to those who face cancellations, the furthest one from the realm of possibility would be simply to just stay at the location of the extended layover – to move there rather than leave. That would be crazy. “What, I have to stay here in Phoenix a night to fly out tomorrow? Nah, let’s just go find a townhouse with a nice rock and cactus garden.” I couldn’t see that for myself.

An Extended Forced Stay in Egypt: The Messiah would be the Passover Lamb.Exodus 12:7, 11, 12, 13 “They must take some of the blood (of the lambs) and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses where they eat them…it is the Lord’s Passover…I will pass through the land of Egypt on that night and strike every firstborn male in the land of Egypt, both people and animals. I am the Lord…the blood on the houses where you are staying will be a distinguishing mark for you; when I see the blood, I will pass over you…”

In the journey toward Christmas, the layover in Egypt extended into a forced stay. God’s people became oppressed and enslaved. He would provide a deliverer, Moses, to lead his people out of Egypt and back into the Promised Land of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

However, resuming the journey and leaving Egypt would be easier said then done. Pharoah was not keen to let his massive work force leave. His hard heart kept the Hebrews enslaved. God provided a series of plagues (including frogs) that culminated in an event God named Passover.
To avoid losing the firstborn males within the family and livestock, the Hebrews were supposed to sacrifice a lamb and paint the doorways with the blood. God would then pass over that home and save it from death and destruction.

In that Passover lamb, God carefully crafted a clear image of what Jesus the Messiah would be for us. John the Baptist states it clearly for us all when he recognizes that Jesus fulfills that passage of Scripture:
“The next day John (the Baptist) saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’” John 1:29
Lord Jesus, thank you for being the sacrificial Lamb that forgave my sin and bore my shame. You gave me new, complete, forever life and I am thankful. Help me to live a life that is reflective of your love. Amen

Mt. Hor - December 2

Friday December 2 – Mt. Hor

When we would road trip up to Denver to see my Colorado family, I remember starting to look westward about two hours out from Colorado’s capital city. Eventually, the Rocky Mountains just rise up above the plains and you know you are getting closer as you see those peaks. It would always excite me, looking up at those mountains as we drove in. It provided a sense of relief as I knew that the long trip was about over. It was also a clear marker that we were headed in the right direction.

Difficulty Passing by Mt. Hor: The Messiah Would Be Lifted Up

Numbers 21:6-9 “Then the Lord sent poisonous snakes among the people, and they bit them so that many Israelites died. The people then came to Moses and said, ‘We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you. Intercede with the Lord so that he will take the snakes away from us.’ And Moses interceded for the people. Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Make a snake image and mount it on a pole. When anyone who is bitten looks at it, he will recover.’ So Moses made a bronze snake and mounted it on a pole. Whenever someone was bitten, and he looked at the bronze snake, he recovered.’”

In the desert wanderings during the Exodus, the Israelites grew weary of the trip. They began to complain, speaking against both God and Moses. They felt as though they had been led into the wilderness to die. They did not have provisions for the trip, and they had grown sick of the food that God had provided for them. They described this miraculous provision of manna as “wretched.” God had enough and dealt with this groaning. The people then went to Moses and repented of their actions and asked Moses to intercede. When Moses inquired of God what to do, God directed Moses to raise an image of a snake on a pole. The gaze upward to the image of the snake would be one of healing. But this image and the resulting healing would be later used to point to the One who would bring new birth.

In a late-night conversation with old Nicodemus, Jesus directs the old Pharisee to reflect on that old story, he would’ve reflected both on the horror and the glory. The horror was seen in the Israelites being set upon by fiery snakes, killing many of the Hebrews. It must’ve been a hideous scene. But at the same time it is glorious because we also see God’s glorious provision of healing. Jesus clarifies what he means. He paints a picture of a dying and sinful world with the cross atoning for their sins raised up high.

The snakes are symbolic of sin – because serpents and sin have been coupled together since Genesis 3. Moses lifted the likeness of a serpent on a pole. Jesus would also be lifted up and became sin for us. And when we gaze in faith toward the cross, we can be saved too. Even the worst sinner ever can look at Jesus in faith and be saved. Hallelujah, what a Savior.

We look to the cross and we see the relief that comes with forgiveness and the new life that is promised in Christ. That gaze of faith on the crucified and resurrected Lord changes our lives.

“Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Anyone who believes in him is not condemned, but anyone who does not believe is already condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the one and only Son of God.” John 3:14-18

Father, thank you for sending Jesus to die for my sin on the cross. Thank you for the cross. Thank you for the day when I looked upon Jesus in saving faith. Thank you for your grace. Thank you for healing and new life. Amen.

Peor - December 3

Saturday December 3 – Peor

How many times on road trips did you ever mutter those words that have become the bane of the driver’s existence: “How much further? Are we there yet?” Parents love to answer that question with the non-answer, “We will get there when we get there. When the car stops moving and we get out, you will know.”

I used to ask my dad that question, mostly just to annoy him more than out of curiosity. I knew enough to know that signs and markers would provide enough information for me to realize how much further some place was. I just enjoyed being a bother, I think. However, my older brother genuinely could not handle long trips and the boredom would get his goat every time. He would constantly pepper my dad with those questions. My brother just couldn’t perceive distance signs and markers. While the rest of the carload could understand where we were and what town would be next until we got to where we needed to be, there was a perception gap for my older brother. That perception gap made the journey much more anxiety-filled for him.

Looking Ahead from Peor: The Messiah Would be the Star Coming Out of Jacob

Numbers 24:17 “I see him, but not now; I perceive him, but not near. A star will come from Jacob, and a scepter will arise from Israel. He will smash the forehead of Moab and strike down all the Shethites.”

This prophecy takes place during the wandering journey the Hebrews took during the Exodus out of Egypt. And it comes from an unlikely source. While the Hebrews are camped in the plains of Moab, a Moabite king named Balak summoned a spiritual medium, a prophet for hire as it were, named Balaam. He was not a prophet of Yahweh, rather a spiritual medium of dubious motivations.

Balak hired Balaam to come and curse the Israelites. So at Peor, which was high enough in elevation to overlook the plains around Moab where the Hebrews were stretched out, Balaam confounds Balak because God simply will not allow Balaam to curse the Hebrews. Instead, Balaam will deliver several oracles and in the fourth one, this pagan medium is used by God to deliver this prophecy. “A star will come from Jacob and a scepter will arise from Israel.” Pious Jews believe this points to David. However, Balaam’s oracle is directing us to the one who will be the crown and glory of Israel. This One will be more than just a king like David. Our Lord Jesus is the promised Messiah, and this prophecy chiefly points toward Him. The opposition that the Messiah will deal with is representative of all of the forces that would rise against the Church.

Balaam, as a pagan medium, was a wicked man, and could only see the Messiah from a distance. Balaam sees him from far off. The Messiah is not near to him. One day, all eyes will look to see Him coming on the clouds. But some will have to view him from a distance, as in illustrated in the parable Jesus told about the rich man and Lazarus with Abraham. They will see Jesus but from far away. There will be a gap in perception, a lack of understanding. That gap in perception will continually cause anxiety in the hearts of those who won’t truly and clearly see and believe in Jesus for themselves.

Hopefully, people will be able to see King Jesus clearly with eyes of faith. The New Testament encourages us with these words:
“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of King Herod, wise men from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star at its rising and have come to worship him.’” Matthew 2:1-2

“I, Jesus, have sent my angel to attest these things to you for the churches. I am the Root and descendant of David, the bright morning star.” Revelation 22:16

Father, help me to see and perceive Jesus clearly, with eyes of faith. Help me to understand him more deeply. Amen

Moab - December 4

Sunday December 4 – Moab

Have you ever taken a moment to give people in your car some last-minute words of wisdom before you end the trip? We did with our children. Sometimes we still do. Before you let them open the doors to storm the gates of whatever destination you have trekked, you hold the beasts at bay and say something to the effect of, “Listen. When you go in there, act like you are a human person who is kind and respects people and things. DO NOT EMBARRASS ME. Be nice. Be respectful. Look people in the eyes and say ‘sir’ and ‘ma’am’ and ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’ And do NOT break anything or hurt anyone.”

We’ve all done some sort of final pre-emptive strike like that. You condense all of your parental do-better talks into a few of the most important reminders.

Motivated in Moab: The Messiah Would Be a Prophet Like Moses

Deuteronomy 18:15, 18-19 “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him….Then the Lord said to me, “…I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. I will put words in his mouth, and he will tell everything I command them. I will hold accountable whoever does not listen to my words that he speaks in my name.”

As Moses nears the end of his life as the leader of Israel, he is providing them with some teaching, guidance, and inspiration. He is giving Israel some “last minute reminders” as it were. He is running out of time with them and before he “lets them out of the car,” he wants them to be on their best behavior before the Lord. So there on the plains around Moab, Moses is warning the people to abandon the occultist practices of the surrounding peoples and instead listen to the words of God coming from heaven. Moses tells the people to drive out diviners and fortune-tellers and other spiritualist opportunists and instead directs them to the prophetic line of people inspired by the Spirit of God. That line of prophetic declaration will culminate in Jesus himself. Moses’s prophecy points toward Jesus.

Jesus even taught that Moses wrote about Jesus himself in John 5. More than any other prophecy declared by Moses, these words speak chiefly of Jesus. When Jesus came, he spoke words of life and words of heaven. He was the last prophetic voice, perfectly culminating that line. Since then, there has been no “prophet” in the order or type of Moses. Jesus fulfilled that.

Here, before the twelve tribes of Israel cross the Jordan and begin to re-establish themselves in the promised land, before we hear a word from a prophet like Samuel, Elisha, Isaiah, or Jeremiah, Moses tells us about this established office and its fulfillment – before even one of those prophets comes to the forefront. God clearly had a plan to speak to his people. And Jesus is the final and complete prophetic voice. We don’t need prophets today. While we can prophetically speak to culture, we are not prophets in the order of Moses. Jesus was the culmination of that line.

