Saturday, December 23, 2017

December 23

December 23
Ornament with the oil lamp

As we are spending time anticipating the celebration of the birth of Jesus, it is easy to look back with fondness and joy at the ways the Scripture points us to the coming King.  

Yesterday we remembered WHY the King came- to suffer and die on the cross, providing a way for us to be saved.

Today, on the day before Christmas Eve, we will spend a few minutes talking about the SECOND ADVENT.  Did you know that in the Bible, Jesus never tells us to remember his birth?  BUT, Jesus DOES tell us to be ready for his return, or the second Advent.  

Matthew 25:1-13 is a parable that Jesus used to illustrate the need for being prepared for his return.  

“Then the kingdom of heaven will be comparable to ten virgins, who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were prudent. 3 For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, 4 but the prudent took oil in flasks along with their lamps. 5 Now while the bridegroom was delaying, they all got drowsy and began to sleep. 6 But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7 Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish said to the prudent, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9 But the prudent answered, ‘No, there will not be enough for us and you too; go instead to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ 10 And while they were going away to make the purchase, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast; and the door was shut. 11 Later the other virgins also came, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open up for us.’ 12 But he answered, ‘Truly I say to you, I do not know you.’ 13 Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour.

This is a reminder for believers to continue pursuing the Lord.  We must be concerned with doing our Bridegroom honor and glory, and we should not be like the foolish virgins, who had the lamp, but no oil.  

Those who haven’t yet trusted in Jesus as their King can also learn from this parable.  We don’t know the hour when Jesus will return.  Why delay?  Second Corinthians 6 says,

“We also urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain—  for He says,
‘At the acceptable time I listened to you,
And on the day of salvation I helped you.’
Behold, now is ‘the acceptable time,’ behold, now is ‘the day of salvation.’”

Advent is all about preparing for the coming of Christ.  As we hang the ornament with the oil lamp, let us also remember to be prepared for His return!  

Friday, December 22, 2017

December 22

December 22
Ornament with cross

We have been hanging ornaments that help us see how the scriptures point us forward to the celebration of the birth of Christ.  Our countdown is almost complete; Christmas is only a few days away!  

Our culture places a great emphasis on the birth of Christ, and I wanted to be sure we include Jesse tree ornaments which point us to WHY the birth of Christ is so important.  Matthew and John tell us the reason for his coming to earth and being born as a man.  

Matthew 1:21 says, “She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”

John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

You see, God sent Jesus to save us from our sins and give eternal life to those who put their hope and trust in Him.  Gospel means, “Good news,” and that is very good news indeed!  

Our ornament for today is a cross, and I am sure you can guess why!
1 Peter 2:24 says, “and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.”

Christ died on the cross so that sinners could be found righteous before a holy God.  This is SUCH an important topic, because the gospel is everything.  It really IS the difference between life and death.  For this reason, I want to read a few paragraphs written by a man named R.C. Sproul.  He does a great job explaining the gospel:

There is no greater message to be heard than that which we call the Gospel.    
    The Gospel is called the ‘good news’ because it addresses the most serious problem that you and I have as human beings, and that problem is simply this: God is holy and He is just, and I’m not. And at the end of my life, I’m going to stand before a just and holy God, and I’ll be judged. And I’ll be judged either on the basis of my own righteousness – or lack of it – or the righteousness of another.
    The good news of the Gospel is that Jesus lived a life of perfect righteousness, of perfect obedience to God, not for His own well being but for His people. He has done for me what I couldn’t possibly do for myself. But not only has He lived that life of perfect obedience, He offered Himself as a perfect sacrifice to satisfy the justice and the righteousness of God.
     For God to forgive you is a very costly matter. It cost the sacrifice of His own Son. So valuable was that sacrifice that God pronounced it valuable by raising Him from the dead – so that Christ died for us, He was raised for our justification.
    So the Gospel is the message of who Jesus is and what He did. The Bible makes it clear that we are justified not by our works, not by our efforts, not by our deeds, but by faith – and by faith alone. The only way you can receive the benefit of Christ’s life and death is by putting your trust in Him – and in Him alone. You do that, you’re declared just by God, you’re adopted into His family, you’re forgiven of all of your sins, and you have begun your pilgrimage for eternity.    From Ligonier Ministries, the teaching fellowship of R.C. Sproul. All rights reserved. Website: | Phone: 1-800-435-4343

