Day 25 Jesus

Jesse Tree: Day 25          Jesus (Luke 2:1-7)

 

‘In the past God spoke … at many times and in various ways’ (Heb.1:1).  It took a whole history to begin to capture even a sense of who Jesus would be, and to convey what He would do.  Over and over again we are shown moments in people’s experience, in their life and actions, in which the Spirit is whispering: ‘When He comes He will be a bit like this…’.   We are used to hearing the Spirit’s voice echoing in the words of the prophets:  He will be born in Bethlehem, He will be born of a virgin, He will…  But the Spirit’s prophetic activity is much more profound and all-encompassing.  Jesus understood that, and taught His disciples accordingly: ‘And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself … He said to them, ‘This is what I told you while I was still with you: everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms’.  Then He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures (Lk.24:27 & 44-45).

And so, when ‘the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman’ (Gal.4:4, echoing Gen. 3:15).  At last, the One long foretold.  The Alpha and Omega of all creation; the second Adam; the sacrifice who could clothe us in true righteousness; the serpent crusher; and the greater Noah who would lead us out into a New Creation.  Here at last was the fulfilment of the Lord’s promise to Abraham: the One in whom and through whom all the nations of the world will be blessed; here is the only beloved Son of the Father, provided by the Lord as a burnt offering; here is the One through whom all business between heaven and earth is transacted; One who is exalted and provides for His people in a world of famine and judgement.

Here finally was the one mediator between us and God, who saw God face-to-face; the Law Giver and Keeper; the One who tabernacles among us; our great High Priest; and the Passover Lamb who was to be sacrificed for our sins.  Here is our true Joshua, who will destroy all that is sinful in order to prepare for His people a glorious new creation in which there is no more death, or mourning, or crying or pain.   Here, fulfilling the longing of the generations is the Heavenly Bridegroom who will make a prostitute His glorious bride; who will spread the corner of His garment over us, the Kinsman who will redeem from debt and slavery.  Here is the King over all kings, our Champion who fights for us against all that would enslave us, and who will protect us and provide for us.  The Prophet who alone can reveal the Father to us; and who will come to us in our exile, and lead us home. At last the Sun of Righteousness rises with Healing in His wings. Merry Christmas.

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She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.  (Matt.1:21)

Ideas for Family Devotions:

Watch the incredible video by Dan Stevens. ‘True and Better’.  It can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IGFtfqgBQkM

Bake a birthday cake for Jesus…

Have you come across the animation series Story Keepers?  A fictional story of Christians negotiating life in ancient Rome, being hunted by Nero  is interwoven with their retelling of stories from the Bible.  The episodes with the Christmas story can be found: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P7p_Xfmb9bE  (it’s an hour and ten minutes altogether). 

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Day 24 John

Jesse Tree: Day 24          John (Matthew 3:1-12)

 

We’ve already seen in our Jesse Tree reflections the importance of ‘repentance’ (Lk.3:3).  It is a critical concept to grasp, and to put into practise.  Put it this way: what is the difference between a people prepared and a people not prepared for the Lord’s coming?  Listening to John, you can sum it up in that one word: repentance.   Or perhaps better, it is a people who ‘produce fruit in keeping with repentance’ (Lk.3:8).  We are deeply integrated beings, and cannot separate out our spiritual life such that it doesn’t affect our volitional, or mental, or emotional, or physical life.  Spiritual repentance will always go beyond simple remorse or regret, to affect every aspect of who we are.

And so when people asked him what they must do, John’s reply is emphatically not ‘religious’ (Lk.3:8).  In fact, his worked examples have a consistently financial flavour to them (Lk.3:10-14).  With our fear of being seen as judgemental, and our careless use of phrases like ‘God accepts us as we are’, we might struggle with the idea that people would need to change, to be made ready for the coming of Jesus.   But this is the bedrock of John’s God-appointed ministry (Lk.3:4-6).  And he is hardly unprecedented.  This was the perennial plea of the prophets, and none more so than Elijah, in whose ministry John is styled, which was singularly one of calling the people back to their God, and to faithfulness of life and worship (I Kings 18:37)

Interestingly, John’s call to grow in Christlikeness, is not seen as a negative thing at all.  John ‘proclaimed the good news’ (Lk.3:18).  Indeed, the Bible consistently sees this as part of authentic Christian experience.  Jesus’ own preaching resonates deeply with John’s (Matt.4:17 / Lk.13:3 etc.), and He clearly saw repentance as the appropriate response to His ministry (Matt.11:21).  The same is true of the preaching of the apostles (Acts 2:38); and their wider pastoral teaching (II Cor.7:8-11; II Peter 3:9, and although he does use the word, Eph.4:20-24).

The call to repentance always produces a dreadful parting of the ways.  Those who mourn over their sin rejoice at such a gracious invitation to be transformed.  Those on the other hand who pride themselves on their own goodness, or who have vested interest in the status quo, resent deeply the call to change.  And it is unwise to underestimate the violence such resentment can lead to (Matt.14:1-12).  Yet John (meaning Grace of God) is undaunted.  Many of us might have preferred a more prudent way of sharing our faith, laying emphasis on God’s love and playing down any need to ‘repent’.  Such a message might keep us popular, but it hardly prepares people to meet Jesus.