What words of truth from the Prophet, Jesus, have you heard lately? Go back into the New Testament, find the passages printed in red letters, and let the great and perfect Prophet speak words of heaven into your soul.

“When people saw the sign he had done, they said, ‘This truly is the Prophet who is come into the world.’” John 6:14

Lord, help our hearts to be open to clearly hear your beautiful and wonderful words of life and heaven. Speak to our hearts through the words you spoke through Jesus. Amen.

Bethlehem - December 5

Monday December 5 – Bethlehem

It was a snowy, icy December. I was a young youth pastor living in northwest Oklahoma City. Some buddies and I were carefully making the trip to get some dinner and see a movie. There were hardly any cars out on the road, as most sane people were home where it was both safe and warm. And then we saw a car that had slid off the road because of the icy conditions. We got out and helped them back onto the road.
We helped a young couple who were trying to get back home in time for Christmas and were driving through headed northward towards Nebraska. They had a newborn and without our help, they weren’t sure what they would’ve done. We pushed and shoved and shoveled and slid and after a herculean effort, we got them back on the road. The husband had injured his shoulder and was unable to help. His wife was too small to move the entire car and they said they couldn’t afford to call a service. Through their tears they thanked us over and over. We told them that we’ve all been in situations in which we needed help but thankfully, God always provides. Then we were able to share the hope of the Gospel with them.

First Trip Through Bethlehem: The Messiah Will Be Our Kinsman-Redeemer Who Freely Redeems Us Through His Grace

Ruth 4:4 “ ‘I thought I should inform you: Buy it back in the presence of those seated here and in the presence of the elders of my people. If you want to redeem it, do it. But if you do not want to redeem it, tell me so that I will know, because there isn’t anyone other than you to redeem it, and I am next after you.’ And he said, ‘I will redeem it.’”

Our first meaningful journey into Bethlehem comes in the account of Ruth, the Moabite woman who married a Hebrew. Her husband died as did her brother-in-law and her father-in-law. In that patriarchal culture, this meant that Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi faced a difficult road forward. After committing herself to Naomi, Ruth accompanies Naomi home to her home city of Bethlehem. There they meet a distant relation to Naomi’s deceased husband. This man is named Boaz and he has means.

Through divine intervention, Boaz marries Ruth and becomes the kinsmen-redeemer of both women. A kinsman-redeemer was one who had the responsibility to act on behalf of a relative who was in trouble, danger, or in need. In the Hebrew this term describes one who delivers or rescues a person or redeems property or even a person if they have a significant debt. While this concept is introduced in places such as Genesis 48, Exodus 6 and Leviticus 27, Boaz is most clearly understood to hold this title.

Boaz acts as a kinsman-redeemer and that sets the groundwork for what Jesus does for all of us. Jesus redeems us because Jesus is the only one who satisfy our great need. Just like Ruth and Naomi were in desperate need and only a kinsman-redeemer could rescue them, we, too, were in desperate need of forgiveness for our sins. Only our Kinsman-Redeemer could save us.
Jesus bought us for Himself. He delivered us from the curse. He rescued us from sin, death, and hell. He lifted us out of our spiritual destitution. What a blessing! For all who will call on Him in faith, Jesus is the Kinsman-Redeemer.

“Bless be the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has visited and provided redemption for his people.” Luke 1:68

Lord, thank you for saving me. Thank you for lifting me up out of my desperate sinfulness and forgiving me. Thank you for the new life I have because of your gracious sacrifice. Amen

Jerusalem - December 6

…To Jerusalem…

Tuesday December 6 – Jerusalem

Occasionally, on longer road trips through the panhandle of Oklahoma, we would see old, abandoned farmhouses. Driving past these empty clapboard homes, I wondered how long they had been uninhabited. I remember reading a story once in National Geographic that shared photographs taken in empty farmhouses in North Dakota. The furniture and decorations remained. The houses stood frozen in time. It was as if you could tell when life there just ended.

Driving past those empty, old homes, I remember thinking about the blessing of family regeneration, of sons and daughters raising their sons and daughters and extending the legacy of the family. What a beautiful gift and promise families receive when their legacy is extended through the next generations.

Traveling to Jerusalem: The Messiah Would Be a Descendant of David

2 Samuel 7:12-16 “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, but my steadfast love will not depart from him as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed before you. Your house and kingdom will endure before me forever and your throne will be established forever.”

David looms large in the Old Testament. He is the hinge of the action within the narrative of Israel’s history. In the history of Samuel, David is blessed with a covenant, a special promise from the Lord. God tells David that his line will not ever end. Sons will come in succession until Jesus fulfills the covenant for David with the Lord’s eternality. God establishes David’s line and will not abandon David’s family throughout the generations.

Growing up in that patriarchal society, the promise of a son was paramount. To receive the promise of a never-ending successive wave of sons would have been more than anyone could have dreamed of, and yet that is the promise God made to David. As if that was not blessing enough, an eternal kicker was attached to the promise of legacy.

Jesus fulfills the forever portion of the promise God makes to David. And Son of David was used often to describe Jesus. Jesus will also reign eternally. David’s house and throne will never, ever be empty. Jesus was born in Bethlehem as the King of the Jews and that Kingdom was extended far beyond the Jews to encompass everyone, everywhere. This promise that God made David was also a promise and a gracious gift that you and I experience daily in the person and the presence of Jesus.

“An account of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham.” Matthew 1:1

Thank you, Lord, for the daily gracious gift you gave us through Jesus. We praise you and honor your forever love and commitment to your children. Amen

Jerusalem - December 7

Wednesday December 7 – Jerusalem

Long trips were a lot easier when I was a lot younger. I used to be able to slide in behind the wheel of my Mercury Grand Marquis, secure my coffee, turn on some music, and make a five- or six-hour trip without a stop. As soon as the trek was over, I would hop out, springs for legs, ready and raring to go. Now I make the fifteen-minute trip to drop my daughter off at the dance studio and I crackle, moan, and groan like I’ve just ridden a horse across the Oregon Trail.

While I loved that Grand Marquis (it was a couch on wheels), I was informed by the higher-ups at the home office that it wasn’t an age-appropriate car for me to drive and it has since been replaced with even more comfortable seating in more modern vehicles. And yet, despite the improved lumbar support, the seat-specific temperature control, and the fancy seat-warmers, I still need some time to readjust my sacroiliac. As I get older, I can certainly see a state of decay in my aging body.

Settled in Jerusalem: The Messiah Would Be Resurrected

Psalm 16:8-11 “I always let the Lord guide me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore, my heart is glad and my whole being rejoices; my body also rests securely. For you will not abandon me to Sheol; you will not allow your faithful one to see decay. You reveal the path of life to me; in your presence is abundant joy; at your right hand are eternal pleasures.”

Paul quotes David’s 16th Psalm in the New Testament when he preached at Antioch of Pisidia. After a section where Paul ties Jesus back to David, Paul then talks about the promise and power of the resurrection and how that was fulfilled in Christ.

David is speaking about the confidence he has in the Lord in this psalm. It is a beautiful expression of the certainty and assuredness that David holds in the Sovereign Lord of Armies. As David rejoices in the presence and blessing of the Lord, David writes about how the Lord will not abandon the shepherd king even after death. In fact, David was confident in the sure and certain mercy of everlasting life. Certainly, resurrection is a certain promise in that regard.

There is a sanctity, a sacred element, to the certain and sure mercies that David promises here. This everlasting life, this promise that there would be no decay after death, points to the promise being fulfilled in One to come. The Messiah.

The Messiah was born of a woman, God in flesh, and unlike the rest of us, His body would not decay in the grave. In fact, his body ascended into Heaven. The Ruler of the eternal Kingdom of God will not know decay. Jesus would not and could not remain under the power of death. Jesus Messiah, through his resurrection, promises a certain and sure resurrection for all who belong to Him and the Kingdom.

What a powerful promise at Christmas! Since last year, what injuries, ailments, sicknesses and even surgeries have you endured? Our rate of physical decay speeds along. But Jesus was born and would break the power and curse of death through His resurrection.

“Therefore he also says in another passage, you will not let your Holy One see decay. For David, after serving God’s purpose in his own generation, fell asleep, was buried with his fathers, and decayed, but the one God raise up did not decay.” Acts 13:35-37

Lord, thank you for the resurrection. Thank you that I can look forward to everlasting life. I am grateful that the grave no longer has victory over me. Help me to live within that understanding and with that power each day. Amen

Jerusalem - December 8

Thursday December 8 – Jerusalem

I was locking up and turning off the lights after a Sunday morning at the church I served in Central Arkansas for eight years as a youth pastor. As I rounded the last corner toward the alarm pad, I saw an eight-year-old sitting by the door. As a youth pastor, I didn’t know many of the kiddos in the church by name, but this one I knew. I asked him where his parents were, and he had no idea. This was in the very early 2000’s, before we all were attached to an electronic leash. He was scared and beginning to get misty. I told him not to worry and that I would call his home and I was sure one of them would be there right away.

I called and left a message and then the poor kid and I waited. Eventually, his mom and sisters pulled up. I walked the boy out to his mom, and she was extremely apologetic. Apparently, she and the kids were supposed to meet dad somewhere for lunch and then the mom and kids were headed out of town for a little trip and dad would join them after a few work obligations were through. However, the boy’s dad was supposed to take the boy with him to run a quick errand after church and before lunch. The boy had wandered off and the dad assumed he was with his mom. It was the perfect storm of confusion and being in a hurry. And the kiddo was forgotten. I think the dad has yet to live that one down.
The Future Seen In Jerusalem: The Messiah would be Forsaken and Pierced.

Psalm 22:1, 16-18 My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? Why are you so far from my deliverance and from my words of groaning…for dogs have surrounded me; a gang of evildoers has closed in on me; they pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones; people stare at me. They divided my garments among themselves, and they cast lots for my clothing.

