The Wise Men

December 18, 2016

Let me ask two questions? Where is your life heading and what kind of person are you becoming? I realize that for many these questions just sort of take care of themselves in the daily living out of our lives.

From time to time we may try to make changes in our lives. We might go on a diet or start a workout program. We might go back to school or look for a new job. We might get married or have children. All of these things bring change to our lives. But where is your life actually headed. And what type of person are you becoming in your character, conduct and conversation.

But here is an important third question? Does the direction in your life have any ultimate consequence? Does the person you are becoming have any ultimate significance? That is a spiritual kind of question. In other words what bearing does the direction of your life have in relationship to God? As we consider the story of the wise men I want to say that the birth of Jesus Christ offers a new direction for our lives.


The wise men were well versed in astronomy, astrology, dream interpretation and other secret arts. Most think they were from Babylon. When they saw the appearance of a unique star in the sky, they consulted and concluded that it signified the birth of one who was born King of the Jews. In the Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, Ben Witherington III writes, “It was also widely believed during this era that stars heralded the birth of human beings destined for greatness, and in fact both Suetonius and Tacitus [who were Roman historians] tell us that at the turn of the era there was an expectation of a world-ruler who would come from Judea.” It is also possible that the Wise men had access to the Jewish Scriptures, providing them with additional prophetic information. Perhaps they concluded that this king was of the line of David. At any rate they decided to take a trip to Jerusalem in order to worship this king.

This is pretty amazing. Here are Gentile astrologers coming to pay homage to a baby they believed to be the King of the Jews. They were compelled by the anticipated greatness of this baby. And notice that in their coming to worship, they brought expensive gifts. Notice also that these wise men did not make the journey to get something for themselves. I’m not saying that they did not benefit in any way, but clearly their intention was not selfish. They worshiped Jesus because of who he is.

What compels our worship? This is a significant question because in this passage we find another statement of intent to worship Jesus. When the wise men arrived in Jerusalem they began asking around about where they could find the one who was born king of the Jews as if everyone should know. Eventually King Herod heard about this and he was alarmed. Herod was known to deal ruthlessly with any perceived threat to his throne. So he called the Jewish religious leaders and asked about where the Christ, the Messiah was to be born. They knew the answer from the prophet, Micah. The Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem. Herod then secretly called the wise men to himself and asked them about when the star had appeared. In v.8 it says he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” Yes, Herod said that he also wanted to worship Jesus.

Not everyone who intends to or claims to worship Jesus really worships him. We know that Herod thought it was in his best interest to get rid of Jesus. He intended to kill Jesus. At the heart of Herod’s thinking was self-interest, selfish ambition, and self-protection. Herod intended to do whatever it took to protect and promote his kingdom.

And that really is the struggle when it comes to worship. When we live to promote our own kingdom we will have a difficult time worshiping God and his Son, Jesus. Perhaps you have known a business man or woman who is a faithful member of a church because not only is it of spiritual benefit, but it is also good for business. And of course we are all aware of how politicians court the religious vote by showing up in church and claiming to be Christian, even born again. Worshiping Jesus is good for one’s political career! And then some profess to worship God and Jesus because they made a promise to go to church or because it is expected of them and it gives them a certain standing in their community, or because they get a good feeling when they are in church. They may even be regular contributors, giving gifts to Jesus and his church.

I would not presume to judge anyone on this, but when a person worships Jesus for any of those reasons, it is not God or Jesus they are worshipping. In fact they are worshipping themselves. They are doing whatever it takes to promote their own well-being and self-interest. When we put our career, our family, our health, our pleasure, our wealth, our possessions, our associations first we are not able to worship Jesus. In fact we make Jesus a decided second in our life. Our religion is like that of Israel of old. Israel performed all the sacred duties and rituals but their heart was not in it. They were seeking to be in control of their lives and God. They were managing their religion thinking that all was well. But all was not well. One might think that the ears of the chief priests and scribes would have perked up when they heard about a king of the Jews that was born, but there was little interest.

The wise men, on the other hand, showed great interest. Not only did they undertake an inconvenient journey to Jerusalem, when the star appeared again, v.10 says they rejoiced exceedingly. In v.11 it says that when they saw the child with Mary, they fell down and worshiped him. They worshiped him because of who he is. He is Christ the Lord.

When a person comes to understand and embrace the fact that Jesus is God in the flesh, that he is the Savior from sin and brokenness, that he is the Lord of heaven and earth, that person will be compelled to worship him with heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Why are you here this morning? Are you here because it is the Christmas season? Are you here because it’s been awhile since you’ve been in church? Are you here because you have to be? Are you here because you feel guilty about something you’ve done? Or are you here because you are compelled to worship Christ the Lord?