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 This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: ‘A voice of one calling in the wilderness, prepare the way for the Lord…  (Matt.3:3)

Ideas for Family Devotions:

Take a look at some of the catechism’s teaching repentance.  They can be found in ‘My first book of Q&A, Qu.94’; Westminster Shorter Catechism, Qu.85-87; Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 33 (Qu.88-91).  Discuss them as a family, and perhaps come up with some ideas of where this teaching could be put into practise…

Read a children’s edition of Pilgrim’s Progress, by John Bunyan over the Christmas period.  Unfortunately the Torchlighter DVD on Bunyan is not on Youtube (although there are several others), but the full range of DVDs can be found here: https://www.10ofthose.com/products?q=torchlighter  

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Day 23 Mary

Jesse Tree: Day 23          Mary (Luke 1:26-38)

 

We saw yesterday the shadows of the Christmas story beginning to gather.  Far from the sentimentality that surrounds modern day nativities, those who took part in the history of Jesus’ coming into the world were asked to make incredibly costly sacrifices.  No-one more so than Mary.  As the aged prophet Simeon would later tell her, while Jesus would be spoken against, a sword would pierce her own soul too (Lk.2:35).   By then, she had already felt its keen edge.

When Mary bows her head and says to the angel, ‘May your word to me be fulfilled’, she stood lose everything (Lk.1:38).  Her reputation would be irreparably sullied.  There is a reason why at the end of her pregnancy she undertakes the 90 mile journey to Bethlehem with Joseph.  No-one in Nazareth (apparently not even her family) is willing to be associated with the scandal, or the baby.  30 years later there are still aspersions being cast about the legitimacy of Jesus’ birth, and Mary had lived with the gossip, rumours and slander for all that time.  Her future with Joseph was at risk.  Initially he considered divorce, and it took nothing less than an angelic visitation to persuade him otherwise.  Indeed, she may have been putting her life on the line (see. Dt.22:20-24, John 8:1-11).  No wonder she flees to Zechariah and Elizabeth’s house - they alone will understand and believe a story about miraculous conceptions and angelic appearances.  After all they have just lived through a similar experience.

And yet she not only accepts all this as part of her calling to be the mother of her Lord, but goes on to proclaim that this constitutes blessing (Lk.1:48), and declares the praise of the God who has called her to such sacrifice (see her ‘Magnificat’, Lk.1:46-55).   Many of us don’t really have a category for this.  We equate God’s ‘blessing’ us with the fulfilling of dreams and ambitions, not with shattering them; not with loss, sacrifice and possibly death.  But Mary’s vision of God is so exalted that she considers herself blessed (and expects others to see her as blessed) by His mindfulness of her (1:48) and His doing great things for her (1:49).  He has been merciful, He has performed great deeds, dethroned the proud, and provided for His people.  From her perspective, nothing is too great a price to pay for being caught up in the work of this God, who in love sends His own Son into the world (John 3:16).   But her act of worship doesn’t just reveal that her grasp of God means He is worth suffering for, but is also the means by which she is resourced for that sacrifice.  One part of worship is that it re-focuses us on the truth of God’s glory and splendour, His justice and mercy.  It reminds us that He is a God worth suffering for, and resources us to do so.  After all, the God we worship is the God who suffered for us.

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 And Mary said, ‘My soul glorifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for He has been mindful of the humble state of His servant.  From now on all generations will call me blessed…  (Lk.1:46-47)

Ideas for Family Devotions:

Mary’s response even to the call to suffer was marked by worship.  Her example stands in a long tradition within the Bible of calling us to praise.  Why not use Seeds Family Worship to help memorise Ps.148:1-5.  It can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fqVZjtVLQHA

Write your own ‘Magnificat’, a song, or poem, or just a list of things you know about God that inspires you to worship.  Can you think of passages from the Bible that teach you about the things in your list?

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Day 22 Joseph

Jesse Tree: Day 22          Joseph (Matthew 1:18-25)

 

Without warning, Joseph’s world imploded.  The woman to whom he was betrothed was pregnant.  Betrothal had such legal status that Joseph is already considered Mary’s husband.  As far as he knew, Mary was an adulteress.  He was a righteous man, faithful to the Law of God that said Mary could be put to death (e.g. Dt.22:20-24).  But there is more to righteousness than this, and Joseph tempers justice with mercy.  He refuses to succumb to bitterness, still less vindictiveness.  He doesn’t know what’s happened, or why, but his instinct is to avoid disgracing her.  He plans to divorce her quietly (Matt.1:19).  As is so often the way, the Lord let Joseph make his plans, then revealed a better way.

It takes an angelic visitation to convince Joseph of the truth of Mary’s story.  And now another aspect of his righteousness finds expression.  Without hesitation ‘he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him, and took Mary home as his wife’ (Matt.1:24).  His own reputation is shattered.  There is no way to avoid giving credibility to the rumours that he is the father of Mary’s child.  When Zechariah and Elizabeth’s child was born, friends and relatives shared their joy, and Elizabeth’s disgrace - misplaced though it may was - is removed.  When Mary’s Child is born, it will be far from friends and family, under a shadow of scandal, rejection and disgrace - misplaced though it was.  Christ’s humiliation has begun, and He asks Joseph to share in it. 