Let’s close with Hebrews 12:1-3 and remember to fix our eyes on Jesus this Christmas:
12 Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

3 For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

December 21

December 21
Ornament with carpenter’s tools

The devotions for yesterday and today are about the earthly parents of Jesus.  Yesterday we began with the words to a hymn: “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”  We talked about Mary, Jesus‘ mother, and how she is an example of humility and trusting God.  Today we will talk about Jesus‘ earthly father, Joseph, and our reading is Matthew 1:18-25:  

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. 19 And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. 20 But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” 22 Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.” 24 And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, 25 but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.

“Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”  The life of Joseph is a great example of faith and obedience to God.  When the angel of the Lord came to Joseph, he believed and obeyed without question.    

Not only did Joseph obey immediately and without question before the birth of Jesus, he continued to obey without question.  When Joseph was told to pack up his family and escape to Egypt, he ensured the safety of Jesus from Herod.

Although Joseph was not related to Jesus by blood (remember, God is Jesus’ father), we still include him in our Jesse Tree.  Joseph was the earthly father of Jesus, and he filled an important role.  Joseph ensured that Jesus was raised according to the Jewish laws and his decisions for their family resulted in the fulfillment of prophecies concerning our Savior.

The carpenter’s tools can remind us of Joseph, because Matthew 13:55 says, “Is not this the carpenter’s son?”  As we hang our symbol for today on the tree, let’s remember the faith and obedience of Joseph.  He obeyed God, even when it might not have been the easiest choice.  Joseph knew that God has an eternal plan and knows what is best for his children.

Likewise, we must use the means of grace (Scripture, prayer, and Christian fellowship) and walk closely with God.  Only when we are found in Jesus, rooted in faith, are we able to follow the pattern of Joseph in trust and obedience?  

Let’s close with the first and last stanzas of “Trust and Obey” (or just the refrain)  

When we walk with the Lord
in the light of his word,
what a glory he sheds on our way!
While we do his good will,
he abides with us still,
and with all who will trust and obey.
Trust and obey, for there's no other way
to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

Then in fellowship sweet
we will sit at his feet,
or we'll walk by his side in the way;
what he says we will do,
where he sends we will go;
never fear, only trust and obey.
Trust and obey, for there's no other way

to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

December 20

December 20
Ornament with the heart

Have you ever heard the song called “Trust and Obey?”  The chorus goes like this: “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”  When I think about our ornaments for today and tomorrow, the words to that hymn leap to my mind.  Today’s ornament is the heart, and tomorrow’s is the carpenter tools.  Any guesses?  We are going to be talking about the earthly parents of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.  

Our Scripture reading is Luke 1:26-38:
26 Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. 32 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; 33 and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 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. 36 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. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
Mary is part of our Jesse Tree, because she is the mother of Jesus!  After the angel of the Lord told Mary that she would be the mother of our Savior, her response was, “Behold the bondslave of the Lord, may it be done to me according to your Word.”
We have been talking about preparing our hearts and lives for the coming of Jesus.  Mary’s life and response to the Holy Spirit are a pattern of faith and humility for us.  She understood her position in relation to her God, and her heart was prepared to be the mother of the Messiah before the angel ever came to her. After Mary goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth, Scripture records her song. This joyful response clearly shows her trust and intimate knowledge of her Savior:
“My soul exalts the Lord,
47 And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
48 “For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave;
For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed.
49 “For the Mighty One has done great things for me;
And holy is His name.
50 “And His mercy is upon generation after generation
Toward those who fear Him.
51 “He has done mighty deeds with His arm;
He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart.
52 “He has brought down rulers from their thrones,
And has exalted those who were humble.
53 “He has filled the hungry with good things;
And sent away the rich empty-handed.
54 “He has given help to Israel His servant,
In remembrance of His mercy,
55 As He spoke to our fathers,
To Abraham and his descendants forever.”
Luke 1:46-55