Having accomplished what they came to do, the wise men prepared to go home. As far as we know they intended to return to Herod and let him know where the new king could be found. Of course that would not have been in the best interest of Jesus. So God warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.

According to the angel in Mt.1:21, Jesus came into this world to save his people from their sins. Jesus did not come out of his own best interest. He came with our best interest in mind. All of us are separated from God because of our unwillingness to give God our wholehearted worship. We have put other gods before God. That reality is seen in our willful disobedience to his good commands. Disobedience is sin. To be separated from God is to be separated from life. God is the giver of life. So to be separated from God is to be headed for eternal death. But through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus we can receive his eternal kind of life today. Jesus died in our place, bearing the penalty for our sins. He died for our sins so that through him we can have our sins forgiven and receive his eternal, resurrection life right now.

But how do we enter into the new life that Jesus has made possible? Well, hearing the good news of life in Christ, we go in a new direction. We turn away or repent of our sins and call upon the name of the Lord Jesus to be saved. In other words we submit ourselves to Jesus Christ as Lord, becoming a follower, a disciple of Jesus. We do this by putting our confidence, our faith in Jesus, believing that what he says he will do.

Then we begin to live out the life that he gives to us, which is eternal life in the kingdom of God. If we want to know what it looks like to live out the life given to us by Jesus, we need to consider how Jesus lived his life. Reading the Gospels will help us here. In the Gospels we learn about Jesus. Not only that, but the rest of the New Testament will help to clarify what life under the lordship of Christ looks like. In other words we seek to obey the good commands of Jesus in the way we live. All of his commands are for our best interest. Learning to live like Jesus would live if he were you, is the best possible life one could ever seek to live. Now, entering into life with Christ and through Christ is exactly that. It is entering into a new way of living. And when you enter into a new way of living it will involve changes in your character, conduct and conversation. The wise men were told by God to not return to Herod. They obeyed. Well, can you think of any specific commands given to us by Jesus? If you were to take some time to sit down and write out the various commands of Jesus, would you be able to make a list? Of course if you said, “love one another,” that would be a little too easy. Do you know what Jesus has commanded? Do you trust God and Jesus enough to seek to obey them? Jesus has given us his good commands because he has our best interest at heart.

Now let me flip this idea around. When we seek to live in obedience to Jesus we have his best interest at heart. Jesus said that his followers are the light of the world. The way we live in our character, conduct, and conversation reveals to all that we are followers of Jesus or not. Are you growing in your ability to bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit? Don’t just assume that you are. Evaluate your life. Are you learning to respond in a gracious way when you are irritated? Does your language show that Christ is Lord of your life? And when you mess up in these areas, do you acknowledge the sin and apologize? Do you seek to make things right?

You see, we must not presume upon the grace of God if we are not intentional about living in the way of Jesus. It will require intentionality because this world will not help us.

If we submit ourselves to Christ as Lord it means that we acknowledge Christ as our King. He is a wonderful King to serve because he has given his life in our behalf. When we give our lives in his behalf our life can only get better and better because the more like Christ we become the deeper our love for God and joy in God will be. I am not talking about perfection here. I am talking about intention and effort as we rely upon the strength given to us by the Holy Spirit.

The wise men were guided in the right direction by the star given by God. The wise men were guided in the right direction by the warning given to them by God in a dream. They took the guidance they were given and went in a new direction. Maybe you have been using the wrong road map for your life. Instead of relying on yourself or the way of the world, you need to look to Jesus. The birth of Jesus Christ offers a new direction for your life. It is the road to life. Amen

Shepherds, Simeon, and Anna

December 11, 2016

In Big Ten College football the big game is Michigan verses Ohio State. There is no love lost between these two teams. In Ohio on the day of the game, by decree of the governor, the letter “M” is not used throughout the state.

This year, on Nov.26, the game was filled with tension. At one point there was an important play. The ref could have given Michigan a 1st down or not. The ref placed the ball short of the 1st down. Michigan lost. There was much gnashing of teeth. Upon further review some felt it should have been a first down, while others thought not. Perspective is very important.

All of us have a perspective on life and living. Our perspective comes from experience and knowledge. As we learn more or have significant experiences our perspective can change. Today we are looking at the shepherds, Simeon and Anna. The birth of Jesus Christ changes everything. And the birth of Jesus Christ brings new perspective to life.


We are all familiar with the story of the shepherds. Over the years I have read differing perspectives on these shepherds. Some say that shepherds were looked down upon in the society and that they were unsavory, untrustworthy men. But others point out that in the Old Testament shepherds generally are viewed in a positive way. What is most likely is that the shepherds were lowly and probably poorer than most. Day after day, night after night they had to care for the flock. It was their job.

