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December 7, 2020 — Year of the LORD’s Favor

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion — to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor. — Isaiah 61:1-3
 
The hope of the “Suffering Servant” given to us in Isaiah 53, may have been hope enough. This Servant (Jesus) would bear the sins of us all and become the go-between (intercessor) that brought peace between God and His wayward people. But more hope arrives today as we look at the promise of the Year of the Lord’s Favor. This Servant would be set aside (anointed) by the Spirit of God to proclaim the Good News to the poor — and ALL of us are “poor in Spirit” (Matthew 5:3).
 
What is this Good News? The brokenhearted would have their hearts healed and restored! Prisoners would be set free from captivity to darkness (sin, evil and death) and released into the Kingdom of Light! God’s vengeance would no longer be stored up against us, and yet the wicked will receive their just reward — every injustice will be made right! And as if that were not enough, there’s MORE!
 
For all those who grieve and mourn (for sin and death always bring grief and loss), a great exchange will be made…they will be given a crown of beauty for the ashes of their sin and shame! In exchange for their mourning, they will be given the oil of Joy and gladness! Instead of a spirit of despair and depression, they will be given a garment of praise! **BTW – this is why God’s people love to sing in church, at home, and everywhere…in case you ever wondered why these weirdos sing all the time!**
 
The hope this brings is that we will no longer be tiny Charlie Brown trees of despair, sin, and death…but we will grow into mighty oak trees (think of the giant redwoods in California) of righteousness! Because Jesus, has planted us…the seed of the Gospel, the seed of Faith, cannot help but grow into the righteousness of Christ Jesus…WOW! What a Hope!
 
Take a moment today to thank God for this blessed hope and His faithfulness to bring it to complete fulfillment!

December 6, 2020 — The Wonderful Cross

Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand. After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. Therefore, I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressors. — Isaiah 53:10-12

It may seem strange to have a Christmas devotional titled: “The Wonderful Cross”, but it’s no accident. We have the benefit of knowing the story of not just the birth of Jesus, but His life, death, and resurrection too. When we become fixated on one part of the story of Jesus, we forget the beauty of the whole plan. What makes Isaiah so powerful to me is the clarity in which it spoke hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus. Clearly this prophetic writing was spoken from the mouth of God and clearly defined His plan for salvation.

They say, “hindsight is 2020”. This means we can look back with perfect clarity and see the past with all its twists and turns and live in the after moment with perfect clarity of what has occurred. It is easy to be faithful after the miracle, not so much in the midst of unfulfilled promises. Several things stick out in today’s focal Scripture: “it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer”. Jesus didn’t suffer apart from God’s will, He suffered at the center of God’s will. There in the midst of God’s perfect plan, His own Son was “crushed” for our sins so that we could be forgiven and free. In light of this free gift of salvation given the first Christmas morning, what hope do we have if we reject so great a salvation?

God’s plan for the suffering of Jesus wasn’t simply to satisfy His anger and wrath against sin. Jesus paid the ultimate price for our sins so that we could become the sons and daughters of God. He “bore” our sin so that we could be made righteous through our faith in Jesus. In John 11:49-50 the high priest named Caiaphas said “You do not realize that it is better for you that one man dies for the people than that the whole nation perish”. Although the high priest didn’t know what he was saying… he was speaking divine truth. Remember, Jesus could have never come to the cross at Calvary without coming first through the virgin, born in Bethlehem, as “God with us”.

As your heart continues to turn to Bethlehem, know that this road is not an easy one. The truth is always true even when it’s difficult to understand or accept. Don’t forget two important truths as you prepare to celebrate Christmas: God loves you (more than you could ever know), and He gave everything so you could be forgiven and free. The gift that God gave was Himself. The Creator stepped down into creation to suffer at the hands of His creation so we wouldn’t be doomed to live apart from Him in our sin.

Father, thank you for your perfect plan. Often, we resist suffering, run from correction, and reject truth when it hurts. Let us fix our eyes and hearts on Jesus the Author and Perfecter of our faith. Let us not demand an answer for the suffering in our lives, but let us look to Jesus as our example. Instead of demanding justification, let our hearts cry out for Your will to be accomplished. Give us strength in our weakness. Give us peace in this dark world. Help us shine brightly as our hearts are filled with awe and wonder of the great gift of salvation you have given us in Your only Son Jesus. We pray all these things in Jesus name, amen.

