Month: December, 2016

Bible Study: Matthew 7:7-14

 

What kind of seeking is Jesus talking about in this verse? Deuteronomy 4:29; Jeremiah 29:13 Explain (note: These are all present imperatives which speak of habitual, lifestyle commands)

How do these verses support your explaination? Mark 15:36,39,41; Matthew 26:39,42,44

Why is persistence important? Luke 18:2-8

Why does it seem as if God doesn’t answer when you seek Him sometimes? 2 Corinthians 2:6-10

Jesus used the analogy of a father and son to describe the mystery of prayer. Why do you think this is? Luke 11:11-13

Does God even answer our inappropriate and selfish prayers? Why?

“If you then” This is a first class conditional sentence, which is assumed to be true from the author’s perspective or for his literary purposes. How is this a declaration of the sinfulness of man? Romans 3:9,23

How do verse 11 and the corresponding verse in Luke 11:13 differ? Why do you think this is?

How should our knowledge of the Father affect our prayers?

Is Luke 11:13 a proof text that we must ask for the Holy Spirit? Romans 8:9; Galatians 3:2,3,5,14; Ephesians 5:18

Why has the “Golden Rule,” as seen in verse 12, become such an important guide for life? How is this made easier through faith in Christ? Romans 13:9

What does Jesus mean by adding, “for this is the Law and the Prophets” after the Golden Rule? How does this change its meaning? Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34

Why is the way to deliverance narrow and hard but the way to destruction wide and easy?

What does this mean for most people? Why have we not been more open in sharing this profound fact? Luke 13:23-27

Where else in Scripture have we heard this analogy of the good way and the bad way? Deuteronomy 30:15-19; Psalm 1; Proverbs 4:10-19; Isaiah 1:19-20, Jeremiah 21:8

Is the narrowness of the gate because of the difficulty in following the law or the difficulty in obtaining a changed heart? Matthew 11:29-30

How is the word, “Way” in these last sentences a metaphor for life?

What path are you on? How can you get yourself on the right path?

How can this section help you prioritize what resolutions one should be making in the New Year?

Note:  Materials for the Bible Study are gathered from various resources. (i.e. Bible.org)

New Beginnings

Text:  Matthew 7:7-14

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father…

Please pray with me…

In every life there comes a time when decisions have to be made. Some are easy, like deciding if your gum is ready to be thrown away. Some are a little more difficult like, “where do you want to eat?” Others are very tough indeed like, “Do I take my mother off life support?” All through our lives, we are forced to make choices.

As many people celebrate the New Year, part of that celebration for them has to do with making decisions, goals that they want to accomplish throughout the coming year. For many, like myself, it includes losing weight, for others it can be most anything from being more patient to finally writing that book.

A Columbia University researcher named Sheena Iyenger has found that the average person makes about 70 decisions every day. That’s 25,500 decisions a year. Over 70 years, that 1,788,500 decisions.

Well, in this new year where many are setting goals, there is one that should clearly stand above the rest. In fact, the decision you make has everlasting consequences. That decision that all Christians must make is; How am I going to respond to Jesus? Am I going to give Him my all, or am I going to coast another year? Will I live my life according to His will or will my will and my ways win out once again? Just how much am I willing to surrender so that I might be in a closer relationship with my Savior?

Well, in reality, this can be a very hard decision for someone to make, even life-long followers. The world is enticing with all its promises. It takes boldness to make the decision to commit to Christ knowing that the world will be against you.

Yet, Jesus reminds us in John 14, “I Am the Way, and the Truth and the Life, no one comes to the Father except through me.” Given that, it seems like it should be an easier decision. After all, who wouldn’t want to commit to the only one who could lead us to the Father?

Proverbs 16 gives us a clue as to why this is not as easy as it should be. It says in verse 25, “There is a way that seems right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways to death.” Here he is speaking of everlasting death. What it means is that, without Spiritual direction, man makes some decisions that seem good in the beginning but end up costing him everything in the end.

It might make sense to you to neglect your spiritual life in order to make more room for your worldly life, but in the end there is only destruction. It might make sense in the world to replace the one true God with God’s of worldly origin, but in the end it wins you nothing but everlasting death.

You might decide for yourself that good works are enough to impress God, but the Bible says in Ephesians 2, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing: it is a gift from God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

Or maybe you’ll decide you’ll get there because your Lutheran but Jesus debunks this also saying in John 3, “Unless a man is born again he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.”

Others will think that all they have to do is “believe” and that will satisfy God yet they have really no idea what it means to believe. Belief is shown in our works, in our actions. From James 2:19-20, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe – and shudder. Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?”

So you see that the greatest decision in life is far from easy. It is more than a simple decision, it takes full-time commitment. To be a follower of Christ in the real sense means giving of yourself completely. It goes against all worldly direction. It promises you a lifetime of rejection and denial. Yet it promises you everything.

Is this on your New Year resolution list? Will this finally be the year you commit your all?

God gives us direction on how to make the decision to follow Him work in a world that battles against us. It’s found in our Gospel text for this morning in Matthew seven. It begins with these words, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find, knock, and it will be opened for you. For everyone who asks, receives, and the one who seeks finds, and the one who knocks it will be opened.”

You see, God understands the weight of this decision to follow Him under all the worldly pressure not to. Because of this He gives you every opportunity to come to Him for direction and guidance. It is why He sent His Holy Spirit to help you along the path. It is why He sent His only Son to win for us our forgiveness.

How many people ignore God’s plea to make a decision for Him completely because they fear the weight of the burden it might put on them? In Matthew 11 Jesus pleads with us to, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

 Is that why you’ve held off giving Christ your all? Because you think it will be too great a burden for you to bear? Well, if you want to call yourself a Christian, you must be willing to take God at His word. Do you believe he will help to make that burden light? Do you believe that His yoke is easy? Do you believe Him when He tells you that He is willing to take the brunt of the weight so you might find rest for your very soul?

There are really only two decisions Christians can make in this respect, the decision that leads unto the path of destruction or the decision that leads to the path of deliverance. Each of us is on one of these two paths. Some here might even believe they are on one path when in reality, they are on the other. This is the choice of a lifetime for all of us.

But, as the crowded path to destruction leads only to death, the narrow and much harder path to deliverance leads to everlasting life. I say much harder because the road to ruin is an easy one made up of self-righteous rules of our own making. We have only to play along with the world while we strive for its affection. The road to destruction is paved with false promises that seem good to man, so the travel is easy.

The road to ever-lasting life is a much harder journey filled with temptations and challenges. It requires more of a commitment but in the end there is everlasting joy that can only be realized in faith. It requires a complete surrender to Christ. It requires a belief that goes beyond words. It’s a journey the devil does not want us to take so he will do all he can to pull us off the path.

And that’s why it’s a tough decision my friends. Because we like the easy way. Yet, for those who are bold enough to start their journey of faith, their everlasting life has already begun. This amazing life is available right now. We don’t have to wait. Christ offers to answer your questions right here, right now. He comes to all who truly seek Him where He may be found and He waits to hear your knock so that He may answer you with His love. The path that leads to life has to come by your decision however. God is not going to force you to do anything. If you want to make your decision for Him, he will be there. If you reject Him, He is anguished by your decision but He will never give up on you.

Jesus says In John 14, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.

Jesus promises to love you and that he will never forsake you and to top it off He promises you everlasting life with Him in a place He has prepared just for you. It’s all yours upon your decision to follow Him. But you must be willing to make that decision.

