Happy New Year from the Kingdom Scribe

2013 has been a great year for me, and the lead into 2014 couldn’t be better. Therefore, I want take us back to an old school gem: a music video by Kool and the Gang for their classic tune “Celebration.” Let’s close out the year in style.

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The Plight of Post-Modern Man (aka Nuclear Man)

“Nuclear man is the man who realizes that his creative powers hold the potential for self-destruction. He sees that in this nuclear age vast new industrial complexes enable man to produce in one hour that which he labored over for years in the past, but he also realizes that these same industries have disturbed the ecological balance, and through air and noise pollution, have contaminated his own milieu. He drives in cars, listens to the radio and watches TV, but has lost his ability to understand the workings of the instruments he uses.

“He sees such an abundance of material commodities around him that scarcity no longer motivates his life, but at the same time he is groping for a direction and asking for meaning and purpose. In all this he suffers from the inevitable knowledge that his time is a time in which it has become possible for man to destroy not only life but also the possibility of rebirth, not only man but also mankind, not only periods of existence but also history itself. For nuclear man the future has become an option.

“The prenuclear man might be aware of the real paradox of the world in which life and death touch each other in a morbid way and in which man finds himself on the thin rope which can break so easily, but he has adapted this knowledge to his previous optimistic outlook on life. For nuclear man, however, this new knowledge cannot be adapted to old insights, nor be channeled by traditional institutions; rather it radically and definitively disrupts all existing frames of human reference. For him, the problem is not that the future holds a new danger, such as nuclear war, but that there might be no future at all.”

(The Wounded Healer, Henri J. Nouwen, Chpt. 1, pp 6-7).

Speaking in Tongues

John Piper gives a measured response regarding the gift of tongues. This is one of the most controversial topics in the church today. For some, Piper’s response might not go far enough and others will say that he crossed the line of sound teaching. The bottom line has to do with what the scriptures teach. The litmus test is what the Spirit enabled the apostle Paul to write in 1 Corinthians 12-14. The church needs more level-headed pastors like Piper.

Heralds of the King (aka Forerunner Messengers)

John the Baptist’s birth and life announced the coming of the Messiah. The angel Gabriel told Zechariah that his son would “…go before [the Lord] in the spirit and power of Elijah,” which referenced Old Testament prophecies found in Isaiah 40:3 and Malachi 3:1 and 4:5-6 (Luke 1:17, ESV). In each of those passages, the prophet connected the messenger or John the Baptist with the coming of the Lord. When John began his baptizing ministry in the Jordan River, several religious leaders asked him if he was the Messiah or the Prophet, but he answered a firm no (John 1:19-21, ESV). In fact, John the Baptist refused to receive any veneration or praise or acclaim, he redirected the people and the religious leaders back to the Messiah, who he exclaimed was mightier than him (Matt. 3:16; Mark 1:7; and Luke 3:16).

If John the Baptist went before the Lord to announce his coming, to prepare the way for the Lord, then it stands to reason that he accomplished his mission. The apostle John recorded such an admission by John the Baptist, who said about the Messiah that “he must increase and I must decrease” (John 3:30, ESV). Unfortunately, John’s life ended in a most harsh way as King Herod had him beheaded over a promise made to his daughter (Matt. 14:10, Mark 6:27, & Luke 9:9). King Herod stopped the King’s messenger, but not before he delivered his message. Each of the writers of the synoptic gospels recorded Jesus’s high praise of John the Baptist as being more than a prophet and the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy (Matt. 11:9-11 & Luke 7:26-28). I would love to have such a glowing endorsement from the Lord.

When the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles and the disciples at Pentecost, the church became a herald of the King like John the Baptist. The Bride of Christ became her groom’s forerunner messenger of his second coming. According to Jesus’s words in John’s gospel, he would go ahead of us in order to prepare a place for us; consequently, he later prayed to the Father about not removing the sheep from the world (John 14:3, 17:15). He left us in order to send the Holy Spirit for the capability of preaching the gospel (Acts 1:8, ESV). Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 confirmed the church’s proclamation of the gospel message to the lost. By the time the apostle Paul entered the scene, he described the Corinthian believers and by extension the church universal as ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20, ESV).