This morning I want to just note the fact of the daily routine of these shepherds. There was nothing glamorous about their lives. The pay wasn’t great. As you know sheep are basically dumb animals, requiring a lot of care. The shepherd spent long hours with the sheep. He had to lead the sheep to pasture and water. He had to protect the sheep from other animals. He had to keep the sheep from straying and if a sheep did stray from the flock the shepherd had to go out and search for the lost sheep. In Jn.10 Jesus spoke about shepherds who are merely hirelings and have no personal investment in the sheep. Jesus says that when the wolf comes, those shepherds abandon the sheep. Well, I’m sure there were shepherds like that.

Many of us know what it is to live a routine life. Maybe your job is routine with little variation. You go to work and you know exactly what to expect. Maybe your home life is a bit boring. Every day is more of the same. Life can be that way. And even if there is variety in your life, it can often feel unproductive, stagnant and boring. You might find yourself asking the question, “What difference does my life make.” I don’t know if the shepherds had those thoughts, but we sometimes wonder about questions like that. We reach a point where we say, “Surely there has to be more than this.”

Well, on this particular night God was about to shake things up in the lives of these shepherds. The angel appeared and there was the bright light of God’s glory shining in the darkness. And they were afraid. In v.10-12 the angel says, "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 then it says, “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!" Wow! That would shake up your life a little bit.

After hearing the angelic host, the shepherds did what all of us would have done. They decided to go and see for themselves what the Lord had made known to them.

Now, a couple of things. First these shepherds would not have expected to be particularized by God in this way. No one else thought they were of any particular importance. They were just shepherds doing what shepherds do. Someone’s got to do it. Second, one does not get the impression that they had done anything to deserve this special announcement of Christ’s birth. There is no indication that these men were godly or upright. I mean, Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary, and Joseph are all identified as being godly people. Not these shepherds! And yet God came to them with a stunning announcement.

They went with haste to find Mary, Joseph and the baby. Why? It is because a Savior had been born to them. “Unto you is born this day, a Savior.” I don’t know how the shepherds interpreted this. The word, “savior” means “deliverer.” It refers to a deliverer from one’s enemies and from peril. Did they think in terms of a spiritual deliverer or did they think in terms of a deliverer from Roman oppression, someone who would make their lives better? We don’t know, but Jesus is all of that. Jesus makes our lives amazingly better. Clearly the angel’s message gave them hope.

And we need hope. The drudgery and routine of life can feel so deadening. Sometimes it seems that life is futile. Notice also that this Savior is Christ the Lord. He is God’s anointed deliver who is the Lord of heaven and earth. Because he is Lord he is able to do what is necessary for our deliverance. The hope that the angel announced is not found in a vague longing. Rather this hope is found in the person of Jesus Christ. The angel did not begin by saying, “You are all sinners.” The angel announced the Savior.

Men and women, we are all sinners. And we need to be saved from our sin and the consequences of our sin. We are broken people, living in a broken world and Jesus is the Savior.

It seems to me that these shepherds submitted to Christ the Savior. They returned glorifying and praising God and they told others about the Savior who is Christ the Lord. Real hope in this world is found in Jesus. Have you submitted to his Lordship, entrusting your life to him in faith?


Mary and Joseph were devout in their worship of God and obedience to the law of God. So 40 days after Jesus was born they came to the temple so that Mary could do the purification ceremony and so that they could dedicate Jesus to God. Look at v.25-32.

Many think that Simeon was an old man because he speaks about departing in peace. Actually Luke doesn’t say that Simeon was old. What he does say is that Simeon was righteous and devout. Simeon was a serious believer in God and he was one who sought God in his life. In fact, Simeon was one who was waiting and looking for the coming of Messiah. What is interesting is that the word, “consolation”, is the word paraklatos. It means, “One called alongside.” In John’s gospel this word is applied to the Holy Spirit. But here in Luke, it is applied to Jesus. Jesus is the One who comes alongside and brings rest or peace

Well, where there is futility in life there is a longing for rest and peace. We are all driven deep inside by selfish desires, insecurities, fears, and hurt. I would suggest that most of us do not understand that which drives us deep within. We think things, say things and do things that we wish we did not think, say and do. These realities make us restless. It is part of the sinful brokenness of our lives.

And then there is a longing for rest and peace just because there is an awareness in all of us that there is more to life than what we experience. It is what Augustine called a “God shaped vacuum.” We feel that there must be more to life but we cannot put our finger on what that more is.