You can remain on the path of destruction all the way to hell if you want to. You can continue on the path to what has been called “The Second Death.” That’s as much your decision as your decision to follow God. You can decide that you’re going to risk it a while longer as you choose a more worldly life now, while hoping for a more spiritual life later but, let me tell you. There is a reason that the road to destruction is wide and the road to deliverance is narrow. It’s because it’s littered with people who decided to wait to commit to Christ until there was no time left.

Heaven is waiting for all of us and Jesus Christ has promised us it is a place of everlasting joy and peace, a place of unspeakable beauty and glory that goes well beyond our human imagination. But to get there you have to be willing to make the decision for Christ with all of your mind, all of your soul and all of your heart.

Heaven is a place where we will spend an eternity with the Father, but only if you make the decision to do so. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2:9, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love Him.” In fact, it’s so glorious that it was worth it to God to see His only Son to suffer on our account so we could get there.

This year, as you make your resolutions, make the greatest of decisions to follow Christ completely. Make 2017 the year you finally gave up the battle for your soul. Decide today, this very moment, to do everything in your power to be able to worship at the Savior’s feet as you spend eternity in heaven where there is no more weeping or mourning.

God waits for you to seek Him. May you be bold to come to His door and knock. Happy New Year everybody. Amen.

 

Christmas Eve

 

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father…

Please pray with me…

John 1:1-14

P:  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

P:       This is the Gospel of the Lord.

Christmas has been called the season of lights and, tonight, we’ll promote that when we bring light to this church in candle and song. All around, the colored lights on the houses and trees show us that Christmas is near.

What a glorious season Christmas is. It’s no wonder we celebrate it with bright lights. It’s very appropriate that, in the celebration of the Light of the World coming to save His struggling people, that lights would be involved.

You know, it’s said that Martin Luther actually lit the first Christmas tree. Of course, he did it with candles which can be a tad unsafe, but from that day on, people have included lights as part of their celebration and worship.

In our Gospel lesson for this evening, we heard the familiar words in John 1 as they speak about our Savior: “In Him was Life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Later on in John chapter eight, Jesus reinforces this thought saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

One more time in John chapter 12 we read these words of Jesus, “I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.”

We see this message of light from the prophets of the Old Testament as well. Isaiah put it this way in Chapter nine of his book, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.”

This message of light occurs again and again in Scripture. Jesus came at Christmas to free His people from the darkness of sin and death and to lead them into the light of everlasting joy and peace. Jesus came to shine His light on our path toward our salvation. Jesus came to shine His light within us so that we might then let that light shine so that others might see. He came so that we might turn from our darkness into His marvelous light.

Often, people who finally get the beautiful message of Christianity describe it as turning from darkness into light. The effect on them is life changing. Sorrow has turned to joy, uncertainty has turned to hope and dimness has been turned to radiance.

This is one reason that Christ said that unless we had faith like children we could not enter the kingdom of heaven. It’s because they haven’t yet lived long enough for the darkness to completely envelope them. They haven’t had to live with it, feel it, suffer from it or yet attempted to free themselves from it. Most of them have yet to learn of the trauma of personal darkness to see how sin is attached.

So, for those of us who have suffered with their own personal darkness, the message of Christmas is a welcome break from the dark messages of the world. The message of light is cause to rejoice.

You see, it’s the lives of people who’ve lived in the depth of the darkness of despair that prove the true power of Jesus’ light. They’re the kinds of people which society might cast aside as un savable or forever unforgiven. They’ve done terrible things that have led to immoral and darkened lives. They are the people we wouldn’t invite into our houses let alone our churches because too many would say they don’t “deserve” it for what they have done.

We even hear this prejudice in our Christmas songs:

You better watch out/ you better not cry/ you better not pout/ I’m telling you why/ Santa Claus is coming to town. He’s making a list/ Checking it twice/ gonna find out/ who’s naughty and nice/ Santa Claus is coming to town. So be good for goodness sake!

Cute song, terrible theology. Who does the song say deserves to be accepted and receive gifts? Only those who’ve done good. In other words, only the righteous deserve these things like favor and acceptance. Only the “good” receive gifts.

Lewis Sperry Chafer once said: “Anyone can devise a plan by which good people may go to heaven. Only God can devise a plan whereby sinners, who are His enemies, can go to heaven.”

Only the Messiah has a light bright enough to show sinners the way to heaven. Only Jesus Christ can turn darkness into light. Only God could devise a plan by which people who have made bad, sometimes terrible decisions in their lives, might receive hope, mercy and forgiveness. Christ came to earth for all people, not just the favored or the righteous. Christ came in the form of a young child in all mortality to suffer like we have suffered and to die so that we might live.

This message is what frustrated the church leaders of His day so much. Jesus was spending His time with sinners, those who had been naughty not nice. He ate with prostitutes and tax collectors, people who deserved a lump of coal in their Christmas stockings. He didn’t come to shun the guilty to the darkness but to bring light to the broken. On top of all this, he had the nerve to chastise and condemn the one’s society would have thought would get the “good gifts.”

It reminds me of the passage in Luke chapter 18. Here we see two very different men approaching God in two very different ways:

“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Two men with different approaches to God, one chose to do the righteous thing and the other the self-righteous thing. One understood his need for God and the other saw God’s need for him.

Christ’s message is one of light for a dark world and this was that message.

  • You can’t be good enough on your own to be acceptable to God. The advent of sin brought the same penalty for us all.
  • If you think your life is a “righteous” one without depending on Jesus Christ and His sacrifice, then you live in darkness no matter how good you think you are.
  • If you are bold enough to shine God’s light on your life you will recognize that there is a standard of righteousness that is expected from us and it has little to nothing to do with what we can do and everything to do with what Christ has done.

That’s the truth that many in our world are having trouble understanding. The truth that “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” None of us are worthy on our own merits. We all need Christ in our lives.

You see, Jesus came for all of us, righteous and unrighteous alike. He loves all equally no matter where you are in life or what you have done in life. He is the light for ALL the world.

Now let’s look at another part of our Gospel lesson for this Christmas Eve. It’s found in verses 6-7: “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him.”

This was John the Baptist, born with one purpose in life, to bring witness to the light. His life’s goal was to point people to the light, to Jesus. He lived his life solely to bring light into people’s lives by directing them to the source of that light and because of this Jesus says of John, “I tell you the truth: among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist.” It’s safe to say, Jesus was a fan.

So what does that mean for me you say? It means that, every time you share the God News of Jesus with others by bringing them to church or sharing your testimony so that others may see the light, you receive praise and thanksgiving from the source of light Himself. Jesus said in Luke 12:8, “And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God.’

Every time you share this Christmas message with others, Jesus mentions you by name to His angels. It’s as if you decorated your life with so many Christmas lights it can be seen all the way from heaven.

There are people out there celebrating right now that have no idea that this Good News even exists. They exchange presents without realizing that the best present of all is available to them just in the asking. There are people out there who know there has to be something more, something greater than this and they’re waiting for you to show them the way by the light of Christ.

62% of formerly churched people are open to attend church again according to a poll done by Lifeway research. 58% believe that it’s time to go back but find it hard making that first move. 31% believe God is calling them to come back. They just wait for your invitation. It’s simply a matter of deciding to share the light of Christ with the people around you!

