Since Saturday has been a day for sharing art as reflection and worship, today I wanted to share some of my own.
I am a great fan of balance and symmetry. And I am perpetually captivated by the beautiful symmetries of scripture: the fulfillment of prophecy, God’s perfect alignments of His story, the shadows and glimpses found realized in Christ….
And there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit to the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to carry out for Him the custom of the Law, then he took Him into his arms, and blessed God and said, “Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.” And His father and mother were amazed at the things which were being said about Him. And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed – and a sword will pierce even your own soul – to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”
These eleven verses are all we hear of Simeon, yet they reveal a great deal about his character and add to the early insight of who Jesus would become.
O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save, and give them vict’ry o’er the grave.
Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on Him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and strength, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. And He will delight in the fear of the LORD, and He will not judge by what His eyes see, nor make a decision by what His ears hear, but with righteousness He will judge the poor, and decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth; and He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked.
Just before he speaks of the coming stem/rod of Jesse, Isaiah tells of God’s coming wrath toward the Assyrians and all those who “enact evil statutes,” “record unjust decisions,” “deprive the needy of justice, and “rob the poor of [their] rights.” (Isaiah 10:1-2) On the heels of this vengeance, one might expect the rod of Jesse to be depicted as a warrior in the spirit of David, or as a glorious king in the spirit of Solomon.
Instead, the stem of Jesse comes in the Spirit of the LORD, and His character is one of wisdom, understanding, counsel, and righteous judgement. God, Himself, has laid out a plan for vengeance on the oppressor. Now He speaks to the core need of His people – because cries for vengeance really come from the unfulfilled need for justice.
…the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. For he will be great in the sight of the Lord; and he will drink no wine or liquor, and he will be filed with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb.[…]
Zacharias said to the angel, “How will I know this for certain? For I am an old man and my wife is advanced in years.”
The angel answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And behold, you shall be silent and unable to speak until the day when these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their proper time.”
Luke 1:13-15, 18-20
The angels said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.”
Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”
The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God. And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.”
There is something in the juxtaposition of these two passages that usually leaves me uncomfortable. Zacharias and Mary are both visited by Gabriel. They both are given impossible news. They both respond with questions. But Zacharias is…rebuked? corrected? admonished? And Mary is comforted and encouraged.
In the past, when I have meditated on these things, I thought there was some nuance. Perhaps it is that Zacharias’s question is one of doubt while Mary’s is one of comprehension…I am sure there is more to be gleaned in studying their contrasts, but this year I have been reflecting on a new thought, what if Zacharias’s muteness was not so punitive or disciplinary as we tend to read it, what if it came as much from God’s kindness as His holiness?
“Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God if Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon, ‘Build houses and live in them; and plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there and do not decrease. And seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare. For the thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, ‘Do not let your prophets who are in your midst and your diviners deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams which they dream.[…] ‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.’”
Jeremiah 29:4-8, 11
Today is the second Sunday of Advent and we light the candle of faith. This candle is sometimes called the “Bethlehem Candle” referencing Joseph and Mary’s journey to Bethlehem that Jesus’ birth would fulfill the prophecy of Micah 5:1-2. So why would I be looking at Jeremiah’s words to the people in exile? Because they are an example of faith – hope being lived out.
Isaiah 59:1-2 & 20 — Behold, the LORD’s hand is not so short that it cannot save; nor His ear so dull that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, And your sins have hidden His face from you so He does not hear.
“A Redeemer will come to Zion, And to those who turn from transgression in Jacob,” declares the LORD.
As ever, Israel is a microcosm of God’s story for us. As their transgressions kept them from the promised land, so too our sins have kept us from God’s presence. We have always been exiles. But, even in the depths, God sees. In our most dire separation, there is hope in the prophecy that a redeemer will come. Continue reading →
I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I could deal if all we ever read about in scripture were perfectly holy people, never doing wrong, and shining through the ages as beacons of irreproachable righteousness.
I cannot adequately express how much that would suck.
So I am thankful that, for every example of faith, the Bible also keeps record of the mistakes, the sins, the doubts, the “bad-life-decisions”, and the utter failures that remind us God’s historical cast was broken, inadequate, temperamental, imperfect and, well, human.
And Abraham is no exception. Father of nations or no, Abraham pulled some really stupid stuff in his time. Like when he passed his wife, Sarah, off as his sister. Or when he tried to take control of God’s plan and slept with his servant to produce an heir. Or when he abandoned that servant and her newborn child to his wife’s jealousy. Or when he passed his wife, Sarah, off as his sister…again.
Really, Abraham? Not cool.
It is encouraging, then, when we get to Hebrews and find that even a life as flawed as Abraham’s can be marked by faith: Continue reading →
By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going.
Hebrews 11:8 [NASB]
One of the things I love about opening the Word is that I am never quite certain where it is going to take me. Take this week for example: I sat down to look at Abraham’s mentions in Hebrews thinking that I would probably need to look at his faith in two parts – Abraham’s life of faith in a strange land (v. 8-10) and Abraham’s faith in God’s promises (v. 17-19). As I dug in, however, I realized that there was a lot being said in verse 8 alone, things that needed to stand on their own, things that I needed to hear.
So now, we’ll be looking at Abraham’s faith in three parts. And we start with his first steps, when he was still Abram: Continue reading →
These are the records of the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time; Noah walked with God. And Noah became the father of three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japeth. Now the earth was corrupt in the sight of God, and the earth was filled with violence. And God looked on the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth. Then God said to Noah; “The end of all flesh has come before Me; for the earth is filled with violence because of them; and behold, I am about to destroy them with the earth. Make for yourself an ark of gopher wood; you shall make the ark with rooms, and shall cover it inside and out with pitch. And this is how you shall make it: the length of the ark three hundred cubits, its breadth fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits. You shall make a window for the ark, and finish it to a cubit from the top; and set the door of the ark in the side of it; you shall make it with lower, second, and third decks. And behold I, even I am bringing the flood of water upon the earth, to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life, from under heaven; everything that is on the earth shall perish. But I will establish My covenant with you; and you shall enter the ark – you and your sons and your wife and your son’s wives with you. And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every kind into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female. Of the birds after their kind, and of the animals after their kind, of every creeping thing of the ground after its kind, two of every kind shall come to you to keep them alive. And as for you, take for yourself some of all food which is edible, and gather it to yourself; and it shall be for food for you and for them.” Thus Noah did; according to all that God had commanded him, so he did.
Genesis 6:9-22 [NASB]
Can you imagine Noah’s thoughts as God gave His instructions? Whether or not it had ever actually rained, nobody had ever seen that much rain. Never had a boat (or any structure probably) been built to such scale as God set forth. What was Noah thinking? “How can I possibly build something that big?” “All the animals? Really?” “Why me?” “Why my family?” “This is impossible.” “People are going to think I am crazy.” and maybe “Holy cow! God’s talking to me!” Continue reading →