For Simeon there was also the understanding from Israel’s scriptures that a Messiah, a Savior had been promised. He was longing for the coming of Messiah who would restore all that is broken.

I don’t know about you, but as I look at the sadness and brokenness of this world, as I feel the sadness and brokenness of my own life, l long for the coming of Jesus the Messiah. Now the wonderful news of Christmas is that Jesus has come and has already provided peace through his death and resurrection. He has defeated the power of sin and darkness. And all who enter into life with Christ by faith, receive the forgiveness of their sins. They enter into a relationship of peace and rest with God. They enter into the eternal kingdom of God because they have received the very life of Jesus.

Simeon entered into the peace that only Jesus can give. He had been waiting and watching. He was given the privilege of seeing and holding the very One who would bring peace. And so, after seeing the Lord’s salvation, he was ready to die. Simeon submitted his heart to Christ the Lord.

We feel the emptiness and brokenness of life in this world. For Christians there is the realization and experience of entering into the peace of knowing Jesus. And yet, there are days when we struggle to live in his peace.

This past week a woman posted on Facebook that she was mad at God because God allowed two of her friends to die from cancer who actually seemed to be getting better. And now a third friend is dying. “It’s not fair,” she writes. She goes on to say that while her husband and son sometimes attend church, she does not, “because I am mad at God,” she writes.

Men and women, the more we fix our heart and mind on Christ, the Lord, the better able we will be to live in his peace. Simeon was looking for Jesus because Jesus is the Prince of peace. We entrust our lives to him and in doing so we learn to be at peace in this dark world.


Here we read about a woman named Anna, and it is clear that Anna was indeed, very old. Verse 37 is a little ambiguous. Some scholars think Luke is saying Anna was 84 years old, while other think Luke is telling us that she was a widow for 84 years. Either way, Anna is old.

We also learn about the kind of woman she was. She is referred to as a prophetess. God would reveal things to Anna. What is more, her daily activity was centered at the temple of God. She lived a life of worship, fasting, and prayer night and day. She was a godly woman. Like Simeon, she was also waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. She was waiting for the Savior.

Anna had been married for seven years and then her husband died. We know nothing about how Anna dealt with her husband’s death. We can assume that she mourned his death. It is possible she was childless. It doesn’t say. My point is that Anna experienced some significant sorrow early in her life. If she was married at 13 or 14 years of age she would have been a widow by the age of 20.

Everybody handles sorrow in different ways. It seems that Anna channeled her grief into a life of worship and prayer. I don’t want to make more of this than is warranted. When a loved dies, healing does come with time, but I have heard it said that one never really forgets the loss, whether it be a spouse, a child, a parent or a close friend.

The same is often true with divorce. Even if the divorce took a spouse out of an abusive marriage relationship, there is loss, grief, guilt, and regret. The reality and feeling of being alone brings sadness.

On the day that Mary and Joseph came to the temple, Anna also arrived at the temple just in time to see baby Jesus. Did she hear the words of Simeon, or did the Lord reveal to her that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah? One way or another Anna came to know that her redemption, the redemption of Israel had come. Her heart was filled with joy and she gave thanks to God.

There is a joy that comes to the person who embraces Jesus as Savior and Lord. Part of that joy is found in knowing that in Christ we are forgiven and have entered into the favor of God. Part of that joy is receiving the Holy Spirit who dwells in us as our comforter, teacher and guide into the way of Jesus. Part of that joy is knowing that a day is coming when we will be with the Lord forever in a new heaven and earth. Anna shared the news about the arrival of the Messiah with all those who were waiting for his coming. “He is here!”

We have this crèche or manger scene on the communion table. I have one that I put up at home every Christmas. This manger scene is fairly old. My manger scene is fairly cheap, but both manger scenes bring me joy. They bring me joy because they picture the coming of true joy into the world in the person of Jesus. He was a man of sorrows, who had deep joy. If you will bring your sorrows to Jesus, he will give you his joy, even in the midst of sorrow.

I had breakfast with a friend this past Tuesday. He was sharing with me the idea that everyone has various access points in their lives in which Christ as Lord can enter into that person’s life. Maybe that access point is a debilitating injury or illness, or perhaps, a feeling of loneliness and emptiness, or a deep loss or great need, or deep guilt. Christ the Lord is Lord of all. He is Lord of every situation and circumstance and knows how to bring hope, peace and joy. For the person who will submit to Christ as Lord in their area of need, Christ will welcome the invitation and begin his work of redemption. Have you welcomed the Savior, Christ the Lord into your life? Amen


December 4, 2016

All of us make plans for our lives.  Some of us are careful planners. Others are impulsive planners. Some are long range planners, while others plan for the short run. When we are young our plans may be big and unrealistic. As we grow into middle age our plans become more measured and attainable. As we grow old and we experience limitations, our plan may be to just get through the day.