Even the truly wicked are open to your witness. Did you hear the story about the 92 year old woman who preached to the man who robbed her?  92 year old Pauline Jacobi had just returned to her car with her groceries, gotten into the driver’s seat and a man with a gun opened the passenger door and sat down beside her. He demanded all her money. She said “No!” (no????) In fact, she turned him down 3 times.

She told him “As quick as you kill me I’ll go to heaven and you’ll go to hell.” And then she witnessed to him for the next 10 minutes. By the time she was finished, she had the man in tears, and she gave him $10 – all the money she had – telling him not to spend it on whiskey. He kissed her on the cheek and walked away.

She witnessed to a man who walked in darkness. A man who carried a gun. A man who might very well have hurt her. But she witnessed to him anyway because, as she said “Jesus is in this car and He goes with me everywhere I go.”

Finally, we look at one last segment of our Gospel lesson. It’s found in verse 9: “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.”

Jesus was that little baby wrapped in light. The true light that shines on all who believe, who came for the sole purpose of saving His people from the darkness of sin and death.

Christmas is truly a season of lights and I hope that every time you look at the beautiful Christmas lights within your house and around your neighborhoods, you will remember where the light shines it’s brightest at Christmas.

This is the message of the Christ child. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” That was made possible on that first Christmas day some 2000 years ago and the light that came into the world shines still today with all the brightness and brilliance its always had. It might have gotten lost behind some worldly distractions from time to time, but the light that shines today still invites us to rejoice in all its glory.

May the light of Christ shine in you tonight and every night and may it shine so bright from you that everyone else can see its luster. Merry Christmas everyone. May your time together be blessed and may His message bring clarity to your lives. Amen.

“The Wise Still Seek Him”

 

Matthew 2:1-12

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father…

Please pray with me…

A family was driving through the neighborhoods of their city, looking for the most beautiful displays of Christmas lights. As they drove past their local Lutheran church, they noticed a nativity scene. The young boy asked his mother….what’s that? “Well, honey, She said, “That’s Mary and Joseph and in that manger is the baby Jesus.” A few blocks down the road, they passed the Methodist church which had in front of its church a scene of the wise men, journeying to find the Christ child. “Who are they?” said the boy, “Those are the wise men,” the mother said, “Their searching for baby Jesus.” Well they can’t be all that wise, “ the boy replied, “they won’t find Him there,” He’s down the street at the Lutheran church.”

The celebration of Christmas is almost over and many are still searching. They know the story, they’ve seen the movie, they might even be in church this morning, but they’re still searching for the real story of Christmas. “It has to be about more than Santa and his reindeer,” they say to themselves. And the search continues. This is a good thing. Every hour within every day should be a search by all of us for the Christ of Christmas and every hour of every day should be in service to others in their search. It’s when the search stops that we have cause to mourn.

In almost every depiction of the nativity we see at Christmas, the picture looks different than it did in front of the two churches, because the Wise men are usually included. We see them kneeling with their gifts of gold, frankincense and myyrh in adoration of the newborn Christ child.

Actually, this version of the scene is incorrect. When the wise men arrive, it says in our text in verse 11 that by the time of their visit they were no longer in a stable but in a house. No cows, no angels, no little drummer boys, just Mary, Joseph and their young son. Further on we find that Jesus was probably between 1 ½  to 2 ½ years old at the time of their visit. Clearly, He was no longer lying in a manger. They had become a family and Joseph had, no doubt, established some kind of a carpentry business by this time. The shepherds visit was just a pleasant memory.

Some speculate that the wise men were men of astrology, almost certainly not three kings. They probably traveled months to get to the place where Jesus was finally found, some speculate as many as four months. And this would have been a difficult journey from the east full of rough terrain and dangerous opportunities. They would have had to keep their eyes open for thieves and robbers, so it is very possible they were traveling in a much larger caravan, maybe even a military escort.

So, you say, why are we talking about things that didn’t even happen at Christmas? It’s because, their search has everything to do with that first Christmas morn. Their travels were hard but the search was worth it. At the end of their journey, they received the great gift of meeting the King of kings and Lord of lords. They understood the importance of this birth, so it was worth the risk of the journey to find Him.

We have much to learn from the Wise men and their search for the Christ child. And we have much to gain when we put into perspective the search we have been willing to make as compared to all they had to endure to reach their goal.

First, we learn that God is willing and able to reach even those who are far from Him. God used the star to guide the Wise men but today we have something even greater, His Holy Word.

I think it’s good to mention that these men were, most likely, gentiles, not Jews, even though they came seeking the King of the Jews. God used a star to guide them, not because they were especially educated or intelligent, but because they were willing to take the journey. It didn’t matter that they were a great distance from Bethlehem or that they weren’t His chosen people. God was making a statement here that He calls all people, no matter where they are, to come to Christ.

The Jews thought the Messiah would be for them alone, but God had much different plans. The Christ child was born for all people. Not just the most holy or most perfect. He doesn’t only seek out the best or the brightest. The Christ child was born for all people of all colors and shapes.

He reaches out for you no matter who you are. When you’re hurting and alone, when your angry, when your sad, even when you have every reason to rejoice, He wants to become the light that you follow. He wants to open your eyes to see the importance of your journey no matter how far away you are from Him.

And when He sends out His signals to you, He never stops wanting you to find Him. He never takes the opportunity away. He never hides His face from you. His greatest desire is that you begin your search, because the trip is always worth the perceived dangers and rough terrain you might have to endure to get there.

Secondly, we learn that the Wise men were diligent in their search. Though the travel must have been arduous, they never gave into the temptation to stop the journey. When you look at your journey towards Christ, how much does it take you to stop your journey? Is it as easy as getting through the Christmas season and forgetting about God for the rest of the year except possibly Easter if you’re forced to go?

When you come to that first obstacle in the road, say a time where you need to defend your Christian faith, what do you do? Is that enough to stop the journey?

Christ speaks to people who veer off the road easily like the church in Laodicea recorded in Revelations 3 saying, “I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I spit you out of my mouth.”

God has no desire for those who simply play the game by saying they are one thing but acting as if they were another. His desire is for those who diligently search for Him, who are willing to take the journey no matter the temptations to stop. He is looking for those who believe in Him enough to trust in His promises for them.

We can have Biblical knowledge, we can even have certain religious convictions, but if were not willing to take the journey, what good are they? If we are unwilling to live out our faith and practice what we preach, all credibility is lost. God the Father is seeking a relationship with us through His Son Jesus Christ, the same Jesus Christ the Magi never gave up on. He wants us to seek Him where He may be found, knowing that if we truly seek Him we will find Him. Jesus said in Matthew 7:

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.”

He’s not hiding from you but neither will He force Himself upon you. If you seek Him He will send His angels to guide you. If you choose the world, He will let you. Yet He will never stop searching for you. His light will always be there to guide you.

When we finally find God, everything else seems to fall in place. Once the goal is reached, the reward is eternally fulfilling. Not that the hard times will have stopped, but that we know we don’t any longer have to face them alone.

In that respect we come to our third lesson taught to us by the Wise Men, the reason to worship. When the Wise men finally found Jesus, they showered Him with gifts as a form of worship. In their gifts could be found Gold and Frankincense and myyrh. They gave of themselves.

Worship is no different today. It may not include giving those kinds of gifts but it’s every bit as much about worshipping by your gifts.

Worship is not an option when it comes to your relationship with Christ. Worship, in fact, is a much needed element.