And soon Joseph’s life is further disrupted.  A second angelic visitation sends him to Egypt, a refugee seeking refuge for a Child who would be a refuge for so many (Matt.2:12-15).  Again his response is characterised by a simple yet profound obedience.  Joseph was indeed ‘a righteous man’.  His tenderness towards Mary, his courage in marrying her (see Matt.1:20), his restraint enabling a virgin conception to become a virgin birth (Is.7:14), his enduring faithfulness to God’s Law (Lk.2:27) are all easy to miss, yet essential to the unfolding of God’s purposes. It is through Joseph’s taking of Mary as his wife, and subsequently adopting her Child as his son, that Jesus is given His credentials as the Son of David (Matt.1:20).  Only the Son of David can be the Messiah.  Because Joseph adopts Jesus into his family, Jesus can adopt us into His (Rom.8:15; Gal.4:4-5 etc).

We know remarkably little about Joseph.  He is rarely mentioned, and he likely died sometime between Jesus’ visit to the Temple aged 12 (Lk.2:48), and the beginning of His public ministry.  Yet we know all we need to when we realise the eternal Father entrusted His own Son to Joseph’s paternal care.  Each glimpse we are given into Joseph’s character vindicates His wisdom. 

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When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him, and took Mary home as his wife.  (Matt.1:24)

Ideas for Family Devotions:

Have a listen to ‘Crushed’, a song by Seeds Family Worship based on Ps.34:18.  You can find it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=879RTAJxpF0   How do you think passages like this from the Bible might have helped Mary and Joseph as they got ready for Jesus to be born?

And one last suggestion from the Jesus Storybook Bible that takes us a little beyond the scope of the Jesse Tree to the story of the Shepherds:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4fqMhLApCmA&t=259s 

Why do you think the Lord doesn’t send us angels like he did with Joseph more often?  How can we know what God wants us to do?

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Day 21 Elizabeth

Jesse Tree: Day 21          Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-45)

 

Zechariah’s prayer had been heard (Lk.1:13).  Which prayer?  Was it the prayer he had just been offering in his role as priest in the Temple, a prayer articulating the hope of Israel in the coming Messiah?  Or was it the more intensely personal prayer for a child?  There is no explicit mention of such a prayer, but in the light of Luke 1:7, it’s hardly beyond imagining.  Perhaps it was many years since either Zechariah or his wife, Elizabeth had been able to summon enough hope to give voice to that prayer. 

In the event, the answers to both prayers converge in the conception of John in Elizabeth’s womb.  The personal and public aspects are held together in Gabriel’s declaration that: ‘He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth’ (Lk.1:14).  Individual and corporate hopes are realised.

It is one of the great understatements of the Bible that ‘Elizabeth became pregnant’ (Lk.1:24).  Her simple trust is exemplary, especially when contrasted to Zechariah’s hesitation.  No heavenly visitation had inspired her faith, nor was it needed.  It is important to note that her disgrace (such as it was) was ‘among the people’ (1:25).  Bad theology hurts people.  In the sight of God, Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous, ‘observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly’ (1:6); but amongst those who didn’t share God’s perspective there was an assumption of unconfessed transgression.  The situation reminds us of when Jesus’ disciples see a man blind from birth, and ask, ‘Who sinned, this man or his parents?’ (Jn 9:1).  Compounding the pain of childlessness, Elizabeth had to bear the insinuations and aspersions of her generation. 

Elizabeth sees everything as a gift of God’s favour.  Her pregnancy elicits her recognition that ‘the Lord has done this for me … He has shown His favour’ (1:25); likewise Mary’s visit prompts the question, ‘Why am I so favoured..?’ (1:43).  She has been blessed and in turn bestows blessing on others (1:42).  Her experience of grace inspires her graciousness to Mary, to whom she shows both hospitality and deference.  It is a powerful observation that both her and Zechariah’s attention is focussed on Mary’s Child, rather than on their own.  Hers is the first recorded human confession of the Incarnate Lord (1:43), and her clear vision of God’s fulfilling His promises in their midst leads to a beautiful Christ-centeredness that enhances her joy rather than detracts from it (1:58)

We only catch glimpses of Elizabeth as she weaves in and out of Luke’s focus.  Yet we are hard pressed to find a more compelling vision of Christian meekness, faithfulness and humble obedience than in this aged saint. 

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 …she exclaimed, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!  But why am I so favoured that the mother of my Lord should come to me?  (Lk.1:42-43)

Ideas for Family Devotions:

It’s not quite Christmas yet, but there is a great re-telling of the story of Jesus’ birth in the Jesus Storybook Bible.  You can watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E2y2FJqsv_8 

While Mary was staying with Elizabeth, she would have helped Mary and supported her as she came to terms with what God was doing in and through her.  Who can you think of who helps you understand God and what He is doing?  Maybe your Mum or Dad, or a god-parent?  Or your Sunday Group leaders?  Why not write them a card, saying ‘Thank-you’ for what they have taught you about Jesus…  pray for them as a family.