This morning we are looking at Joseph. Joseph had plans, but as is often the case, his plans were greatly altered by his commitments and life’s circumstances. And this leads me to say from Mt.1:18-25 that God’s work in our life calls us to surrender our plans to Him.


When we make plans it is an expression of our desire and will. I would imagine that most people do not make plans with God in mind. I mean, at night sometimes I plan to have oatmeal in the morning. I will even say to Angie, “I am looking forward to having oatmeal tomorrow morning.” Well, do I really need to include God in my planning to have oatmeal? There are some believers who pray about what clothes to wear each day. I would certainly not discourage anyone from doing that, if that is what they want to do. At the same time I don’t see examples of that level of detail when it comes to praying in the Bible. But many of our plans are complex and involve a great deal more variables that must fall into place if our plans are going to succeed. We have little control over most of those variables. It is not uncommon to have to change our plans.

Sometimes this involves great disappointment and disruption in our lives. Joseph was an upright Jewish man. He was looking for an upright Jewish girl to marry. During the time of Jesus it was common for Jewish girls to marry at the age of 12, so Mary was probably in her teens. I have read that the rabbis counseled Jewish men to marry between the ages of 14 and 18. If you were an unmarried man at 20 something was wrong. We don’t know how old Joseph may have been. Some think that since there is no mention of him after Jesus’ bar mitzvah at 12 years of age, at the end of Lk.2, that he must have been much older than Mary and probably died. We don’t know.

Joseph was engaged to Mary and was making plans for marriage. According to the Dictionary of Daily Life in Biblical Antiquity, engagements usually lasted for a year and then the bride would be transported from her home to the groom’s house in a carriage or on a litter while people sang and danced. The groom and his friends would come out to meet her with tambourines and music. Feasting usually lasted a week or even two weeks. It was a big deal involving much planning.

So now Joseph learns the news that Mary is pregnant. We don’t know how Joseph came by the news. It doesn’t sound as if Mary told him. She was “found” to be with child. In other words her pregnancy began to become obvious. Can you think of anything more disappointing than to learn that your fiancée has been unfaithful and is pregnant? Joseph’s plans had come to a disappointing end.

Maybe something similar has happened to you. Maybe as a young person you had planned to prepare for a certain vocation only to discover after graduating from college that you were not well suited for the work. That is a disappointment. Maybe you had a career but things changed and you were let go. That is a disappointment. Maybe after a good number of years being married your spouse left you and then divorced you. That is a deep disappointment. Maybe you had plans for your retirement only to find out that you have a serious disease. Or maybe you had invested your money with a trusted advisor, only to discover that he or she deceived you. What a disappointment! The world is filled with disappointment. By the way, there is no disappointment with God.

Well, if your plans have ended in disappointment, I see from this passage that God clearly had more for Joseph than he could know at the time. Now look, most people who are forced to change their plans in life seem to find their way towards something comparable or better. They go back to school. They remarry. They get a different job. And they do this seemingly apart from any input from God. They don’t seem to consider God in their planning.

But believers are not most people. Followers of Jesus Christ understand that God uses the circumstances of our lives to accomplish his purposes for our lives. At the time we may have no idea about what God is doing. And we may never really understand what God is doing. But the reason why we seek the Lord in our planning is because we desire to see his purposes fulfilled in us. Joseph was an upright man. My sense is that he wanted to honor God in his life. And when we want to honor God in our lives, God will use our disappointments to help us know him and serve him in a deeper and better way. There may be many seasons of disappointment as our plans do not work out. But in every season of disappointment God is working into us his way and his good for his honor and glory.


When our plans are frustrated we have to respond in some way. In the case of Joseph, the expected response was exactly the response he chose. He was a godly man. What is more he was innocent of any immorality in regard to Mary and so it was important to establish his innocence for the sake of his reputation in the community.

We can see that he also had no desire to expose or shame Mary in any way. Surely he did not understand how Mary could have done this, but he was not the kind of man to make Mary pay. That says a lot about Joseph.

I want to point out that Joseph was seeking to do the right thing in the eyes of God. No one would have questioned Joseph’s decision. But here’s the thing. Divorcing Mary was not the right decision in this case. God knows the big picture. And of course, that raises the question, how can we know what the right thing to do is.