When we think of worshipping someone in a worldly sense it usually involves adoring someone more than they probably deserve. In the Spiritual sense, worship is much more fulfilling.

We do not worship because we have a God with a superiority complex, we worship because it keeps us in line with our faith. To be in a proper relationship with God costs us everything we have. It means giving of yourself 100% so as not to let the devil find his opportunity.

The first thing the wise men did was kneel in adoration and worship. They knew of the importance of this child and they were bold to show it.

Again in our text it says, “And going into the house they saw the child with Mary His mother, and they fell down and worshipped Him.” They had reached their goal of finding the Christ child and it was not enough for them to be satisfied with that. They came to worship Him and that’s what they did. Though they were men of obvious means, they bowed in submission before Him.

And that’s probably the hardest thing for us proud humans to do, to bow before the King of kings, acknowledging His power and submitting ourselves totally to His guidance and mercy.

Every time we worship it involves giving something of our self. It’s done by opening our hearts to God ready for His direction. Every time we feed the hungry, visit the stranger, help the hurting, defend the persecuted, or come to church to share, we worship God. Anytime we give of ourselves by being His hands, His feet, His mouth and His heart, we worship our creator as we were designed to do.

Each of the gifts the Maji shared came at a significant cost to themselves. All three gifts were extremely valuable. Yet they did so willingly.

We also should be so willing. With our time, our treasures and our talents, we also should be willing to give to Him who gave all of Himself for us. We should, by our works, acknowledge the one who gave us life, both temporal and eternal.

Finally, we learn to lay those things that mean so much to us at the feet of Christ. This is the gift of trust. The willingness to trust God with those things like family and riches that we might hold so dear.

When the Wise men presented their gifts, they laid them before the Christ child. What they once treasured they gave willingly. Nothing came before their adoration, nothing tempted them to keep back the smallest of their gifts. They did it willingly and in the full expectation that it was right to do so.

What gets in your way towards Christ? What is your obstacle? Is it time? Expectations? Riches? Pride? What is it that keeps you from giving your all to Christ? Through it all, the wise men stayed faithful. We see this in their secrecy from Herod, we see this in their willingness to expend a great deal of time and effort in their journey. We see this in their willingness to trust in God to show them the way.

We can learn a lot from the wise men. Even though they made their goal of find the promised Messiah, they didn’t stop there. They kept their hearts open to God and God rewarded them by warning them in their dreams to go another way.

This Christmas, I pray you also keep your heart open to the Christ child. I pray you have your eyes always looking for the light. Even when you find Him, I pray your eyes never leave Him.

Our journey will end one day when we find ourselves at the foot of Christ in paradise. In the meanwhile, the search continues. And it’s a search we don’t have to take alone. We have each other, we have God’s Word to guide us and we have the Holy Spirit to inspire us toward reaching the goal. It may not be in a dream, but the Lord will most certainly find just the right way to guide you to the goal if you are willing.

So, where are you in your journey today? Are you far away from Christ? Are you tripping over the obstacles or have you already quit the search? Remember, God continues to wait for you and He keeps His light shining so that all those who are willing may see it. No matter where you are in your relationship with God, it is not too late to start the journey. It’s not too late to begin again.

If you seek Him you will find Him and you will ultimately get your reward. May God Guide you to the right path. Amen.

The Greatest Gift

 

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father…

Please pray with me…

As year one turns into year two, it is expected that change will come. As the world changes, so do we. Well, Christmas is no different. Did you know that Santa now has an e-mail? And a Facebook page? He even tweets now and then to his faithful followers. So, instead of sending your letter to the North Pole, you can e-mail him or catch him on Facebook. Millions of children have done it this way. Here’s a few of their requests:

A boy named Jon writes, “I’m sorry, but we don’t have a chimney…I’ll leave the cat flap unlocked for you, please watch out for the litter box!”

Alex, age 8 writes, “Thank you for the remote control car last year, even though it broke the day after. I know you tried your best, and that’s what counts.”

A young boy named Art wrote, “I’m sorry for putting all that ex-lax in your milk last year, but I wasn’t sure if you were real. My dad was really mad.”

Christian e-mailed Santa saying, “Mommy and daddy say I have not been very good these past few days. How bad can I be before I lose my presents?

Kayla, age 9. “Please don’t bring me any new clothes.”

Finally, one of them gets it. Rosanne, 11, “Do you know that Jesus is the real reason for Christmas? Not to be mean, but He is.”

As Christians, we know that not all change is good. We see this at Christmas as year turns into year causing Angels to slowly turn into reindeer. Some things need to be consistent and, praise God, the true reason for Christmas and the one we adore, have been just that.

We experience the change little by little as the world slowly tries to make this Christian celebration their own, devoid of any Christian influence. So many ignore or have forgotten that Christmas is a time of rejoicing in the promised Christ child. They discount the fact that Christmas is a time to celebrate promises kept and salvation given. Too many are happy enough with Happy Holidays or Happy Kwanza. In the meantime, Baby Jesus gets pushed aside for other, more worldly hopes.

Have you gotten distracted too? Do you know why Jesus is the reason for the season? The Bible tells us in Luke 2 that, the night Jesus was born, an angel appeared to the shepherds:

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

Christmas is still about Christ just as much today as it was then. In the angel’s description we see promises fulfilled and salvation given. The promised Savior had come, for all people.

The good news of great joy that God’s people had waited to hear for so long, was now laying in a manger. The one born to be our Redeemer had come.

One Christmas card said it this way:

If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent us an educator.

If our greatest need had been through science, God would have sent us a scientist.

If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us a financial planner.

But since our greatest need was forgiveness, God sent us a Savior.

And that’s what makes the Christian season so special. It’s not the tree or the lights or the cookies. Christmas isn’t about gifts or reindeer or even Santa. The Christ Mass is celebrated for Christ. The Holy days are observed because of what God has given us in His Son. We celebrate Him because He loved us enough to save us from ourselves. God the Father gave us the greatest gift we could have ever received and He has become our deliverance from sin death and the false promises of the world. Matthew 1:21 gives us the Good News saying,

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.

And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

This tiny babe had been given to save us from ourselves. He had come to redeem us by being the perfect sacrifice on our behalf. This is so much better than reindeer and ribbon. The baby Jesus gives so much more than anything else you will receive as a gift this Christmas. The Christ child had come into the world as a gift that keeps on giving every moment of every day with the very best of things, everlasting things, things beyond human understanding.

It’s amazing isn’t it. All of God’s grace wrapped up in the form of a tiny baby. All of God’s mercy seen in an infant. Even though His people did nothing to deserve such a gift, God gave us His Only Son, knowing full well what had to be accomplished for us to be free from sin and death. Knowing full well the pain and suffering that were due this child simply because we failed to live up to our part of the agreement.

What do most Christians say when you ask them if they’re going to heaven when they die? “I hope so.” Why do they say that? It’s because they know they don’t deserve it. They know that, in their life, they have failed to live up to God’s expectations over and over again in their lives. They are indirectly acknowledging that what they deserve, might be what they get.

But what people with this kind of attitude are forgetting is the fullness of the gift they received that first Christmas morning. They are forgetting the reason that the Christ child was born. They have not fully grasped the depth of the promise that all who believe will be saved. Ours is not to wonder if. The gift of eternal life arrived when the Christ child arrived. True salvation was born on the night of His birth.

Even though we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Even though “None are righteous, no, not one.” Even though no one truly understands why. Christ came in the flesh in the form of a humble baby with the express purpose to save those who believe in Him.