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Day 20 Zechariah

Jesse Tree: Day 20          Zechariah (Luke 1:5-25)

 

Four centuries of silence.  No word, no messenger, no appearing.  Yet Anna and Simeon were not alone in clinging to His promise (Lk.2:34-38). Then ‘when the fullness of time had come’ (Gal.4:4), God spoke His Word into the darkness. We might struggle with the idea that people need to be made ready for Jesus’ coming, but that is John’s role as the promised forerunner.  He will ‘make ready a people prepared for the Lord’ (Lk.1:17).  John’s coming, fulfilling so many prophecies in its own right, is so significant that Gabriel is sent from the very presence of the God to bring the good news to Zechariah (Lk.1:19)

Zechariah’s disbelief is well known, as is Gabriel’s response (Lk.1:20).  We might celebrate a healthy cynicism, or reserve the right to question or ‘critically engage’ with what God says, but Gabriel (meaning: God is Mighty / My Strength) clearly doesn’t think it an appropriate response!  When God speaks, the only morally justifiable response is to listen, trust and obey.  If all that Zechariah can articulate is unbelief, then it is better he doesn’t speak at all.  Irrespective of whether our response is faith-filled or not, God’s words ‘will be fulfilled in their time’ (Lk.1:20).  In the meantime Zechariah’s silence will be a standing rebuke.  In the midst of both Elizabeth’s quiet confession of faith (Lk.1:24-25), and Mary’s famous magnifying of the Lord (Lk.1:46-56), his silence becomes all the more deafening.

But that is not the last we hear of him, and as John is named as Gabriel decreed, Zechariah’s ‘mouth was opened … and he began to speak, praising God’ (Lk.1:64).  So many Christians judge themselves by their mistakes, and assume that those mistakes, those moments of unbelief or faithlessness, put them beyond the reach of God’s grace.  We mistake God’s Fatherly discipline for judgement and convince ourselves we are on the spiritual scrap heap.  Zechariah was a mature Christian who had long walked in the ways of the Lord (Lk.1:6).  Should that mean he resists the temptation to unbelief?  Perhaps.  But at least it meant he had the experience of God’s grace to know he is never condemned to the scrap heap.  ‘Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied…’ (Lk.1:67).  With an eloquence rarely equalled, he sets a precedent that will be followed by his own son, and points us to Christ through whom and in whom the Lord will show the mercy He promised to the fathers.  That is the joy of every Christian, for it is on the basis of Christ that His ‘tender mercy’ can be shown to any of us.

And so with this old saint, the curtain rises on the drama of redemption.  The overture of grace sounds, and all that God Almighty has promised throughout the long generations of the Old Testament begins to find its fulfilment.

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…the angel said to him: ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John.  (Lk.1:13)

Ideas for Family Devotions:

There is a lot about prayer going on in today’s passage.  What can you think of to pray about as a family today?  What would it look like if you actually thought God was going to answer?

Read through Matthew Chapter 5 (or the whole Sermon on the Mount, chapter 5-7).  Talk about what would life look like if we actually trusted and believed what Jesus says just in this one section of His teaching?  Do you think it is realistic to live like this?  What help would you need from other Christians?

Can you get through today without speaking?  Use the quiet to think about what God is asking you to do that you might find hard to believe…

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Day 19 Malachi

Jesse Tree: Day 19   Malachi (Malachi 1:6-14)

 

In the dusk that is settling on the long history of the Old Testament, one last prophet stands.  Malachi decries one last time the faithlessness in which God’s people stubbornly persist, and which precipitates the breakdown of relationships throughout society.  Civic, legal, religious and moral life lapse into chaos.  No-one can be trusted.  Ironically, Israel then presumes to question God’s faithfulness to them!  A person’s own folly leads to their ruin, yet their heart rages against the Lord (Prov.19:3).  The problem is not that God has wavered in His commitment to His covenant.  It is rather that ‘…you have not followed my ways … Judah has been unfaithful’ (Mal.2:9 & 11).  Hypocrisy, idolatry, injustice, immorality characterise the ways of the people of the God.

Has the Church made any real progress?  In the ruins Malachi offers hope.  The Word of the Lord comes to Malachi (meaning: my messenger / angel) to prophecy His own coming in the flesh. ‘I will send My messenger who will prepare the way for Me.  Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to His temple; the Messenger (Angel) of the Covenant, whom you desire, will come’, says the LORD Almighty (Mal.3:1).  He will purify and refine His people so that they might learn the art of worship (3:3-4, see Jn.4:23-26).  At last, the Lord will have a people for His own. ‘They will be my treasured possession’ (3:17).  This had always been His heart, and His desire for the Church (see Ex.19:5; Dt.7:6).

As the darkness deepens there is the promise of a new dawn: ‘the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in its rays’ (4:2).  At least, for those who revere His Name...  By contrast, ‘all the arrogant and every evil doer will be stubble’ (4:1).  But for those who revere His Name, the promise stands that the darkness will finally be driven back, and the sickness that has so long paralysed the body of Christ will at long last be cured.  And as we have seen throughout the generations, it hinges on the coming of Christ Himself.