David writes about a troubling situation in his life in which opposition is overwhelming him. Believers throughout the centuries have been blessed by David’s psalms. They speak to those parts of us that feel forgotten or left behind. And if we are all honest, we all feel some of that from time to time. And it is certainly something felt at Christmas by many who are not close to family. This passage points to the suffering Servant aspect of the Messiah. Jesus would have that moment of separation with the Father. All of the sins of the world would be placed on His shoulders. And the Holy Heavenly Father would turn away in that moment.

At the cross, several prophecies are fulfilled, including this horrible moment of the Father forsaking the Son. Of course Jesus was in agony from the piercing, but His soul cries out because of the separation. If you have ever wondered if God understands your loneliness, this sense that you’ve been left behind somehow, please know this Christmas that the Savior born in Bethlehem knows what that feels like, and He can speak to and comfort you in those feelings.

Your Heavenly Father has not forgotten you. The Savior has not abandoned you. He understands your feelings even more than you do. God is not off on some wonderful cosmic road trip without you. You have not been left to fend for yourself. Christ the Savior was born, and the glory of our God has come to earth. If you feel forgotten, the promise for you is wrapped up in Immanuel, God with us.

About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eli eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”  Matthew 27:46

Jesus, thank you for coming here and for the cross. It comforts us to know that you understand our feelings of being alone, forgotten, abandoned, left behind in some way. Thank you for being with us and for the comfort we can have through the Spirit. Amen.

Jerusalem - December 9

Friday December 9 – Jerusalem

Not too long after moving to Almost Heaven, West Virginia, we began to hear the message from a very specific form of apologetics: the mad biscuit fans who swore by Tudor’s Biscuit World. Now, I am from the south. Like, an actual, geographically southern state. And we know biscuits. A few good friends were adamant that whenever the opportunity presented itself, we had to try it! HAD TO!

About two years later, I found myself having breakfast with another pastor out on a trip to the other end of the state and, lo and behold, there it was just over the horizon. Tudor’s Biscuit World. I went in and tried one and I am not going to lie. It was fantastic. I immediately texted the biscuitologist and affirmed his statement. He was very clearly vindicated.

Forecasting the Future in Jerusalem: The Messiah would be forsaken and pierced, BUT VINDICATED.

Psalm 22:1, 16-18, 22 My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? Why are you so far from my deliverance and from my words of groaning…for dogs have surrounded me; a gang of evildoers has closed in on me; they pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones; people stare at me. They divided my garments among themselves, and they cast lots for my clothing…I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters; I will praise you in the assembly.

On the road to Emmaus, the resurrected Lord appears to a pair of disciples struggling to make sense of the crucifixion and then the empty tomb. Jesus appears to them and then explains to them what the Old Testament had to say about the Messiah. As Jesus is clarifying how this prophecy was fulfilled, the hearts of the two disciples burn. Jesus refers to himself as the King, the Messiah a few times in this passage. Jesus does not use any first-person pronouns in the conversation. He never uses “I.” Instead, Jesus teaches about what the Messiah would do and then how that prophecy was fulfilled. He is very clearly acknowledging that He is the Messiah, and He has risen from the grave.

He has been vindicated and is victorious. And part of that vindication is making it known, especially to those who called themselves His disciples. He shares the victorious message with all of those who believed in Him. He was forsaken by God in that moment of agony as Jesus died on the cross. He was pierced through his hands and feet by those experts of torture and death, the Romans. And then He rose again and was vindicated.

The prophecy was fulfilled. The promise was kept. People were saved from their sins. It is a message worth sharing. If a great biscuit merits an over-the-top recommendation, what then should we say to others about the Messiah?

Jesus said to them, “How foolish and slow you are to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Wasn’t it necessary for the Messiah to suffer these things and enter into his glory?” Luke 24:25-26

For the One who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. That is why Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters, saying, “I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters; I will praise you in the assembly.” Hebrews 2:11-12

Father, thank you for Jesus Messiah, Name above all names, King of kings, Lord of lords. He has given us life and is worthy to receive all glory, honor, and power. Forgive me for the embarrassing sin of not telling others about how wonderful He truly is. Amen.

Jerusalem - December 10

Saturday December 10 – Jerusalem
My dad would occasionally, on longer trips, sneak in an occasional side trip, a fun and short little adventure that would break up the monotony of long car rides. For example, there was the surprise diversion to Santa Fe on our trip to the Grand Canyon. That was back when families used to scramble out to the very extreme edge of the world’s largest hole and take a picture of the family, inches away from doom.
I also remember another side trip that was a stopover at the Kit Carson County Carousel in Colorado. It was an old, wooden, merry-go-round that had unique animals that had been restored recently. I think they said that it was one of the last one or two remaining versions of whatever type of carousel left in the world. I remember that the animals did not go up and down. The thing just went round and round in a circle. Dad’s little side trips were “funcomfortable.” While I enjoyed the near-death experience at the Grand Canyon, I was just a smidge too old for the carousel. Had we made that trip a few years prior, I was probably in the sweet spot. But as it was, I was just a bit too much into footballs and basketballs and less into “wooden animals that you sit on and go in a circle.” I also remember an old lady who worked there winking at me after I chose to sit on the bear figure and saying, “Be careful, son. The Bear is alive.”
Dad would always pretend that these things would just fall out of the sky, but he had carefully planned them out, sometimes years in advance. He would arrange our driving around these unique places and their hours of operation. And then we would cut short bathroom stops to make reservations in time. Dad had carefully planned all of these things. Nothing was chance or coincidence.
A Powerful Promise in Jerusalem: The Messiah would be the Righteous SuffererPsalm 69:20-21 Insults have broken my heart, and I am in despair. I waited for sympathy but there was none; for comforters, but found no one. Instead, they gave me gall for my food, and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.
The Old Testament prophet Isaiah painted the portrait that Messiah would be our suffering servant. And as we continue to remain in Jerusalem for a season, we get more insight into the suffering that the Messiah would endure. This psalm points to a specific moment on the cross when Jesus, nearing death and fully aware that it was near, took time to fulfill this ancient prophetic word.
As we consider this, we are reminded again of the extreme kindness with which God treats sinners like us. In Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, God’s justice and holiness remain. Our sins were put on Christ and God’s judgment of those sins took place while they were on him.
Christ bore our sins. He received our judgment. He paid our debt, removing our guilt. And because the Messiah suffered, our sins are gone. All of that happened on the cross. It wasn’t slapped together in some last-minute display of niceness. It wasn’t an audible that God called at the eleventh hour. This was God’s plan. It was such an intricate plan that in the waning moments of the cross, as life was leaving his body, Jesus kept to the plan and fulfilled this prophecy written hundreds of years before the cross.
This detail, this seemingly insignificant afterthought, was a part of God’s plan. It was important enough for the psalmist to write about it and for Jesus then to use his rapidly diminishing supply of oxygen to ask for it. And it wasn’t a coincidence. This was not a “hey, what do you know” moment. It was a detail that shared the length to which the Servant would suffer. All for you and me, so that we could be saved, and our sin washed away and our guilt removed.
After this, when Jesus knew that everything was now finished that the Scripture might be fulfilled, he said, “I’m thirsty.” A jar of sour wine was sitting there; so they fixed a sponge full of sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it up to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then bowing his head, he gave up his spirit. John 19:28-30
Father, thank you for the Jesus Messiah, our suffering Servant. We are grateful for your provision to remove our sins. Amen

Jerusalem - December 11

In the dark ages, back when my dad’s Ford Escort only had AM/FM radio capabilities, there were long, silent, horrid, music-less stretches. Once you got an hour out of my hometown, there were two blips for radio music in Western Kansas and Eastern Colorado. This was about a seven hour stretch of time I called “The Black Hole of Kanarado.” The only thing we could hear was my dad dragging on his Pall Mall unfiltereds and my brother’s snoring.

I would stare out the window and see the same, barren, flat landscape and wonder if the car was even moving. It was like the background art in a Scooby Doo cartoon, it was just an endless loop of flat plains. No variation. In fact, if you didn’t see the speedometer clicking along, you would think the car wasn’t moving. It was awful. And then, occasionally, my dad would tell my oldest brother, “Try it now. There are buildings up ahead.” And my brother would scan the radio dial to see if we could locate a signal. The radio would crackle to life, and I would lay my ear on the speaker in the way back of the Escort and hope and pray for some rock and roll. Even classical. Shoot, I would’ve settled for the accordion stylings of Lawrence Welk or Frankie Yankovic.

And then, it would settle in on something and the entire mood of the trip would lift. Music brought the four of us, my dad and my two brothers and myself, together in a way that nothing else ever did. After five or six hours in the car, we would be fed up with each other. But that music would carry us into Colorado, and I just remember feeling so glad to have it.

The Promise of Victory in Jerusalem: The Messiah would be the Rejected Cornerstone

Psalm 118:22-24 The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This came from the Lord; it is wondrous in our sight. This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

I wonder how encouraging these words would have resonated in the hearts of those Hebrews returning from exile, as they make the long trip uphill back to Jerusalem, returning to their homeland from this time of captivity in Babylon. I bet this song encouraged their souls as they returned home to Jerusalem, fresh winds of hope filling their hearts, bringing them to rejoice and be glad each day. These songs must’ve been the soundtrack, so to speak, for those Israelites returning home. The Lord had been their song in exile and now they were returning home. He was their strength and their salvation and the images of opening gates of righteousness must’ve filled their hearts with anticipation of opening the gates of Jerusalem.

Signing about the Lord and His goodness brought the Hebrews together. Despite their differences, despite the arduous, long journey, singing these hymns about the Lord and the cornerstone made them glad. They would walk along those long, dusty, difficult roads and while they did so, their hearts would enter His gates with thanksgiving in the would rejoice in the day that they had.
Psalm 118’s unique placement in Scripture stands out. It is the textual middle of the Bible. There are as many chapters before it as there are after it. It is preceded by the shortest chapter in the Bible (Psalm 117 with two verses) and the largest chapter follows Psalm 118 (Psalm 119 with 175 verses). Psalm 118:14 is the exact center, with as many verses preceding it as following it. Psalm 118:14 is the heart of the Bible. It reads: The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. The heart of the Bible speaks to the salvation we can receive in the Lord. And just a few verses further, in 22-24, we find prophecy about the Messiah, Lord Jesus, the One who made our salvation possible.