In Jeremiah 31:34, God promised that when He would create a new covenant, the one established in His Only Son, that He would, “Forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

It’s another one of those things at Christmas that is hard to grasp. It’s hard because the world doesn’t work this way. Life is cruel and unforgiving most of the time. It sets you up to fail.

But Jesus was born to overcome all of that. He came to save us from the shameful lives we live. He came to remove the guilt that glows like a scarlet letter upon us. He came to pay the price for your sins so much so that God no longer sees them. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow.” (Isaiah 1:18)

1 John 1:6-7 tells us what this promise means to us. It says, “If we say we have fellowship with (God the Father) while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.”

I don’t think even Mary could have imagined what she had been so blessed to be such a big part of. It is appropriate that the wise men were drawn to the source of a bright light, because, from that first morning, Christ has been our light in a dark and dreary world.

Not even Mary could have imagined what her beautiful baby boy would grow to become. Not even she could have imagined what He would be asked to do to save the world from their sins. She could never have envisioned the price He would pay so that we may be redeemed.

Romans 6:23 said it this way, “…the wages of sin is death.” That is what we all deserve. That is why people say “I hope so” when asked if they’ll make it to heaven one day. But God’s law allowed that those sins could be forgiven if something else…or someone else…died I that person’s place.

Hebrews 9 tells us that, “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” Something or someone had to pay the price. It is the only just thing to do and our God is a just God. Someone had to pay for our mistakes. It should have been us, but Christ was born to be our substitute. The perfect sacrifice for our sins.

That’s why John 3:16 is one of our favorite verses. Because it reminds us of the sacrifice taken on our behalf saying that, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever should believe in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” That’s the simple message of Christmas. That’s the message wrapped up in the form of a little child.”

“But, wait a minute,” you say, “How can that be the message of Christmas?” Where are the wise men and the angels?” “What do Shepherds and mangers have to do with it?” “Why even share the story of His birth if the real message is in His death?”

God gave us this message of Christ’s birth because it’s as much a part of the story as His death is. First, as we said last week, His birth had to be special so that all mankind would know that salvation comes only from God. Philippians 2 reminds us: “though he was in the form of God, Christ did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.

Before Jesus was born He was already God, yet He humbled Himself, even as a humble and dependent baby, stripping Himself of His Godhood and allowing Himself to become mortal.

And in order to be mortal, He had to be born of a mortal woman. Her being a virgin did not take away his mortality but it certainly spoke to His divinity. In this way He was both 100% man and 100% God. It seems odd that God would go to such lengths for us. But He did and Jesus Christ is the proof.

God went to such lengths because He wanted us to know that Christ was qualified to pay the price that needed to be paid in blood. So Jesus had to be born to prove He was both God and man.

God could have chosen a number of different ways to introduce Himself, but He chose this way to be in greater fellowship with His creation. He could have sounded a great trumpet heard around the world as a proper introduction. He could have descended from the sky in a great cloud for all to see. But now wasn’t the right time for all of that. No, this called for something much more tender, something that spoke in the language of love. All the power of trumpets from heaven and descending kingdoms was found in a tender little baby born in a manger in a non-descript town to non-descript parents. In the end it proved to be the perfect way to communicate His coming.

So, do you know the real reason for this season or will you be content to get lost in Christmas trees and hanging lights. Do you grasp with every fiber of your being the gift given to you in a lowly stable that first Christmas night, or will you let yourself become distracted by the tinsel and gifts.

This birth was no normal birth but, because of it, all of us very faulty people can live in hope. Not the kind where we “hope” we get to heaven. That’s already been won for all believers in Christ’s sacrifice. No, this kind of hope is much greater. It moves us from unworthy to saved, from sinner to saint. It’s the kind of hope that only God can give. The hope of a better life than this one. The hope in something greater.

All this was made available because God loved us enough to humble Himself in the form of a child to save us. That is the greatest gift we could ever receive. The gift of grace, undeserved but lovingly given.

Amen.

 

Bible Study: Luke 2:1-20

 

Why is Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem so important? What does this say about God’s control of history?

Why do you think Jesus came into the world in such a humble way? What is God saying?

Is this the same reason He first told the shepherds?

When it says in verse 1 that “all the world” should be registered, what does that mean? Luke 4:5, 21:26; Acts 11:28, 17:6,31, 19:27, 24:5; Matthew 24:14; Rev. 3:10

What other names was Bethlehem known by? Genesis 35:19; Micah 5:2 What else is Bethlehem known for? Ruth 4:11; John 7:42

Describe Mary and the shepherd’s fear at seeing the angel. What kind of fear was it and why did they have it?

Scripture says that when the shepherds made known the saying that had been told them concerning the child, all who heard it wondered. Shepherds were notoriously not trusted at this time and were seen as the lowest class. Why did God use them then to spread the news?

How would you feel about putting your firstborn child in a feed trough because that was the only place there was room? (Luke 2:7) How often does God’s plan for you involve inconveniences, and how do you react to them?

What did Jesus come to bring? Matt. 10:34; Luke 12:32

How does His birth bring you joy?

In verse 9 it mentions the “glory of the Lord.” What is this? Exodus 16:7,10, 24:16, 40:34-38; Numbers 16:19; Acts 26:13

What is the “good news of great joy” mentioned in verse 10? Luke 3:18, 4:18,43, 7:22, 8:1, 9:6, 16:16, 20:1; Acts 5:42, 8:4,12,25,35,40, 10:36, 11:20, 13:32, 14:2,15,21, 15:35, 16:10, 17:18

How do we know that “all people” does not just include the Jews but us as well? Ephesians 2:11-3:13

What evidence does the Bible give to support that the birth was probably not on Dec. 25th? Luke 2:1-4, 7-8 See note*

Where in Scripture does it tell us where the Christ child was to be born? Matthew 2:5, Micah 5:2

What would it be like to have to raise the perfect child?

What are some ways we may glorify God as the shepherds did? Luke 2:20, 5:25-26, 7:16, 13:13, 17:15, 18:43, 23:47; Acts 4:21; 11:18; 21:20; 23:47

*Interesting note* Since Elizabeth (John’s mother) was in her sixth month of pregnancy when Jesus was conceived (Luke 1:24-36), we can determine the approximate time of year Jesus was born if we know when John was born. John’s father, Zacharias, was a priest serving in the Jerusalem temple during the course of Abijah (Luke 1:5). Historical calculations indicate this course of service corresponded to June 13-19 in that year (The Companion Bible , 1974, Appendix 179, p. 200).

It was during this time of temple service that Zacharias learned that he and his wife, Elizabeth, would have a child (Luke 1:8-13). After he completed his service and traveled home, Elizabeth conceived (Luke 1:23-24). Assuming John’s conception took place near the end of June, adding nine months brings us to the end of March as the most likely time for John’s birth. Adding another six months (the difference in ages between John and Jesus (Luke 1:35-36)) brings us to the end of September as the likely time of Jesus’ birth.