Jesus has a way of describing His nativity that sounds strange to our ears.  He tells us Christmas will be ‘a great and dreadful day of the LORD’.  We have probably used many adjectives to capture the ‘spirit of Christmas’.  ‘Dreadful’ hasn’t been one of them.  But He is clear that eternal destiny hangs in the balance as He breaches humanity.  People will either be reconciled to Him and to one another (4:6, with the fifth commandment in mind), ‘or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction’.  That is not a message we are used to hearing even in the midst of Nativity Plays, and Candlelit Carol Services.  But with those ominous words echoing throughout the Theatre of God’s Glory, the curtain falls on the dress rehearsal… and the stage is set for the true Drama to begin.

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But for you who revere my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in its rays… 

(Mal.4:2)

Ideas for Family Devotions:

Jesus tells us a messenger to prepare the way for Him.  With less than a week to go until Christmas, what do you still need to do to prepare?  What do you think we would need to do to prepare for the coming of the Lord at MIE? 

On a very different note…  the sun is a star; stars are made of plasma, and you can make plasma relatively safely with a grape in your microwave at home.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PGX289yjew8

There are other, more dramatic ways of doing it, but by all accounts you can trash the microwave - so I’m not recommending that!

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Day 18 Coming Home

Jesse Tree: Day 18   Coming home? (Ezra 1:1-8 & 3:1-6)

 

More of the Old Testament than we might realise is taken up with the story of the return from Babylonian captivity.  Many of the Prophets are occupied with the prospect; and Ezra and Nehemiah show us the struggles and opposition faced by those who re-located and rebuilt the Temple, Jerusalem and the national life of the Old Testament people of God.  Then there is the ministry of the ‘post-Exilic’ prophets, such as Haggai and Zechariah, who help the people navigate their failures and frustrations.

And that in itself is telling.  When you read the prophetic expectations about life in restored Israel and measure it against the reality, a chasm opens up.  Many never returned at all, preferring to stay in Babylon.  There was disappointment even amongst those who did return (Ezra 3:12); many of the same spiritual compromises continued (Neh.13:15-28); and the same problems that led to the exile haunted the people still (Mal.1-3).  They seemed at times criminally apathetic, even in relation to the most significant of tasks (Hag.1:1-11). The land, and the people lingered under the shadow of divine displeasure (Hag.1:10).  It all fell tragically short of the hopes of the prophets, who gave the impression of something far more promising: ‘The remnant of Israel will trust in the Name of the Lord, they will do no wrong; they will tell no lies … no-one will make them afraid … at that time I will bring you home’ (Zeph.3:9-20, see also e.g. Is.54, Mic.4:1-8).

That kind of dissonance should send us back to study the Scriptures more closely.  Is the return from Babylon the fulfilment of all the prophets longed for?  Would they have been satisfied with the extraordinary achievements under Ezra and Nehemiah?  Or would they have lifted their eyes above the horizons of their own place in history, to see the hope of an even greater return?  ‘The days are coming’, declares the LORD, ‘when I will fulfil the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah.  In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; He will do what is just and right in the land’ (Jer.33:14-15).  As with everything in the Old Testament, there is a relentless connecting of the Church’s hope to Christ.  Unless it is fulfilled in and through Jesus, it isn’t fulfilled.  Even partial fulfilments turn out to be prophesies of a greater and truer fulfilment still to come.  There was still a Day to come.  A Day when the Lord Himself would come.  Only in Him would the hopes and dreams of all the years be met. 

Jesus reminded His disciples that only in Him, and by Him could there be a return from exile.  That is why He sent them out to ‘fish for people’ (Matt.4:19) - to fulfil the prophecy that through such fishermen, the people of God would be restored to the land (Jer.16:16).

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 I will raise up Cyrus in my righteousness: I will make all his ways straight. He will rebuild my city and set my exiles free, but not for a price or reward, says the Lord Almighty.  (Is 45:13)

Ideas for Family Devotions:

Operation No More Tears, is the Jesus Story Book retelling of some of Isaiah’s prophecy about the return from exile that Jesus will make possible.  You can find it here:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z4dkFJgmAT0

Who can you seek to ‘bring back from exile’ over this Christmas period?  Why not invite them to our Christmas services…

 Why not ‘build’ a memory verse wall to help remind you about Nehemiah and Ezra building the walls and worship of Jerusalem.  Use stones, cardboard boxes, or anything stackable, and write a words from a verse on each one (Eph.2:22?).

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Day 17 Exile

Jesse Tree: Day 17   Exile (II Kings 17:7-23 & 25:1-26)

 

The exile was devastating for the people of God (Lamentations).  Imprisoned and enslaved they made the long journey back to the Chaldees from where God had called Abraham all those years ago, to become a part of nations they had longed to be like.  God is slow to anger, and desired to redeem them (Hos.7:13-14).  He restrained his anger as long as justice allowed.  Even the event of removing the people from the land was staggered, giving them further opportunities to repent, so that the horrific events could be brought to a standstill.  But Israel refused, clinging instead to political alliances and military rebellions, trusting false gods and false prophets who said ‘Peace! Peace’, when there was no peace… who told them God would never come in judgment (Jer.6:14; 14:13-16 etc.).