As a first born I am very much a direction follower. For the most part, I want to do what is right. And when I can’t determine what is right, it causes me great angst. In most situations I have a pretty clear sense about what would be wrong. Lying, cheating, stealing, anger, etc. are not acceptable responses. But when it comes to knowing the right thing to do, it is often not as clear. As a follower of Christ I try to bring these matters to the Lord. I often seek the advice of other mature and seasoned believers. I try to weigh the implications of the possible responses. I try to pay attention to my feelings about the various responses. As I pray and go through this process, I eventually will come to a decision. As a believer, I want to be sure that my decision is honoring to God. I realize that any number of decisions could be equally honoring to God, as far as I can tell. So if God does not direct me in a clear way, I make the decision and commit it into his hands.

Why do I do this? It is because I do not live to myself. My life belongs to God. I want to honor God and I want his will to be done in my life, whatever that involves. So I don’t assume that my thoughts are the only thoughts that count in the decision making.

When it comes to making plans, I ask God to weigh in. And I believe that if God, seeing the bigger picture, has a different plan for me, he will make it clear. In Joseph’s case, God had a very specific purpose and plan that he was bringing into being. And so God made it very clear to Joseph. “Do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” The appearance of the angel in his dream was profound and weighty. But this would not have been the only information Joseph would have. Mary would surely have told Joseph about her experience and about what happened when she visited Elizabeth. These were additional events that helped to compel Joseph to change his plan.

We do not know the big picture. But we do know that God is fully aware of all that needs to be known. We can read our way through the Bible seeing instance after instance in which God revealed his specific will for various individuals. You can be very sure that as you seek the Lord he will make clear that which he needs for you to know. And as we wait upon the Lord, we trust in his good promises found in Scripture.

In Jms.1:4-5 we read, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.” In Phil.4:19 Paul writes, “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” When your plans come to naught, take comfort in the fact that God sees the big picture and will give what is needed for you to move on in your life with him.


As the angel continued to explain what God was up to, it became clear that the birth of Jesus was of great significance. “He will save his people from their sins.” He will be called Immanuel, God with us. Surely Joseph would have recognized that God was doing something profound. Perhaps Joseph connected the angel’s message with various prophecies found in the Old Testament. But let’s not miss the fact that Joseph and Mary were really nobodies in the grand scheme of things. Outside of their communities, they were unknown. She was a young woman. He was a simple carpenter. And yet God brought them into his work of reconciling all things to himself through the person of Jesus Christ.

Israel, like all of us, was guilty of the sin of idolatry, worshiping other things in the place of God. In Ez.14 when speaking about Israel’s idolatry, God repeats a phrase several times when he says, “These men have taken their idols into their hearts, and set the stumbling block of their iniquity before their faces.” What we worship shapes who we become deep in our heart. Idolatry leads to many sins because what is in our heart works its way out through our bodies. Idolatry takes us further and further away from God, his righteousness, and truth. We become like what we worship.

All of us are idolaters in various ways and our sins have separated from God. That is why we need reconciliation. That is why we need forgiveness. Jesus is the great and only Reconciler. Since sin separates us from God, the natural outworking of sin is death, which brings eternal separation from God. Jesus, who had no sin of his own, died in our place, bearing the punishment of our sin. The wrath of God against all ungodliness was absorbed by Jesus, God in the flesh, that we might be set free from sin and death.

Well, Joseph was being called into a divine vocation. By marrying Mary he was becoming a participant in God’s great reconciling work. When we talk about knowing Christ and having our sins forgiven and being in the kingdom of God, it is not just about our being right with God. It is also about entering into a new vocation. New creation people are given new creation work. Followers of Jesus are called to be part of his project of reconciliation. Paul says in 2Cor.5:19 that, “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.”

If you know Christ, you have been entrusted with the message of reconciliation. It is the message that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. Jesus Christ bore our sins on the cross so we might have forgiveness and life in God’s kingdom.

The church, the body of Christ in this world, is the light of the world because Jesus who is “the true light, which gives light to everyone, has come into the world” and he dwells in the lives of his people.

So let me ask you. Do you see yourself as being a part of God’s plan for reconciliation? Do you ever ask God to use you to share Christ and his love with others? This is not so easy since people in the world are not all that interested in Jesus. It wasn’t easy for Joseph either. He put his reputation on the line for Christ. Your plans and my plans for our lives may be good plans. But if your plans are not surrendered to the work of God in this world then you are pretty much living for yourself. God wants to use you in his work of reconciling the world to himself through Christ

The Lord’s Table is all about being reconciled with God and each other through faith in Christ. As we eat the bread and drink the cup we are nourished in the presence of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We rejoice in our reconciliation with God. We leave ready to be part of God’s reconciling work. As we come to the Table today, let us surrender all of our plans, big or small, to Jesus and his work in the world. Amen


November 27, 2016

Recently I had lunch with a friend who works for the Chicago Cubs. My young friend is a sport enthusiast and his new job with the Cubs is like a dream. He is excited and willing to do whatever it takes to perform his best. And yes, he got to attend every game of the World Series and may be receiving a ring with the rest of the team. When you have joy in something no sacrifice is too great compared to the value of having that person or thing.