The symbol of the heart can remind us of Mary, because the bible says Mary “treasured all these things in her heart.”  As we hang the heart symbol, let us pray to follow Mary’s pattern of trust and humility, and prepare our hearts for the celebration of the birth of Christ.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

December 19

December 19
Ornament with coat of camel hair

Today we are going to read about a man whose purpose was to point people to the coming of Jesus.  Our ornament for today is the coat of camel hair; can you guess who the man is?  Here is another hint: he ate locusts and honey!  Let’s read Matthew 3:1-6:

1 Now in those days John the Baptist *came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 3 For this is the one referred to by Isaiah the prophet when he said,
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness,
‘Make ready the way of the Lord,
Make His paths straight!’”
4 Now John himself had a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then Jerusalem was going out to him, and all Judea and all the district around the Jordan; 6 and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, as they confessed their sins.

John the Baptist was the second cousin of Jesus, and God set John apart to preach before he was even born.  The angel Gabriel told Zacharias, John’s father,

“15 For he will be great in the sight of the Lord; and he will drink no wine or liquor, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb. 16 And he will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God. 17 It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1:15-17)

John’s message was that of repentance.  “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.”  Do you know what repentance is?  It is turning from sin.  Think of a person walking down the street.  He comes to a complete stop, turns around, and starts going in exactly the opposite direction.  That is a picture of repentance.  A person stops, turns not just AWAY from his sin, but TO Jesus Christ.  

In order to come to Jesus for forgiveness and salvation, we must repent and place our faith in Christ.  John the Baptist was preparing people to hear the message of salvation through faith in Christ.  

These questions and answers also address the need for repentance and faith:

Q: Who will be saved?
A: Only those who repent of sin and believe in Christ
(Acts 2:37-28; 16:30-31; 20-21; John 3:16)

Q: What is it to repent?
A: To be sorry for sin, and to hate and reject it because it is displeasing to God
(Luke 19:8-10; 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10; Isaiah 55:6-7)

Q: What is it to believe or have faith in Christ?
A: To trust in Christ alone for salvation
(John 14:6; 20:31; Acts 4:12; 1 John 5:11-12)

John also preached that Jesus was the Messiah foretold by the Old Testament prophets.  John told the crowds, “This is He who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah.”  

As we celebrate Advent, we can feel the excitement building!  John the Baptist tells us, just like he told the people in his day, “Repent- Jesus is coming!  He is the one the prophets were talking about!  Make your lives and hearts ready for the coming Messiah!”

As we hang the ornament with the coat of camel hair, consider your life and heart.  Are you ready for the coming Messiah?

December 18

December 18
Ornament with the scepter (Esther)

The book of Esther is a small book of the Bible, and did you know that the name of God is never mentioned in it?! However, as we summarize and read from the book of Esther, let’s try to figure out why she would be included on the Jesse Tree!

Esther was a young Jewish lady living in the land of Persia.  When the king became angry with the queen, he decided to search for a new one.  Esther was in the group of ladies brought to the palace to be pampered, beautified, and considered.  

Esther 2:15b-18 says, “And Esther found favor in the eyes of all who saw her. 16 So Esther was taken to King Ahasuerus to his royal palace in the tenth month which is the month Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign.
17 The king loved Esther more than all the women, and she found favor and kindness with him more than all the virgins, so that he set the royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti. 18 Then the king gave a great banquet, Esther’s banquet, for all his princes and his servants; he also made a holiday for the provinces and gave gifts according to the king’s bounty.”

At this same time, Esther’s uncle Mordecai refused to bow down to a very proud advisor of the king named Haman.  Haman became angry and then convinced the king to decree all Jews should be destroyed.  Of course, the king did not know that Queen Esther was a Jew.  When Esther’s uncle Mordecai found out about the decree, he told Esther and asked her to plead for her people, the Jews.  