But He did come - in judgement, but also into judgement.  Ezekiel’s inaugural vision ‘in the land of the Babylonians’ (1:3) shows the throne of God… on wheels!  Like the Ark of the Covenant, it could be ‘carried’ by the ‘living creatures’ (Ezek.1:19).  God suffered exile with them, bearing His own punishment, and working through them still to foreshadow the life and ministry of Christ.  Some of the most famous stories of spiritual steadfastness come from this period of the Church’s history (Dan.1-6); some of the most profound visions of Christ (Dan.7:13-14); some of the greatest moments of deliverance (Dan.6:21-23).   

But neither Babylon nor Egypt (Jer.41-42) was ever to be the final resting place of the Church.  The promise was always that God would be found by His people, and that He would bring them back from exile (e.g. Lev.26:40-45; I Kings 8:46-51; Jer.29:11-14; 30:1-3; Ezek.36:33-36 etc.).  Everything hinges on the people’s repentance, and as soon as that is in place, the promise of restoration comes into play.  One of the most powerful visions of the restoration of God’s people from exile is Ezekiel’s vision of dry bones (Ezek.37:1-14).   It is a place of uncleanness and death; without hope.  This is exile (v.11).  How will the Lord respond to the plight of His Church?  Ezekiel plays his part (‘the Son of Man’ 37:3), responding - as He always does - to the repentance of His people with grace: He breathes His Spirit into the valley (v.9 & 14), raising and restoring His people.

Once, when the true Son of Man Himself was being accused by the religious leaders of His day, Jesus cited Ezekiel’s vision to verify His claims (John 5:28, see Ezek.37:12-13).  Ezekiel’s hope was not just for a return from exile, or even some sort of merely spiritual revival.  Ultimately his vision was of the Church led by Christ into her New Creation future, to the fulfilling of the New Covenant and to dwelling in the presence of the living God. That has always been the fullest hope of the Church - whether in exile or out of it.

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… they did not listen or pay attention; instead, they followed the stubbornness of their evil hearts. So I brought on them all the curses of the covenant I had commanded them to follow but that they did not keep (Jer.11:8).

Ideas for Family Devotions:

Older children might find the Torchlighter story of Richard Wurmbrand a powerful insight into the reality of the Church living in a hostile environment. (about 36 mins): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SYpIXkPr9mg&t=1370s

(parents might want to watch it first - although it is an animation, it is a very moving account of life in Communist Romania)

Why not write a letter to an imprisoned Christian?  You can do this through Open Doors: https://www.opendoorsuk.org/act/letter/ - or - write to our MP, inviting them to attend the launch of the World Watch Map on 18th January: http://advocacy.oduk.org/page/15310/action/1

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Day 16 The Prophets

Jesse Tree: Day 16   Prophets (Ex.4:10-17/Acts 2:25-31)

 

Working our way through the Old Testament, we have begun to see in just how many ways God spoke to our ancestors (see Heb.1:1).  It isn’t just in specific spoken prophecies that tell us directly about the coming Christ.  He is also speaking through the structures of worship (tabernacle, festivals, laws and the sacrifices), and through events in people’s lives (Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac).  Jesus is also revealed through the offices and roles that people inhabited in the life of the ancient Church: kings, priests, judges, etc.  These roles give us categories and pictures that will allow us to understand who Jesus is and what He does.  One of those pictures is that of the prophet (Dt.18:18).

Since Moses great sermon ‘east of the Jordan’ (what we call Deuteronomy), the spectre of exile hung over the future of Israel (see e.g. Dt.28), and as it drew ever closer, so the prophets spoke with greater urgency.   But sin is both irrational and self-destructive, blinding us to its consequences (Prov.14:12 & 16:25).  God’s answer to the people’s stubborn refusal of His vision was to send prophets to remind them of their origins and their destiny, to warn them of the consequences of their decisions, and to call them back to faithfulness.   Their refusal broke God’s heart, and the prophets painfully embodied the message they proclaimed: Hosea’s broken marriage, the death of Ezekiel’s wife, the weeping of Jeremiah.  Their visions were often bleak and terrifying, their message uncompromising.  But in the end they were, by many of our standards, failures (Is.6:9-13).   Israel went into exile, the Temple destroyed.  God’s vision lay in ruins.

But the Spirit hadn’t just enabled the prophets to understand what was happening in their own day.  They searched intently for the future God had ordained.  Whether it was the return from exile, the coming of Christ to fulfil the Old Testament, or the end of the age, they held out hope: that the final word to the Church would not be our sin, but His grace.  They were those who had seen Christ (John 12:41; Ezek.1; I Kings 22:19 etc.).  They weren’t merely social commentators, voicing their own insights and opinions.  They spoke the very words of God (II Pet.1:19-21).  What they said, God said; what God said, they said.  He put His own words in their mouth (Jer.1:9 etc.).  That is what makes both their predictions of judgement and their offer of grace so utterly compelling.  Whether it is Jeremiah’s buying of land in anticipation of the return from exile (Jer.32), or promising the raising up of David’s righteous Branch (23:5); or Isaiah’s vision of a new heavens and a new earth (65:17-25); or Micah’s promise of a Ruler from Bethlehem (5:2), we can trust them implicitly.  All these and hundreds more examples have an absolute and unassailable authority, for ‘This is what the Lord says…’ (e.g. Is.61:1).