I bet you have sung the modern hymn Cornerstone often. “Christ alone/Cornerstone/ Weak made strong in the Savior’s love/Through the storm/He is Lord, Lord of all.” The lyrics remind us of both the prophecy and the one who fulfilled it. At the heart of the Bible is the concept of salvation in the Lord. To receive that salvation, we must accept the Lord Jesus and build our life upon Him. Being saved means being transformed from the inside out as our lives are shaped and fashioned into His image.

Christ is our cornerstone. Our lives are to be measured up against Him. Those parts of our life that hang over or run further than Christ’s example must be shaved off, removed, so we are in the likeness of our Cornerstone. It is a radical life, to reject some cultural group identity and instead find our identity solely in a Person, in Christ. We are to turn our backs on everything that is not built on the Cornerstone when it comes to shaping and making our lives. This was a difficult concept to grasp when Jesus taught about it and it remains extremely hard. Dying to self is not simple. It is sacrificial. Sacrifice by definition is expensive. Sacrifice makes being shaped into His image painful. Counting that cost is difficult.

Because of the cost, because of the message, because of the Messiah, several rejected what following Jesus entails. He was and is rejected. Sadly, that still happens today. There are a lot of rich, young ruler-types who encounter Christ, enjoy His teaching, appreciate His person and what He stands for, but ultimately choose some other thing that they just love too deeply.

But for those who did not reject the Cornerstone, for those who’ve received Him and built their lives on Him, they rejoice and are glad daily. Regardless of how their bones ache and their body may fail, they rejoice in the eternal salvation found in Christ. Despite the disappointments at school or work or with friends, despite the long, tenuous, arduous journey we may be on at the time, our hearts can be glad because of the wonderful blessings we experience in and from the Lord.

Even when we are mad at the world and feel as though a dark, gloomy cloud is just hovering over us everywhere we go, we can still rejoice because in that gloomy day. Our salvation rests in the strong and wonderful hands of Jesus.

Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is what the Lord has done and it is wonderful in our eyes?” Matthew 21:42

Father, thank you for the Cornerstone that we can build our lives upon. Help us every day to continue to be transformed by your constant shaping through the Holy Spirit into His likeness. And help us to rejoice each day that we have to become more like Christ. In His name I pray, Amen.

Jerusalem - December 12

Monday December 12 – Jerusalem

Whenever we travel these days, it usually takes us a bit of time to adjust, to get over the traveling itself. For example, after a day of flying in the stale air of an airplane and sitting in crowded airports, my family and I like to take a shower once we reach our destination to get all of the “travel and airport” off of us. If it has been a longer car ride, we need to take some time to adjust and unpack and get settled a bit. This means that even after our arrival to the destination, it takes time for us to be fully and completely “there,” wherever the there is. It takes us a day or so to finally be “on vacation.” We get there but we are not completely engaged with what we are doing. It takes some time to transition.

However, we are blessed that when Jesus came, when Immanuel was born, he was fully and completely, finally, here in the flesh. The invisible essence of God had become human. And when He was born to the virgin in Bethlehem, God was here. There wasn’t a transition. There was not some extended time of getting acclimated. Jesus came and when He did, God was here in the flesh.

In Jerusalem: The Messiah will be born of a virgin.

Isaiah 7:14 “Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign: See, the virgin will conceive and have a son, and name him Immanuel.”

The lyrics to a Christmas-themed song written in the 1990’s focused on how Christ’s birth was such an unexpected, unorthodox, even strange way to provide salvation for the entire world. While the song is lovely, it is also worth considering more thoughtfully.

Israel was looking for a Messiah to come and deliver them. We can make assumptions at what their expectations were, but certainly no one in Israel expected what actually transpired. Nobody could have imagined how God actually had the plan unfold. Even if they had heard this message in Isaiah 7:14 and assumed it pointed to a Messiah, the idea that a virgin would become pregnant with the Son of God was too far-fetched. The most common teaching or interpretation of this passage in that intertestamental period was that a chaste young woman would conceive the Messiah in the traditional method.

But what actually happened, how this prophecy was actually fulfilled, was completely unexpected. Immanuel meant that God would come in the flesh and live among people as a person.

As we read through several prophecies concerning the coming Messiah, it is important to remember that a few of them have both near and far fulfillments. Jesus Messiah is the far and ultimate fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy here. When Jesus came, God was fully and finally with us.

Now this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: See, the virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and they will name him Immanuel, which is translated “God with us.” Matthew 1:22-23

Jesus, thank you for your arrival. Thank you that you are fully and completely God with us in flesh. Because you were born of a virgin in Bethlehem, I can be born again in the spirit. Thank you for being my Immanuel. Amen.

Jerusalem - December 13

Tuesday December 13 – Jerusalem
A group of us were driving through the night to get to a staff retreat in Colorado. Five of us on staff had left late on a Sunday evening after a worship service. We drove overnight to get there in time on Monday morning to get some rest and get situated for the retreat. I drove the second shift, from about 11PM to 2AM.

Everyone else was asleep. I was on my own, fighting to stay awake. It was back in the days of paper maps, so I was basically trying to drive and navigate at the same time. To make things worse, it was a foggy night, and I could only see the yellow dotted lines in the middle of the road nearest my door in the headlights. So, for those three hours, I forced myself to just focus on what I could see directly in front of me and hoped nothing awful would come up. It was almost 2AM when I yielded my shift to someone else. I crawled into the back of the van and went to sleep.

When I woke up, we were in Colorado somewhere and it was daylight. The combination of being tired and the new daylight was disorienting. I had to take a few moments to get my whereabouts.
I wonder what sort of transition it was spiritually for God’s people when the Messiah brought His light into the world? So many never made that transition and continued to wander in darkness. Can you imagine always driving the overnight shift, spiritually speaking? It must be exhausting, frustrating, lonely and disheartening. You can only see a little bit at a time, and it is scary and intense. Thankfully, Jesus came and changed all of that for us!
Darkness in Jerusalem: The Messiah would be the Great Light
Isaiah 9:1-2 Nevertheless, the gloom of the distressed land will not be like that of the former times when he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali. But in the future he will bring honor to the way of the sea, to the land east of the Jordan, and to Galilee of the nations. The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; a light has dawned on those living in the land of darkness.
Choosing their own way over God’s way, trusting in themselves rather than in God found the Israelites plunged into darkness. They rejected God’s protective covering over them in their covenantal relationship. The people who had been guided by a pillar of fire and smoke were now completely confused. This was a total confusion of emotion, relationship, and spirituality. This confusion led to rebellion which led to Israel’s exposure to other kingdoms and nations, becoming the prey of the Assyrians and the Babylonians. This confusion has led them into a place of despairing, gloomy darkness.
But God promises that He will not leave them in this place of darkness.
In fact, in the areas in which the Assyrian conquests begin in the north, this is where God promises a light will dawn. Israel has done nothing to deserve this mercy and love and grace. They do not merit it and cannot earn it. And out of this disaster, God promises hope. God will bring final victory.
Clearly this passage promises the Messiah. We know that Jesus will come and be the Light of the world.
He left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, along the road by the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles. The people who live in darkness have seen a great light, and for those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned. Matthew 4:13-16
Father, thank you for the Light of the world, your Son Jesus, who came and ended our darkness. I pray more would step into the Light this Christmas season. Amen

Jerusalem - December 14

Wednesday December 14 – Jerusalem

Throughout my life, traveling around Oklahoma, Missouri, Texas, and New Mexico I have seen a lot of “The One and Only” things advertised. You see a lot of them especially along what is still drivable from the old Route 66. Route 66 was that cross-country highway that connected Chicago to Los Angeles and shot down southwest from Chicago through Illinois, Missouri, and down to central Oklahoma before launching due west there. Along the way you can see some of the tourist lures that were built to draw you in off of the Mother Road.

I have seen The Big Texan steak house in Amarillo, TX. I have seen Pops and the Round Red Barn in Arcadia, OK. I’ve seen the Blue Whale in Catoosa, OK. I have driven through the Painted Desert and seen unique sites in places like Tucumcari, Barstow, Kingman, Claremore, and Elk City. I have even once stood on a corner in Winslow, Arizona. You cannot count how many “One and Only” designations things carry. People were drawn to unique things. We are still curious to investigate and engage with things that are unlike anything else, to see something that is un-seeable anywhere

Isaiah shares a prophecy about a One-of-a-kind child that will be born. This child will be completely different, unique. Isaiah reveals the unique resume of titles and identity that this child will have.

Looking Ahead In Jerusalem: The Messiah would be the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace

Isaiah 9:6-7 For a child will be born for us, a son will given to us, and the government will be on his shoulders. He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. The dominion will be vast and its prosperity will never end. He will reign on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish and sustain it with justice and righteousness from now on and forever. The zeal of the Lord of Armies will accomplish this.

Over the course of three chapters in Isaiah, the birth of a child plays a central part of the text. It culminates here in chapter 9. God has promised a victory in which He will defeat Judah’s enemies. His people will then experience the joy and triumph of victory. The birth of a child answers the question, “How will God accomplish this great feat?”

Through the birth of a child, God will provide the victory. This means that God’s people will not have to look to trust in any other thing for that victory. In Isaiah’s time, Judah had turned to Assyria to deliver Judah from Syria. However, this trust was misplaced as Assyria would one day turn on Judah and cause them significant problems. It is clear that when we trust in something other than the Lord for our victory, that very thing often turns against us, overwhelming us in ways we simply didn’t expect.

Assyria was a powerful nation in the region. Assyria was more powerful than Syria, so Judah looked to them. But God showed how that misplaced trust would spell disaster for Judah. And out of that disaster, through the Messiah, God provides victory.