What is an ambassador? It’s a person who represents a people or nation to others with all of the authority of that nation. The church announces the soon coming king and kingdom. She houses many heralds, many ambassadors, who carry the authority of Christ by the indwelling person and work of the Holy Spirit. Like John the Baptist, we may be lone voices crying in the wilderness. We may deliver a message that offends many. Our appearance may offend many, but that’s not our concern. Our task is to obey the Great Commission. We are to prepare the way for the Lord, and to prepare a people for the Lord. The King is coming, and he’s bringing his recompense with him. Are we ready to give our lives if necessary like John the Baptist? Do we want to hear from our master, “well done good and faithful servant?”

The Shepherds, a Heavenly Host, and a Baby King

“And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 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. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!’

“When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.’ And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them” (Luke 1:8-20, ESV).

Merry Christmas from the Kingdom Scribe!

Advent Series, part IV – Joseph

Today I conclude this Advent series with Joseph, who descended from the house of David (Luke 1:27, ESV). The author of Luke’s gospel provides that key fact, but nothing more of any substance about Joseph. Thankfully, the apostle Matthew responds to the Holy Spirit by writing his gospel sometime between 55 A.D. and 60 A.D. Scholars debate the actual date of Matthew’s gospel, but that’s not the subject of this post (thank heavens!). The main takeaway is that the gospel of Matthew provides the lion’s share of information about Joseph. I do not understand the reasoning behind this fact; however, I am grateful to God that there is more than one gospel account.

When Matthew introduces the reader to Joseph, he wastes no time in plunging the story into conflict. Joseph and Mary are in line to be married, but there’s a huge snag. She is pregnant, and they know Joseph is not the father. More than likely, Mary tells Joseph about Gabriel coming to visit her with God’s plan to birth the Messiah through her. It’s a fantastic story, but I believe Joseph trusted his young wife and her story. How do I know this about him? The text says that Joseph “…[was] a just man and unwilling to put her to shame,” which displays his care and concern for her (Matthew 1:19, ESV). The passage goes on to state that Joseph contemplates how best to divorce Mary without any fanfare, but that an angel dissuades him from this course through a dream in the night (Matt. 1:20-21, ESV).

Now, here’s the thing about Joseph’s response to the angel. The text says that he obeys without any hesitation by marrying his young bride and naming the child Jesus (Matt. 1:24-25, ESV). Joseph’s response is immediate, no delays. He does not question or ask for clarification. Just earlier in the passage, Joseph considers a course of action that makes the most sense in his human mind: divorce Mary quietly. At this intense moment of need, the Lord provides Joseph with a loving course correction. He does not rebuke, shame, or condemn Joseph for entertaining the action to divorce Mary. Through the angel, the Lord exhorts Joseph to become her husband, and to lead his young family as exemplified by naming his son Jesus, which fulfills the Old Testament prophecy in Isaiah 7:14 about Immanuel, God with us (Matt. 1:20-25, ESV).

Because Joseph rises to the call as leader and protector of Mary and Jesus, this opens the door for God to speak to Joseph through dreams. After the wise men worship Jesus and leave, an angel of the Lord comes to Joseph in a dream telling him to flee with his family to Egypt because King Herod will kill all the male children (Matt. 2:13, ESV). Once again, he responds without any delay by leading his family to Egypt during the night (Matt. 2:14, ESV). The apostle Matthew points out how Joseph and his family’s actions fulfill the Old Testament prophecy in Hosea 11:1,“Out of Egypt I called my son.” From Joseph’s perspective, he’s protecting the lives of his wife and child, and I do not think anyone would begrudge him that fact. The point must be made though that the larger view is that scripture is being fulfilled, history is in the making.

Before I wrap this up, Joseph has two more dreams in Matthew’s narrative. The third dream takes place in Egypt where the angel tells Joseph that it is safe to return to the land of Israel (Matt. 2:19-20, ESV). He refuses to settle in Judea as Herod’s son rules in his place; consequently, the angel of the Lord appears to Joseph again to warn him against returning to the region of Judea (Matt. 2:21-22, ESV). Instead, he takes his family to the region of Galilee in the north, and they settle in the city called Nazareth (Matt. 2:23, ESV). Throughout his family’s journey, Joseph’s obedience remains at the forefront. He is open to the Lord guiding him in specific ways to protect all of them. Furthermore, God uses Joseph to protect Jesus, the Messiah, so that his redemptive work comes to fruition at the cross.