December 5, 2020 — He Did Not Open His Mouth…and Neither Did Anyone Else

He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgment, he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people, he was punished. He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. — Isaiah 53:7-9 (NIV)
How specific is this prophecy about Jesus? Silent before his accusers…“When he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer. Then Pilate asked him, “Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?” But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge—to the great amazement of the governor.” Matthew 27:12-14 It certainly amazed Pilate, and it was pretty amazing for Jesus to fulfill this prophecy…
…but this prophecy might be harder to control: Yet who of his generation protested? How could Jesus make sure none of his own followers or anyone else protested? Humanly speaking he couldn’t. And yet this was still fulfilled completely: “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” Pilate asked. They all answered, “Crucify him!” “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!” All the people answered, “His blood is on us and on our children!” — Matthew 27:22-23,25
But even more amazing, not even his best friends protested: After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, “Surely you are one of them; your accent gives you away.” Then he began to call down curses, and he swore to them, “I don’t know the man!” — Matthew 26:73-74
 
He was assigned a “grave with the wicked” — hung on a criminal’s cross even though he had “done no violence” — Pilate declared, “I find no basis for a charge against this man.” (Luke 23:4) fulfilling the prophecy. Yet even though shamefully murdered, he was buried “with the rich in his death!” (see Luke 23:50-53) Fulfilled completely.
 
No one defended Jesus. Jesus Himself remained silent. Punished unjustly for our transgressions, so that He might freely give undeserved justice to us who not even open our mouths in His defense. No greater love could be displayed for us than Jesus’ silent gift of mercy and grace.
 
Contemplate today the precisely fulfilled prophecies in this passage and Jesus’ silent gift to you and me. Perhaps we need to open our mouths to give this gift of grace and hope to others.

December 4, 2020 — The Ragman

Surely, he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. — Isaiah 53:4-6
 
The joy of Christmas and the victory of Easter must continually be on our minds during this season of Advent. Christmas without the crucifixion means nothing. Without the manger in Bethlehem, we could never have the cross at Calvary or the empty tomb of Joseph that first resurrection morning. If we try to rush past the pain and hurt foretold hundreds of years before the birth of Christ, we won’t witness the true power of God’s promise.
 
It’s interesting that the Jews thought the Messiah would be a conquering king who would throw off the chains of Roman oppression and make Israel a free nation. It’s hard to understand the depth of their perspective but one thing is clear: the people then aren’t so dissimilar to people now. Although God is fully aware of our needs in this life and promises to provide for them, He is looking at the eternal perspective. Simply, He is the only One who knows the whole story.
In today’s focal Scripture I am reminded that the crucifixion of Jesus was no accident. God the Father didn’t look down as Jesus was being arrested in the Garden and say… “I think I can use this”… the pain Jesus would face was part of the plan. I am a man well acquainted with pain and grief, but my most grief filled moments don’t begin to scratch the surface of what Jesus faced. My deepest pain and despair fall so far short of what Jesus faced my suffering seems pointless to even remember.
Recently a friend gave me a copy of a story called “The Ragman”, one I would recommend you read. In it, a person observes a man pulling a cart full of rags through a city. The ragman called out: “Rags! New rags for old! I take your tired rags! Rags!” The story recounts time after time how this Ragman visited the broken, the destitute, the hurting, and He called them to give Him their old rags for His new. Over and over again the pains, hurts, and despair of the people were given to the Ragman as He took them on Himself to bear.
 
Today as your heart turns towards Bethlehem, remember this: every sin and suffering you have experienced was placed on Jesus. The crucifixion was not only about the physical pain and torture we could see, it was also about the precious Lamb of God bearing every sin as the wrath of God was poured out on Him who knew no sin so that we could become the children of God. Whatever pain and heartache you are facing this Christmas season, give it to Jesus. Only He can bear it and give you something that only He can: new life.
 
Father forgive us. So often our perspective is so limited by our circumstances. It’s hard for us to see past the blinding pain and hurt, but you are well acquainted with that grief and suffering. Lord thank you that You are not far away from us in the midst of despair. Thank you that You are near to the brokenhearted. Today Lord I pray for every person reading this devotion that you would comfort them, strengthen them, and remind them that regardless of what they are facing: You will not leave or forsake them. Thank you for Jesus, it is in His name we pray, amen.