Esther responded, (Es. 4:11-17) 11 “All the king’s servants and the people of the king’s provinces know that for any man or woman who comes to the king to the inner court who is not summoned, he has but one law, that he be put to death, unless the king holds out to him the golden scepter so that he may live. And I have not been summoned to come to the king for these thirty days.” 12 They related Esther’s words to Mordecai.
13 Then Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, “Do not imagine that you in the king’s palace can escape any more than all the Jews. 14 For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?”
15 Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai, 16 “Go, assemble all the Jews who are found in Susa, and fast for me; do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maidens also will fast in the same way. And thus I will go in to the king, which is not according to the law; and if I perish, I perish.” 17 So Mordecai went away and did just as Esther had commanded him.

When God’s chosen people became in grave danger of being destroyed, Esther made a risky decision. After asking her people to fast and pray, she approached the king.  Although this king who banished his first wife might very well have put Esther to death for appearing without summons, he extended his scepter to her and heard her request. Haman’s evil plot was eventually uncovered, and the Jews were rescued from destruction.   

God used Esther as a means of preserving His chosen people. In the same way, Christ is God’s means of preserving His chosen people and making sinners right with Himself.  In John 14:6, Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”

Esther pleaded with the king on behalf of God’s chosen people, the Jews.  The word for this is mediator. Christ is also our mediator. We hang the ornament with the scepter to remind us that just as Esther went to her king to plead for her people, Jesus intercedes on our behalf. We will conclude with Hebrews 7:24-27 and hang the scepter ornament:

24 but Jesus, on the other hand, because He continues forever, holds His priesthood permanently. 25 Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.

26 For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; 27 who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

December 17

December 17
Ornament with town of Bethlehem

We will begin with our reading for today, which is from Micah 5, verses 1-5a:
1“Now muster yourselves in troops, daughter of troops;
They have laid siege against us;
With a rod they will smite the judge of Israel on the cheek.
2 “But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
Too little to be among the clans of Judah,
From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel.
His goings forth are from long ago,
From the days of eternity.”
3 Therefore He will give them up until the time
When she who is in labor has borne a child.
Then the remainder of His brethren
Will return to the sons of Israel.
4 And He will arise and shepherd His flock
In the strength of the Lord,
In the majesty of the name of the Lord His God.
And they will remain,
Because at that time He will be great
To the ends of the earth.
5 This One will be our peace.

Yesterday we talked about the prophets pointing us to the coming of Christ.  Micah is another prophet who prophesied about Jesus, and he tells us in this passage that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem.  It also points us to Jesus as our Shepherd, just like we discussed a few days ago!  It ends with Micah telling us that Christ will be our peace, and we know that the righteousness of Christ is the only way we will ever have peace.  

After Jesus was born and the three wise men were searching for him, they came to Herod and asked where they could find the newborn King of the Jews.  This made Herod nervous and angry, and the book of Matthew tells us,

4 Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he (Herod) inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet: 6 ‘And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah,
Are by no means least among the leaders of Judah; For out of you shall come forth a Ruler
Who will shepherd My people Israel.’”
The chief priests and scribes were summarizing Micah 5!  They knew how to search the scriptures and look for prophecies pointing to the coming of the Savior, but they still only had shadows and pictures and an incomplete understanding of how things would work together.  We have the blessing of having both the Old Testament and the New Testament; Christ has come, and we have the privilege of seeing things much more clearly than the prophets.  

We can get to know Christ through his word and by searching the scripture, just like those chief priests and scribes!   As things get busy this Christmas season, let’s remember and take time to search the scriptures so that our hearts will be ready to celebrate the coming of our Savior!  

We will finish our devotion today with the first and last stanzas of a Christmas hymn that talks about the town of Bethlehem. (#176)

O Little town of Bethlehem town of Bethlehem
How still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark street shineth
The everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight.

O holy Child of Bethlehem,
Descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin, and enter in;
Be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us,

Our Lord Immanuel.