And this promised child cannot be simply a king. In fact, according to the titles that the child will hold, it cannot be any human. This child will be identified as “Mighty God.” The baby referred to here is certainly the promised Messiah, and He will reign over God’s people with a kind of justice and righteousness that no descendant of David could. This Messiah will provide a forever, eternal peace both in people and in the world.
These verses provide both the theological basis and the historical fact that establish the foundation upon which the world will experience “God With Us.”

Allowing Jesus to take over the “government” of lives will mean we experience the blessed benefits spoken of here in Isaiah 9. We will have the light, the honor, the joy, the abundance, and peace written on our hearts by the Lord. After reading this passage, we can clearly see that Jesus is the only way to see this happen. Trust in Him alone. There is nothing anywhere like Him.

“He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever and his kingdom will have no end.” Luke 1:32-33
Father, thank you for sending Jesus to us. Thank you for the benefit and blessing we can experience when we ask him into our hearts. Amen.

Jerusalem - December 15

Thursday December 15 – Jerusalem
It was early in the morning we were about to load up and head to see my grandma. We awoke, got ready and all of us walked out to get in dad’s car and head out. Except there was no car. Because of the oil bust in Oklahoma, businesses failed, and jobs were scarce. My dad had lost his job and was broke. This put him behind in his car payments. In the night, after he had picked me and my two older brothers up for supper and we had all come back to his apartment, someone came in the darkness after we’d gone to bed and repossessed his car. Somehow, he got the car back and we left after about a four-hour delay.

When we got to my grandma’s house after the ten-hour drive, it was much, much later than usual. I slept on the sofa bed at my grandma’s, and I remember staying up late as my dad and grandma spoke in hushed tones as he asked her for money to help get back on his feet. My grandma did what she could to help him out. Her help got my dad back on his feet again. I remember that he needed more than just bank account support. He needed emotional support. I think he had been embarrassed and emasculated when we all saw that his car had been repossessed. The visit with my grandma, my dad’s mom, helped to restore that a bit. Her money did more than just meet physical needs. Her encouragement lifted his spirits too.

Jesus did more than just provide some physical or material benefit for us. Through His atoning work on the cross, it became possible for us to be reconciled back to a right relationship with the Father. He heals our souls from the fracture that sin causes and then provides what we need to live a life of obedience.

In Jerusalem: The Messiah would perform signs of healing.Isaiah 35:5-6 Then the eyes of the blind will be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then the lame will leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute will sing for joy, for water will gush in the wilderness, and streams in the desert.

Isaiah’s 35th chapter promises that God will come to His people and then His people would come to His house. While there is a promised spiritual healing through these words, there is also the prophetic understanding that the Messiah will come and perform these signs of healing.

Jesus did come and did physically heal people. He also comes to remove barriers that keep us from being whole in Him. In this sense, He comes to reconcile us back to himself. Paul writes that “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ.” (2 Cor 5:19).
Christ came so that we might come to God the Father through the Son by the power of the Holy Spirit. Through Christ, we were delivered from our sins, made whole, healed. Just like the physical healing of the lame, Christ made it possible for us to walk spiritually. These miraculous healings take place because of the ministry of reconciliation that Jesus shares with us.

Jesus did come and heal. And He is still working to bring us to spiritual wholeness.

Jesus replied to them, “Go and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, those with leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor are told the good news, and blessed is the one who isn’t offended by me.” Matthew 11:4-6

Father, thank you for the healing that I received in Jesus. He brought a spiritual healing that I was desperately in need of and then He made it possible for me to be able to come to you. Thank you for the spiritual wholeness available to me through Jesus. Amen

Jerusalem - December 16

Friday December 16 – Jerusalem
I am a notorious sign-reader when I drive places. I like to see note mile markers and signs alerting us to the distance left between where I might be on the highway and how far there is to go. Before my fancy smart-phone told me what to do and when to do it, I would look for those green rectangles informing me of how many more miles to Dodge City or Joplin or Little Rock.
And as the mileage was trending downward, as miles ticked off the journey and we saw signs telling us that we were less than ten miles from our destination, I would begin to prepare myself to be finished with the journey and excitement would build. I would consider all that needed to happen (usually it meant a quick unpacking and a brief pit stop). I would also be encouraged to consider the people that I was about to be reunited with – a lot of good and hopeful feelings were associated with the signs.
Spoilers in Jerusalem: The Messiah would be preceded by a forerunner.
Isaiah 40:3-5 A voice of one crying out: Prepare the way of the Lord in the wilderness; make a straight highway for our God in the desert. Every valley will be lifted up, and every mountain and hill will be leveled; the uneven ground will become smooth and the rough places, a plain. And the glory of the Lord will appear; and all humanity together will see it, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
God lets the people know that He will provide a “mile marker sign” in the form of the voice preparing the way for the Messiah. There will be one who will come, a voice crying in the wilderness, to prepare the people and the way for the One who will come to deliver the people and set them free.
Isaiah shares God’s plan to come to his helpless people and set them free. Nothing will prevent his swift coming to help his people, not mountains nor valleys. It is clear here that if people are going to be delivered, it will have to come from God’s direct intervention. Outside of God, there is no other hope.
And there will be a voice that announces the arrival of this help. The New Testament sees John the Baptist as the second voice that is predicted here in Isaiah 40. Like a spiritual mile marker sign alerting us to the beautiful promise soon to arrive, John prepares the way for Messiah’s coming by preaching in the desert. There is a striking similarity between John and this anonymous voice in Isaiah 40, in that John’s humility stands out. “He must become greater, I must become less.” (John 3:30) While the identity if the herald is significant, the One who will come as the eternal Word, that is all-important. It is of such import that God sends one to go before and prepare the way.
One of the key aspects to this text is the hope that it points to. A voice of one will come preparing the way for the Messiah. A voice calls our attention to hope. This is an important message for Isaiah’s audience back then and for us today. For so many, hope has been lost. Life that was once promising is now full of regret and sadness, gloom and despair. Many people who feel this sense of hopelessness believe that God exists but that He just doesn’t work on their behalf. God is busy with other people, better people, people more worthy of Him and His affection.
Sadly, many people, including Christians, overwhelmed in gloom, feel that they are beyond God’s compassion. They believe God has forgotten them. They assume that their sin has so clouded the issue that they are even beyond his power. They assume their journey, or their life, is hidden from God. Isaiah’s promise in chapter 40 is a thirty-one-verse reminder that nobody is beyond God’s power and God loves and has compassion for every person. God loves people and has sent His Son for them. And to prepare the people for that arrival, there was a voice calling people to prepare, to get ready, to repent because the kingdom of heaven was at hand.
John the Baptist is the most encouraging, refreshing, mile marker preparing us for the Messiah’s advent. 
In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, because of the kingdom of heaven has come near! For he is the one spoken of through the prophet Isaiah, who said: A voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way for the Lord; make his paths straight.” Matthew 3:1-3
Father, thank you for the work you did in preparing my heart to receive and trust in Jesus. Thank you for the people who spoke words of life and truth to me, preparing me for the One who would deliver me from my sins. Thank you for Jesus and for the people you used to soften and prepare my soul for Him. Amen

Jerusalem - December 17

Saturday December 17 – Jerusalem

I remember that June day in 2003. A Sunday afternoon phone call from my older brother set in motion a few days of sadness and loss. I had to make the eight-hour drive back to my hometown to bury my dad. That was a long, lonely trip to make. You replay a lot of conversations and process a range of emotions. You categorize things into regrets, little mercies, and exquisite “gratefulnesses.” I had some regrets in how my dad and I related to each other after my parents’ divorce. I had some adult conversations with him over the disappointment of growing up in that dynamic that would comfort me deeply. These I referred to as “gratefulnesses.” And I was grateful in some details that his death brought to the surface and saw those as little mercies rather than difficulties because it forced my brothers and I to resume conversations and relationships that had sort of slid off the tarmac a bit.

However, that clarity came at the end of the eight hours. Preparing to begin that trip was sad. I remember sniffling as I exerted great effort to organize and pack everything, I thought I might need. One moment I will always recall clearly and thankfully was when, sitting on the floor of my office because I was getting something from a lower cabinet and then just being overwhelmed and leaning against the wall. I was just sort of staring off into the distance and trying to make sense of my dad not being there anymore.

In that moment, my co-worker Larry – the sixty-year-old music minister and dear friend – came in and just sat on the floor next to me. He didn’t say anything for a while. He just sat there. He was a de facto father figure and influence for me and in those moments, he saved his words and just sat in the ashes with me. And then he simply said, “You know, your dad loved you and was proud of you. Sometimes guys our age just don’t say that much. But know that he did. Go back and honor him well.” I had spent several conversations with Larry about that family dynamic and the rupture and dysfunction that fracture of divorce caused our family. He spoke to me from a place of insight, understanding, truth, and compassion.

In the sadness, those words crystallized for me both what I needed to hear and look to do as I prepared to make a long trip marked by grief and sadness.

Something New before leaving Jerusalem: The Messiah would bring in a New Covenant

Jeremiah 31:31 “Look, the days are coming” – this is the Lord’s declaration – “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.”

This promise of a new covenant was significant. The old covenant was one that the people simply were unable to keep. They were, as the hymnist wrote, “prone to wander” and in their rebellion consistently broke covenantal fidelity. The old covenant established in Sinai under Moses focused on external actions moving to change an inward disposition or motivation. Sadly, it is extremely difficult for the heart to be changed simply by doing things under obligation.

This new covenant promised was a completely new, different understanding of relating to God. This new covenant inverted the relationship. Instead of being pressed from the outside, now it would be possible to express faith from the inside out rather than the outside in. The Messiah would come, providing the perfect, once-for-all-time sacrifice and God would then be able to “write His words on our hearts.” The Spirit would bring about life change in our hearts. This would become the indwelling ministry of the Holy Spirit. And all of this was made possible by Jesus Messiah, being born of a virgin in Bethlehem, living a perfectly sinless life, dying on a cross and raising from the dead in an act of buying us back as our kinsman redeemer, and then ascending to heaven where Jesus waits to return a second time.