December 3, 2020 — No Beauty or Majest

Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. — Isaiah 53:1-3 (NIV)
The attraction to Jesus is not a natural one. The Savior — Jesus — would be “a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.” He was “despised and rejected…and…held in low esteem.” Not exactly what you’d expect of a great hero and Savior of all mankind. Alexander the Great, George Washington, Martin Luther King…our heroes and “saviors” cut a towering figure in history. Strong and noble, they are admired and well esteemed (highly thought of). But Jesus was despised and rejected…born not in a palace, but a food trough. Heralded by shepherds not the New York Times…Jesus was acquainted with sorrow, familiar with pain, keenly aware of the sting of accusation and the stab of mocking.
 
Jesus “too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death — that is, the devil — and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death…For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” Hebrews 2:14-15,17-18
 
Give thanks for Jesus — broke

December 2, 2020 — A Relentlessly Gentle Love 

“Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations. He will not shout or cry out or raise his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his teaching the islands will put their hope.” — Isaiah 42:1-4 

As our hearts turn to Bethlehem and that first Christmas morning, it’s hard to imagine just how perfectly wonderful Jesus is. As I read today’s focal Scripture this question comes to mind: how can this servant bring justice to the nations with such a gentle demeanor? As you read you see that this servant “will not shout or cry out”, yet he will bring justice to the nations. This servant will not “raise his voice in the streets”, but he will bring forth justice. He “will not falter or be discouraged” but he will establish justice on earth. How? Relentless, gentle love. 

Notice how Jesus handles the broken and hurting. “A bruised reed he will not break” conveys the gentle way in which Jesus handles the hearts of men. Remember, it is God’s kindness that draws us to repentance. Knowing that Jesus will not “snuff out” a smoldering wick shows how He interacts with hearts that once must have been burning bright but now have faded. He won’t ignore them; these are the very ones He came to save. The bruised, those whose fire is going out, these are the ones that Jesus is calling back to God for healing and restoration.  

So… is God love or justice? Yes. Is Jesus gentle or did He come to restore justice? Both. Often the false choices we are forced to make in human culture can find their way into our understanding of who God is. Jesus came full of grace AND truth. It isn’t an either/or but a both/and dynamic. God is full of compassion and truth, grace and mercy, holiness and justice, righteousness and kindness. God is the perfect manifestation of all these things, the greatest of these is love.  

Today I pray that as you turn your heart to the manager, that the shadow of the cross would not fade. Christmas without the crucifixion is meaningless. The birth of Jesus without His death and resurrection hold now power. As Paul said: if Jesus hasn’t risen from the dead, we are still dead in our sins. Today, let us rejoice knowing that Jesus came as God’s servant to right every wrong and to bring true justice and peace to mankind. In the life, death, and resurrection we come to know true peace and restoration of our relationship with God. 

Father, today we confess that sometimes it can be difficult to understand who you are. God reminds us that if we could explain who you are fully, you wouldn’t be God, we would. Lord help us to trust in the truth you have revealed in Scripture about who you are. Help us remember that You are more wonderful than we could imagine and Your love for us motivated You to give Your only Son Jesus to come as a ransom for our lives. Thank you for Your servant and the relentless, gentle love He shows to us all, in Jesus name, amen. 

December 1, 2020 — Take Comfort, It Is Finished!

 
Comfort! Take comfort my people! Your God says: “Console Jerusalem and cry from the heart to her that her warfare is finished, that her perversity is paid off — because the hand of the LORD has received double for all her sins. — Isaiah 40:1-5
 
These signs (prophecies – future promises) from God, are wonderful indicators of hope for the future. But they are also meant to bring us comfort. In the time of Isaiah, there was very little comfort to be found. The nation had been overtaken by foreign conquerors, there was famine and pestilence in the land…life was hard. But in the midst, Isaiah cries out “Comfort! Take comfort!” Why? How can we take comfort in the midst of suffering and distress?
 
Because God has accomplished or finished her warfare. The war is over! The battle is won! Romans 5:1-2 tells us: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.” God has finished the war between Himself and mankind.
 