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 The prophets who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ was pointing when He predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow… (I Pet.1:10-11)

Ideas for Family Devotions:

Seeds Family Worship, ‘I love your Word’ (Heb.4:12), can be found at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wVrR5Y2Wzh4

Older children might benefit from the Heidelberg Catechism, rather than those suggested yesterday.  You can find it all online here:  http://www.heidelberg-catechism.com/en/  Lord’s Day 12 talks about Jesus as Prophet.  There will be a prize for anyone (under 18!) who memorises the epic answer to Qu.1!

Older children might also enjoy the story of William Tyndale (about 30 mins): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nbjj8iAxOKM

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Day 15 David

Jesse Tree: Day 15          David (II Sam.2:1-8 & 5:1-5)

 

Samuel was the last of the Judges… the prophet who stood in the midst of Israel’s transition to becoming a kingdom.  His was a heart broken by the rebellion of the people of God, and of the rejection by the people of God.  He was in agony of soul as the people squandered their destiny: ‘…appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have’ (I Sam.8:5).  But the Church was never supposed to be like the other nations.  And yet in the twilight of his years, Samuel glimpses hope.  The Lord had not been caught unawares by their impulse to conform, to be the same as everybody else (see Deut.17:14f.). With gracious wisdom He wove their sin into His providence and care. 

Through Samuel the Lord anointed a shepherd-boy, David.  This ‘christ’ (anointed one), He raised up as a king after His own heart (I Sam.13:14).  David would be a king who would unite the people of God, a champion who would fight on their behalf, deliver them from slavery and lead them into the future God had ordained for them.  Under the reign of this king, David, and its immediate aftermath under Solomon, the ancient Church grew closer to realising God’s vision for His people than any other time in the Old Testament.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism celebrates the king-ship of Christ.  In its antiquated, 17th century English it asks the children of the Church, Qu.26: How doth Christ execute the office of a king?  And the answer that they would learn to give: Christ executeth the office of a king, in subduing us to himself, in ruling and defending us, and in restraining and conquering all his and our enemies.  In its ‘Scriptural proofs’, the Catechism invites us to meditate on Ps.2:6-9; Ps.110:1-3; Col.1:13 & 2:15 (amongst others).

It is worth reading through the ancient wisdom of the Hebrew Scriptures to see what is expected from a king and his people. We might find some of it disconcerting: ‘Since a king’s word is supreme, who can say to him, ‘What are you doing?’ (Eccl.8:4).  This doesn’t perhaps fit our view of monarchy, or perhaps of Jesus.  In a post-Magna-Carta UK, we might be more inclined to think of King-ship in a more symbolic figure-head kind of way.  Yet through David, the Spirit is calling us to understand what it means to speak of Jesus as our King, whether it fits our cultural prejudices or political sensibilities… or not.

Jesus is no cultural figure-head.  He is not optional or an accident of history or geography.  He is not one of a number of political options.  He is the King over all kings, crowned with many crowns and we are either amongst those conquered, subdued and ruled by Him, or those who will be finally condemned by Him.  There is no middle ground.  Jesus Himself taught as much (Lk.14:31-33).

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The King rejoices in your strength O Lord.  How great is His joy in the victories you give.  You have granted Him His heart’s desire…  (Psalm 21:1-2)

Ideas for Family Devotions:

For many generations, a key way that parents brought up their children in the knowledge and ways of God was through catechisms.   The Westminster Shorter Catechism is available on the online bookstore on the MIE website, along with an activity book.  Why not make a New Year’s resolution as a family to work through a catechism in 2018.   For families with younger children, ‘My First Book of Questions and Answers’ might be better (also available on the website), along with an introduction to Catechizing our Children.  There is also a short article here: https://www.mie.org.uk/teaching-children

Today’s chapter from the Jesus Story Book Bible (David & Goliath): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h0KUCQGqSZE

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Day 14 Ruth and Boaz

Jesse Tree: Day 14          Ruth & Boaz (Ruth 4:1-17)

The days of the Judges were horrific.  They started in bleak disappointment: ‘After the death of Joshua…’ (1:1).  This was the generation that was supposed to realise God’s vision of being His people in His land, living under His gracious Law.  This was the generation that was supposed to be a foreshadowing of life in the New Creation.  But the reality is disobedience and defeat, depravity and demise.  Fleeting moments of deliverance cannot halt the downward spiral that already set the trajectory for exile.

And yet even in the midst of this deepest darkness it was possible to live in a way that honoured Christ.  Boaz was such a man of righteousness, and Naomi at least, understood how rare a thing this was (Ruth 2:22).  Boaz was a man who didn’t just know the Law of God, but who sought to live according to it.  Boaz reflected wonderfully the Lord’s heart of compassion, grace and generosity.  These weren’t lofty ideals only to be expected in an ideal world; they were hard financial realities that affected how he treated his employees, and the needy in the life of the Church.  Those who turned to the Lord for help, could find that help delivered through Boaz.  He grasped that even in a society that had long since turned its back on the Lord, and that laboured under judgement, the faithful were yet called to a costly and Christ-honouring obedience.