As the people of Judah are being taken, chained up, and hauled away to Babylon in captivity, Jeremiah the weeping prophet shares this word of hope and future and love. God will not just edit or tweak the covenant as it previously existed. He would replace it with a new covenant. And that new covenant would be initiated by the Messiah.

For people who were making a hard and gloomy journey, this message was one that could provide hope and life and future promise. As they prepared to make the long trip in chains to Babylon, a trip made overwhelmed in grief at what was lost, they get this message of hope that reframes both the trip and the recover. Now they know what God will do for them and it helps shape what they should do and what they will become. For those of us who deal with sadness, loss, gloom, and hopeless feelings, this is a powerful reminder of the immense and overwhelming love that God has for us. God sent Jesus for us, to replace the Old Covenant with a New Covenant and then to provide the blood that would atone for our sins under this New Covenant.

“For this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Matthew 26:28

Father, thank you for Jesus and for the hope, joy, and peace He provides for us on the hard, difficult, sad, and gloomy journeys we have to make in life. Thank you for your grace, love, and power that encourages us and lifts our heads. Amen

Babylon - December 18

…Into Exile in Babylon…

Sunday December 18 – Babylon
We were about an hour down the road on a rare summer trip to Colorado from Oklahoma to visit my aunt and uncle, my dad’s brother. That is when my brother realized that he had forgotten a toy that mattered a lot to him. He loved it. It was a comforting presence, like Linus’s security blanket from the Peanuts comic strips. 
My dad didn’t hesitate. He immediately turned around and we backtracked to get the to for my brother. It added another two hours to the total time of the trip and drank up some gas, but my brother got the toy. The rest of us thought it was silly to go back, but whatever. It wasn’t our decision. Dad chose.
When we told my uncle about the back-and-forth nature of the beginning of the trip, he was reminded of my dad losing a treasured toy when they moved across the country from Iowa to Denver when my dad was around my brother’s age at the time. Dad never got that toy back – it was some horrifying stuffed spider-monkey that my dad cherished. That made it all make sense. My dad had been through that loss before and didn’t want my brother to experience that same feeling. So, he decided and planned in the moment to adjust for it. 
Truth In Babylon: The Messiah would be the Son of Man
Daniel 7:13-14  I continued watching in the night visions, and suddenly one like a son of man was coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was escorted before him. He was given dominion, and glory, and a kingdom; so that those of every people, nation, and language should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will not be destroyed. 
The title “Son of Man” occurs in the Old Testament and can be a synonym for “man,” such as when God refers to Ezekiel as a “son of man.” He is reminding Ezekiel of his identity as a human. However, in Daniel the title “Son of Man” is used to refer to a promised divine ruler who will come and be given authority and a kingdom by God. Jesus will refer to both of these distinctions when He refers to himself as “Son of Man.” 
Jesus as the Son of Man will reign over his kingdom. And as the Son of Man, Jesus takes up the authority rule, which was bestowed to him by God in Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection on our behalf. 
This promised Son of Man in Daniel directs us to the One who will conquer the evil systems of this world. The Son of Man will also receive authority to rule over the Kingdom of God. And according to the exilic prophet, the Son of Man will be a man. God’s power, God’s kingdom will be placed in the hands of a man. But not any ordinary man. It will be the Son of God in flesh, the visible image of the invisible God.
The incarnation of God in flesh as Jesus was the fulfillment of the promise of Immanuel, God with us. Jesus came here and his humanity plays a significant role in our salvation. He was like us in each way but one in that Christ never sinned. But Jesus experienced the same run of pain, emotion, exhaustion, stress, anger – those things that make us human. Jesus was human and that promise means that He understands what it feels like to be rejected, to experience loss, to deal with family conflict, to be on the receiving end of hostility, to be lied about and wrongfully accused, to be betrayed, to be abandoned, to be denied by His closest friends. Jesus endured all of that, so we have a Savior who understands what we need because He was human. 
Jesus made this journey here previously, and He knows what unique issues people have. He understands the frailties and weaknesses that mark us as people. He made a difficult journey of sacrifice so we wouldn’t have to. Because of His grace and love, He provides us a life full of exactly what we need. And then he provides a forever life with God. 
“But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” – then he told the paralytic, “Get up, take your stretcher, and go home.” Matthew 9:6
Lord, thank you for the humanity of our Savior, Jesus. Thank you that Jesus understands what we deal with and can encourage, strengthen, and equip us through all of these difficulties that expose the frailty of being human. Thank you for your strength that helps us in our weakness. Amen

Samaria - December 19

 Monday December 19 – Samaria
It was an almost six-hour drive from the church I served in Arkansas back to see family and friends in Oklahoma. I got to the point where I could make that drive in my sleep, and a few times I attempted it! I remember one trip, to change things up, I determined to try a different route. However, rather than plan ahead, I decided to wing it on the road.
It was a terrible idea. This was in the days before GPS and smart phones. I got as lost as a ball in tall grass. There was no place to stop for a soda or tinkle break. As I saw the gas gauge sliding towards E for “EEEEEEdiot,” I began to realize that I had not planned this at all. There was no radio signal to catch up to and apparently no place to stop to get any bearings. Finally, I rolled into a town in which an old buddy lived and I called him from a pay phone! (A pay phone was an old push button telephone that used to be commonplace in public. You would put a coin in the slot and then be able to make a local call. More coins for longer distance calls.) I called my friend and told him where I was and where I needed to be. He redirected me and met with a map that was highlighted and had directions written on it.
I had driven two hours in the wrong direction and was exhausted. I got some gas and then a Zero candy bar and a Diet Code Red Mountain Dew and pushed back out again. And I learned that “wingin’ it” on road trips is not the best idea. A plan is always ideal.
Mapquesting In Samaria: The Messiah would be called out of Egypt.Hosea 11:1 “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.”
Hosea was one probably a contemporary of Isaiah, although Hosea was a northerner and preached to the northern kingdom of Israel from Samaria. He was God’s prophet to the northern kingdom of Israel before they went into Assyrian exile in 722BC.
Hosea preaches powerful images of Israel being radically separated from its land. It points to exile. Hosea refers to it as a return to the wilderness, which once lay between exodus and land, or even back to Egypt itself. This return to Egypt was not meant literally. It is a picture of the violent removal of Israel from its land as well as God’s condemnation of Israel’s rebellious attempt to get help from Egypt rather than God. At first Egypt and Assyria are involved in this despair that possesses Israel.
However, this is relieved by the remarkable promise of chapter 11. Despite the sense of loss, God will again speak to them in compassionate language. God will deliver and save them and restore them. In that spiritual sense, God will call Israel out of Egypt. We know that this calling comes ultimately in the form of the Messiah.
Which is also an interesting future fulfillment of Hosea 11:1. Jesus is called out of Egypt and in doing so, Matthew tells us this fulfills prophecy.
In what scholars believe was a visit that occurred a few years later, when Jesus was a toddler, magi from the east paid him a visit. At this point, Joseph and Mary took up residence in a home in Bethlehem rather than return to Nazareth. The magi followed a star that led them to Jesus. They first stopped by sitting King Herod the Great who was not excited about someone who was born to be king of the Jews, since Herod was not a Jew by birth. He was king by mandate from Rome and political alliances and networking that his father established with Julius Caesar and Marc Antony.
You know the rest. The magi are warned in a dream to return via another, Herod-less route. Herod blows a gasket and determines to kill all baby boys who are up to age two. Scholars believe that anywhere from 35-50 little boys were killed in this atrocity. Joseph is warned in a dream to head down to Egypt. They do and then, after some time passes and things are safer, God calls them back to Nazareth out of Egypt. This fulfills the prophecy of Hosea.
Over seven centuries before it happened, God’s plan was to take this detour into a safer place in Egypt to avoid this maniac in Jerusalem. This also alludes to the fact that Jesus was preserved in Egypt just like Israel was preserved in Egypt. Remember the Joseph account in Genesis. Isn’t it interesting that two Josephs, one the son of Jacob/Israel, one the earthly father of the Messiah, would both find purpose in a difficult journey to Egypt. Both realize that what man intended for bad and to harm, God used as a part of his plan to preserve His people and then His Son.
Every day as we journey closer and closer to Christmas, you realize that God’s sovereignty, omniscience, and omnipotence was clearly evident. God has a plan, and I should trust His plan for my life. This entire Christmas story was predicted almost one thousand years before it happened. That kind of God is truly Almighty and deserving of our trust and devotion.
After they were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Get up! Take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. For Herod is about to search for the child to kill him.” So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night, and escaped to Egypt. He stayed there until Herod’s death, so that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled: Out of Egypt I called my Son. Matthew 2:13-15
Father, thank you for the intricate plan you have for our lives. We see the detail and the planning that was evident in Jesus’s birth, and we know that we can trust all of our lives into your hands. In Jesus’s Name we pray, Amen.