*Interesting note* In the vast majority of ancient Near-Eastern peasant homes for which we have archaeological and literary evidence, the manger was within the home, not in some separate barn. The animals as well as the family slept within one large enclosed space that was divided so that usually the animals would be on a lower level, and the family would sleep on a raised dais…. We should probably envision Mary and Joseph staying in the home of relatives or friends, a home which was crowded due to the census…. Mary gave birth to her child perhaps in the family room and placed the baby in the stone manger. (Witherington, 69-70)

 

Note:  Materials for the Bible Study are gathered from various resources. (i.e. Bible.org)

“A Mary Christmas”

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father…

Please Pray with me…

My mother had the perfect way to calm me down. Some people call it the placebo effect. There was a certain pain reliever called Panadin. Have any of you heard of it? It’s something much like Tylenol but my mother had me convinced it was the cure-all to almost everything. If I had a solo at school I was nervous about, she gave me a Panadin. If I fell and hurt myself somehow, she gave me a Panadin. If I was concerned I hadn’t studied enough for a test, she gave me a Panadin. If I was upset, she gave me a Panadin. You get the picture. And every time I took them, I was absolutely convinced that they worked. My mother was a crafty one.

Mother’s just know how to help their children. It’s part of their DNA. They’re nurturers. You mother’s know what I’m talking about. No one knows us like our mother’s do. No one cares for us like our mother’s do. If you’re a mom, one reason God made you was so that you could care for your children through your nurturing, your teaching, and sometimes, even through your craftiness.

Today, we’re going to look at Mary, the mother of Jesus, and we’re going to see in Mary, a lot of what we see in our own mother’s. And through Mary, we’re even going to see a glimpse of God, who cares for us much like our mother’s do.

First, Mary was born to be the mother of Jesus. Some of us are born to be politicians, doctors, lawyers, teachers and even clergy. Mary was born to be the mother of the Messiah. She didn’t know it until the angel Gabriel changed her whole life with His visit, but it’s true just the same.

Part of what made her so uniquely qualified was her willingness to follow God. Her calling would be a holy one, in fact, the very pinnacle of holy calls. Because of this, she had to have a special understanding with her God. She would have to trust in Him in a very great way. God wasn’t interested in her being especially skilled at anything but being a mother, a faithful mother. God didn’t care that she was only a young teenager or that she came from a poor family or that she lived in a repressive environment. He didn’t care that she came from a town everyone looked down on. He looked at her heart.

You and I might have looked the other way if we had that many things against someone. We might have looked at Mary and thought very little of her, considering her circumstances. But God doesn’t work that way.

You might think you’re like Mary a little bit. You might think you’re too simple or too shy or too unimpressive for God to see anything in you He could use. You might think you’re not knowledgeable enough or faithful enough or holy enough for God to even care. But that’s not how God works. He’s not interested on the outside things. He looking at the willingness of your heart.

Just like Mary, we have all been born for a purpose. The only thing that separates us from others is our willingness to trust God in leading us to those places He has appointed for us. We see in Mary’s song and in her interaction with Gabriel that she was willing to do whatever God asked of her. It’s that same willingness God looks for in us.

Out of all the beautiful people in the world, in a world where queens and princesses are all around, God chooses the humble to be the mother of His only Son. God will use anyone who is willing, no matter your circumstances or your past sins. If you are willing, He will find a way to lead you to your ultimate calling.

The problem is, we limit God. We think there is only so much He can do with us. We cast a shadow over His strength as we count too much on our own. Mary was bold to trust in God, and for this, she will be forever blessed and revered. It was her trust in God and in her willingness to follow that she found her greatest reward.

Betty Reese once said, “If you think you’re too small to be effective, you’ve never been in bed with a mosquito.” Learn from Mary to trust in God to use you in great and mighty ways.

Secondly, we learn from Mary the strength needed to persevere. There are many things she had to endure as the mother of Jesus that other mothers simply will never have to deal with.

Imagine raising the perfect child amongst other “less perfect” children. Imagine watching as that child is ridiculed, spit upon, beaten and hung on a cross. Now, imagine living with the knowledge that there was nothing you could do to stop it. In Mary we find strength, but even more importantly, we see her faith shine through, knowing that God the Father was with her with every step. It didn’t take the hurt away, but she must have found solace in knowing that there was a greater purpose for her Son, the promised Messiah.

There are just things you don’t want to have to go through alone. Christmas is one of those moments. When we imagine someone spending Christmas alone, it makes us sad because no one should have to spend such a joyous time without friends and family around. In fact, many of us will invite someone over, just so this won’t happen to them.

And, just as we don’t like others to have to spend joyous times alone, we also shouldn’t want them to have to face their trials alone either. If one is sick and alone, it seems so much worse than if someone is there to care for you. If we are alone in our sadness with no one to prop us up, the grief can more easily overcome us.

What a great blessing we have to know that, no matter the trial, no matter our mistakes, no matter where we are, God is there with us.

Through Mary’s example, we can see where to find our strength in times of sorrow or uncertainty. Most of us will never have to face near the trial Mary was asked to endure, yet that same strength she got from God can be ours also and, in every step we take, God’s strength can be our strength, just like it was Mary’s when she needed Him most.

Now that’s not to say we’ll never face scary times. In verse 30 of our text, the first thing the angel Gabriel says to Mary was, “Do not be afraid.” We don’t blame Mary for her fear. This amazing sight was something unknown to her. It must have been frightening indeed.

Mary must have had many fears. She was probably afraid to tell others, including both Elizabeth and Joseph, that she was with child. She was probably scared that she might be stoned after all. She was probably afraid of being so young and given such great responsibility. Life for Mary was full of uncertainty and that can be darn right scary at times.

Knowing God is with you doesn’t take all the fear away because we know that sometimes our greatest lessons will be learned by going through trials that God may have for us to learn from. Being humans with a myriad of faults also tends to concern us. Even Christ, who was perfect, went through times of fear. But this fear is helped immensely when you remember you’re not walking alone.

Psalm 118 reminds us, “Out of my distress I called on the Lord; the Lord answered me and set me free. The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me? The Lord is on my side as my helper; I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.”

And in Hebrews 13 we here the familiar words from God, “I will never leave you or forsake you.”

Mary’s story teaches us that, no matter the trials we face, the Lord is with us. Mary knew this. Even her child would be given the name Immanuel, which means, “God with us.” Every day as she looked at her beautiful baby boy, she would be reminded that her Lord would never leave her or forsake her.

We are meant to be the very temples of God, to be inhabited by Him, to be guided by Him. Jesus Christ came to make God’s presence a conscious living reality in life. Whatever problems you are facing right now, whatever worries, whatever fears, don’t let them overcome you or discourage you. No matter what problems you are facing, know that you don’t have to face them alone because the Lord is with you. Give to Him your ugliness and trust in Him to work it out. And He will as assuredly as He did for Mary.

Finally, Mary learned to depend on the promises of God. She trusted in His Word so much that she found comfort in the knowledge that God was good to His promises.

The birth of Jesus, I don’t have to tell you, was no normal birth. In fact, the Bible has many stories of births that were anything but normal. God sent a son to Abraham and Sarah when they were well advanced in years, much like He did for Zechariah and Elizabeth. In Judges 13, an angel of the Lord told Manoah and his barren wife that they would have a special son they would name Samson. Samuel, the first prophet and final judge was the answer to His mother’s prayers to God. But none of these births can begin to compare to the birth of the promised Christ child.

Here was a teenage girl who, without losing her virginity, became pregnant through the work of the Holy Spirit. This girl carried God within her womb for nine months. This didn’t sound anymore possible then than it does today. Yet, look at Mary’s reaction, she says, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to Your Word.” Really? This young girl with set enough in her faith that she says the most mature thing one can say in this situation? I can’t imagine what I would have done. I can assure you I wouldn’t have been so collected in my thoughts. Even though the angel’s message sounded unbelievable, she trusted God enough to take Him at His Word.