Joseph obeys the Lord without any hesitation. He takes him at his word each and every time. The stakes are high for Joseph as the lives of his wife and child hang in the balance. It is true that his life is also in danger, but the emphasis is on Jesus’s safety and Mary. A child is in desperate need of a mother within the first two years of his/her life. Joseph’s obedience to God and his commands shows care for his family, but most importantly, his obedience preserves and protects them. This is exactly what the life of Christ does for his people: preserves and protects. Christmas is about the coming of the one who preserves and protects his people through his redemptive work on the cross. Christmas also points to the consummation of this preservation and protection at the second coming of Christ who glorifies us in his kingdom.

Advent Series, part III – Mary

In the previous two posts, I drew a link between our yearning for life rather than barrenness with that evidenced in the lives of Zechariah and Elizabeth. God responded to their longing for a child by blessing them with John the Baptist. He was the immediate answer to Zechariah’s intercessory prayer for Elizabeth’s barrenness; however, God had a greater purpose with John the Baptist’s birth, life, and ministry. His sole reason for living had been to herald the first coming of the Messiah as foretold in the Old Testament: Isaiah 40:3 and Malachi 3:1a, 4:5-6. God designed John the Baptist’s birth, life, and ministry to point men to the Messiah, who was the answer to the barrenness within all men and women and creation. Now, we turn our attention to Mary, God’s chosen vessel for bringing the Messiah into the world.

Luke wrote in the first chapter of his gospel that Mary hailed from the city of Nazareth, which resided within Galilee (Luke 1:26, ESV). Several of the first apostles selected by Jesus came from Galilee. For example, Peter, Andrew, James and John were fishermen by trade, which provided our Savior’s classic line, “I will make you fishers of men” (Matt 4:18-22, ESV). The apostle John composed his gospel long after many of his peers had passed away. He included a wonderful vignette between Nathaniel and Philip, wherein the former wondered aloud if Nazareth had the capability of producing anything good (John 1:45-46, ESV). Why do I mention these tidbits about the first apostles being fishermen in Galilee, and Nathaniel expressing disdain for Nazareth?

Mary lived in what I would describe as a working class city that provoked strong feelings of disdain in her fellow countrymen. She was not from Athens, or Rome, or Alexandria, or Jerusalem or any culturally reputable city. She lived in a place that people avoided like the plague. The common view of Nazareth may have sounded something like this: “Why do you want to go that city? There are others much more picturesque and representative of God’s people than Nazareth.” Maybe this meant that it was a foolish act on God’s part to choose Mary, a Galilean from Nazareth. The following words ring loud and clear from the apostle Paul: “God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Cor. 1:28-29, ESV).

On paper, Mary did not have much to offer to the world. She lived in the worst section of the worst part of town. None of that fazed the Lord one bit nor did it faze Mary. When Gabriel greeted her, and then explained to her God’s plan for her life, she humbly accepted her role as the Lord’s servant (Luke 1:28-38, ESV). It is my belief that Mary’s humble response is what God saw in her. When Gabriel said to her, “Greetings, O favored one,” he wasn’t expressing his feelings to her (Luke 1:28, ESV). The angel delivered to Mary how God saw her. He favored her, and ordained her as the woman worthy to carry the Messiah for nine months. Mary responded to God’s favor with a soft heart toward the work of his hands, and by believing in faith that God would bring about this wonderful plan.

Lastly, Mary visited Elizabeth, her relative. There’s tremendous joy between these two. Both were lowly in their respective conditions: Mary due to where she lived and Elizabeth due to her barrenness. Despite their lowliness, God raised them up by his power in order to use them in bringing about his greater purposes and plans. From Mary, God brought forth the Messiah, the Son of David, who’s kingdom has no end. From Mary came the Savior, the ransom for many, who took away the reproach of his people. From Mary, God gave the fulfillment of life overturning barrenness forever. Immanuel, God with us, He is the King. He is the Lord of Lords. “He is the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (Rev 22:13, ESV). And all God’s people said, Amen.