Samaria - December 20

 …Out of Exile towards Jerusalem…
Tuesday December 20 – Jerusalem
I was leading a preparation meeting for a large youth ministry mission trip to Peru. As we walked through the plans for the trip, we laid out how each leg of the transportation there would work. We started with meeting at the church parking lot and loading the buses. Then we talked about the trip and then through the airport. We dealt specifically with the passports, especially those students whose parents were not going with us. We assigned them to an adult and walked everyone through how we would process in and out of immigration processing in both Lima and in Atlanta.
We prepared them for the paperwork that had to be filled out on the plan as we landed in both Peru on the way there and America on the way back. We also laid out how the stay in Lima would look as we prepared to board our next flight to the northern mountain town of Cajamarca. It was a detailed plan but by the time we finished going over each aspect of how we would leg around on the trip, parents were appreciative, and students were excitedly awaiting the trip.
Israel must have felt similarly concerning the coming arrival of a Messiah that was also reason to celebrate.
Preparing in Jerusalem: The Messiah would come riding on a colt.Zechariah 9:9 Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout in triumph, Daughter Jerusalem! Look, your King is coming to you; he is righteous and victorious, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
Zechariah is preaching to the exiles who have returned to Jerusalem after the Babylonian captivity. God uses Zechariah to share this powerful prophecy and promise of the coming King that will deliver Zion and Jerusalem from their enemies. God pronounced judgment on Israel’s enemies earlier in chapter nine and now he gives Israel hope to celebrate and praise the triumph that is coming.
While we are familiar with this prophecy, its fulfillment is not associated with this holiday. While Mary rode a donkey to Bethlehem, this was not the donkey ride that Zechariah spoke about. The fulfillment of this prophecy is connected with the triumphant entry Jesus made into Jerusalem for the Passover, the day we remember and celebrate as Palm Sunday. This prophecy is connected to Easter and to the cross.
However, we cannot forget that cradle in Bethlehem rests in the shadow of the cross of Calvary. Jesus was born to be our sacrificial atonement, the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. When we consider the Christmas season, it is good to remember what the baby in the manger would grow up to be.
The great news is that this prophecy was fulfilled, and Jesus was obedient to fulfill God’s plan for redemption. He was crucified, dead, and buried. That is why both the cross and cradle in our sanctuary remain empty throughout the season. It reminds us that Jesus is not still in the manger. Jesus is not still on the cross. He sits in glory at the right hand of God the Father, awaiting his second advent.
When they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage at the Mount of Olives, Jesus then sent two disciples telling them, “Go into the village ahead of you. At once you will find a donkey tied there with her foal. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and He will send them at once.” This took place so that what was spoken through the prophet might be fulfilled: Tell Daughter Zion, ‘See your King is coming to you, gentle, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’”The disciples went and did just as Jesus directed them. They brought the donkey and its foal; then they laid their clothes on them and he sat on them.
Father, thank you for the empty cradle, the empty cross and the empty tomb. Jesus is our victorious and triumphant Savior and Lord and all glory and honor and power are due Him. Amen

Jerusalem - December 21

Wednesday December 21 – Jerusalem
We had stopped along the road during a mission trip to grab a quick bite to eat. Normally we would pile into a fast-food place for the convenience factor. However, this particular stop lacked those options and we found ourselves in a mom-and-pop shop taking a break and refueling. The prices were extremely low and initially, we thought we had hit the honeypot! However, after trying the food, we realized that it was overpriced. It was far inferior even to McDonalds. From that point on, we were wary of a bargain. The low price generally meant that the product was inferior.
Heartbreak in Jerusalem: The Messiah would be betrayed for thirty pieces of silver.
Zechariah 11:12-13  Then I said to them, “If it seems right to you, give me my wages; but if not, keep them.” So they weighed my wages, thirty pieces of silver.
“Throw it to the potter,” the Lord said to me – this magnificent price I was valued by them. So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw it into the house of the Lord, to the potter.
Zechariah records two sign-acts in these verses. These are non-verbal actions and objects used by the prophets to help communicate the message God intended for the audience. It is a visual aid, a sermon illustration, if you will. Zechariah is condemning the nation of Israel for their rejection of the Lord. He also rebukes prideful and arrogant shepherds who lack humility in leadership.
Here Zechariah tells of a breaking of a covenant with the people he has been called to serve. He then requests his wages but gives the nation the option to refuse payment in case the prophet has broken the agreement. They weigh out the wages, a common practice in the early Persian period when coinage was not in general use. This low amount also reflects disapproval of the shepherd’s efforts. The quality of the leadership was inferior as it was proud. And the quality of obedience within the community was such that God had decided to condemn it. However, being perfect in compassion and omnibenevolent, God chose to respond in love to restore those who repent.
Having received his wages, the prophet quickly reports a second sign-act. God instructs the shepherd to throw the payment to the “potter,” who, according to the instruction, is in “the house of the Lord.” Throwing the silver into the temple implies that the personnel who should receive this low amount for this unfavorable action works in the temple. The tone here is one of strong rejection of payment, highlighting the broken relationship. These two sign-acts signal an end to the covenant with the nations.
Zerubbabel was a good leader, yet he was rejected by the people. And despite this rejection, God appears and offers to cleanse and forgive them. This leads the people to repentance. This predicts the rejection of another from Zerubbabel’s line would be rejected. It connects directly to the mission of Jesus in the New Testament. There is clearly the foreshadowing of the rejection Jesus would face from the spiritual leadership.
Of course, this is seen clearly in the fulfillment through Judas Iscariot. Connecting this passage of Zechariah is a clear condemnation of the poor job of leading the people that the scribes and temple leadership had been doing. The low payment and throwing back into the temple not only condemns the poor shepherding, but it also represents the broken relationship between Judas and the Lord.
Despite the spiritual community’s unwillingness to submit to the authority and leadership of Jesus, He still came and was offered as a sacrifice and because of that, those who did surrender to the Lord could experience forgiveness for their sins. Jesus came and would confront the flock with the truth of their sinfulness and provide for them an opportunity to experience salvation.
The humble Shepherd Savior is able to lead us into the presence of the Father through repentance. While many will reject the humble sacrifice of the Messiah, and others will abandon the Messiah, and still another will betray the Messiah, those who trust Jesus will experience life.
Then one of the Twelve, the man called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?” So they weighed out thirty pieces of silver for him. And from that time he started looking for a good opportunity to betray him. Matthew 26:14-15
Father, thank you for the humble Savior you provided for us, to restore us back to you. Help us to come to you in repentance and to remain obedient and humble. Amen

Jerusalem - December 22

Thursday December 22 – Jerusalem
I had insulted my grandmother over a card game. It was the only time my dad ever really yelled at me. Because I was a petulant teenager, I never really apologized to her. I sulked off and laid low the rest of the visit. I kept mostly to myself and decided to protest my “unfair treatment” silently.
After I got home, I told one of my friends about what had happened and about how I had been “done wrong” by my old man. My friend, who was one of the really few genuine and transparent Christians I had met at that point, corrected me in love by saying, “It sounds like you owe your grandma an apology and that your dad was only doing what dads are supposed to do when their sons mess up. Also, you insulted his mom. That won’t go well.” My friend was right. I needed to make this right and I needed to be in person. I did write her a letter but a few months later, we were headed back up for a visit. I planned on asking her to forgive me in person.
The entire trip, I was hopeful and excited to see her, but it was tempered with a newly acquired spiritual sense of grief. In my sinful words and tone and with sinful, selfish intention, I had hurt my grandma’s feelings. What a sluggard I was. That grief was also in the same orbit as the grace I knew she would extend, as she had already done in her written response to my apology. It was all in the mix there. Grief, hope, grace, supplication. I needed to ask her for something, forgiveness, and hope that she could move forward. Besides, in my life growing up, my two grandmas were really my only healthy sources of love and support. And I had lost one to the grave and then insulted the other. See? A sluggard. I think we can all agree on that. Let’s move on.
I got there. I cried and apologized. She forgave me. And the next morning, I got the center cinnamon roll in the pan. And this is no joke, I cannot tell what heaven will be like, but in my head, I like to think it is like eating the center cinnamon roll at Grandma Smith’s forever and ever.
Supplication in Jerusalem: The Messiah would be pierced.
Zechariah 12:10 ‘Then I will pour out a spirit of grace and prayer on the house of David and the residents of Jerusalem, and they will look at me whom they pierced. They will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child and weep bitterly for him as one weeps for a firstborn.”
Zechariah reminded God’s people in chapter 12 that repentance and cleansing were prerequisites to God’s promised victory over outside nations on behalf of Israel and Judah. God also made it clear to them that He was the one who brought security for them. Not a king. Not an army. Not wealth. God’s Spirit provided security for Jerusalem and her people. This security is an extension of both God’s unfailing love (Psalm 48:9) and righteousness (Psalm 48:10).
This promise of security was important to Jerusalem and the city’s tradition. This community that Zechariah preached to had to reevaluate their status in the Jerusalem living in the wake of its destruction. Jeremiah’s Lamentations had begun to guide the people toward repentance in Lamentations 3:40-42. And now through Zechariah, God offers victory and salvation simultaneously with his transformation of the people through his Spirit.
In Zechariah 12:10-14, the prophet revealed an important component. Their salvation would be secured through an outside force – the Messiah. And this salvation that will be secured for the people will be an internal renewal of the nation as God transforms their affections to seek Him in repentance. This internal renewal will begin when God pours out a spirit of grace and supplication. God will place his presence uniquely within his people. This renewal will impact people in a way that is consistent with mourning. There must be death to bring this renewal. Hence the piercing.
This understanding of piercing is used in other Old Testament texts to refer to a fatal wounding (Numbers 25:18). The person being pierced experienced death. The images and vocabulary present are all drawn from the mourning rites of ancient Israel. God’s spirit of grace and supplication will be poured out. The response to that will be piercing, death, followed by mourning, grieving, and weeping.
Our response to God’s pouring out of a spirit of grace is to mourn over our treatment of God and his law. That is a penitent response. We are to mourn over how we treated God in similar fashion as an Israelite might have mourned over the death of their firstborn son. Our sin was a mistreatment of God. Our sin pierced the Lord.
This piercing is literally fulfilled in Christ on the cross when his side his pierced by the soldiers to confirm that his heart no longer works. My individual, personal sin should cause me to mourn in repentance because of the sacrifice of the Lord.
We live in an era of what the theologian calls “easy-believism.” The current church doesn’t know much of Zechariah 12:10-14. There is not much penitential depth within God’s people. It has been flattened out by prosperity-based theology promising health, wealth, and happiness. However there is also the limited sense of repentance in light of a faith that leans heavily into intellectual enrichment rather than the overall transformation of our affections. We preach a faith that becomes more of a human accomplishment through knowledge rather than God’s work on our hearts.
The repentance Zechariah calls for is steeped in covenant relationship. It isn’t that we turn from inappropriate behaviors as much as we should mourn over our treatment of God through our rebellion. We aren’t to just feel “bad” about our sin. We are to grieve what it has done to the Lord. And an ever-increasing penitential depth is increased by recognizing that the Messiah was pierced for our rebellion. It was predicted and taught. That repentant attitude and the transformation God brings through it will enrich the working out of our salvation as well as inform our hope and expectation of Jesus’s second coming.
When they came to Jesus, they did not break his legs since they saw that he was already dead. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out. John 19:33-34
“Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the peoples of the earth will mourn; and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” Matthew 24:30
Father, forgive me for my sin of pride. I have too often made my “Christianity” more about me, about what I think and do, about what I don’t do, about what I have learned and accomplished. Help me to be open to allowing you to graciously pour your spirit of supplication into my heart. Help me to change according to your work within me. And help me to look to your Son’s second advent with a sense of repentance and hope. Amen