She probably didn’t understand it fully at the time, but neither did she doubt it. She knew that whatever God said would happen would most assuredly happen. That’s a mature faith, one God had worked in her since before she was born.

We have to admit even now, with hearing this story over and over every Christmas, it seems a bit hard to believe. Jesus’ conception remains impossible to understand because it was and will be the only birth of its kind. It defies human reasoning because it doesn’t have human roots. So we live on faith, knowing that when God wants something to be accomplished it has no other result.

Talk show Larry King was asked, “If you could only interview one more person in life, who would it be?” He said, “It would have to be Jesus Christ.” He was then asked about what he would ask him first and Larry said, “I’d ask Him if he was really born of a virgin, the answer to that question would define history for me.”

No, the Messiah’s birth to Mary was no normal birth. It had to be special to show that salvation truly does come from God. It had to be different from all other births because our Savior Jesus Christ is no ordinary man. He was the perfect blend of deity and humanity who would one day become the perfect sacrifice required to save mankind.

We have learned much from Mary about what it means to be in relationship with God. She has shown us willingness, courage, strength, faith and the mature understanding of God’s grace.

This is what makes Christmas so believable, and it’s also what makes it so special. A special young lady born to be the mother of the Messiah, the perfect blend to overcome sin and death for all mankind in the perfect way.

May God also be able to see in you the things He saw in Mary. May you approach Him every day with a willing heart. May your faith take you to places you never thought you would go. May your trust in God’s promises begin to show you the way toward His plans for you.

This was no normal birth and Mary was no normal mother, but, together, they were God’s perfect answer to the promise He had made so many years before.

That is what we celebrate. May you all have a “Mary” Christmas. Amen.

 

 

Bible Study: Mary, The Mother of Jesus

 

What is your definition of blessed?

Mary has been called “The Most Blessed Among Women.” Do you agree? Why or why not?

When Gabriel talked to Mary, he told her that something miraculous and seemingly impossible was going to happen. During this conversation, he used the term “Most High” to describe God. What did he mean by this? Luke 1:32-37; Genesis 14:17-20; Psalm 82:5-7; Daniel 7:24-27; Mark 5:7; Acts 16:16-17

What do you learn about Mary from her reactions to Gabriel’s message in Luke 1:29 and 34?

The Greek word translated servant in verse 38 is the word doulos which actually means bondservant, or someone who sells themselves into slavery to pay a debt. How is this an appropriate title for Mary? What does this reveal about Mary?

Can you truly call yourself a bondservant of Jesus Christ? Why or why not? What would you have to change in your attitude to make it so?

Compare Mary’s words in Luke 1:46-55 with Hannah’s words in 1 Samuel 2:1-10. What insights about Mary do you gain because of the parallels?

Which truth about God mentioned by Mary in Luke 1:46-55 is most meaningful to you today? Why?

How would you have felt about God’s plan if you had been Mary? How about Joseph?   Matthew 1:18-25

How would the shepherds’ visit have affected you if you were Mary? Luke 2:1-20

How does this very familiar story impact you today? What is God’s Spirit saying to you personally?

Why might Simeon’s words in Luke 2:1-18 be a shock to Mary?

When Jesus was around 2 years old, wise men sought him out. What do you think Mary’s reaction was when they arrived, after hearing their story? Matthew 2:1-18

Describe a time in your life when God put you in a situation where you could later see His hand at work.

Where else in Scripture can we find out a little more about Mary? Matt. 12:46-49; Mark 3:31-35; Luke 8:19-21; John 19:25-27. What insight into Mary do you get from each passage?

What do we learn from this final glimpse of Mary?

Why do you think we are not told more about Mary?

What does it mean to have a “Mary” Christmas and what are you willing to do to achieve it?

 

Note:  Materials for the Bible Study are gathered from various resources. (i.e. Bible.org)

Elizabeth – Answered Prayer

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father…

Christmas will be here soon. Are you ready for the big day? At our house it seems we’re not ready until the day of most years. There is always that last minute planning, the guest we didn’t plan on or the gift we finally get for the person who has everything. You would think that after so many years of doing the same thing that it would become easier. It makes you wonder, if we only had to get ready for one Christmas in our lifetime, would we even be ready then?

During advent we hear of people who had readied themselves for the first Christmas, and when the miracle of that birth filled their hearts many were filled with song. Simeon, Anna, Mary and Joseph, even the angels had to prepare for this very special day. Not to be left out were Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah, the parents of John the Baptist.

In fact, Elizabeth had prepared her whole lifetime to be John the Baptist’s mom. And Elizabeth spent her whole lifetime being prepared by God to be John the Baptist’s mom, and she didn’t even know it.

Elizabeth was brought up in a priestly family and grew to be a righteous and pious woman, but in spite of that, she was unable to have children. At this time, women who were barren were looked down upon. It was probably the worst thing that could happen to a woman.

It not only affected her but her whole family. The people around her would most likely have asked, “You have to wonder about them. If they are so good, why has God allowed such a terrible thing to happen to them?”

For years Elizabeth and Zechariah had prayed for a child and for all those years the prayers had seemed to fall on deaf ears. We can imagine that, after a time, when they were now old and gray, they had decreased the frequency of their prayers or had stopped altogether. They had gotten past the time of child bearing and knew there was no longer any natural way to conceive. After all, if God had not seen fit to give them children when their bodies were young and strong, why should they expect God to answer their prayers now when their bodies were old and weak?

Elizabeth suffered a lifetime of trouble and probably scorn over her inability to have children. In a culture where the only real purpose in a woman’s life was bearing and raising children, what good was a woman like Elizabeth? She must have wondered, “What’s wrong with me? What have I done so terrible that God would punish me like this?” She was a drain on the system with no real purpose.

But then something miraculous happened. Long after she was able to conceive naturally, she becomes pregnant.

It wasn’t a miracle like Mary’s but it was certainly a miracle all the same. She was witness to God’s grace and she found that what was impossible in the natural realm was still possible through God.

This had to be thrilling and humbling at the same time. It was thrilling to see God working in her and she must have been thrilled at the prospect of being granted the child that she had prayed and longed for most of her life. But it was also humbling knowing that God was working His miracles through her, His humble servant. God had waited until she was at the end of her own abilities before showing His power.

We can relate in many ways can’t we, because it’s often when we’re at our lowest that we finally allow God to work His miracles in our lives. It’s when we are down in the depths, when we have nothing more then our faith to rely on. Elizabeth always had great faith, but in her old age, she had nothing but that faith to give her hope.

All those years she probably felt as if she were being punished somehow, but now she realized that God was just preparing her instead. He used her weakness to demonstrate His power and grace. If she had given birth to John when she was 23, people would have said, “Oh, look Zechariah and Elizabeth had a baby, isn’t that nice.” But because everyone knew that Elizabeth was past her years of conceiving, her pregnancy was this big event, a sign to tell everyone that this was no ordinary birth.

God was working miracles and we had better pay attention. God has done an amazing thing in Elizabeth’s life. She was no longer barren, no longer a woman without a purpose.

When we think of the word barren we think of the place that her son, John the Baptist, would later choose to live, the desert. We imagine wastelands and sagebrush, ghost towns and dirt. At one time, Elizabeth had only an unproductive, empty, desolate life to look forward to, but now she had been called by God with a much greater purpose. She had been awarded for her steadfast faith.