And so when Ruth the Moabite became a disciple of the Lord (1:16), she found a place of refuge in the fields of Boaz.  Indeed, she found more than refuge!  Deep in the Levitical legislation lay a statute that bestowed great privilege and responsibility on the nearest relative of one who impoverished or indebted.  Such a relative was given the opportunity to model the grace of the Lord, and to become a ‘Kinsman-Redeemer’ (Lev.25:25f).   And so Boaz humbly takes on the mantle, and the role of Christ (Ruth 3:9 / Ezek.16:8).  The portrait of the Kinsman-Redeemer, the Bridegroom who redeems His bride rarely comes more sharply into focus than in this rural backwater of Bethlehem ‘in the days when the Judges ruled’ (Ruth 1:1)

‘So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife … and the Lord enabled her to conceive and she gave birth to a son … and they named him Obed.  He was the father of Jesse, the father of David’ (Ruth 4:13 & 17).  Such unassuming obedience weaves Boaz and his new wife into the fabric of God’s salvation, and into the genealogy of Jesus.  For ‘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…’ (Is.11:1).  When his family was cut down, and left looking insignificant, the Lord brought life, a future and hope.

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Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a Guardian-Redeemer of our family…’ (Ruth 3:9)

Ideas for Family Devotions:

As we are thinking about how the weak and vulnerable in the Church are provided for by the Church (see also Matt.25:31-46 & II Cor.8-9), why not visit Barnabas Fund (www.barnabasfund.org/en/barnabas-gifts), or Gospel for Asia (www.gfa.org), to buy a Christmas present for Christians elsewhere in the world - it might be the first time you buy someone a chicken or a goat for Christmas!

Have a listen to Seeds Family Worship, ‘Crushed’ (and learn Ps.34:18).  www.youtube.com/watch?v=879RTAJxpF0.  Enjoy!

 

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Day 13 Rahab

Jesse Tree: Day 13     Rahab (Josh.2:1-21)

The brightest jewels of grace are often found in the deepest shadows of judgement.  Under the advance of Joshua’s army it seems that all hope is eclipsed.  The sin of the Canaanites has reached its full limit (Gen.15:16, see Jdgs.11:23 / II Kings 21:11 for the identification of the Amorites with Canaan).  There is something terrifying about the idea that a society has reached its capacity for sin, and that the fullest potential for human sinfulness has found expression.  Our hearts faint at the prospect of God’s visiting such a culture (Dt.9:4).

And yet even here, even as the sword of God’s judgement hangs over a society saturated in sin, His grace finds its mark.  Just stepping back into the book of Exodus for a moment, take a look at e.g. Ex.15:14-16.  The Exodus was not a quiet thing affecting the life of only Egypt or Israel.  It was a public, global spectacle.  The nations of the world watched.  They saw and understood that the Living God was doing something unprecedented.  They understood better than we realise that this was the declaration of the Gospel of God’s deliverance.  Many streamed to join the ancient Church, even as they left Egypt.

The Good News was proclaimed even to Canaan.  As ever, the Gospel finds voice before the Lord speaks in judgement.  After all, ‘how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard?’ (Rom.10:14).   It is hard to be sure what the two spies might have expected to hear from the lips of a prostitute called Rahab.  It is perhaps unlikely that they anticipated a recital of the good news of the Exodus (Josh.2:8-13).  But Rahab demonstrates that the citizens of Canaan were fully aware of what was happening and why; that they had the opportunity to respond in faith and to be counted amongst those whom God declares His own people.  Her profession of faith might be a little unusual, but it was no less genuine because of that.  And God does what He always does when He meets with faith in response to the Gospel.  He saved.  There is a wonderful ambiguity in the sentence, ‘Joshua spared Rahab the prostitute, with her family and all who belonged to her’ (Josh.6:23-25).   Which Joshua?  Both…

And in a way that perhaps shouldn’t surprise us, He goes beyond mere salvation.  Maybe it was because of the extreme situation from which he saved Rahab, that she found such an honoured place in the heart of her new-found God.    We have to wait until the dawn of the New Testament to discover just how far the grace of God reaches into the life of this woman (Matt.1:5).  She is grafted into the family tree of another Joshua.  She marries Salmon, and becomes the mother of Boaz.  As we’ll see tomorrow, Boaz grew up a victim of the same deep, disturbing grace of his parents.

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Joshua spared Rahab the prostitute, with her family and all who belonged to her … and she lives among the Israelites to this day  (Joshua 6:25)

Ideas for Family Devotions:

Use red wool to make a friendship bracelet.  There are instructional videos on line (e.g. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YujvDp5BJ78) or step by step tutorials (e.g https://www.wikihow.com/Make-a-Friendship-Bracelet).  Or perhaps a simpler bracelet, but with letter-beads strung in spelling ‘Faithful’ or ‘Grace’? 

Or maybe a bookmark for your Bible.  This could be a simple a braiding 3 strands of red wool together, or perhaps draw / copy a picture of the spies climbing down the wall on a bookmark shaped piece of card, and tie red wool to the bookmark using a hole-punch?

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