Jerusalem - December 23

Friday December 23 – Jerusalem
After my junior year, I went to visit my best friend who had the year prior moved to Lexington, Kentucky. It was an interesting trip. While there, his church had a famous political personality speak. We were driving in early that morning and the roads had been shut down and the police provided an escort. All the cars had to wait and were moved out of the way so that this special guest could get to the church without any issues.
I decided then that was a pretty great way to travel. Ignoring red lights and stop signs. Having the police force clear the roads for you. People being held on side streets waiting for minutes. It would be great to have a police escort going ahead of you and clearing a path. However, you have to be extremely important for the mayor or the police chief to determine that all of that hoop-dee-doo is necessary.
A Final Preview in Jerusalem: The Messiah would be preceded by a messenger.
Malachi 3:1 “See, I am going to send my messenger; and he will clear the way before me. Then the Lord you seek will suddenly come to his temple, the Messenger of the covenant you delight in – see, he is coming,” says the Lord of Armies.
Malachi’s post-exilic audience could, on occasion, complain about God’s apparent lack of activity. It parallels complaints recorded by Habakkuk. It seems that a blasé attitude had begun to spread through the community. It is similar to this postmodern view that there are no absolute standards and no absolute values, and no objective good or evil.
God responds to this in chapter 3 of Malachi. In fact, God strongly moves in disagreement against this notion that He is not working. He tells the people that He is on the verge of sending a messenger. Implied here is the idea of “just wait!” The messenger is the Lord’s. The Lord will send His messenger. This messenger’s task is to “clear the way” before the Lord. The One who would come was so important to God’s plan, that a special messenger would be both predicted and provided to clear a path.
There are obstacles in the way that need clearing for the impending arrival of the Lord, the Messiah. Here it is the Israelites and their leaders (Mal. 3:3-5). The Lord will come to His people and a way will be opened by this messenger. The Lord will come and take his place in his temple (Mal. 3:10). This is His rightful place.
For those people who believed that the King was gone for good, this is a powerful rebuttal to that attitude. The Lord will be coming and a prophet, God’s prophet, God’s messenger (a play on the name Malachi in Hebrew, malaki) will come and clear a pathway.
John the Baptist was the messenger promised, the one who would come and clear the way for Jesus the Messiah. John would preach repentance and the impending Kingdom’s arrival soon. John would point out Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
Jesus confirms this status and how John’s birth and ministry fulfilled that prophecy in Malachi.
For God to transform your life this Christmas completely and wholly, what obstacles need to be cleared? What needs to be removed so that the Lord Jesus can reign as King in his rightful place?
“What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written: See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way before you.” Matthew 11:9-10
Father, help me this Christmas season to clear away the obstacles that keep Jesus from reigning in his rightful place as the King of my heart. Amen

Bethlehem - December 24

…And Finally born in Bethlehem.
Saturday December 24 – Bethlehem
Is there more relief then when you see the sign for the destination? Especially when the journey has been long and difficult. You get to the end of it and feel the sense of relief as well as the anticipation of what will happen once you are there.
Micah shares the destination. His prophetic promise aims the journey to Bethlehem. Despite its humble setting, it holds significant promise. The Son of David will be born in the City of David. The eternal Son of God will be incarnated into flesh at Bethlehem. He will be God’s ruler and fulfill God’s will.
That is a destination that is worth all the distance covered on the journey.
The Journey Culminates in Bethlehem: The Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.Micah 5:2 Bethlehem Ephrathah, you are small among the clans of Judah; one will come from you to be ruler over Israel for me. His origin is from antiquity, from ancient times.
This is a positive message of hope that looks forward to a day when a strong ruler will rise from Bethlehem Ephrathah, the city of Boaz, Jesse, and David. The people would have been reminded about their tradition of the messianic promise of an eternal reign of David’s Son from 2 Samuel.
He will come from one of the smallest families in the tribe of Judah. However, the Messiah will go out for God to fulfill God’s will and to be God’s ruler of all Israel. And we get this powerful statement of the ancient lineage of the promised one. Thoughts would have gone to two places regarding this statement, that the Messiah would have an ancient origin.
First, David’s family line is an ancient one, tracing back to Judah, Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham. And Abraham’s line is tracked back to Adam. It truly is an ancient line.
However, there is a second thought concerning the Messiah coming from ancient times. This verse has been connected the eternal preexistence of Jesus Christ the Messiah. The Ancient of Days will be born of a virgin in Bethlehem.
Centuries later when magi from the east go looking for the Messiah, the one born king of the Jews, they stop by Herod’s palace and Jerusalem to ask for directions. Herod then asks his scribes and text experts where the Messiah was predicted to be born. Despite misquoting the actual verse to Herod, the experts do get the city correct. Matthew includes this detail to highlight both the fulfillment of prophecy as well as the scribes’ ability to distort the Old Testament.
Jesus, the eternal Son of God, was born in Bethlehem, the City of David. Just like Micah’s prophecy declared.
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of King Herod, wise men from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star at its rising and have come to worship him.” … “In Bethlehem of Judea,” they told him “because this is what was written by the prophet: And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judea, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah: Because out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.” Matthew 2:1-2; 5-6
Father, thank you for sending the divine and eternal Son to come and fulfill your will for the atonement of sins. Thank you for the Savior born for us in Bethlehem. Amen.

Bethlehem - December 25

 Sunday December 25 – Bethlehem
Every Christmas I would spend it with my mom and her parents and sister. It meant a nice meal and stockings and presents. It also meant an entire day spent with the grands. I never saw my dad on Christmas day. I would spend Christmas Eve with him at a midnight service at his little church. We would eat before that, and exchange presents. I would call him later in the day on Christmas. With his family all in Colorado, I remember feeling sad for my dad. He was alone on Christmas.
I mentioned that to him once when I was in high school. I told him how I felt sorry for him being alone on Christmas. He mentioned that he always had someplace to eat lunch, as a family from his church would invite him over for lunch. He told me about how they reached out to him and invited a few folks from his church who were in similar situations to my dad, so he didn’t feel like some third wheel. Plus, he did get to spend time with his sons all day on Christmas Eve and that was essentially his Christmas. He also had long phone conversations with his mom and brother.
He then reminded me again of a lesson that many people in my life would be sure to mention. Christmas was more than that stuff. He took significant time to rest, reflect, sip some good coffee, and consider what God had truly done for him and for the world at Christmas. He would spend time in the afternoon preparing a Christmas dinner with the Salvation Army, a group he was affiliated with his entire adult life (I had been stationed with dad outside the Boys Market ringing the bell by the red kettle). He said because God was with him and was more on his mind on Christmas than on any other day, he never felt less alone. And he chided me lightly for feeling pity for him on what he called his “best soul day” of the year. He said that there are a lot of people crowded by family and at the bottom of a pile of wrapping paper who never once think about God on Christmas. All things considered, he would rather be in solitude in the presence of God.
That thought comforted me and still does. Take some time today and let the Lord guide your thoughts and sit in God’s presence, getting rest and strengthening your appreciation for what God did for you.
Born In Bethlehem: The Messiah would be called God’s Son.Psalm 2:7 I will declare the Lord’s decree. He said to me, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.”
When one reads the second Psalm, the covenant God made with David provides the background. God describes the relationship to the Davidic kings in terms of sonship. This designation would have provided and imbued these kings with a special power and privilege as well as a deep responsibility to mediate justice to God’s people and to lead and model God’s righteousness in the way of true, biblical faith.
In that covenant made with David was a provision that David’s line would last eternally. A son of David would reign forever. Psalm 2 is a reminder of this and also points us to the Messiah to come. The Messiah would be both a son of David and the Son of God. In fact, several times Jesus is called Son of David and Jesus never objects to that title. But Jesus does not refer to David as “father” or Abraham or Moses or Elijah or Isaiah as “father.” He refers to God as His Father and that claim gets Jesus into hot water with eh religious leader. Claiming to be God’s Son is claiming divinity.
And yet, those claims are true. Jesus was God’s Son who was born in Bethlehem. As you consider Christmas, while you look at that Christmas nativity set on your table, consider the One who is not represented by a figurine but was certainly there at the manger. God the Father was there when Jesus the Son of God was born. We reflect on angels singing praises. We think about a star that led magi. God sent messages to Mary, Joseph, Zechariah, the magi, the shepherds about the birth of the Son of God. God was very present. Reflect on that beautiful promise that the Father sent the Son, born for us, given to us, to save us from our sins.
Think back through these nearly thirty prophecies fulfilled in the story surrounding Jesus’s birth. Christmas is so much more than just our trees, stockings, gatherings and songs. Advent prepares our hearts to the future hope to come with the second coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. This beautiful story recalibrates our hearts to the promised life to come in Him.
And a voice came from heaven: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Mark 1:11
Heavenly Father, thank you for this journey that began in the Garden of Eden, progressed through Haran, the promised land, Egypt, Judea, Jerusalem, Babylon and then Bethlehem. Thank you for Your Son Jesus, our hope, our peace, and our light. Your gracious love was the greatest gift to us, personified in Jesus Christ. Thank you for this day in which we remember, we celebrate, and we reflect upon what Jesus did and who Jesus is. Keep our eyes and our hearts looking ahead to His second advent. In Jesus’s Name I pray, Amen.