On this first Sunday in Advent I want to speak about the joy of knowing Christ from the perspective of Mary. In the current market place of ideas, Jesus Christ has been largely pushed out of the conversation. Jesus is not considered to be a source of joy and meaning. But Jesus Christ is the source of joy and meaning for all of life and I can say that no sacrifice is too great compared to the joy of knowing Christ.


It is not every day that a person sees an angel. When angels appear in the Bible the most common response is one of fear. Among the various anecdotes of the Desert Fathers in the fourth century is this one. The devil appeared to a very humble monk as an angel of light and in order to pull the monk down into arrogance he said: "I am Gabriel and I came to salute you, for you have many virtues and are worthy." "Look, you must have made a mistake," the humble monk answered, without losing his composure. "I am still living in sin, and for this reason I am not worthy to see angels."

When Gabriel appeared to Mary, there was no mistake, and Mary had no doubts that this was an angel from the Lord. The angel said that Mary was favored by God. Now when Mary heard that she was troubled. Perhaps like the monk she did not feel at all worthy of such favor.

The angel told Mary to not be afraid, and then went on to tell Mary that she would conceive and bear a son. The baby was to be named Jesus. And then the angel went on to explain that the child would be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God would give him the throne of his father David. What is more there would be no end to his kingdom.

Now we don’t know how much Scripture Mary knew. When we look at her song of praise in v.46-55, which we refer to as The Magnificat, it is amazing to see the Old Testament parallels and similarities to Hannah’s song in 1Sam.2. So it would seem that Mary was very familiar with Scripture.

One of the most important passages in the Old Testament is 2Sam.7. In this passage God makes a covenant with David. In that covenant God promises that David’s throne would be established forever. Of course, when Babylon conquered Judah, David’s throne essentially came to an end. But Isaiah the prophet predicted that a shoot would come from the stump of Jesse. In other words, a son would be born who would once again sit on David’s throne. It would not surprise me if Mary was aware of these passages of Scripture. In other words, as Mary listened to the angel, Gabriel, I think it would have dawned upon her that she was being given the privilege of bringing the much longed for Messiah into the world. This was an amazing opportunity, a great privilege. And God has given us an amazing privilege.

Many years have passed since the birth of Jesus. From the New Testament we have come to understand that Jesus is God in the flesh, who died for our sins, and rose from the grave so that our sins could be forgiven and that we might receive, even now, his eternal kind of life in the Kingdom of God. After rising from the grave, Jesus told his disciples that he has been given all authority in heaven and earth. Jesus Christ is Lord of heaven and earth. And in Jn.14:23 we read, “Jesus answered him, ‘If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” What an amazing privilege to have Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, living in us through the Holy Spirit.

There is no other world religion that offers what Jesus offers. You may have seen Dateline last week which discussed in detail the sexual harassment allegations of Fox News founder, Roger Ailes. Or what about former Republican congressman, Aaron Schock using campaign and other government funds to subsidize his lavish lifestyle? And then we are all well aware of police officers accused of shooting African American men, and those who are shooting police officers. Of course, the pervasive reality of abusive behaviors that take place in many homes is well documented. People struggle with addictions and other moral issues. I mean we are broken people. I am broken and you are broken.

But not only are we broken; we are also accountable to God, our Creator. Scripture teaches that there will be a day of reckoning when we will give an account ourselves before God. So when we read that Jesus can heal our brokenness and forgive our sin and give us his eternal kind of life now, does that not sound amazing? It is every bit as amazing as what the angel said to Mary.


Clearly Mary understood the angel to be saying that she would conceive before the consummation of her marriage to Joseph. And this created a problem. “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” Indeed how would this happen?

According to Luke, the angel told Mary that the Holy Spirit would overshadow her and she would conceive in her womb. In other words there would be no human father. God is the Father of Jesus. Jesus would be known as the Son of God. Well clearly the fact that Mary asked the question to begin with indicates that she was not ignorant about how babies come into the world. She knew what was what. Perhaps you or I would have responded, “Are you kidding me, who’s going to believe that?” And surely Mary must have wondered how she was going to explain this to Joseph. And yet, Mary did not respond with unbelief.