The war would be ended by Jesus as He was crucified on the cross of Calvary. His birth was just the beginning of his journey toward death and the end of our warfare with God. Both of His hands would be pierced for our transgressions and would be the receiving of “double for all her (our) sins.” That’s why on the cross, with His very last breath Jesus proclaimed, “It is finished.”
 
Praise God today for His finished work and our confidence, “that he who began a good work in us will carry it on to completion.” Philippians 1:6 God always finishes what He starts.

November 30, 2020 — When All Hope Seems Lost

 
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord—and he will delight in the fear of the Lord. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; — Isaiah 11:1-3
 
The Book of Isaiah is a book of history and of prophecy. Written by the Prophet Isaiah roughly 700 years before the birth of Jesus (740 to 700 BCE), the book contains powerful promises concerning the future. What makes this Scripture so fascinating is that when Isaiah wrote, 10 generations had passed since David, the man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22), had ruled in a united Israel. The proceeding kings after David struggled to maintain their devotion to the one true God of Israel, and thus the kingdom (and the lineage) had become a shadow of its former glory.
 
The promise from Isaiah 11:1-3 is rooted in this place. Despair, brokenness, hopelessness, and a very real sense that the promises God had made David may never come to pass. God had promised David a descendant who would rule on his throne forever. The centuries that passed between the life of David and the birth of Christ left that promise hanging almost seeming impossible given the condition of the situation.
 
As our hearts turn to the incarnation of God and we begin to think of that first Christmas morning, we would do well never to underestimate God or His promises. Nothing is impossible for God, even when everything within us screams “He can’t”, God will make a way. Though the family line of David had been “cut down” and all that was left was a “stump”, from it the promises of God would burst forth. Jesus would rise from the lineage of David and in Him every promise of God is yes and amen.
 
This shoot that rose from the seemingly dead, lifeless stump of Jesse wouldn’t simply be a new king. Jesus is new life and in Him we see God’s perfect love for humanity. This Shoot has and is bearing fruit across the planet. Life after life that comes to know Jesus comes into the promised family of Abraham. Each follower of Jesus come to know the wisdom and understanding He possesses are the very life and wisdom of God.
Today as you reflect on this Scripture, there are a few thoughts I would challenge us to remember during this season of Advent:
 
-God always keeps His promises
-God is faithful and can be trusted
-Even when it seems like there is no way, God creates a way
-Whatever season of life we are walking in, Jesus is there to guide us
-Jesus IS the Way
 
Father, we confess sometimes we struggle with the same hopeless despair that generations before us have. Sometimes Lord we don’t see the way. The pain and suffering blind us as we struggle to hold onto your faithful promises. Lord, remind us that even when all seems hopeless and impossible, that You are the God of impossible. Turn our hearts and minds fully to you and let us remember that you do great things with absolutely nothing. As Jesus burst forth out of the dead stump of Jesse, we know you can create life from nothing. Help us trust the One who spoke all creation into existence, thank you for Your Son Jesus, in His name we pray, amen.

November 29, 2020 — The Sign of the Savior

Truly, the LORD Himself will give to you a sign; Behold! A virgin will be pregnant, bear and conceive a Son — and His name will be called: “With us, God.” — Isaiah 7:14

“Sign, sign, everywhere a sign…” as the song goes, sung by the Five Man Electrical Band. In it they mostly espouse, in rather humorous and some unfortunate ways, the misleading nature of signs. We are accustomed to so many signs these days that their noise may seem, as they continue to sing, that it is “blocking out the scenery and breaking my mind.”

But to announce something as important as the Savior of the world, God knew we’d need a sign. Nothing misleading, or confusing…just something unmistakable. And so, He gave us a sign, Himself…something only He could accomplish. This sign would break the very laws of nature that He had created! A virgin, a woman who had never known a man intimately, would become pregnant — without the seed of a man — she would carry a child and conceive a Son. And this Son, would not be simply human…but fully human and fully God. For He would be called Immanu (with us) – el (God).

This God would not remain far off and untouchable, but as John would later remark, a God “whom we have heard and seen. We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. He is the Word of life.” (1 John 1:1 NLT) This God will be with us and for us and in us! (Isaiah 7:14; Romans 8:31; John 14:17) God is approaching! Therefore, Hope is rising! Hallelujah!

Take a moment today and praise the “with us God!” Are you with Him the way He is with you? You can put your faith in Him today and trust His power to completely save you. Here’s your sign.