Miraculously, all this was behind her. When her friends were playing with their grandchildren she would be getting fit for maternity clothes. After a lifetime of shame and dashed hopes, she was going to finally be a mother.

She knew what other, younger, mothers didn’t, that this child had little to do with her and her husband and everything to do with God. She was doing something much greater then she could have ever imagined. No angel had to tell Elizabeth that all things were possible through God.

Being a part of God’s great power in her own life, she probably looked at the world differently, with renewed faith and hope. When Mary came to visit, Elizabeth knew what had happened to her before she even had to explain. She saw Mary’s miracle clearer because of the miracle she was experiencing in her own life.

Of course, she had a little help from her unborn son and even more help from the work of the Holy Spirit, but I think that Elizabeth was able to see what God was doing in Mary because she also had seen God’s work in her own life.

Her relationship with God had given her the eyes of faith, eyes that could see all the possibilities that that faith could provide, eyes that could see possibilities where others see problems, opportunities where others see obstacles and miracles where other see only despair.

And Elizabeth was going to need a lot of that faith to raise John. She needed that extra faith that had been strengthened through her weakness, a faith that had endured despite the shame and rejection in her life. Because John would experience rejection too and the faith instilled in him by his mother would help him endure his own hardships. John would have to stand up to the powers that be with a message they weren’t prepared to hear.

That faith would be strong enough to empower him to stand up to King Herod and denounce him for marrying his brother’s wife at the cost of his own life. Elizabeth had to raise a son who could stand firm in his faith despite the rejection and remain strong even to the point of death.

Because she had seen God’s work in her own life, Elizabeth was able to give affirmation to Mary regarding the miracle in her life. God worked through his Holy Spirit to guide Mary to her cousin Elizabeth for this very affirmation and He knew He could rely on that faith to accomplish this.

Now, Mary responded to the angel’s announcement with faith also, yet God knew that there would probably come a million questions and doubts once the angel was no longer there for support. Who, in all the world, could this young teenage girl go to? Who could understand what she was going through? Who would believe her story?

That’s when she learned of Elizabeth’s own miracle and knew where she was to go. Who could possibly accept Mary’s crazy story more then her? After all, she had a crazy story all her own.

It’s hard, even today, to find somebody who understands that God is still doing great things. Mary needed someone to know and understand what she had been called to do. How many times do you think, along the journey, Mary practiced exactly how to tell what had happened to her?

“So, anyway, there I was minding my own business when this angel comes from nowhere…….no that’s not right.

“O.K. Elizabeth, you better sit down, I have something kind of extraordinary to share with you…..No!

“Elizabeth, I really need you to have an open mind about what I’m about to tell you…” Maybe…No!

Most of us have seen our teenage years come and go. Imagine if it had been us as 15 year olds. How hard would this have been? Imagine what it meant to Mary when Elizabeth understood right away without her even having to say anything. Elizabeth affirmation was given through the eyes of faith and Mary knew it right away. Her happiness was so great she even broke out in song, praising God for His work in her.

It’s interesting to think that while John prepared the way for the Lord, Elizabeth, in a way, prepared the way for Mary. Elizabeth had her own crazy story and it cleared all skepticism she might have had away, regarding Mary and her crazy story. In her own life she had experienced the scorn and rejection that Mary was likely to face when word got out of her pregnancy. But Elizabeth prepared her and paved the way in faith for her.

All her life, God had been preparing her, not only to be John’s mother, but to be an example of maturity and faithfulness to Mary when she needed it. Elizabeth extended love, acceptance, hospitality, hope and faith to her young cousin, in need of every bit she could give.

In my research I found that there are two different word’s in this passage that are translated blessed. Notice in of verse 42 where Elizabeth tells Mary, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!”

The word here is “eulogeo” and from it comes the word eulogy. For us eulogy is a term of something we use at funerals, it is the time we speak about someone’s life from as positive a perspective as possible. It means in the Greek something like praise or to speak well of, to honor. So Elizabeth is saying, “You and your new baby are going to be the most honored people on the planet.”

That’s probably not what Mary was feeling at the moment, especially after her long journey through the hills of Judea, but eventually she would come to understand the truth in Elizabeth’s words.

The other word for blessed is used in verse 45 where Elizabeth says, “Blessed is she who has believed that there would be fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” Here the word is not “eulogeo.” He uses a word that has less to do with the words and opinions of others and more to do with being highly favored by God.

The Good News bible translates it: “How happy you must be to believe that the Lord’s message to you will come true!”

It’s the joy we have been speaking about lately, a true joy regardless of the circumstances. Elizabeth is saying, “Mary, when you grab hold of God’s promises and truly believe them, there is joy that is going to sustain you through all of this!”

Elizabeth was speaking from her own experience. She’s saying, “Mary, I know how you may feel. I know there are going to be some tough times ahead, but when you trust in God, when you take Him at His word, you can cast all your cares on Him and that will bring you great joy!

Elizabeth’s story of faith can also be yours. No, I’m not saying all of you beyond child-bearing years will become pregnant but what I am saying is that, this same faith can sustain you also, even when you think all that could be done has been done, even when you think it’s too late for you, your faith in God can sustain you to even greater things.

God is in the business of answering prayers. He does it every day and it brings Him great joy. It might not come when you want it. In fact, it might not even come in the timeline you think it has to happen in. Yet God hears your prayers and knows the perfect time to give His answer. I pray we all learn from Elizabeth the lessons that Mary was blessed to learn. To look at life through eyes of faith, expecting to see God’s work in our lives no matter where we are in life and to trust in His word even more then your eyes. During this Christmas season, learn to experience the joy that only true faith can bring. Amen

Bible Study: Elizabeth and Mary

 

Elizabeth and Mary

Have you ever gotten some really good news? Life-changing news? Was your first reaction to share that news with friends and family? If not, who did you share it with?

How would you have reacted if you had been given similar blessings to Mary and Elizabeth?

What are the most interesting things about Elizabeth’s story?

How did Elizabeth (oath of God) and Zacharias (God remembers) put their names to test in their sunset years? How should this give us hope in our sunset years?

What was the problem in being childless for them? How had they approached the problem?

What can we learn from their example?

What is the difference between Mary’s response Verse 34 and Zechariah’s response verse 18 to the angel’s message? Why the difference?

Why do you think the angel mentioned Elizabeth in verse 36?

What does it tell when you here of John’s spiritual awareness of Jesus in Elizabeth’s womb? Verse 15

 Do you believe that Elizabeth knew that her son John would be the one to go before Jesus, preparing a way for Him?

What things did Elizabeth reveal when she first met Mary? Verses 41-45 How do you suppose this made Mary feel?

Compare and contrast the faith of Mary, Zechariah, and Elizabeth Verses 18, 34, 38, & 45

 How is Mary’s Song a song of celebration?

 Explain how a person’s “soul magnifies the Lord” and “spirit rejoices in God.”

Mary’s song of praise gives evidence of her deep knowledge of Scripture. Are the times when your “soul magnifies the Lord” and your “spirit rejoices in God” fueled by such a deep knowledge of the Scriptures? Does such a life of worship even require such a deep knowledge of Scripture? Why or why not?

What is Mary revealing about herself and her state when she identifies God as “my Savior” and why is this important?

Why do you suppose we never hear of Mary’s parents during this time? What does it tell you that it was Elizabeth she chose to share her news with instead?