I also see that the angel did not stop in the explanation. The angel told Mary about how her relative, Elizabeth, who had been barren and who was well beyond childbearing age, had also conceived a son with her husband Zechariah. Well, this was news to Mary, and it provided Mary with good reason to think that the angel was indeed speaking the truth. “Nothing is impossible with God.”

Look at v.39-45. All of this would have been a tremendous encouragement to Mary. God gave Mary information and experiences to strengthen her faith.

Now we all have troubling questions. And questions are interesting. Our questions and the way we ask them often reveal things about us. I have found that many questions do not have the kinds of answers I desire. The answers that are given only seem to raise more questions. If I had been Mary I would have been thinking, “What do you mean the Holy Spirit will come upon me? What is that all about?”

Some questions get answered as we live life. When I was in high school and college I doubted my own existence and wondered how I could prove that what I see actually exists. Over time I came to the realization that I cannot absolutely prove that I or other things exist, but that life seemed to work better when I accepted my existence and the existence of others and things as reality. My questions about existence resolved themselves in living life. I remember asking my dad how I would know if I was really in love. You all know what he said. He said, “You’ll just know.” What kind of an answer is that!

Some of our questions are God-sized. In other words, were God to give a sufficient answer we would not be able to understand or bear it. When a little child asks about how babies are born, we don’t tell them the whole answer because they could not fully comprehend or bear it. Some questions are answered by compelling events. When Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to Thomas, his questions and doubts were resolved. And this leads me to say that some of our questions can be resolved by paying attention to the compelling events that others have experienced. Jesus has ascended to the Father. We don’t see him, but we have the historical records of those who experienced the compelling events of his birth, life, death, and resurrection.

When you stop and think about it, God rarely gives sufficient explanations about himself and what he is doing. God exists. He created all things and he chooses to reveal himself and act in history. The Bible does not try to prove God’s existence, but it does suggest compelling reasons for belief in God.

When Job experienced great suffering and his friends were saying that he must be guilty of some great sin, Job asserted his innocence and demanded that God give him a hearing so that he could have his questions answered. When God showed up, God was the one asking the questions. Job had nothing to say accept to worship God.

And this gets to the heart of our questions about spiritual things. If we ask our questions from a heart of unbelief we will probably not be satisfied with the answers we receive. If we ask our questions from a heart of openness and trust, we may not be satisfied with the answer, but we will be willing to live with the answers we have along with the ambiguity that comes with faith. We will be patient, thinking that in time we will understand better.

In the Gospels and the Epistles we learn about the amazing privilege available to us. We can enter into life with God through faith in Jesus if we will have him. Do you have questions? Ask them. Ask God to open your heart and mind to him and come to the Scriptures with a willing heart of belief. You might be amazed at the answers you find.


This is a pretty astounding statement. I suppose Mary could have said, “No. I will not bear the Son of God. You need to find someone else.” But she didn’t. I mean we can see that Mary was committed to the work of God concerning Jesus in her life. Whatever questions and concerns she might have had about the details and about her fiancée, Joseph, she wasn’t worrying about it. Nothing is impossible with God. How is it that Mary gave herself to God so unreservedly?

This question gets at the heart of many questions when it comes to life with God through Christ. You see in Scripture we are presented with the reality of God and Jesus Christ who is Lord of all. God doesn’t ask us to pass our judgment on the validity of his existence and the reality of Jesus. God doesn’t ask our opinions about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. In the Scripture these spiritual truths are presented and we are called to respond. Mary was called to enter into an amazing privilege of bearing Christ the Savior and Lord to the world.

And what is offered to us through Christ is also nothing short of amazing. This world is broken and each of us is broken. We are not naturally inclined to enter into life with God because our natural inclination is to be our own god. We want to define our own moral standards of right and wrong apart from God. But life apart from God always leads to death because God is the giver of life.

And so when Jesus came to this earth, he lived a God-filled life that attracted many to him. His teachings were so good that thousands turned out to hear him. He performed miracles that healed and helped people. He said, “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.” He invited people to become his follower, putting their trust and confidence for all of life in him. He invited people to enter into the eternal kingdom of God, coming under God’s good rule in which we receive the forgiveness of sins and eternal living in the kingdom of God.

When Mary was presented with the privilege of bearing Christ to the world, it was a privilege of such moment that she gave herself completely to the work of God in her life. It is that kind of surrender that is involved in entering into life with God through faith in Christ. You can’t buy your way in. You can’t talk your way in. You can’t earn your way in. You can only receive it by surrendering yourself in faith to Jesus Christ.

So here we are at the end of the message and Jesus Christ is making himself and his life available to you. Will you receive Him? Will you open your heart and mind to Christ? Will you surrender yourself fully to Jesus? Amen